Tuesday, August 12, 2014

To Catch BIG fish -- Part III -- Where to go and when

Fall Chinook - the further from salt they get
the redder, then darker they become.
To Preface this article - The writer has been a licensed fishing guide of ODFW's NE Oregon Fishing Zone, and is most familiar with the waters of that area. This writer is not as familiar with the SE Washington tributaries of the Mighty Columbia River; therefore the fishing experience and tables of this article are based on Oregon fishing experience.
As we approach the late August and early September fishing season, our thoughts turn to the BIG fish -steelhead and fall salmon- that migrate up into Columbia River and
through the Columbia River Basin tributaries. Being these fish do not stay in one place for very long, always moving towards their spawning waters; it is a good idea to follow the autumn fish migration through the Columbia River dams adult fish counts, if you wish to have a good chance for seasonal catching success.
from The Oregonian on May 07, 2011
 If you are one interested in chasing Pacific Northwest steelhead and salmon, you might want to follow the fish runs through these Columbia/ Snake rivers dams -last 7 days- via the Fish Passage Center.

current counts and 10 year average
 The Dalles
current counts and 10 year
John Day
current counts and 10 year average
Umatilla River
Three Mile
current counts and 3 year average
current count and 10 year average
 Ice Harbor
current counts and 10 year
 Lower Monumental
current counts and 10 year

Some fish will run very quickly to their spawning waters, others don't. Spring Chinook enter the Columbia River in the spring, but do not enter their spawning water until late August and early September.
Fall Chinook enter the Columbia River in mid to late summer and run into their spawning waters in late October and early November.

Columbia River Basin tributary steelhead
Steelhead spawning east of the Columbia River Gorge will enter the Columbia River system from the Pacific Ocean in late winter, early spring and "run" to the river of their hatching to spawn the following spring - April, May, June. Many of these steelhead will nose into different tributaries along the way to their spawning water, and can be caught as they are just "hanging" around on their way to spawn. This is where watching the ACE dam counts will provide one with some fun hookups, and in the early - mid spawning run; and provide the angler with some prime table-fare to take home. Some of these fish will spend much of the time in the mainstem of the Columbia River and make a spawning rush "run" upstream into their spawning water in late winter and early spring. Those that survive the spawning run will return to "salt" in June and are very spent/worn/torn fish, not worthy of catching or for table-fare.

Late summer, early autumn fishing is usually in low flow water currents, due to slight/lack of rainfall and irrigation water draws. These conditions maybe ongoing until first frost or until late October and early November rains return to this arid area. Some basin rivers have a flow so slow that it is quite difficult to swing a fly downriver.
The chart below will give you the best fly fishing flows for the various rivers listed. Adjacent rivers will be much the same flow, unless there is a major weather event in one area and not another.

Follow the links below to see if the river flow is sufficient to swing a fly, or if you need a boat to fish the river.

Owyhee Dam
River Basin
 Grande Ronde

Minam  @ Minam

River Basin
 JohnDay @
Service Creek
McDonald's Ferry
Moody Rapids
Ideal river flows -in cfs- for fly fishing
Greater than 50
Less than 350
  Greater than 50
  Greater than 1000
Less than 2200
  Greater than 150
Less than 350
  Greater than 150
Less than 500
  Greater than 350
Less than 700
Greater than 400
Less than 800
  Greater than 350
Less than 800
  Greater than 375
Less than 1000
  Greater than 4200
Less than 5800

To find more Oregon river flows click on these links to
Oregon State University or USGS realtime flows
  FYI --
List of longest streams of Oregon
Washington State does not have a like reference map to point to

Before wetting a fly, always know the current fishing regulations for the waters you are standing in; for anadromous fish the regulations can change very much from year-to-year, and river-to-river.
- Oregon Fishing Regulations
- Washington Fishing Regulations

Successfully fishing for the BIG anadromous fish that "run" the Columbia River and its tributary is a matter of knowing where the fish are. By following the dams adult fish counts you can somewhat pinpoint the migration. Looking at the Columbia Basin in general; most years the run is...
A Mid-Columbia Steelhead
the Deschutes River- sees some steelhead in June and much more in late July, fall Chinook and a lot of steelhead turn into the river in late August through September. Fishing for steelhead can be good through New Years Day.
the John Day River- is a very low flow river until the fall irrigation is turned off, and rains begin to fall in the upper mountain reaches of the river. There is an early steelhead run in late August - early September, but with low flows this "run" is hard to hook into. Late September, October, and early November is prime time for fishing the lower John Day below Clarno.

the Umatilla River- thanks to the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR) the Umatilla River is well stocked with anadromous steelhead, spring and fall Chinook. Their splendid fishery program there sometimes shows spring Chinook in March with the fishing season opening on 16 April (most years). There are some steelhead passing through Three Mile Dam in September. More show up in October and in late October and November the lower river up to Yokum, can experience traffic jams of fall Chinook in the prime "run" waters. Steelhead traffic continues to run slowly but steady until February and March, with most of the steelies running through Pendleton as the season closes on 15 April.
the Walla Walla River- at the confluence with the Mighty Columbia River is rather slow/low flow until the rains of late fall. Some steelhead will enter the river in late summer, but stay in the lower reaches - Nine Mile Ranch area. Washington State stock the river with steelhead in the spring, Oregon State does not. The
CTUIR stock spring Chinook in the river, but to-date there is no open fishing season for salmon. Generally steelhead fishing in the Walla Walla River is best after the irrigation season and the fall rains begin to fall. With each freshet, fish will move upstream with the best fishing being from late December through the close of season 15 April.
Other rivers in the Upper Columbia River Basin that we fish steelhead.

Flies – size #2 hook
Gen. Location
Sept – Nov
Nez Perce Indian Reservation
Oct – Nov
Egg Sucking Leech
Ringold area
Sept - Oct
through The Canyon
Grande Ronde (WA)
Oct – Nov

Dec - Jan
Green Butt Skunk,
Muddler Minnow, Leeches (in winter)
Boggan’s to Shumaker
Stateline / Big Bend area
Lower Walla Walla

Upper Walla Walla
Sept – Dec


Dec - March
Kaufmann / other's fly patterns


egg patterns
below Stateline Rd
above Stateline Rd
Lower Touchet

Upper Touchet

Jan - March

red and orange egg pattern w/skein

Lamar to Lukenbill Rd -------------------

Upstream of
Lewis and Clark Park
Grande Ronde (OR)
late Oct

Nov - Jan
Dry flies
OR-WA stateline to Troy

This writer would also like to make reference to previous articles posted to this blog as an aid to catch BIG fish: 

~ To Catch BIG fish -- Part 1 -- Gearing up, hooking, chasing and landing big fish
 ~ To Catch BIG fish -- Part II -- A Blue Mountains Fly Hatch Chart

UPDATED: by Dale McKain - August 2014
Umatilla River -mid June- springer
Grande Ronde River -late October- steelie

Tight lines and Good Fishing

 Walla² Fly Fishers

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