Fly Fishing in Oregon: April, May, June

Spring in Oregon might just offer the most variety of any of the seasons when it comes to fly fishing opportunities. Most of the fisheries happening during the first three months of the year are still happening in some capacity, and several more are coming to life.

No matter which region of the state you're looking at, or type of fishery you're wanting to experience, there's most likely some options happening somewhere.

Spring Smallmouth Bass
Smallmouth bass can start presenting opportunities as early as March, but really get going as water temps consistently stay over 50f. This is also when you find the biggest average fish. As the waters warm later in June, the fish will seek out cooler waters and where you find them can change considerably.

Where: Columbia, Columbia, Columbia! Yeah, that secret little blue line that separates WA and OR. Do some exploring and experimenting to find where the water warms up first - areas sheltered from the flows of the mainstem of the river are a good bet. The Willamette can also present some opportunities and its own sets of challenges.

Gear: 6wt-8wt rods get most of the work. Full sinking lines will get you down to where the fish are concentrated. Be sure to have leader heavy enough to turn heavier flies over! 10lb test minimum when throwing big streamers!

Flies: So many schools of thoughts here, so we're going to get opinions from a few community members!

@Evan B
I've been known to zag when others zig. When things just seem off, I'll go small.

Advice: Remember, the water is still cold! So the fish aren't going to be quite as willing to move a long ways to attack your fly. Whether they're pre-spawn or on the spawning beds, it's all about getting in their space. Look for water in the 6'-12' deep range with a flat bottom. The spawn is typically over as the water temps get to 60f+ (late May, early June). The fish will start moving off the spawning grounds and to their summer haunts once that happens.

A boat or pontoon can really open up a LOT of opportunities, but there are smallmouth to be caught on foot if you do some exploring.

This is one of the most bizarre fisheries available to us in the PNW. Introduced to the Sacramento River from the East Coast in the 1900s, American shad have spread up the Pacific Coast, taking hold in a few rivers favorable to them. The Columbia topping that list. They move up the Columbia starting in mid May, and come through by the hundreds of thousands PER DAY during their peak in early June. Shad can be surprisingly scrappy fighters, so take some friends or the family and have fun!

Where: The Columbia and Willamette are where most of the effort is put in. They can also be found in the Umpqua in good numbers.

The most popular areas are below Bonneville and John Day dams on the Columbia. If on foot, John Day dam provides the best opportunity, especially on the WA side. If you have a boat or a friend with one, the area around Beacon Rock below Bonneville dam, and the Willamette around Oregon City are excellent spots to try.

Gear: 6wt-8wt rods get most of the work. In most spots, the fastest sinking line you can find will be your best bet. My (Evan B's) personal setup consists of a slickshooter running line and a few heavy sink tips, usually my absolute heaviest, which is roughly a T-27. This setup is basically "chuck n duck" setup, but is super easy to cast and gets down quickly.

Flies: Sparse and flashy! Truth be told, outfishing a plain gold hook is a tall order, but as fly anglers, we often find the need to make things in to actual flies.

From @mcswny
From @Rye_Tyler
From @Yard Sale
These guys bare will cast on a fly rod and catch you a LOT of fish. But they can also be a great canvas to tie on!

Advice: Shad are EXTREMELY grabby, but you have to get in front of them. They're not going to come up much. So getting on their level is essential. Cast across or maybe a bit upstream and dead drift in to the swing. I usually do a slow retrieve before the swing starts. Once you hit a fish or two, pay attention to how long you let it get down there and try to duplicate that.

They tend to travel in almost a single file type line. So concentrate on where you hooked one.... The ones moving up behind it will likely take the same path.

Take a glove! Shad are smelly, slimy, and have a very sharp set of scales along their belly.

Learn more from this forum discussion: Shad-stravaganza 2022

Spring Trout Streams
Writer/Contributor: @mcswny
Spring in Oregon is all over the place, but the thing that is consistent is the fishing–and it’s consistently good! The (relatively) warmer temps get the bugs moving in our rivers and streams, and in turn, get the fish feeding. While the masses are getting in the last of the corn snow up on the ski slopes, it’s time to dust off your fly rods and hit the river.

The beginning of Spring starts out where Winter left off–Central Oregon. The majority of our rivers are still closed to protect the spawn and don’t open until the 3rd week in May (check the regulations for specific dates). But like Winter, there are a handful of well known, highly productive rivers open year-round including: The Deschutes, the Metolius, Fall River and the Mackenzie (among others). However, unlike Winter, each of these rivers will have more regular hatches where you can leave the nymph rig in the truck.

Please consult the regulations because certain sections of rivers may be closed while others remain open. For instance: the Metolius above Allingham Bridge is not open until the general opener to protect the spawn. Once the general opener passes and all trout rivers open, pretty much everything is at your finger tips with the only caveat being runoff. Oregon doesn’t have as intense of runoff like say, Montana, but it can lead to some high and off color water at times. Learn to read the USGS gauges and it can save you from arriving at a river surprised to see it blown out.

For the most part, the West Slope of the Cascades are going to yield smaller, but more eager fish (6-10” on average). There’s all kinds of theories for this, but we won’t get into that. But what lacks in size does not lack in beauty. Who doesn’t want to fish in those quintessential PNW forests? Once you head over to the dry side, you can start getting in to bigger fish and more varieties of trout (redsides, browns, cutthroats, bull trout and the all mighty whitefish). Over there, pick a blue line, wether its the main stem or a tributary of a tributary and go explore!

For trout fishing in Oregon you can be as specialized or as generalized as you want. Obviously a 9’ 5wt is the place to start. But for much of the small stream fishing a 3 or 4wt rod around 8’ is more practical (and fun). If you’re a dedicated dry fly angler, a 4wt will be your best friend (unless the it’s windy). And if you’re a numbers person who wants to out-fish your buddy, you’ll obviously be grabbing your 10’+ 2-4wt Euro rod. Want to huck streamers for the big fells? Grab that 7wt and tie on something big.

This time a year it’s a good idea to have a full brace of trout flies for the various hatches and for the inevitable nymphing between the hatches. You don’t need to go overboard, but a box filled with the flies below should do well (pick your favorite specific pattern

Dry Flies
BWO Dun/Emerger
PMD Dun/Emerger
March Brown
Green Drake
Stone/Salmon Fly


Hares Ear
Pheasant Tail
Rainbow Warrior
Squirmy (for runoff)

Keep in mind these are just generic names for flies, pick your favorite pattern and go for it!

Just get out there, the fish are hungry from a long cold winter!
About author
Evan B
Evan is one of the original co-founding members of PNW Fly Fishing. He was working full time in the fly fishing industry since 2010, moving on in 2023 to other things. He helped build and grow some of the most recognized brands in the fly fishing world.


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Evan Burck
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