It's enormous, compared to "any" other river system in the U.S. In the wake of modern developement by large hydro power dams, the Columbia River is now comprised of chain-linked reservoirs. Like it or not, there remains some of the best angling opportunities anywhere. As many difficulties face them, salmon and steelhead continue to thrive as best they can in most of the basin including the Snake River. Along the way, other game fish were introduced that adapted very well in the Columbia River reservoirs offering resident fisheries. As a result, the CR hosts fly fishing opportunities for steelhead, salmon, shad, trout, smallmouth bass, carp and more!
For those who invest their time to explore and fish the fly on this big river, he/she will discover exciting moments that you might otherwise only dream about! As the big river flows from the Canadian Rockies to the Pacific Ocean, it offers exciting places to go, fish to chase, and landscapes to gasp at. In all my travels across the globe, the Columbia still remains my most treasured river!
Be sure to check the BLOG for all the latest Columbia River fly fishing reports!
Bill Thayer with a hawg triploid from Rufus Woods Reservoir.
The Fish:From Chief Joseph Dam to the U.S.-Canadian border there are rainbow trout in various stocks of hatchery and wild origin. The wild fish are Columbia River redband trout, which are most abundant in the upper reaches of Roosevelt Reservoirs though some make their way in to Rufus Woods Reservoir as well. Kamloops also thrive in both Rufus Woods and Roosevelt Reservoirs. There are a few elusive brown trout in Rufus Woods which I have caught myself but not big stature. I have talked to some gear fisherman that claim larger browns to the net as large as 10+ pounds. Rufus Woods has earned its place on the map with the abundance of very large triploid rainbow trout, a genetically altered fish producing 3 sets of chromosomes instead of two. The end result is a fish with virtually no reproductive capabilities, thus utilizing more energy into growth. The Washington State record is just shy of 30 pounds!
Angling Season:Year-Round (Be sure to check closures for tributaries into Roosevelt and Rufus Woods res.)
Columbia River Location:From Chief Joseph Dam through British Columbia
Flies:Streamers, sizes 2-6, include weighted black buggers (my glass bead metallic bugger is excellent fish catcher), suggestive imitations of a redside shiner, which are a very common minnow species, using a clouser minnows in two-tone shades ranging from olive to brown, and sculpzillas for imitating sculpin. Basically anything that is 2-3 inches long in black or brown and has a lot of life to it. Fish any of these in coves, or chuck em close to the bank while drifting with the current such as in Rufus Woods, or fish inside the big back eddies. Dry fly and terrestrial patterns are likely fished in the free-flowing stretch from Northport, WA to Castlegar, B.C. Caddis are the most prolific ranging in size from 18 to 12, with the smaller sizes being more common. Colors include cinnamon, light brown, and olive. Their hatches range from May to December. Blue-Wing Olive mayflies are early raisers in March through April, size 18. Stoneflies are somewhat site specific in the B.C. portion of the Columbia with hatches of little black (size 16-18) and yellow stones (sizes 10-12). These are more prevalent downstream of the town of Trail. The big yellow mayfly, Hexagenia, comes off in July-August. October caddis occur from September through November. Terrestrials are very common and fish well from late April through the fall including ants, hoppers and my personal favorite, the cicada (May-early June). Small beetle patterns in sizes 12-16 are takers too.
Presentation:For the reservoir fishing, use the fastest sinking line you can get your hands on. My personal favorites are the Air Flo lines that are basically shooting heads integrated with floating or intermediate sinking running lines as one line. The best choices are the Streamer Max-long, Fourty Plus (S7), and the Depth Finder. If you really want to reach where no fly has gone before, the Cold Saltwater Sniper T14 CCT will get your there, 490 gr worth! If you know what your doing on the casting stroke, a seven weight can turn this line over in one very slow false cast; an 8 wt rod can cast it no problem. I know this seems overkill for trout but if you find one or more fish at the 10 lb mark hunkered down in a hole and there's swift current, it's worth it! I have no problem fishing streamers in the big reservoirs down to 15-20 feet deep. Getting down quick in the deepest slots produces more catches. Obviously, the floating line comes into play for the surface presentations. During the mid-day, intermediate sink lines or the floating line with a clear intermediate tip work great for presenting terrestrial, emergers, and/or nymph patterns. There are times when the trout are just too shy to feed on top with bright sunlight, so a presentation beneath the surface with a slow, clear intermediate sink line or tip is the answer!
