Dec 1, 2015

The Gorge Fishing Calendar

Andrew Perrault with Winter Steelhead

Here in the Gorge (Columbia River Gorge) we have a lot of water and we fish a lot of water. We are fortunate to have 365 days a year with some kind of fishing that can be enjoyed. We get asked all the time what fishing is going on at a particular time of year, so Andrew put together a fishing calendar to help everyone get answers and plan your next Columbia River Gorge Fishing trip. 


This is a great time of year to be fishing in our area. Winter Steelhead are the primary target for local swingers and nymphers. Most of the Oregon and Washington coastal rivers will kick out a few early wild steelhead this time of year, especially as the river drops after a good storm. Avoid the valleys and peaks. Which means don’t fish it too hard when the river is cresting or when it is low and clear, but fish it as it is rising, but more importantly, FISH IT ON THE DROP! When the river crests and starts to drop, that is when the fish really move in and get on the bite.

Rivers that have a winter steelhead hatchery program often get earlier returning fish than the wild runs that appear more into the spring, especially rivers that stocked the Chambers Creek strain of winter steelhead, which were chosen partially for their tendency to return starting as early as November, but peaking in January. The North Fork of the Nehalem is famous for its early returning hatchery fish, which peak in early to mid January. The Wilson is also a good bet, along with some of our favorite rivers in Washington, including the East Fork Lewis, Washougal, Cowlitz and the Kalama. They can all produce some nice fish, with more wild fish coming in February than January. The further upstream we are on the Columbia, the later the run tends to be.

There are plenty of Summer Steelhead still hanging around rivers like the John Day, Grande Ronde and the Umatilla. Anglers have even been known to swing the Columbia River around Hanford near the Tri-Cities. There are no winter steelhead above the Dalles Dam. No matter what time of year a steelhead passes through the Dalles Dam, it is a summer run.

The Hood can give up a fish any time of year, but the most consistent fishing is later in the year.

Trout fishing can be absolutely epic on the Deschutes during January and February. This is the most underrated fishery anywhere in the area. If this fishery existed in Montana or Colorado, it would be absolutely packed to the brim every day, but seeing another angler in January is a rarity. Big trout can be caught off guard sipping on Blue Wing Olive Baetis in back eddies, while swinging a sculpzilla on a micro-spey will also produce some fatties. Redband rainbow trout will also munch on small midges throughout the day. The river is open downstream of the Warm Springs Reservation this time of year, so Maupin area down to the mouth is where the action is.

Fish tend to sit in softer water when it’s really cold. The soft water is often close to shore and fairly easy to read. The take can be really soft too, so set the hook if any disturbance occurs to your setup, from a stop in the indicator to the tiniest tick. The best part of the Deschutes in winter is that it is a great time to be on a gorgeous river in solitude. There are rarely any people out and there is no more beautiful river than the Deschutes… except maybe the Metolius.

The Metolius and the Crooked Rivers are also great winter fisheries. Nymphing #20-#24 midge patterns and BWO nymphs are both productive methods of trout fishing in cold water. Very gorgeous and potentially very productive, the Crooked can give up a ton of fish when it’s on. The Metolious is much like a steelhead river in that getting a fish or two a day is very good and you are likely working very hard for those fish too. You are often sight fishing for sippers and refusals come far more often than takes, but the reward is amazing as the Metolius fish are chunky, beautiful and hard fighting.

This is not the peak of Oregon’s winter steelhead run by any means, so take a day or two and get into some quality trout fishing before the steelhead get thick and it’s harder to convince yourself to go trout fishing.

We often get calls asking about the winter steelhead run on the Klickitat. There is a small winter run, but the river is closed this time of year. It opens up June 1.


Now we’re talking winter steelhead! Pick a coastal river in Washington or Oregon and it will likely be producing winter steelhead, especially after a good spring rain. Local favorites include the Wilson, Nestucca, the Alsea and the Siletz (all are worth the drive). The Columbia Tributaries are producing fish too! In Oregon, the Sandy is a personal favorite, along with the Clackamas. They can both get busy on a weekend, but there is good reason for that. The Hood is generally fishing well by April and improves until about the first of May when there are very few fresh fish to be found. The East Fork Lewis and the Washougal also produce fish, but always check the regulations in Washington because they change constantly and the Washougal has been closing around March 15 in recent years. If you have a chance to visit the famed Olympic Peninsula, this is the time to do it. While the Sol Duc, Hoh, Quinault and the Queets get most of the attention, the Humptulips is closer for us and gets nice fish with easy access. But there are quite a few hidden gems along the Oregon Coast. All of the Oregon coastal rivers can kick out some big fish and good numbers, usually peaking in early to mid April.

