Washington Summer Steelhead Fishing 2014

This year’s summer fishing season should give folks plenty of opportunities to catch Summer Run Steelhead in every corner of Washington State. Returns for 2014 summer-runs look very strong, and I anticipate that it will be a great season. Washington state is such a unique place, with a drastic range of environs, from the pine forests of the Eastern Washington foothills to the rain soaked coastal river valleys to the broad and mighty Columbia River. We have so many great Steelhead streams in our corner of the world, and I truly hope that everyone takes at least a few days to try their luck out there this summer.

Here is a basic guide featuring a breakdown of the smolt planting data and a guestimate of the best fishing times based on catch reporting data from years’ past.

Columbia River Summer Run Steelhead

The Columbia River draws the most attention from anglers around the Pacific Northwest. And while most folks head down to the Mighty Columbia to go salmon fishing, the returns of Summer Steelhead are staggering. The estimated return of upriver Summer Steelhead (just those that will pass over Bonneville Dam) is set at 281,000, which is a little less than last year but an impressive return nonetheless (doesn’t factor in returns from Lower Columbia Stocks). One look at the smolt plants on the rivers that pour into the Columbia really showcase just how many fish will return for us to catch!

Summer Steelhead return to the Columbia en masse, and as you can see by the table below, the run starts strong in the Lower Columbia and tributaries in June and progresses upriver until December. The best fishing in the lower river is typically found in June and July, but in the upper stretches of the river on the eastside of the state, fishing can be good in October and November and December. So even though we designate these fish as “summer run”, these fish do have quite the distance to travel upriver and fishing in the Upper Columbia doesn’t really peak until the fall months.

Steelhead fishing seasons on the mainstem Columbia River are set, but always check WDFW Emergency Rules before your trip for any possible closures. Also take note, that aside from a Catch Record Card for any Steelhead fishing you plan on doing statewide, there is a unique Columbia River Salmon & Steelhead Endorsement that needs to be purchased from your local license dealer, it is required to fish any part of the Columbia River or any of its tributaries. Summer Steelhead are caught by both boat anglers and bank anglers alike, and there are some phenomenal bank fishing spots along the entire length of the river!

[table caption=”Columbia River Mainstem Summer Run Fishing” width=”500″ colwidth=”100″
colalign=”left|center “]
River Section,Best Fishing
Astoria to Longview,June thru July
Longview to Portland,July thru August
Portland to Dalles,July thru August
Dalles to John Day,July thru September
John Day to McNary, September thru November
McNary to Tri-Cities,September thru December
Tri-Cities to Priest Rapids,October thru January
Wells to Chief Joseph, October thru December

Lower Columbia River Tributaries 2014

The rivers that pour into the Columbia River below Bonneville Dam offer up some of the most classic steelhead waters that we have in our state. This region of the state is a Steelheader’s dream. Smaller rivers such as the Kalama, Washougal and Elochoman offer a great place to hike into a favorite spot or float the river in a drift boat. These are the places where the solitude of an uncrowded section of water on a warm summer day, and a cartwheeling Steelhead on the end of your line can create memories that help us get through the winter.

Then there are the rivers such as the Cowlitz that is a hive of activity throughout much of the summer, where a nice mix of Summer Steelhead and Salmon offer plenty of action for those that don’t mind the crowds. Buzzing upriver around a few other sleds to make another drift, side-drifting four lines to effectively cover the run, and leaving the river with a limit of Steelhead all caught on light tackle makes some folks beam with excitement.

Whatever is your preference, whatever sized river you prefer, whatever type of vessel you enjoy fishing from, there is a special place for you in Southwest Washington on the Columbia River Tribs.

[table caption=”Lower Columbia River Systems” width=”500″ colwidth=”100″
Name of Stream,Smolt Released,Best Fishing
Elochoman River,33000,June thru July
Kalama River,90385,May thru September
Cowlitz River,571529,June thru August
South Fork Toutle River,14953,Just thru August
Green River,24974,June thru August
N.Fork & Main Lewis River,261797,May thru September
East Fork Lewis River,15000,June thru July

Upper Columbia River Tributaries 2014

Many of the rivers and streams that feed the Upper Columbia offer great Steelhead fishing. Generous smolt plants give us plenty of returning fish to catch from the Methow, Wenatchee, Walla Walla, Grande Ronde, and many others. Most of the upper river returns peak in September and October, but several locations will offer good fishing through December.