Reference:Columbia River, BC, Big River Rainbows, NorthWest Fly Fishing magazine, Fall issue, 2004.
Stillwater Steelhead--summer steelhead fly fishng in Drano Lake, WA.
The Fish: The Columbia River serves as a major artery for thousands of summer steelhead returning to their native streams or hatcheries. These sea-run rainbows begin their migration up the big C starting around June. By mid July, steady counts can typically occur over Bonneville dam numbering over 2K per day. In over 25 years of being a resident and angler close to the Columbia River, I have seen many changes and fluctuations in steelhead populations and behavior. During low flow years with warm water temps (+68o F), steelhead take their time migrating up the river and will often seek refuge in or near the mouths of tributaries. Hatchery locations also seem to draw attention to summer steelhead too. Pool elevation changes apparently act like tides and can change the fishing. I prefer higher reservoir levels and to remain constant. Bonneville Reservoir is an excellent start for finding fly fishing opportunities. Also, it is worth noting that fly fishing for steelhead in these conditions is primarily a "stillwater" presentation.
There are two runs that make up the summer run basically referred to as the "A"-run and "B"-run. The A-run summer steelhead are the first to migrate beginning around June/July and are smaller fish averaging about 6-8 pounds. The B-run steelhead arrive later in August and are large, averaging 10-15 pounds. A large portion of the larger fish are from the Clear Water River in Idaho.
Angling Season: July through October (depending on location)
Flies: For the most part, fly patterns are small, size 6 and 8, once in while 10's. The patterns should be somewhat sparse; for example, a gold beadhead bugger whould be palmered with half the hackle stripped. The old standby famous for catching many sea-run fish, the Comet, is a good pattern. Shrimp like patterns that resemble the tied down caddis such as the Horner's Shrimp is good too. For color combo's, I like hot orange body with either black or brown hackles or tails, purple and black tied either way; purple body with black hackle or vice-versa. Gold and orange patterns can grab their attention too. Sometimes small nymphs like a black Pheasant Tail work too. My primary go to fly is basically a #6 bugger with gold beadhead, bright orange body, black hackle and black tail (some times I add a few strands of pearlescent Krystal Flash at the tail).
Presentation: Not your typical cast and swing steelhead fly fishing nor are using spey fly rods. The presentation is slow, as in stillwater nymphing, sorta. Medium to long strips of the line in a somewhat slow fashion seem to work. Or, short jerky strips can produce strikes. Remember, you're trying to keep the fly down near the bottom for as long as possible. The popular fly line is an intermediate sink line around 2 inches per second (ips). The steelhead are typically about 18 to 24 inches off the bottom. It's not uncommon to find steelhead in 8 to 15 feet of water. The key is knowing the exact depth, counting down your sink rate using a watch and then applying a relatively slow retrieve all the while keeping your fly in the zone. It doesn't hurt to have type II and III sink rate lines for deeper places. Most fly fishers are in small prams or toons and anchor up adjacent to a channel casting across it. A place like Drano Lake shows the order and placement of how the fly fishers line up. If you're new to this game, follow the pattern and DON'T fish against the flow! Use a 7 wt fly rod and up. You need to put these fish down as soon as possible and not play them till they're dead.
A 10-12 foot leader down to 12 lb test will suffice. Do NOT use a long leader exceeding 12 feet! You will only subject yourself to a bad habit of foul hooking and if you try to land such a hooked steelhead, you will only claim its fate from total exhaustion! Keep in mind that surface temps can be 70o F or higher.
Also, please use smart ethics in your fly fishing. There are times when the steelhead are simply not interested to bite a fly or anything else for that matter, so PLEASE do NOT attempt to continue fishing over an area packed with fish by only snagging them! This is against the law and very stressful to the fish. Also, keep in mind that other anglers are out there too and they become very unhappy to see a fly fisher constantly snagging the steelhead! Be cool and not the fool, come back another day when the bite is on!
Bernie Taylor, author of "Big Trout" ready to release a big Fall Chinook in Drano Lake, WA.
