Fish of the Columbia River

Fishing on the Columbia River thrills anglers the world over. It’s the West’s biggest river and offers up an exciting variety of angling opportunities.

There are native species and the largest freshwater fish in the country. The river runs through mountains, high deserts and farmlands and the ocean’s coastal region, so there’s no shortage of great fishing opportunities.

The expansive ecosystem means a massive group of habitats resulting in the Columbia River’s large variety of game fish. To get the best out of your fishing adventures, look no further than our experienced fishing guide, Travis Dupell.

Native Game Fish

Here are a few fish native to the Columbia River.

Coho Salmon

By the middle of August, good numbers of coho land in the Buoy 10 estuary area. Those regions include Washington’s Chinook and Ilwaco, and Hammond and Astoria on the Oregon side. The angling tends to remain fairly steady through September before seasonal rain falls. If they reach freshwater, coho bite with less frequency than in salt water.

Chinook Salmon

Found mid-year, the Chinook is a prized salmon. The Spring Chinook is found more in the river and is bountiful in late summer. Popular fishing spots are along Portland/Vancouver, Rainier/Longview and below the Bonneville Dam. Upriver, the populace isn’t as large. The Chinook is usually intercepted at tributary river mouths. The largest groups tend to show up on the lower river between August and September.


Both the white and green sturgeon are native to the Columbia River. Fishery biologists have discovered that sturgeon existed as long as 200 million years ago. White sturgeon are the largest and longest-lived fish in the Columbia, with some specimens living for up to 80 to 100 years. Sturgeon are plentiful in the Columbia, and are also found in tributaries of the Columbia River, such as the Snake, Salmon and Willamette rivers. Most of the year, sturgeon fishing is catch and release only; but for limited openings during the year, anglers have the opportunity to catch and keep sturgeon — which are great tasting fish that can weigh as much as several hundred pounds. Typical keepers are in the 125 pound range.

Northern Pikeminnow Fishing

The Bonneville Power Administration pays anglers for these critters! The agency promotes a sport-reward program. The pikeminnow is over-populating the reservoir-filled river. The goal is to minimize the consumption of large amounts of baby steelhead and salmon migrating downriver. Commonly found in spots where the fish lay outside strong current or below dams, anglers can earn thousands in a single season.

Smallmouth Bass

A non-native species, the smallmouth is all over the river. Rocky habitats, varying currents and food sources make for a smallmouth’s paradise. The fish populate islands, rocky shorelines, humps and sunken rock. They also like riprap, pilings and other artificial structures. You’re good with soft plastic lures, spinnerbaits and crankbaits. Anything, in general, that imitates prey like minnows or crayfish. Smallmouth sports tournaments are held each year, including national events.

Crappie Fishing

Crappie is aggressive and, though not necessarily strong, will put up one heck of a fight on light tackle. Traveling in schools, you’ll find them in great numbers. Crappies lurk in the lower Columbia River, usually in moorages, backwaters, and pits and ponds connected to the main river along highways. They have an appetite for smaller fish so small jig lures are the perfect bait.

Walleye Fishing

For walleye fishing, the Columbia River is one of the best spots in the West. You’ll find them below the Vancouver-Portland regions and right into Washington. Walleye won’t be as easy to snatch up as smallmouth. Keep an eye on holding waters around sunken rock piles, ledges and other walleye hidey-holes.

The above is only a taste of the adventures available on the Columbia River. You’ve got catfish, shad, largemouth bass, sturgeon, trout and so much more. We’ve been guiding the Columbia for years and know where the fish are biting. If you’re interested in a great adventure on the water, give us a call for a guided fishing trip.