River running off
Rainier and virtually in the middle of
Portland has long been a legendary river for gear bangers. Clogging prime spots with Blue Fox, corkies, jigs and yarn, eggs you name it. At first glance you would assume a fly fisher has nary a chance to swing a streamer or two.
But with the aid of a drift boat or pontoon boat one quickly discovers plenty of good fly water left untouched. How an infamous river between two major metro areas remains so under fly fished is something of a mystery. One explanation could be a boat is virtually necessary with little bank access. Another explanation is it could be fished more than one thinks, because fish are running year round.
Spring starts with Chinook that can get up to 35 pounds. Starting in Mid-march the fish are primed to be in the river until spawning September. Peaking in late April to May, Kings are noted for subtle takes, so letting fly hang outside of current seams allow fish time to move towards the fly. Best bets are Carcass Fly, Popsicle, and Alaskabou.
With the onset of June Summer Steelhead push through. Ranging 6-8 pounds fish are released after ‘spawning’ at the hatchery and can remain in the system through September. Swinging streamers like Steelhead Muddler, Purple Peril, and Green Butt Skunk are favorite flies.
Later in the summer come Sea Run Cutthroats. This beautiful fish might have hatchery DNA but is colorful as trout come in these parts. Ranging 12-18 inches, the adage ‘never leave the fish’ holds true for these. If you find them stay put! Most standard nymphs and wet flies like soft hackle brassie prove effective.
Coho come later and although the numbers can be generous, their bite usually isn’t. Moving fast, and as one hitting this run is difficult. Of course the more the time you put on the water your odds improve. After finding them enticing them to hit can be frustrating. But if everything aligns the action can be incredible, as they ignore you altogether, they also seem to strike altogether. Carcass Fly, and other leech patterns, like starlight leech are good starting points. The action can be helped by incidental strikes of other fish also in the system, and may be so good you forget you are targeting Coho in the first place.
And finally come the winter steelhead, beginning in November. Later in the month come the three salt lunkers going up to 15 pounds. Still later come the two salt fish in the 7-10 pound range. The
Cowlitz remains in decent shape most of the winter thanks to the hydroelectric production, with mud settling in the reservoir upriver. Leeches and buggers are good bets, with nary a fly fisher on the best water. It isn’t for the light of heart or the thermos less but the fishing can be the stuff that stories are made of.