Walleye Fishing in the Columbia River

by Richard Corrigan
The Columbia River is one of the Northwest's best walleye waters.

The Columbia River is one of the Northwest's best walleye waters.

The walleye is not native to Washington, but this feisty game fish has come to thrive in the state's waters since it was first found in Banks Lake in the 1960s. Banks Lake is a part of the Columbia River System, and the river has become one of the top walleye spots in the Northwest. The Columbia is home to the Washington state record walleye -- a 19.3-pound monster caught in 2007 -- and 10-pound walleye are more common in this river than anywhere else in the state.

Columbia River Hot Spots

The Columbia River is a heavily impounded waterway with dozens of dams and man-made reservoirs along its length. The deep waters above these dams and the spillways below are often the best walleye spots. The state record walleye was caught between the mouth of the Snake River and the McNary Dam, and this same stretch of water produced a former record fish in 1990. Another walleye that missed the record mark by only a few ounces was pulled from the same general area in 2012, cementing the status of this section of the Columbia River as a hot spot for big fish. Roosevelt Lake is another major walleye spot on the Columbia River, along with Banks Lake, Rufus Woods Lake, Wanapum Pool and Lake Umatilla.

Timing Your Visit

Spring is the easiest time to find walleye on the Columbia River. As soon as the snow melts, warmer weather triggers an upstream spawning migration, but mobility is limited by the many dams on the river, which prevent walleye from moving too far upstream. As a result, anglers can find these fish stacked in tailrace areas and deep pools below dams without fail in the early spring. These areas can also be productive in fall, but summer is a different story. The hottest part of the year finds walleye in the deepest parts of the river, where they hunt for prey around reefs, boulders, drop-offs and other rocky structures. Summer can be very rewarding for anglers who want to catch lots of fish, because smaller to mid-sized walleye tend to stick together in schools. The real giants, though, are often loners.

Fishing Tips and Tactics

The most important key to catching walleye in the Columbia River is to fish near the bottom. Walleye have very light-sensitive eyes, and they seldom rise more than a few feet from the bottom. A night-crawler rig fished slowly around rocks and drop-offs in 18 to 25 feet of water is the most consistently productive method on the river. These rigs typically involve a hook below a wire leader, with a heavy sinker about 18 inches up the line. Some anglers add a flashy spinner blade to the rig to help attract fish. Trolling with a night-crawler rig makes it easy to cover a lot of water if you're looking for fish, but it's important not to move too fast, or else walleye may not be willing to chase the bait. Casting with diving crankbaits, spoons and jigs can also be effective, especially if you find large numbers of walleye within a confined area.

What You Need to Know

A current Washington fishing license is required to fish for walleye on the Columbia River, and you can get a license through the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife website and at most bait shops and sporting goods stores across the state. Several location-specific regulations are in place on the Columbia River, including a 10-fish daily limit for walleye. There is no minimum size, but only five of the fish you keep may be over 18 inches, and only one may be over 24 inches. Regulations are subject to change, and current information is available on the Department of Fish and Wildlife website. Dozens of parks, marinas and launch sites provide access to the Columbia River, and several local fishing guides offer fishing charters and guided trips for walleye.

About the Author

When Richard Corrigan isn't writing about the outdoors, he's probably outside experiencing them firsthand. Since starting out as a writer in 2009, he has written for USA Today, the National Parks Foundation and LIVESTRONG.com, among many others, and enjoys combining his love of writing with his passion for hiking, biking, camping and fishing.

Photo Credits

  • Scott Olson/Getty Images News/Getty Images