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The Angle: Salmon Capitol of the World

By Lucas Holmgren

The Angle: Salmon Capitol of the World

When you compare the numbers of salmon today in the Columbia River to conservative historical estimates of 15 million salmon per year, it can appear bleak. The Columbia River has been affected greatly by hydropower and habitat loss, yet it still produces hundreds of thousands of returning adult salmon and steelhead each year. Despite massive environmental impacts, with the help of hatchery supplementation, the Columbia River remains the most popular salmon river in the world.

With diverse runs of Chinook Salmon and steelhead, there is a chance at catching an ocean-run fish in the Columbia every day of the year. There are certain times when the “run” is most dense. Spring Chinook, the most prized table-fare of all, used to be the most robust population, Fall Chinook have now overtaken as the biggest run. Upper Columbia River’s Summer Chinook run has recovered from near extinction, while others like Lower Columbia Winter Chinook are trending downward.

Popular salmon destinations on the Columbia River
During peak times of year, the Columbia can have thousands of boat and bank anglers trying their hand for salmon, steelhead, sturgeon, bass, walleye and a number of other species.

The mouth of the Columbia at Astoria Oregon, often known as the “Buoy 10” fishery, is the “Salmon Fishing Superbowl” and usually kicks off August 1st. Columbia River salmon are heavily regulated and divided between sport, tribal and commercial harvest, so there are constantly changing regulations to keep from over-harvesting quotas. As a result, throughout August - November, many guides will fish from the mouth up through the Gorge.

For visitors looking at a chance at a high-quality salmon, fall is by far the best time for action. Spring Chinook in March and April are a sought-after fish, but there are usually a lot less bites per trip.

Cities like Longview, Scappoose, Portland, Kalama, Troutdale, Ridgefield, Vancouver and Camas have boat launches on the lower river before the famous Columbia Gorge. The Willamette River itself has a very popular Spring Chinook fishery, not to mention excellent catch-and-release Smallmouth Bass and walleye.
As you venture up the Gorge, there are some popular areas like the mouths of the Klickitat and Deschutes Rivers, where cold water attracts salmon and steelhead near these rivers in the mainstem Columbia. Farther up in Tri-Cities, Snake River and beyond, various times of year can be excellent fishing, while other parts of the year still offer world-class walleye and Smallmouth.

For those living in the Lower Columbia, there is more freshwater opportunity than many think, beyond just the popular salmon runs. The forecasts for 2024 Upriver Spring Chinook (121,000 fish) are below ten average (152,289), but if fishing conditions are right, it could still result in some epic days of salmon fishing. Fall Chinook forecasts are looking brighter, and last year was a promising return. Make sure to put a date on the calendar to get out with a guide or on your own for salmon this year!

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