Rainbow Trout fishing on the Deschutes is also absolutely stellar this time of year. Stormy, cloudy days will get trout into back eddies to eat Blue Wing Olives, while the March Brown Mayfly and Skwala (little brown stonefly) hatch can really get some big fish up to eat dries. On warmer days, fish a #8 or #10 brown Jimmy Legs (rubber leg stonefly nymph) with a #12 or #14 Possie Bugger or Anato-May Hare’s Ear (both are excellent March Brown Mayfly nymphs). On colder, cloudier days, pull streamers or look for fish in foam lines and back eddies eating Blue Wing Olives (baetis). Another great option is the steak and eggs; San Juan worm with a small egg pattern (tiny yellow eggs from spawning Whitefish) deep under an indicator. All of them will produce fish under the right circumstances.

Eastern Washing Trout
April also means it’s time to get your float tube out, because lake fishing for trout is never better than in April. There are hundreds of lakes within a three hour drive of Hood River. I look forward to my annual trip out to the Columbia Basin Lakes in Central Washington all year and wish I could spend a couple of weeks trout bumming around the lakes up there. The trout are big, hungry, hard fighting, numerous and fairly easy to catch. The Lenice-Nunnally chain is a good bet, along with the “Seeps Lakes”, Sun Lakes State Park, Potholes Reservoir and Quincy Lakes. Pulling an olive bugger very slowly on an intermediate line is a great move, as well as nymphing with a chironomid setup. Both are deadly.

Hiking in can get you to some great water

The trout fishing is also great at the local lakes in the Gorge, although long winters can make it hard to get to some of these lakes early. Some of them could be inaccessible until May or later depending on snowpack and spring temperatures. Local springtime favorites include Timothy, Lost, Clear, Kingsley and Trillium. (Laurence is closed until the fourth Saturday in April). These are all mountain lakes and the fishing is best as soon as the roads are clear of snow enough to get in. I had to drag my float tube almost a mile to get into Timothy once in March and was rewarded with some of the best trout fishing I had ever experienced. Using the same techniques as in the basin lakes, fish a chironomid under an indicator on a floating line about two feet off the bottom, or troll an olive woolly bugger on an intermediate sink line very, very slowly, but either way you better hold on because no trout fights harder than a fish just out of winter!

Smallmouth Bass fishing improves significantly during the springtime. By April, nice smallies should be easy enough to find, although they will likely be fairly deep early in March, but will move into rocky areas by mid-April. They tend to pod up quite a bit by April and will often move in quite shallow. The best part is how aggressive they are. Any baitfish pattern will work, but reds and yellows are a favorite. The lower Yakima River is a great place to catch some big fish during the spring time, along with the Columbia. The John Day is often colored up, high and cold until May, but keeping an eye on the conditions is well worth the effort when the fish are on…

Greg Darling provides some insight for Columbia River Bass fishing in the early spring in his article titled "Spring Bassin'"


Deschutes River

May and June are difficult months for the hardcore steelhead junkie around the Gorge, forcing many diehards to become temporary trout fishermen. Fortunately for them, it is the best time of year for trout, bass, and well, just about everything else. There are a few late winter steelhead hanging around the rivers in early May, but most all of the catch are kelts (post-spawn steelhead working their way back towards the ocean). Travis always says that fishing for spawn and post-spawn fish is like dating in a nursing home.

June 1 signifies the opening of summer steelhead season here. The Klickitat opens June 1 and can kick out a super-early fish or two. Conditions are highly dependent on snowpack and weather. In most years, the river is too high and muddy from runoff to fish in most of June. Given a cold spring, it could be fishable early, but will likely be muddy by mid-June regardless of snowpack and weather. The Klick is a finicky river. It can get very muddy very quickly and snowmelt in the early season can cause the flows to be too high for quality fishing. There are rarely any summer steelhead in the Deschutes in fishable numbers in May or June, but the bright spots are the lower Columbia tributaries. Late May and Early June is often when a nice push of summer run steelhead enter the Sandy, Clackamas, Washougal, and Lewis Rivers, and often no one chasing them.

Salmon Flies doing their thing

The big thing around here is the Deschutes River as Salmonflies and Golden Stoneflies start popping in May. The first two to three weeks of May is a nymphing game, but the dries start popping in the second half of the month, and then epic dry fly fishing dominates the scene from late May through mid June. Some years it is a little earlier, some a bit later. Most of that depends on weather and water temperatures.