The Fish: The biggest hummer of all five Pacific salmon species; King, Tyee, or Chinook salmon. This is my ultimate sportfish in freshwater fly fishing. Some like the fast and furious pull of the steelhead with aerial maneuvers, but I opt for the one on one, "tug of war". Here on the big C, we are fortunate to have 4 distinct runs of Chinook salmon; spring, summer and two fall runs (upriver brites and tule chinook). Only one of them continues to evade me with the fly rod and that's summer chinook more commonly known as the June hawgs. I would say that the largest of these are the fall upriver brites chinook that are capable of weight over 50 lbs. The summer chinook are a close second. Chinook can be found just about anywhere in the Columbia and like steelhead will move into areas in front of tributaries. Terminal fisheries like Drano Lake is an excellent place to hook these monstas! Once again, hatcheries will attract concentrations of fish. Because sea-run fish use odor as one of their homing mechanisms, hatcheries along the Columbia or tribs can attract fish!
Angling Season: May through mid November (depending on location)
Columbia River Location: From the mouth to the Hanford reach.
Flies: Springers will take larger size flies in size 4's and 2's and it should be fluorescent orange or chartreuse (orange in the am, green in the pm). Fall chinook are more finicky and prefer small flies like summer steelhead. Sticking to chartreuse is the best bet with the likes of a comet or beadhead bugger. Make sure you use a heavy wire hook at least 2x strong. In late fall as in October, the fall chinook will kill really big flies like tandem bunny leaches, 4-5 inches long in orange, pink, chartreuse or purple. They become extremely territorial!
Presentation: A 9-wt rod and up is the best choice, stay big. I typically use a 10. In the their early migration while they are still brite, not too long out of the salt, chinook hunker down in deep holes or slots. Fast sinking fly lines are a must and a shooting head is the best way to get it down. I carry a complete assortment of heads from 300 to 700 grains. Airflo has their Big Game series that covers the whole spectrum and they come as one line with intermediate sinking running lines. The T series lines are good pick such as a T17 or T20 in 28-30 foot lengths connected to a sinking running line.
Best approach is from a boat. If you venture below the lower reach (below Bonneville Dam), you'll want to anchor above the slot or hole where the fish are holding up. Rolling chinooks can give this away. Make a cast above them so the line will swing into the slot and strip through the slot. Chinooks take a fly on a fairly steady retrieve. If you fish above Bonneville Dam where there is virtually no current, stake out next to deep slots, channels or holes and keep the fly near the bottom. For leaders, a 9-footer down to a 15 lb. tippet will work. If you hook up to a biggin, don't get anxious and horse it as the inevitable will happen; a broken fly rod!
In the fall where you have chinooks staging to enter a hatchery like at Drano, the fish change to a different mood. They are no longer on the bottom but suspend in the water column and doing a lot of jumping and rolling. The upriver brites are notorious for this. By this time, the fish are colored up but still have plenty of fight in them and become very aggressive! Now you switch to a type II or III sinking line with about a 10 to 15 second count down. Use one of those big bunny's I mentioned and hold on! I've seen these chinooks chase my fly to the boat! Another nice feature is that most anglers have left the lake as hunting season is on so it can be nice and with a good number of salmon swimming around!
Some coho look fresh from the ocean!
The Fish: The zippa! Coho or silver salmon are like steelhead in when they go nuts after being hooked, leading to milli-second take offs and flying leaps. Like all the other sea-run salmonids, they tend aggregate around the confluences where small streams feed into the Big C. However, researching hatcheries along the Columbia will yield likely places for the largest concentrations of fish. The honest truth is that many salmon and steehead are often hanging out together in the same places. It's just a matter of which one you want to catch and what presentation you make. However, when the silvers are in, they seem the most aggressive in taking a fly and when you get into them, it's a blast!
Angling Season: August through November depending on location.
Columbia River Location: From tidewater to McNary Dam.
Flies: Pink! Can't go wrong with pink or pink and white or pink and purple or pink and orange, yada, yada. Size 6 and up, don't be afraid to go big either. I especially like to use patterns that have movement from materials like marabou, bunny strips, fox hair, etc.
Presentation: Coho can be shallow or deep, so sometimes an intermediate sink line is the ticket or you might have to switch up to a faster sink line. Having extra spools with different densities of fly lines is always king when fly fishing for salmon or steehead. A 7 or 8 wt fly rod does a good job. You don't need a super long leader, so 8 to 10 feet is good and fish a fairly heavy tippet, like 12 lb. Coho are visicious and they'll grab on a dead drift, swing, stripping whatever. Just get in front of their face and they'll snap at it. But for stillwater, use a steady retrieve, not super fast but at a pretty good clip with frequent pausing.
