Now that the holidays are over I look forward to some of the best steelhead fishing of the year on the Upper Columbia River in North Central Washington. With nearly 20,000 adult steelhead above Priest Rapids Dam there’s plenty of fish to catch around here and I’m expecting a great season.
Traditionally, the season should run through the end of March. However, it’s important to check local regulations. Sometimes, they close the fishery early if too many fish are caught. Keep in mind, the Upper Columbia, extending to Chief Joseph Dam is open to single barbless hooks and bait is allowed.
There are a variety of methods that are effective on the Columbia. I fish the Columbia River with slightly different setups than the Methow and Wenatchee Rivers, which are two other local steelhead systems where no bait is permitted. My favorite rig is a slip bobber setup and a jig tipped with cured coon shrimp. I use an easy to follow, not to secret brine, for the shrimp explained in detail here https://www.pautzke.com/fireblog_read.php?read=17.
The only thing I do different than Inglin is add more Liquid Krill to the brine. In my experience the steelhead key into the krill and I want to make sure to have enough of what they like. I also prep mine different the morning of fishing. Prior to fishing each morning I grab as much shrimp as I expect to use that day and put them in a container with rock salt. This does two things: toughens them up more and minimizes mess in my boat and on my hands.
This is a standard setup along the Upper Columbia. Note my exact rig, shown below: a Macks Lures Glo Getter Marabou Jig, inline weight (to get your gear down), bobber, three feet of 10-lb fluorocarbon leader and a brined shrimp.
With our setup dialed in, it’s time to find a place on the Upper Columbia to fish. We target a variety of spots, but locating structure and current puts you in the neighborhood with steelhead. While a large portion of the river harbors steelhead I focus on two places: above and below dams and directly below major tributaries. These places are magnets for the fish and never freeze in the winter.
Winter can be a great time to fish for steelhead here. The fish mill around this section of the Columbia for months as they fatten up and get ready to head to up the smaller rivers when the water warms a bit in the spring. As winter sets in and the smaller rivers freeze near their mouths, the fish will go back out to the Columbia and become even more plentiful.