All hatchery programs have been restricted to the lower river in recent years to keep hatchery adults from mixing with wild fish on upper-river spawning beds.
Target water on the Clackamas is found from River Mill Dam downstream, including the Eagle Creek tributary.
The lower Clackamas River (from the mouth at the Willamette River up to Cazadero Dam above Estacada) is open year-round for fin-clipped steelhead.
The Clackamas draws from a large basin in the northern Oregon Cascades. It holds up well with modest rainfall and fishes when smaller streams are too low, but it can take some time to recover after a heavy rainfall.
For ideal conditions for fall through spring fishing, look for the river height to be around 10 to 13 feet at the Estacada gauge. It will drop below that for much of the summer, but fishing is still worthwhile for summer-runs. Below about XX feet, the river is tough on jet boats. Drift boaters access it down to xx feet. Rafters go down all summer.
In addition to a fishing license, steelhead anglers need to purchase a Combined Angling Tag (steelhead, salmon, sturgeon and Pacific halibut).
Anglers also can purchase Hatchery Harvest Tags that authorize the harvest of additional hatchery fish.
- 2 hatchery trout per day, no minimum length, May 22 – Oct 31
- Open all year for hatchery salmon and hatchery steelhead
- Combined daily limit of 3 hatchery salmon or hatchery steelhead per day
- Wild steelhead must be catch and release
This is the most heavily used ramp on the river, and for good reason. Carver is centrally located in the most productive jet boat water. From Carver downstream to Riverside Park is where the best side-drifting water lies.
It is home to the longest runs on the river, and the least houses, as side-drifting is a new endeavor on the Clackamas and homeowners are less than enthused with its introduction (more on that later). Under high water conditions, there are usually a few steelhead caught in the park immediately below the mouth of Clear Creek.
Other than that, bank fishing opportunities are minimal.
The runs and riffles become more compact, albeit only slightly, and there is much more character and definition to the holding water. This continues to Barton Park, the next launch upstream from Carver.
The Barton to Carver stretch is the most popular float on the river for drift boats. With access for jet boats coming upstream from Carver, this section is also the most crowded portion of the river.
You’ll find numerous pieces of picture-perfect steelhead water, as with the Carver to Riverside stretch, but the spots are smaller and more compact.
Bank fishing at Barton consists of a couple of nice pieces of water immediately above and below the launch ramp.
Adventuresome anglers can park on the west side of the bridge crossing the river and hike downstream to access another quality drift.
There are numerous braids and shallow bars, yet while this stretch appears to contain excellent steelhead water, the fish seem to transition through it rather quickly, leaving consistent success difficult to achieve.
Some of the best water in the area is the long run immediately in front of, above and below the launch itself.
There are two boat launches in McIver Park, upper and lower. The lower launch is only a short distance above Feldheimer. There is a beautiful run immediately in front of the launch, but the drift offers little else in terms of great quality water.
While not well positioned for boating anglers, McIver Park does offer some of the best bank fishing opportunity on the river. The angler willing to walk a bit can access great water above the upper launch that terminates at Rivermill Dam. The hatchery intake is located just below the launch at Dog Creek and the usual hatchery circus (although this is a tight area) can be found there.
In the direction of the lower launch there are a few good buckets available to the bank angler willing to seek them out.
Eagle Creek will blow out of fishing shape quickly following heavy rainfall, but it also will come back into fishable condition well before the much bigger Clackamas will. In fact, it’s often at its best when the Clackamas is running ugly with mud and silt. However, if the Clackamas has fallen into a pretty steelhead green after a dry spell, that most likely means Eagle Creek is low and clear and difficult to fish.
Good areas to fish from the bank are at Bonnie Lure Park near the mouth of the stream. Eagle Fern Park also offers some good access. There are good holes in the park itself, and in the first ½-mile of stream above the park.
A short distance below the park is the lower fish ladder, and the mile of stream below the deadline there really kicks out a lot of fish. There can be a lot of competition here on the weekends, but the fishing is worth putting up with it.
Probably the most productive stretch of the stream open to the public is below the hatchery. Fishermen need to park in the marked lot about ¼-mile below the hatchery. A trail takes anglers down to the public water. This is a large area that offers about 2 miles of great steelhead water, although it is rugged country and the hiking can be difficult.
Although this stretch sees some competition, there is a lot of water for anglers to spread out. This stretch will produce well all the way through March, and provide bright fish the whole time.
The upper sections of Eagle Creek is stocked with rainbow trout three times a year in July and August. The stream has a few wild cutthroats and rainbows. Resident cutthroat trout exist above the uppermost waterfalls.
Oak Grove Fork between Harriet Lake and Timothy Lake, a stream section without salmon and steelhead. There are roughly 9 to 10 stream miles between these two reservoirs where you can keep up to two trout (rainbows and cutthroat) at least 8 inches long, which potentially could include stocked trout moving out of a reservoir.