Shad fly fishing brings summer time fun!
The Fish: Though American shad are essentially an invasive species (originally from the East coast), their presences is highly welcomed by light tackle and fly fishing enthusiast. Introduced to the Sacramento River in California in 1871, they expanded their range up the Pacific coast line to eventually arrive in the Columbia River around 1880. Now, some 1-3 million shad a year migrate up the Columbia for their annual spawning run May -July and like salmon and steelhead are an anadromous species. On average they weigh about 1 1/2 to 4 pounds but can reach upwards of 6 pounds (likely a shad that has returned back to the salt more than once). The male is smaller than the female and it is the male shad that arrive first. They school in large numbers and when the bit is on, can be caught in repeated numbers quite frequently. They put up a good fight in the river's fast current!
Angling Season: The shad begin trickling into the river about May and counts over Bonneville Dam pretty much earmark the beginning of the season. When shad counts reach over 75,000 a day around the end of May that's when anglers begin to get serious and the season goes until about the first week of July as the shad migrate up the river towards McNary Dam.
Columbia River Location: Shad fishing is most popular at the four lower Columbia dams. I prefer fly fishing from my boat below Bonneville Dam next to Ive's Island along what is referred to as "The Shad Rack". Many areas near the lower two islands are good places to shad fish. Also, fly anglers do well below John Day Dam off the rip-rap shoreline on the Oregon side, and further down along gravel beaches on both sides of the river.
Flies:The all-around best shad pattern is one with chainbead eyes, brite body, and a short tail. Chartruese, hot yellow, bright green, are the best colors followed by gold, flourescent orange or red. My favorite is the glass beaded, Sunshine Shad fly, tied with large chainbead eyes in silver or gold, 3-4 hot yellow glass beads, size large (6/0) and a yellow or rainbow Krystal Flash tail, half the body length.
Presentation:Shad travel close to the bottom during bright days but towards the evening begin to move towards the surface and very close to shore. With fairly fast current, a fast sink, type VI sinking head or line works the best. If you are in a boat, you don't need to go deeper than 8 feet and you can fish as shallow as 5 feet. It's a good idea to bring different sinking densities to cover all the depth and velocities. Ususally a 275-300 grain sinking line works great. From a boat, you can cast or strip out about 40-60 feet of line, place the rod in a rod holder or over the back of the transom and just fish the fly in the current. After a few minutes you need to check and make sure the fly is not stuck on the bottom. If so, shorten the amount of line or go to a lighter sinking line. When the current is ripping well over 300K cfs, I use a down rigger to take my line down. When the shad takes the fly, you enjoy the fight without any weight on the line! Gear anglers typically use 6-8 ounces of lead to reach the fish and this kills the fight of the shad. If you plan to fish from shore, cast upstream, let the fly swing and as the line comes around to drift back towards shore that is typically when the strike comes. If you are not getting bit, your fly is not down far enough to reach the fish; change to a faster sinking line. Shad have also been caught on floating lines with a split shot above the fly and dead drifted along the shore, it works.
A porker smallmouth bass from Columbia River backwaters.
The Fish:The smallmouth bass has the longest range of all game fish inhabiting the Columbia River from the estuary to the US-Canadian border, including many major tributaries such as the Willamette, John Day, Yakima, Snake and Spokane rivers.These exotic predators were introduced through early immigrants in the 1920's in several basins including the Willamette, Yakima and Umatilla rivers. As major hydro projects were erected on the Columbia, slowing down the natural swift currents, the smallmouth bass has adjusted quite comfortably in the chain of reservoirs. They are extremely aggressive in their feeding habits and eat just about anything they can snap their mouth upon. Unfortunately, they also have a big appetite for juvenile salmonids, which, is a touchy subject to salmon/steelhead purists who support the rights of native species in the Columbia River. Smallmouths seem to grow fairly rapidly with bass weighing 1 to 21/2 pounds on the average in the Columbia River with 3 to 4 pounders being fairly common. The Washington state record smallmouth is 8 3/4 pounds and was caught in the Hanford reach of the Columbia River. Their appetites include everything from insects, crayfish, to fish but once they reach lengths beyond 10 inches, they tend to primarily prey on other fish.