Big trout that are rarely seen the rest of the year suddenly become very catchable and eager to eat big dry flies. While much of the focus is on the river from Maupin up to Pelton Dam, great fishing can be had throughout the lower river, with the big bugs hatching a week or two earlier in the lower river than the upper, although the hatch can linger for quite some time below Sherar’s Falls with very few anglers venturing down the lower access road.

Spring Chinook are also available during May and June. We can find them on the Hood River, along with the Klickitat (only open for 1.4 miles of the lower river and only a few days a week until June 1). The Wind River has been known to kick out a “springer” or two. Catching them on a fly is definitely a difficult proposition, so this is the time of year that many hardcore fly fishermen dust off their bait rods, adorn full camo and secretly pull a few fresh spring salmon from the local rivers. The places where springers stack up are usually few and far between, so they can be very crowded. Finding them in catchable numbers in catchable places with a fly rod is all but impossible as there are no secrets during salmon season.

Lakes fishing is usually fabulously during May and June. This is when Lost Lake starts to get really good, and Laurence Lake is at its best. Goose Lake in Washington should give up a couple dozen fish per day to an angler with the right setup. Fish eat flies early and often and a variety of hatches keep them happy. Callibaetis Mayflies are a good bet for mid afternoon dry fly action, while nymphing a chironomid early in the day is a great choice. Damselflies start hatching during this time and fish will chase them into shallow water throughout the day usually starting in late May or early June, but in hotter years, we can see them hatching in early May. A good old olive woolly bugger catches fish all day, but there are many, many flies that would all be good choices. Another prolific hatch to prep for is the Hexagenia Mayflies that are the lake equivalent of the Deschutes Salmonflies, as big fish get really stupid for a couple of days. The bugs hatch at night in bigger lakes like Timothy and Lost, but the most famous “Hex” lake is Merrill up by Mt. St. Helens. The hatch starts right at the end of June and can go through mid-July (into August in some lakes), but that last couple of days in June is a good bet in most lakes. Anglers should fish dries and nymphs in shallow, muddy water at last light and Hex spinners at first light.

20" Smallies live in the Columbia River
May and June is when the most consistent smallmouth bass fishing happens on the Columbia. The June full moon is when most of the fish will spawn. This means that they will hang out in big groups in shallow water and are usually easy to locate. A float n fly will work great, but stripping baitfish patterns is also very productive. Red is the classic pre-spawn color of choice for bass fishermen, but pink, chartreuse, olive, black and yellow have all brought many fish to hand during the late spring. Once you find fish, there should be piles of them in the same area and same type of structures.

The John Day is starting to heat up for smallmouth fishing. If I told you that you could catch sixty plus fish a day between ten and twenty inches all on dry flies, you would definitely be interested, correct? Well just because they are bass and not trout, many people never get to experience a day on the John Day River. Cottonwood Canyon State Park is a peaceful place to go fishing. Take someone that is new to the sport and it will get them hooked for life! Take any popper, Chernobyl Ant, mouse pattern or streamer, it will get eaten repeatedly.

If you ever wanted to catch a Tiger Muskie, May is probably the best month to do it. Evergreen, Merwin and Mayfield Lakes are all within 3 hours of Hood River and all have been known to give up trophy Tigers. These voracious fish area cross between a sterile cross between a Northern Pike and a Muskellunge. A smallish unweighted baitfish pattern works fine, just remember to use a wire leader. I prefer a white deceiver, but black is the classic choice for those die-hard Midwesterners (I don’t care what color fly you use as long as it is black). Getting one fish to take in a weekend of fishing is very good, so it’s not a hard transition for steelheaders to make. Don’t actually expect to catch one and then you will never be disappointed.

Carp really start moving up into the shallows in May and June, and the limited weed growth early in the season makes fishing for them quite a bit easier than later in the summer. Early season carp have been known to be a little pickier than mid-summer fish, but carp are the most finicky fish around. They can turn on or off to any fly at any time. They can appear and disappear in seconds and refuse a hundred flies only to rise to a piece of garbage floating on the surface just to show you how it feels about you.


July and August can be tough or they can be amazing. Hot, dry years, like 2015 are on the tough side. During hot summers, high mountain lakes and small streams are the choice for many anglers in the area. There are literally hundreds of lakes in the Gifford Pinchot forest near Mt Adams, and dozens of lakes by Mt. Hood. Doing a little backpacking, bushwhacking and exploring is on the menu during our summers. Trout Lake Creek is a go-to for small stream trout anglers, as well as the Oak Grove Fork of the Clackamas, Eagle Creek near Bonneville Dam, and the East Fork of the Hood River. The rest are for you to find and for you to keep secret (please). There are so many creeks and lakes in our area that an angler could never fish them all (I am trying, but I always add more to the list than I am checking off).