This is bobber &jig country; bank anglers fish below many of the dams and in the tributaries with small dark jig patterns, but tossing spinners, swinging spoons, and fly fishing will put a fair number of Steelhead to the beach as well. Some of the upper tributaries are managed with a “wait and see” method of season setting.

Because so many different things can factor in to how those upriver runs fair, such as outmigration over a dozen dams, predation, water temp, water flow, ect… Fish managers look at the estimated return early on, but will open up the more popular tributaries after they witness strong counts over the dams.

[table caption=”Upper Columbia River Systems” width=”500″ colwidth=”100″
colalign=”left|right|center “]
Name of Stream,Smolt Released,Best Fishing
N.Fork Washougal,62822,May thru July
Drano Lake,24003,July thru September
Klickitat River,91664,June thru October
Walla Walla River,102177,September thru November
Touchet River,143708,September thru November
Snake River Lower,137841,September thru November
Tucannon River,51124,September thru November
Grand Ronde River,176902,October thru December
Columbia River (Ringold),186143,July thru September
Columbia River (Wells),31860,October thru December
Wenatchee River,188721,September thru November
Methow River,304358,September thru November
Okanogan River,81465,September thru November


Washington’s Coastal Summer Steelhead 2014

When most fishers talk about “The Coast”, they are referring to the Westside of the Olympic Peninsula. Wild rushing rivers that sluice through the temperate rainforest in the National Park to collide with the Pacific. Wild Summer Steelhead can be found in a few of these rivers, I have caught Steelhead in the Queets during practically every month of the year.

The rivers that are still planted with hatchery produced Steelhead Smolts are few, just a couple, but each offers a unique fishery. Expect solitude on the Coast at the Humptulips and Calawah during summer months. Expect a crowd on the Wynoochee’s stretches early on. Once the snowmelt subsides, low clear flows make fishing a little more challenging, which makes each Steelhead landed even more rewarding.

[table caption=”Washington’s Coastal River Systems” width=”500″ colwidth=”100″
Name of Stream,Smolt Released,Best Fishing
Quillayute River (Calawah),49500,June thru September
Humptulips River,31028,June thru August
Wynoochee River,60000,June thru August

Puget Sound’s Summer Steelhead 2014

Puget Sound’s summertime fishing opportunities revolt around a vibrant saltwater salmon fishing season and a remarkable array of Steelhead opportunities in local rivers. The Skykomish River’s snowmelt fed flows host a great mixed fishery for Summer Chinook and Steelhead. The Green River’s remote upper watershed is filled with hidden runs and pools, as well as great fishing at the Green River Gorge and Flaming Geyser State Park. Fly fishermen capitalize on the fly-only waters of the North Fork Stillaquamish. We have plenty of fishing opportunities to be thankful for in Puget Sound. If you have never caught a Summer Steelhead out of our local waters, the thrill is indescribable.

Unfortunately a local special interest group the Wild Fish Conservancy, who’s mission is to protect wild fish populations at any cost, has successfully filed a lawsuit to cease our fishing opportunities in Puget Sound rivers for Steelhead… in the future, the Skykomish River will be the only in all of Pugetropolis to be stocked, so most likely this year and next will be the last time we will see a fishery in any Puget Sound river for steelhead in the next dozen years… unless you want to pig-pile in the Sky Valley. So get in some local fishing time while you still can.

[table caption=”Puget Sound & Strait of Juan de Fuca River Systems” width=”500″ colwidth=”100″
Name of Stream,Smolt Released,Best Fishing
N. Fork Stillaquamish,76255,June thru August
Skykomish River,187500,June thru August
Green River (Icy Creek),19984,June thru August
Green River (Big Soos),60000,June thru August
Duckabush River,238,June thru July