Angling Season:Optimal timing for smallmouth angling is focused on three periods; pre spawn, spawn and post spawn. This equates to early spring, and summer with the effects of water temperature playing a big role on feeding and spawning behavior. I prefer to start fly fishing once water temperatures hit 50o F (typically in April) while bass starting staging from the unreachable depths realistic to fish with a fly to 15 feet or less. As the water warms towards 60oF (June), the bass are becoming very aggressive and begin to prepare for spawning. There is quite an overlap of spawning activity as the smallmouth make their beds at different times and sometimes more than once. After the spawning period, the fish will hang around and continue to feed but as the water warms up, the larger bass tend to seek refuge in the cooler, deeper zones. Though smallmouth can be caught through the summer, the best bass fishing (for smallies larger than 12 inches) is pretty much over by the end of July using fly fishing presentations.
Columbia River Location:As previously mentioned the smallmouth is the most abundant game fish in the basin. Best places to start if you have to fish from shore or a small vessel are backwater bays, sloughs, and ponds. Rip-rap shorelines are great areas to fish where depths drop into about 8 feet of water. Small rock islands and submerged reefs are great too. Pay close attention when water levels drop lower than average as this can reveal many ideal locations for bass when the pool elevations (above Bonneville Dam) are at normal levels. Look for current breaks along the shore with back eddies where points are formed off the shore. Fish this just like you would for trout! When the water warms up to spawning time, 21/2 to 5 feet of water on sandy, gravel shoals or flats will inhabit bass preparing to spawn.
Flies:Smallies are not very picky, if you put in front of them they will eat it! Suggestive patterns like the bugger, work great and mimic a variety of prey. My two favorite colors are black and white. I fish with black flies before spring runoff and then switch to white when the runoff starts causing low visibility. Typical patterns you can fish are buggers, articulated bunny leeches, clousers, muddlers, Lefty deceivers, etc. Have some weighted and some without weight. Other than black or white, other color patterns to try are chartreuse, chartreuse and white, blue and white, and gray and white. Long, snakey flies tied with either a bunny strip or saddle hackle offer the analogous of plastic worm angling used by conventional tackle fishers. Surface fishing for smallies is a kick in the pants using poppers and my choice are the painted balsa wood poppers. Deer hair and foam will work too, as long as you can achieve the "pop". The window is not open for very long with popper action. My best estimate is end of June, beginning of July. Feeding activity for top water action is best at first light and about a half an hour before sunset.
Presentation:You need to three types of lines depending upon when you fish. Early season, prespawn, is best with a high density sinking line. My choice is the Airflo "Depth finder". It was a 22-foot head that is about 7"/sec with so much intermediate sink after that and eventually becoming a floating running line. This coupled with a weighted fly gets my fly down and dirty to find big bass early in the season. Once the water warms up around mid May, the intermediate sinking lines are sufficient. The floating line takes it's turn for the surface and shallow presentations once the bass have moved into the shallows. Popper fishing rocks but the small window of opportunity for the big boys are in the wee hours of am and just before dark. A good line for hucking poppers is the Airflo Bass/Musky floating line. For leaders, the bass are not leader shy. I typically use a leader that is about 5 feet long ending with 8-10 pound test fluorocarbon. I also use a small #12 barrel swivel to keep my large flies from twisting my leader and allow the fly to track properly as I retrieve it back.
I'm amazed how many times I read or hear other fly fishers referencing 7 to 8 wt. rods for smallmouth ! That's crazy. The typical trout rod in a 4 to 6 weight is the most fun. My favorite go-to fly rod is a 8-8 1/2 foot fiberglass rod ranging from 5 to 7 wt. Catching smallmouth on a fiberglass fly rods is a thrilla! If you have an old Fenwick laying around, take it along and have the time of your life while these bass bend it to the handle!
The Fish: Largemouth bass do inhabit the Columbia River but don't have the robust populations like their cousin smallmouth. There are some very big largemouth up to 10 lbs if you happen to find them. Most anglers find them incidentally while fishing for the smallmouth bass. However, largemouth definitely have a preference for woody structure such as root wads, docks, log rafts, etc.
Angling Season: Mostly spring and early summer are the best chances; pre spawn and spawn before these bass go back into deeper water. Early fall might produce some nice largemouth as well where baitfish are abundant in the shallows.
Columbia River Locations: The lower river is an excellent place from St. Helens, OR to the Willamette confluence, also on the opposite side of the river on the WA side. Another known location in the Tri Cities area where the Yakima River joins the Columbia. Certainly there are many potential largemouth hide outs between The Dalles and McNary Dams, but as mentioned they typically come while angling for the smallies.
