Something’s Fishy: A Complete Guide to Portland Salmon Fishing

June 26, 2022

A Complete Guide to Portland Salmon Fishing

Did you know that the largest Chinook Salmon caught in Oregon weighed a whopping 83 pounds? Ernie St. Clair landed the Chinook in 1910, and the record has stood for over 100 years!

Do you want to break that record? Columbia River offers some of the best salmon fishing in Oregon and America, and we’re the experts who will help you land the big ones.

Are you planning a Portland salmon fishing trip? Read on to learn all you need to know about Columbia River salmon fishing.

Spring Chinook Salmon Fishing in Portland

Salmon runs all year long on different Oregon rivers. The first run of the year is spring Chinook on the Columbia River.

Chinook salmon begin their run in March, but the best fishing occurs during April and May and extends into early June. Spring Chinook are some of the best-tasting and most valuable species of salmon.

March is when these adult spring fish travel from the Pacific Ocean to coastal rivers with rising water temperatures, yet they don’t spawn until the water cools in autumn. Because they spend so much time in freshwater, their main goal is energy conservation, and they travel closer to shore.

Chinook, also known as King salmon, can weigh up to 100 lbs. Common “springers,” however, weigh 10-15 lbs.

Time the Run

Adult passage counts are crucial for knowing when to go salmon fishing in Oregon. These passage counts tell you how many fish are running, and more fish means better fishing.

The Fish Passage Center (FPC) provides counts of all species of salmon passing through Columbia River dams.

Identify Run Delays

Concentrated fish populations yield better fishing.

During the run, Chinook get caught behind barriers like hydroelectric tailraces and dams along the Columbia River. These barriers often create back eddies and swirling currents that slow the Chinook migration.

Great Bait

In our experience, spring Chinook bite the best on cured roe.

Roe is salmon eggs and skeins, and they’re cured often with a commercial proprietary mixture. Salmon roe cure recipes can include borax (to dehydrate the eggs), sugar, and salt. Commercial cures include dyes meant to draw attention.

Fall Chinook Salmon Fishing in Portland

Spring Chinooks are tasty, but they’re smaller. If you’re traveling to Portland looking for a trophy fishing adventure, we recommend the autumn Chinook season.

Fall Chinook Salmon grow large, and a weight of 30 lbs or more is not uncommon.

Why do these fish grow so large compared to their spring cousins? They spend more time in the ocean. Spring run fish move from the sea to freshwater rivers six months before the fall run fish move.

More time in the ocean means the fall Chinook get a longer period to fatten up.

Trolling Chinook

Spring Chinook swim closer to shore, meaning you can catch them easier using plugging and other shore fishing techniques. The much larger fall Chinook travel in much deeper water.

Trolling is the process of dragging bait behind your moving boat. Downriggers sink your tackle below the Columbia River surface where these massive salmon congregate.


Fall and spring Chinook are scent oriented, and the fall variety love cured roe just as much as the spring.

Other baits like albacore tuna belly, sand shrimp wraps, and herring work well when fishing the Columbia River for fall Chinook.

Bobber Fishing

Does your next fishing adventure involve quality time with friends and family? Passive techniques like bobber fishing work great for fall Chinook salmon.

Chinook salmon congregate in the deep, slow holes along the Columbia. Set some line slack and let your bait drag along the river bed while you relax in the beautiful Oregon autumn.

Fall Coho Salmon Fishing in Portland

Like Chinook, Coho migrate from ocean waters to freshwater rivers and streams to spawn.

Unlike Chinook, Coho only run the Columbia River during the fall. It just so happens that the fall Columbia Coho run is one of the most famous and fruitful in the Pacific Northwest. Coho are a tasty and highly sought salmon variety.

The average Coho grows to 24-38 inches and weighs 8-12 lbs.

Timing is Everything

A majority of Coho fishing occurs along the shore of the Pacific Ocean. These fish feed well along the coastal bays but don’t let that discourage you. There are many fantastic freshwater fishing spots less than an hour outside Portland.

The best time for freshwater Coho fishing comes just after rain. Heavy rainfall lights a fire under these fish and they swim rapidly upstream as the water level rises.

Bait Fishing

Coho lead with their nose just like Chinook. They’re attracted to the deep smell of cured salmon roe and local baitfish.

The technique is easy, as these salmon are much easier to catch from shore than their fall-run Chinook counterparts. Shore anglers have success with these baits and spinner lures.

September Boat Show

Columbia River Coho anglers find the most successful fishing from their boats on the pools outside of Portland come mid-September. The Coho run reaches its Portland peak just after Labor Day and wanes come October as the fish migrate above Bonneville Dam.

Are You Ready for Your Portland Salmon Fishing Adventure?

What more could you want from a fishing trip? You have the majesty of the Columbia River. You also have the urban beauty of a major metropolitan city.

The kicker is that Portland salmon fishing is some of the best in the entire country.

If you’re planning a Columbia River salmon fishing excursion, why not book a charter with the experts? We know all the best spots.

Contact us today and book a charter for the next run!

Book Your Trip Today