Sturgeon Fishing in Oregon
Sturgeon are among the largest gamefish found in Oregon, as well as one of the largest fish found anywhere in the world. Northwest Anglers quite often can be found fishing for these larger than life fish that can grow 10 feet or more. In Oregon, the largest population of Sturgeon can be found on the Columbia River. This is one of the few places in the Pacific Northwest with healthy enough sturgeon numbers to even allow a few keeper sturgeon fishing opportunities during the season.
Here is our list of the top 4 sturgeon fishing destinations in Oregon.
1.) Willamette River
During September all the way through March the lower Willamette River can provide some of the best sturgeon fishing the Pacific Northwest has to offer. The Willamette is host to a large population of these prehistoric monsters and is well worth the venture for those looking to target these mammoth fish.
The key areas that most anglers focus their efforts on the Willamette are from the falls downriver to its confluence with the Columbia. The river splits before draining into the Columbia, with the largest flow heading directly to where the Columbia intersects with the city of Vancouver, Washington. The remainder flows northwest to the Multnomah Channel, forming the western boundary of Sauvie Island, and then joins the Columbia downriver at St. Helens, Oregon. The sturgeon that inhabit the Willamette River system below Willamette falls are part of the large population that lives throughout the lower Columbia River system and sometimes ventures out to the Oregon and Washington coastlines to feed in bays.
Be aware that the lower Willamette’s sturgeon fishery went to catch-and-release back in 2014 due to the declining numbers of fish; however, regulators do consider limited seasons for harvests and usually are found out about through the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Also, you’ll need a Columba River fishing endorsement if you choose to target these fish on the Columbia River. One can be obtained at pretty much any sporting goods store or the ODFW website. Sturgeon can be found on the Willamette all year long, but the best time to fish for them here is during the fall. This is when the largest mass of fish move into the lower Columbia’s largest tributary. Here Sturgeon come to winter over and feed in the Willamette warmer waters.
Generally, the number of sturgeon in the lower Willamette begins to climb when rainy weather arrives in October or November. Many of these fish stick around until spring. Unlike most fish sturgeon don’t mind the muddy brown waters following seasonally heavy rains and tend to bite very well in even brackish water conditions. That’s one of the great things about sturgeon fishing there is hardly a time when they are not fishable. Some of the baits sturgeon love on the Willamette River and Multnomah Channel are squid, sand shrimp, and anchovies and smelt. They also love to eat up the shad when they arrive in the early spring. Some of the great sturgeons fishing spots on the lower Willamette are as follows
Located near the mouth of the Willamette River are excellent numbers of sturgeon from fall through spring. This is one of our favorite places to fish from December to March. During this time we’ll be there targeting these beauties before switching over to spring Chinook fishing. Spring Chinook is another very popular fishery in the area.
Below the St. Johns Bridge
There is a very nice launch at Cathedral Park under the east end of the bridge, it heads in the direction of the mouth and provides access to the Toyota docks and around the grain barges with are known hot spots for catching sturgeon. The water is also very good water above the bridge, including above the train bridge located about a mile above St. Johns. During some seasons, there’s so many fish in the river, it doesn’t even matter where you fish in this stretch you just have to find the depths where the fish are holding up.
Below Willamette Falls
Willamette Falls is a great fishery but it can be difficult to navigate even for the experienced boaters. These waters can be very dangerous and newbies are better off going with an experienced angler or guide, to learn this part of the river or fish it from the docks at West Linn. The area below the falls attracts the river’s largest fish during the spring, but there also is a seasonal closure from the falls downriver to the railroad bridge located in the Lake Oswego and Oak Grove area. As of (2014), that section of the river is closed from May through August. Keep in mind you should check the fishing regulations for updates before fishing. When the Willamette falls area is open, fish the river above the fishing catwalk located on the west bank. You’ll want to stay clear of bank anglers using that facility. The water here is fast and between 30′ and 140′ deep. If you looking to target the big one try a whole shad as it’s one of the best baits possible for Sturgeon.
The middle stretches of the Willamette between the falls and the lower harbor isn’t as productive as other areas of the river, but there are a couple decent places to fish for sturgeon near Oaks Park, the Old Spaghetti Factory, Milwaukie/Oak Grove, and near the Sellwood Bridge. Otherwise near the mouth is probably your best bet after that.
This Slough holds plenty of fish and is an excellent place to target sturgeon. Look to fish downriver from the launch at Gilbert River (Sauvie Island) to the mouth at St. Helens. Also about a mile from the ramp launch at Scappoose Bay, there are some pretty good holes that hold good numbers of smaller to mid-size sturgeon. Fish at 40 feet or more in-depth for good fishing. There is one spot just off the sawdust pile that has excellent fishing is 50 to 70 feet deep.
2.) Columbia River near Portland
The Portland area of the Columbia River offers up some great sturgeon fishing during the months of April and May. From the Bonneville Dam to the mouth of the Columbia thousands of anglers can be found targeting these amazing fish. Even better this is usually the time of year you can actually keep a few depending on the size. Just the sheer number of fish in the river during this time of the season, warrants this area being in the top 4 sturgeon fishing destination in Oregon.
Astoria is one of the best sturgeon fishing estuaries the state has to offer for keeper sized fish. From the end of May into early July, you’ll see Columbia River Fishing Adventures running the river and filling up the boat with keeper white Sturgeon. The great thing about Astoria is that it holds incredible numbers of sturgeon and they can be regularly caught in 3-6 feet of water. This is also a time when we offer combo trips for both Sturgeon and Salmon as they can both be found chasing the fresh baitfish that are entering the Columbia River. Sand shrimp can very effective in 20 feet or less of water, and in the deeper holes anchovies and smelt very attractive to the hungry sturgeon as well.
4.) Dalles Dam
The Bonneville pool specifically the area just below the Dalles dam is well known for big sturgeon with some of the best fishing in the months of June, July, and August. These fish are some of the biggest fish in the Columbia River. Keeper sturgeon at the Dalles can be hit and miss with in-season closures so check your Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife for info on retention. Catch and release sturgeon however generally stays open year round.