Lost Lake is a great place to spend a day or weekend fishing. While there is little for solitude in mid summer (the locals call it “found lake”), the fishing is absolutely stellar during the hottest part of the year. There is not always direct sunlight all day as the topography gives some relief from the relentless sun that you would have to deal with on the Deschutes. Days are usually pleasant and nights are often cool. The lake stays cold, at least once you get down a few feet. It is around 200’ deep in the middle, so there is a good supply of cold water for fish to thrive. You may have to use a deep sinking line during the middle of the day, but fish will come into the shallows to eat Callibaetis in the evenings all summer long, and will eat a small, black or olive leech pattern deep yet not too far from shore.

Summer steelhead really start showing up in the Gorge in July, but numbers and water conditions in the Klickitat and Deschutes are generally inconsistent until late August or September in some years. Given good conditions, the chances of hooking a fish are decent throughout this time period, and definitely better towards the end of August. The Deschutes can get very, very hot as the canyon walls reflect a heck of a lot of heat during July. It can be 85 degrees in Hood River and well over 100 in the Lower Deschutes Canyon in July, or 100 in Hood River and 110 in the canyon. There is generally little pressure until late August on either river, but more and more anglers come to both the Deschutes and the Klickitat earlier every year. The Klickitat will likely be very muddy and off-color this time of year, as the Big Muddy Glacier shows us how it got its name… Hood River can kick out a fish for the ultra-dedicated angler, but spotty clarity and low water generally prevent the Hood from being a good choice until the fall. It often has clarity as poor as the Klickitat.

Steelhead from a float tube? Two good choices for steelheaders in August are Drano Lake and the Herman Creek estuary near Cascade Locks. The bulk of the Columbia River steelhead run passes through Bonneville Dam in August and many of them “dip in” to these backwaters to get some cold water through their gills as the Columbia can run above 70 degrees. Many steelhead will enter one of these little hideaways and cool off for a day or two or more. Most fly guys troll little buggers and brassies on intermediate lines in either place. They also like to anchor up, cast, let the line sink to the right depth and strip the flies back with a slow and steady retrieve emphasizing on the twitch. You have to put in some work to find the fish, but once you do it can be really fun and productive. Steelhead tend to stack up in the same areas every year and don’t really move a lot. Go in the mornings, or try fishing Drano at night in your tube. It opens August 15 to night fishing on most years, but the bait crowd can get quite unruly by evening. I have witnessed a couple of screaming matches and near fist fights in the evening, so I prefer early morning or after dark when I can fish in peace and quiet.


This is the time of year that most anglers look forward to the most. We fondly refer to September and October as “Fishtember” and “Fishtober”. My dreams involve a never ending October. Pick a fish and likely it is biting.

The Deschutes and the Klickitat draw most of the attention, but just about everywhere is good. September is when the big run of Fall Chinook run enters the rivers, while October is when the Coho start running. Steelhead fishing is at its best, although incidental salmon bi-catch is quite regular. It is not unheard of to catch a Steelhead, Coho and Chinook all in the same run, back to back to back. Finding steelhead when the salmon are in thick can be tough, but once you figure out what type of water they are hiding in it’s game on. Look for steelhead to be in the riffles ahead of the salmon, the soft water on the sides of salmon schools and behind them deep into the tailouts. My favorite runs to fish this time of year are typically shallower than usual and they don’t hold salmon very well. These steelhead can be found in some atypically shallow water if you look for them. Once the Chinook start dying off in late October, the steelhead will move back to more traditional spots, but then slide into softer water as the river temps drop. Cold water holds more oxygen than warmer water, so as it cools down, the fish can work less to get the same oxygen… so fish slower water on cold days and later in the time period.

Steelhead tend to hold more in the lower part of the Deschutes, while they are distributed all throughout the Klickitat by September. A fall float down the Klicktat canyon from Stinson to Ice House is one of the most beautiful stretches of river you’ll ever see, plus the fishing should be excellent. Most focus on the canyon stretch above the town of Klickitat, but the lower river can give up some nice fish too.

The Deschutes fish tend to start pushing above Sherar’s Falls on the Deschutes (mile 43) after the first heavy rains in late October or early November. While fish can be found throughout the system, the bulk of the action is still in the lower 15 miles. The reason is that many of the Idaho and upper Columbia River fish tend to move into the Deschutes and hold there. They run up to 15 miles upstream and can hold for weeks or months before returning to the Columbia and continuing their journey to the upper reaches of the Columbia or Snake River tributaries. If you are looking for some solitude during steelhead season on the Deschutes, good luck. Your best bet is to fish above Maupin.

