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The Angle: Fishing in Oregon

Written by Lucas Holmgren, Contributing Writer

Flowing out of the pointed glaciers of Mount Hood comes one of the most unique and environmentally sound rivers in Oregon. Pouring into the Columbia River through Troutdale, it extends along through towns like Sandy, Zigzag and Mt. Hood Village. Featuring relatively high water quality, the glacial melt gives a milky, green-gray coloration to the water during the summer, when most other rivers are getting low. Because of these characteristics, the Sandy River supports a run of Chinook (King) Salmon that is much different from other tributaries of the Columbia River.

These fish are referred to as “Spring Chinook,” but the lifecycle is much more diverse than that simple definition. Salmon & Steelhead have thousands of genetic variations that determine run-timing across the globe. They are tuned to migrate out and into the river at specific times, based on the best opportunity to spawn and reproduce. A run of fish enters the Columbia River in early spring, with a few arriving in February, more by March and the bulk in April and May. From June 15 onward, they are referred to as “Summer Chinook” by some, and after Aug. 1, they are known as “Fall Chinook.” However, these runs overlap, and many anglers can tell simply by appearance and size which season the Chinook are part of.

“Springers” will migrate, then “over-summer” before spawning in early fall, often farther upriver than Fall Chinook go. The Sandy River stays cold, with adequate flow and a low-visibility that protects the Spring Chinook during the heat of summer, and it has miles of high-quality fish habitat in the upper reaches where the fish go to spawn.

Marmot Dam, on the Sandy River, was removed in 2007. At the time of removal, the population of Spring Chinook was very depressed. By removing that dam and supplementing the river with hatchery-raised fish, the wild (born in stream) run of Salmon grew exponentially over time. In 2017, the estimated run of spring (and summer) Chinook was 8,124. In 2021, an estimated 5,676 adult Chinook returned, according to the WDFW. In comparison to the majority of other rivers, this was a massive run of Spring & Summer Chinook.

If you would like to see these fish, they often are “jumping” or “rolling” out of the water in a number of places. You could stop by Oxbow Park or Dabney in the early summer, but the majority of the fish will be up around the Sandy/Zigzag area in August, September and October.

Although many arrive in Spring, the Sandy River supports a very healthy population of Chinook that mainly arrive in the summer and spawn in the fall. They support a healthy ecosystem and provide essential nutrients to the wildlife, fish and trees of the basin. If you get a chance to stop by the river, see if you can spot one of these beautiful fish cresting the surface.