Flies: No problem to use big flies such as streamers or poppers or smallmouth bass patterns. I would bet on crayfish and sculpin patterns to be the trick. Always have clouser minnows on hand, yellow and white, and gray and white, size 1/0.
Presentation: Medium to fast sink tips for streamer patterns fishing around woody debris, such as a fallen tree or large branch, water pump docks, boat docks, log rafts etc. The closer you can place your fly near the structure the better, just be ready to haul any taker out of their hole before it can wrap you up in a snag!
When you can find them, the walleye is a fiesty predator fishing streamers!
The Fish: Walleyes are another introduced exotic predator to the Columbia. They definitely grow well in the big C as indicated by state records over 19 pounds. Walleye spend most of their time in deep water, that is, too deep for convenient fly fishing. However, they spawn in very shallow water make them suitable for taking on the fly. The spawn typically occurs in March-April, and sometimes into May. Spawning habitat consists of areas that are gravel shoals in 3 to 5 feet of water and typically downstream from a dam in about the first 3-4 miles, depends on the habitat. Walleye don't put up a big fight but are a cool looking fish, grow to a decent size, and are excellent table fare. Also, in most of the Columbia River from tidewater to the Wallula Gap, there are no limits on them!
Angling Season: For fly fishing, I'd say April-May are the best opportunities during the spawning time.
Columbia River Location: I have put many hours trying to catch walleye from Portland, OR, to McNary Dam and have never raised a fish. The only location I have had regular success is below Grand Coulee Dam in Rufus Woods Reservoir. That's the place I recommend for catching walleye on the fly!
Flies: It's interesting to note that most walleye are caught on fluorescent colors, but the best color I have found is BLACK! A number 4 black woolly bugger, with dumbbell eyes and some flashabou in the tail. Actually, the pattern is my Black Metallic Glassbead Bugger tied with x-large, 3/0, gun metal beads. I would imagine that Clouser Minnows would be a good one too. They really like to eat other fish!
Presentation: I use a very fast shooting head full length fly line like an AirFlo Depth Finder or Streamer Max long, as heavy as possible, 250-325. I fish from a boat and cast into current seams off a point where there is back eddy and the bottom drops quickly. I have found walleye in depths of 8 to 15 feet during the late spring with many post spawn fish and a few still spawning. Casting over drop-off and letting the fly sink deep from an anchored boat seems to work the best.
Stalking carp with a fly on the Columbia River.
The Fish: The common carp, and common fits it perfect as this fish has a distribution up and down the river as common as smallmouth bass! Sight fishing for carp is the hunter-stalking game and is thrilling to say the least, whether from shore or a boat. Carp in the Columbia can weigh over 25 lbs., though many are 8 to 15 lbs.! This is yet another introduced fish that came in the late 1800's. First reared in freshwater ponds near Troudale, OR, as a food fish. Not long when carp aquaculture was started, a huge flood washed out the ponds and carp ended up in the Columbia River. Besides the common, you might also run across the leather or mirror carp, same species just different in scale pattern. Bugle lips are foragers and eat both veggies and meat. I've seen them slurp down floating cotton seed puffs off the surface and mudding on the bottom for crawly critters.
Angling Season: Spring, summer and fall. I really like Aug-Sept as they are very aggressive feeding on a soft bottom.
Columbia River Location: Just about anywhere really, but look areas out of the main current, i.e., backwater where there is broken patches of aquatic vegetation, and sandy/muddy substrate. One area I have really found abundant in carp is the John Day pool out of the Boardman boat launch especially on the WA side. Just look for shallow areas where there is not much current, where polarized sun glasses and you should find them in no time. The Portland/Vancouver areas are loaded with them!
Flies: Most carp patterns you find in the literature or the web will work if they are on the small side like sizes 12-8. Wormy patterns, damsels, dragonfly nymphs, scuds, crayfish, buggers and even midge pupae. Take some different colors, olive, red, brown, tan, etc, and have some with rubber legs! My personal favorite is a small crayfish pattern about an inch or so long.
