Spring Steelhead on Oregon’s Clackamas River

Clackamas Steelhead
Clackamas Steelhead fishing with Water Time Outfitters

Spring fishing on the Clackamas river is a time of change- the foliage is transitioning into the bright greens and budding out everywhere and steelhead run is changing from winters to summer.  This time of year there is an overlap that is a non-traditional steelhead timing.  There are a variety of steelhead stock available in the spring.  There are decent numbers of wild steelhead that return late to the Clackamas river – some years lots and some years very few but predictably there are wild steelhead to be had in April.  Add in that broodstock hatchery run is based off these fish and their natural genetics invite them to return later than the traditional hatchery winter steelhead.  The other stock we see in the Clackamas in the spring is the early returning hatchery summer steelhead.  These fish are spectacular fish that fight like your best dream fish!  Summer runs show up as early as March and trickle into the system all the way into July.  These fish stay in the river a long time and do not spawn until the following late winter/spring.  The problem with these hatchery fish is the run size is very unpredictable.  Some years are bumper and other years there are so few in the river the expression “needle in a haystack” comes to mind.  The good news is that during the ins and outs of steelhead fishing the angler will often have a decent shot at one of three stocks of fish on the Clackamas river in the spring.

This spring the water has been high and fish have been spread through the system from the mouth of the Clackamas to the Rivermill Dam.  This winter we saw a number of sealions in the Clackamas.  Some up very high- as high as Eagle Creek.  This could spell disaster for our wild stock fish if these predators lock into the fish ladders.  The other thing we have seen a lot of this season has been high water.  With high water fish edges and softer water.  Look for softer water speeds to focus fish in resting lanes.  Wild steelhead spawn this time of year so please avoid wading through redds (cleaned gravel in oval shape where steelhead lay their eggs).

One of the great aspects of spring is the water temps are warming.  This helps fish be more active and more responsive to the swung fly.  Water temps on the Clackamas have been around 42-45 degrees much of this month.  Some years it will be warmer depending on the amount of snow melt.


Favorite fly patterns for spring are flies that move and look alive in the water.  A killer for me this year has been the Crandall’s Provider- now produced by Aqua Flies and available at Royal Treatment Fly shop.  Try patterns in black/blue combos, pink/white, red, black, shrimp pink and purple to find results for chrome fresh arrivals of spring.  Skagit lines and sinktips are the norm for fly tackle.  Try using t-11 sink tips for most runs at average heights on the Clack; switch to t-14 when flow is heavier, pushy or deeper.

The spring can offer good fishing, fewer anglers and a beautiful setting for chasing steelhead on an urban river not far from Portland.  If you’d like some help getting set with steelhead on the Clackamas river try hiring one of the best guide services around- Water Time Outfitters has been guiding the Clackamas river for over 20 years and are helpful instructors, coaches and know the waters of the Clack intimately.

Best of luck with your time on the water!



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