The Klickitat River Steelhead is a unique fish in a unique river system by the fact that it is the longest un-dammed river in the state. This glacier fed river is controlled by Mt. Adams and is very dependent on the weather, unlike the Yakima River.
Klickitat River steelhead season starts in June and goes till the end of November.
In the summer months, you can typically have the river mostly to yourself and even find a few fish. Although low in quantity, the pressure and water clarity does produce some fish.
As stated before, the river clarity is determined by Mt. Adams, so when summer temperatures begin to climb, keeping a close eye on the river gauges and even making a few phone calls to the local Canyon Market can save you a long drive home if the river is un-fishable.
We keep an eye on night time temperatures, as the river will cycle if it begins to get into the 40s at night. A cycle is when the river becomes un-fishable (blows out) because of the high midday temperatures and then eventually gains clarity as the day goes on.
In these instances, putting in at first light isn’t always the best bet for catching fish. On average, it takes about two days for the water to get from the mountain down to the fishing grounds. On these days, sometimes putting on at 9 A.M. to wait for that cycle of clearer water to come down is a good strategy.
You can actually see the water clarity go from 8 inches of visibility to 18 inches and back down to 8 inches in one float. Planning your day to follow that clearer water is a good plan if you are going to be fishing down here.
Starting in September, the cooler weather bumps the river back down into shape and the steelhead and chinook salmon start shooting up the river.
September also brings the crowds down as everyone wants to get their shot at one of these beautiful and hard-fighting anadromous fish on water we fish.
Finding steelhead can be a tough task but once you hook into one, get ready to hold on tight for the ride! Steelhead typically freak out when hooked and you can expect long fast runs up, down, left, and right all over the river as well as cartwheels out of the water and aggressive head-shakes.
The river will get lower during this time because of the cooler temperatures but is still dependent on the weather. High amounts of rain this time of year can blow out the river just as much as the heat can. Tributaries like the Big Muddy don’t get their name because they run clean!
As we wind down the season in late October/November, the river typically begins to clear up to 4-5 feet of visibility, but dress with plenty of extra layers and get ready to chip ice off your rod guides because temperatures can get down into the teens during the night.
If you are a “Do-It-Yourself” type of person and have never been on the Kilickitat River, it would be very wise to do some research prior to your trip, as some of the sections of this river are highly dangerous; even the easiest sections aren’t friendly to someone new on the oars.
Need a fishing license to fish the Klickitat River, go to WDFW and purchase your license online.