Presentation: A clear or camo intermediate sink line is probably your best bet. If you go with a floater, I would highly recommend at least a 12' leader or a floating clear tip fly line. The leader should be no less than 10 lb tippet. In spring, the carp will be "waking" up and you will find many of them just hover right on top of the water on a warm clear day. They are very lethargic and do nothing. These sun bathers very rarely eat a fly and are not worth casting to. You need to look for and find carp that are cruising or "mudding" the bottom. Present your cast to a cruising carp by several feet and when it's within a foot, twitch the fly as if fleeing and watch the carp jump on it! If the carp is mudding or feeding off the bottom, you need to plant your fly near its head where it can be seen and typically a twitch or two will get his attention for the grab! When I'm in an area with loaded with carp where I'm fly fishing out of my boat, I just anchor up and wait for carp to come by and believe me, in many areas you're making casts regularly without sitting around doing nothing. From the boat I try to make long presentations, which seem to work better than casting to carp cruising by less than 30 feet away. Use at least a 7 weight fly rod or plan on some very long tug of war with lighter trout fly rods!
The Fish: Inch for inch one of the scrappiest pulls on a light fly rod is the bluegill! The assortment of panfish in and around the Columbia includes bluegill, crappie, yellow perch, and pumpkinseed. There are many ponds along the river that have these fish and also bass.
Angling Season: Spring is the best time as soon as water temp rise above 55o F and is good until the ponds become choked out by aquatic weeds. The month of May is especially good when these fish are in pre-spawn mode.
Columbia River Location: Many ponds have large culverts that connect to the Columbia River and since these areas are out of the mainstem, they are just the right temperature for warmwater species. Between Portland and The Dalles Oregon and also on the WA side, there are many ponds along the highway and they all pretty much have fish in them. Another virtue with this fishery is, it is untapped and with poppers or surface bugs, you can have a blast with a light fly rod all to yourself!
Flies: If the fish are active, I go for the topwater action using very small, size 12-10 poppers, foam rubberleg spiders, hoppers; any terrestrial patterns. In cooler water temps, I'll use various nymphs with gold beadheads in size 12 like the Copper John, Hare'sEar, Pheasant tail. A hot yellow panfish dart is great, hot yellow chenille body, small chainbead eyes and a white marabou tail, deadly.
Presentation: A floating line pretty much covers all the needs and if you need to get down, add a small splitshot or use an AirFlo Polyleader (if you don't know about these leader systems, you're missing out, extremely flexible!). The rip-rap shorelines always have fish but look for weed clumps or beds, submerged trees, good places for cover. You can either fish from shore or float tube or pontoon.
Saltwater Fish, The North Jetty
Fly fishing the Columbia's North jetty yeilded this lingcod.
The Fish: A nice feature of the saltwater is you never quite know what you might catch. The mouth of the big C near Cape Disappointment will produce various species of rockfish (black, blue, copper, china rockfish, etc), lingcod, perch of different sorts and even dungeness crab! If your timing is right, chromer chinook and coho salmon might even be an opportunity.
Angling Season: As long as the weather is good you have a good chance of catching rockfish any time of the year. Feb-April brings in the larger fish to spawn close to shore. Taking salmon in the salt is possible from the shore and I have heard of some brave fly anglers who have done it (what a trip that would be) and most likely in Aug-Sept.
Columbia River Location: The North Jetty at Cape Disappointment, WA. I would avoid the South Jetty, as it is supposedly very dangerous; maybe on a calm, flat day?
Flies: Visibility is not super great so go with bright color flies size 2 to 1/0, with some flashabou and/or krystal flash mixed in. Baitfish patterns imitating herring or squid will work. Go with flies such as the Deceiver, Clouser Minnow (one of my favorites) or even an oversized weighted bugger tied in white or chartreuse!
Presentation: This is tricky; fly fishing off the jetty is not as easy as you might think. The rocks can be very slippery and unstable, be sure to find a good solid platform to fish from. You want to fish the incoming tide but get there an hour before the ebb. You want to sink the fly down as quick as you can without hanging up in the rocks thus loosing part or all of your fly line. Old shooting heads or LC-13 are not as painful to ruin or loose. 300 gr should be about right to reach fish. A 7-8 wt rod would be a good pick. Practice on your steeple casting too or big roll casts. You really don't need to get out very far as the fish are close to the structure. Doesn't hurt to use a fairly stout leader either, 12-15 lb. test for abrasion resistance on the rocks. Release the small rockfish under a couple pounds so they can keep growing. If you're proficient with a two handed fly rod, it will probably give you the advantage for reach without having to make back casts, but you don't need that heavy of a rod unless you fly fish the incoming salmon run.