Regulations also allow you to keep as many non-native brook and brown trout as you want, with no size limits. Some brown trout move out of Harriet and into the Oak Grove Fork above, and they can reach good size, and many anglers are more apt to practice catch and release with the browns than the brookies. The latter tend to take over streams and don’t grow as large.
This part of the Oak Grove Fork is followed by National Forest Road 57. It can take some hiking to reach the best waters.
To reach this area, you can take Ripplebrook Road or NF 57 near Ripplebrook Ranger Station and reach the area above Harriet in about 15 minutes or so. The full drive to this area is about an hour and a half from Portland following the Clackamas River upstream through Estacada. You also can follow the Oak Grove Fork downstream from Timothy Lake, which can also be reached off Highway 26 near Clear Lake.
The Clackamas River and all tributaries above Cazadero are restricted to fishing with artificial flies and lures. Fly fishing can be excellent in the Oak Grove Fork and elsewhere up here.
The remainder of the upper Clackamas system, including forks and the Collowash River system, have the potential for some nice catch-and-release trout fishing, now that the stockers are no longer present and angling pressure is far reduced. Try exploring some of these smaller streams in the upper basins.
There are two main runs of steelhead in Oregon, known as “summer” and “winter” runs. The type of steelhead run is determined by the season of the year the fish enter freshwater. Some river systems have both types of runs while other streams may have one or the other. Both winter and summer run fish spawn in the spring, but they each enter the river at different times and at different stages of reproductive maturity.
As their name suggests, summer steelhead begin migrating to their natal streams as early as March in some streams near the coast, and as late as October/November in some rivers in eastern Oregon. They will remain in the river for several months before spawning. All steelhead returning to rivers east of the Cascade Mountains are considered summer run fish.
Winter steelhead migrate into freshwater when they are closer to reproductive maturity and are generally larger than their summer-run cousins. Winter steelhead begin their migration in late fall and early winter with some fish continuing to migrate well into spring. Winter steelhead spawn shortly after entering their natal stream.
Unlike the other salmonids, steelhead are not pre-determined to die after spawning and may live to spawn multiple times. After the eggs have been deposited in the spring, the fry emerge in summer and may spend the next one to three years in fresh water prior to migrating to the ocean.
The first several dozen summer steelhead show up in March, when fishing often is at a peak for winter steelhead and anglers also are gearing up for the river’s spring chinook fishery. Summer steelhead catches (as well as springer catches) pick up in April and peak from May through July.
By late summer and fall, many anglers are targeting other runs, and spring chinook are dark, but summer steelhead fishing can be worthwhile on the Clackamas right through its popular fall coho run.
The Clackamas once had a summer steelhead fishery beyond compare. Miles upon miles of the upper watershed (above Estacada and North Fork Reservoir) offered excellent fishing in glorious surroundings. The program was halted in the late 1990’s and currently all summer steelhead are released from Clackamas Fish Hatchery at McIver Park.
Clackamas summer steelhead begin to show in the month of April, right along with spring chinook and late winter steelhead. These are beautiful fish at this time, bright, aggressive and fierce fighters.
The run continues well into the summer, but the best fishing throughout the river is up until the river drops to summer levels in mid to late June. Hatchery fish are recycled through the system to offer extra opportunities to catch them and they will respond well to eggs, shrimp, plugs, jigs and spinners.
When the river hits a low summer level, fishing effort concentrates in the McIver Park area where cool upriver water is most available. To be sure, there are steelhead available all summer long on the Clackamas for those willing make the effort.
Winter steelhead fishing is at its best from the middle of December through February.
The steelhead first start entering Eagle Creek around the end of November but the best fishing opportunity will probably not take place until around the middle of December. It will continue through the first part of March.
Early in the season, anglers should focus their attention below Eagle Creek to go after the early run. The mouth of the creek at Bonnie Lure State Recreation Area is a popular spot to intercept fish preparing to run into the smaller stream.
Another popular lower-river access point is at the mouth of Clear Creek, on the south side at Carver, which can be a little better than much of the lower river when flows are on the high side. Other lower river access points include High Rocks (Gladstone) and Riverside Park (Clackamas).
By mid-winter, steelhead will be found in good numbers throughout the lower up to the Estacada area. One of the best places to get at them is Milo McIver State Park, where ODFW’s Clackamas Hatchery is located and where a good portion of late-returning smolts are released. McIver is off Springwater road, across the river and just downstream from Estacada, and offers a ton of riverfront access.
Coho Salmon begin to enter the Clackamas River in August. They spawn in October and early November. Most of the Silver Salmon average about 5 to 10 pounds and head straight for the Eagle Creek hatchery.