The trout fishing is absolutely amazing during this time of year too, but it is nearly impossible to convince anyone to go as long as the steelhead are running. So next time you head out to the Deschutes this time of year, take a 5wt or 6wt and some October Caddis patterns and fish that trout water that you have always been curious about when you have a few minutes. It can be very rewarding.

The lakes are fishing really well too this time of year. Trout feel a sense of urgency to put on some weight before winter sets in. Laurence tends to fish very well this time of year. There are a few lakes that will get very low in our area, but Lost and Laurence tend to hold water better than others like Timothy and Clear Lake by Mt. Hood; both of which tend to get very, very low by October. Laurence closes on Halloween, so get your fish on while you can. You can fish some pretty ridiculously large streamers and go head hunting for the big fish that you know are in there that you’ll never see the rest of the year.

Many of our local waters close to trout fishing on October 31. The East Fork Hood River, Eagle Creek, and the Deschutes upstream of the Northern Boundary of the Warm Springs Reservation, which is upstream of all of the Maupin area access points. Laurence Lake also closes Nov 1.

Bass fishing on the Columbia can be spotty, but can also be very productive depending on conditions. If we have a cooler fall with good flows, the bass will get very happy. They should be chasing baby shad into the shallows and the topwater bite can go off at any point, but cloudy, dreary days are a good time to go chase smallies.


November and December are definitely more mellow months to be fishing in our area. While September and October produce a full frenzy of salmon and steelhead action, November can be the best month for steelheading. The Klickitat is not too crowded, the salmon are dying and the action can be great. The weather and lack of daylight are the biggest factors to productive fishing this time of year. Big rains or early snows can make fishing much more difficult to impossible.

The Deschutes will still kick out some great fish this time of year, but the numbers are not going to be there like in September. I will take one gorgeous B run fish with nobody around over battling the crowds to catch a bunch. The lower couple of miles gets plenty of those Idaho Clearwater B run steelhead that hang out in the lower 15 miles before moving down and out to Idaho. They don’t have to be in the Clearwater until the spring, so there is no rush for them to get there. I would hang out in the Deschutes over the Columbia if I was a steelhead too.

The upper part of the Lower Deschutes from Trout Creek upstream to Warm Springs is a good place to catch some late November and December summer steelhead. It is open for steelhead fishing until December 31, and will produce fish all the way to Pelton Dam until the river either closes or freezes. Road access is tough, and not a lot of guys want to float the three days from Trout Creek to Maupin in such cold conditions.

The John Day is a good place to go steelhead fishing in November. While there is little to no classic swinging water, there are enough fish and (hopefully) enough water to get the job done. Cottonwood Canyon Park is a good place to start. Look for steady flows above 300 cfs at the USGS Service Creek gauge to pull fish in. The John Day can fish well into December, but often freezes enough to prevent quality fishing by Christmas.

Trout fishing is epic! Fish are eating whatever they can get in their mouths. Whether it is a salmon egg, October caddis, Blue Wing Olive, or a big, meaty streamer, trout are looking for food in a bad way. The Deschutes downstream of the Warm Spring Reservation is the place to be. If you bought a Micro Spey, now is the time to go use it! An egg-sucking sculpin is my favorite pattern to swing, just add a little twitch to entice trout to take.

Lakes can still fish really well through November if they are still accessible. Roland Lake just east of Bingen is planted on Thanksgiving with a bunch of fish, including some jumbo trout. Goose Lake up above Trout Lake, WA is a wonderful place to go fish late in the year. Just call the Mt. Adams Ranger station in Trout Lake if you are wondering about road conditions.

Bass fishing on the Columbia can be really good as the temps start to plummet. Bass will really get moving once the temperature of the Columbia hits the mid 50s. Just because it is cold outside doesn’t mean the fishing is cold. The Columbia tends to stay warm late into the year.

From Thanksgiving to Christmas can be a tough time for steelheaders. The summer run has about wrapped up, but the winter run hasn’t quite got moving yet. Early winter steelhead are just starting to move into coastal streams, especially the hatchery fish. The North Fork Nehalem and the Grays River are both well known for their early returning hatchery steelhead. If we get a good storm cycle anytime after Thanksgiving it will likely pull some fish into the rivers, but nothing in the early season is guaranteed. The Hood doesn’t really start producing fish for several months, so putting some miles on the truck in order to chase a fish that exists in tiny numbers and doesn’t want to be caught during the darkest, coldest part of the year is what we get to deal with.

The Gorge Fly Shop Team


"Fly Fish the World with Us"

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