Cowlitz River – Fall & Winter Fishing Mecca
By Jai Colvin
The Cowlitz River is a fishing mecca and those who hit this incredible river every year know…it’s the place to come for Fall and Winter fishing. The Cowlitz is a tributary of the Columbia River. Its own tributaries drain a large region including the slopes of Mount Rainier, Mount Adams, and Mount St. Helens. Many folks know it as the river that the eruption of Mount St. Helens changed drastically. News photos showed the damage done when the eruption hit as walls of water and ash descended down the Cowlitz.
Today the Cowlitz has a 2,586-square-mile drainage basin and is located between the Cascade Range in eastern Lewis County and the cities of Kelso and Longview. The river is roughly 105 miles long, not counting tributaries and is steeped in logging history. The major tributaries of the Cowlitz include the Cispus River and the Toutle River. With three major hydroelectric dams the Cowlitz offers a few lakes as a result including Lake Scanewa which is located at the confluence of the Cowlitz and Cispus Rivers downstream of Randle.
The Cowlitz River is considered one of the most complete fishing rivers in the Pacific Northwest. Fishing this river is a year around affair with ten months of “peak” fishing to be had. If you’re looking to fish for Salmon, or steelhead, there’s always some sort of fishing available on the Cowlitz River and the access along this historical river is easy in some places and more challenging in others which speaks to the nature of just about every type of fisherman.
Fall and Winter Salmon runs on the Cowlitz River are some of the best in Washington. They begin in September with the return of the fall chinook and continue with the Coho. The Coho that frequent the Cowlitz are said to be amazing fighters with enough aggressiveness to make them a lot of fun to catch. The winter steelhead begin entering the river around the end of November and tend to be larger than the summer steelhead. If you don’t mind the colder weather the Cowlitz is the place to head for that Fall and Winter fishing.
According to Fish and Wildlife, one of the side effect of the Mount St. Helens 1980 eruption has been the downstream movement of enormous amounts of sediment through the North Fork Toutle River. This clogged the river channel causing floods along the lower Toutle and Cowlitz Rivers and made fishing it difficult at best but the F & W embarked upon dredging and today the river channel is more workable than ever. It still requires periodic dredging but it is being maintained.
It is important to note that the Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery, which began operation in 1968, is one of the largest salmon hatchery in the world. Currently, it produces approximately 13 million fish each year. The Cowlitz also sports a barrier dam, which diverts spawning and upriver migrating fish to a separating station where fish are sorted by species. Some of the fish are used by the hatchery while others are transported upstream to continue migration.
So if you are looking for a great place to hook a salmon, look no further than the Cowlitz River. And if you know of any “secrets” to fishing this popular river…share them with our readers…