Cowlitz Quiet; Chehalis and Willapa Rivers Hot

Best Bets: Go West, Anglers, to Find the Elusive Steelhead

By Michael Wagar

The winter steelhead run on the Cowlitz River is still waiting to blast open, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any real promising hot spots in our area to bag that cherished steely.

“It’s slow, fair at best despite decent conditions in the river — the heighth is good,” said Marshall Borsom of Fish Country, Inc. in Ethel about fishing up near Blue Creek and to Barrier Dam on the Cowlitz.

One successful fisherman brought in a steelhead to the fishing shop Monday morning — about 14 pounds. He reported the river is packed with anglers, but only saw five being caught Monday morning.

Borsom wonders if the rumor he hears of later and later fish plantings causing later runs. He does expect the winter steelhead fishing to improve, but it might not be until mid- to late-January.

“They’re not here yet,” Borsom said, although a few chrom-bright silvers are being caught with a bobber and jig at Barrier Dam.

At Barrier Dam Campground, owner Karen Glaser also reported slow fishing.

“I saw a few fish this morning from Blue Creek, but it’s still spotty,” she said, adding last night a couple of fishermen at the boat ramp at Blue Creek reeled in several steelhead. She also reported the silvers, while being caught, are for the most part dark.

But not all is lost, if you’re willing to try a different river. We’ve heard reports that steelhead are swarming up the Skookumchuck River. Expect plenty of fishermen just below the dam.

Charles McElroy, a sportings goods clerk at Sunbird Shopping Center, confirmed that after the big rains of a few weeks ago the Skookumchuck was “decent” and that steelhead are showing up already, which is “real early for the steelhead in the Skook.”

McElroy said the best bet right now is on the lower Chehalis River — “it was really good right before Christmas,” but also recommends the Willapa River — “anytime that river’s in shape it’s got fish — silvers and steelhead.”

He also said the Naselle River as every bit as good as the Willapa. Another river to try is the North, McElroy said.

Michael Wagar is the executive editor of The Chronicle. Please send photographs and local fishing tips, hot spots and stories to Wagar at or call him at (360) 807-8224.