Toledo Steelhead Fishing Derby

By Kimberly Mason / For The Chronicle
The summer run of steelhead on the Cowlitz River is picking up just in time for the first annual Toledo Steelhead Fishing Derby to be held on Saturday.
It takes just $20 to throw your fishing hat into the ring to compete for the $200 top prize, $100 for second place. Even if you don’t win, you can’t lose with the free barbecue open to all participants at the end of the day.
“We also have a mystery weight fish prize of $50,” said Rick Lovell, owner of the Flying K in Toledo and the organizer of the event. “We’ll write down a ‘mystery weight’ and put it in a sealed envelope. The one that comes closest to that weight wins.”
The average-sized steelhead runs 8 to 10 pounds, and the three and four year old fish can run up into the teens. True trophies are fish that have stayed at sea for four to six years and they can reach 30 pounds or more.
The fishing starts at 5 a.m. and runs all day.
“But you’ve got to be in line to get your fish weighed at the Toledo boat launch by 4 p.m. for it to count,” warns Lovell.
Fish must be caught on the Cowlitz River, anywhere from the Barrier Dam down to the Gearhart Gardens Park and Launch in Longview. Everyone in the fishing party — bank and boat anglers — must be in possession of a derby pass to qualify.
Young anglers are encouraged to enter — children 14 and under are free to enter — but if they want to compete for the cash prizes they need to pay the $20 entry fee. The youth division offers merchandise prizes only.
Part of the proceeds will be going to the Vision:Toledo fund and another portion to the Friends of the Cowlitz.
“We’re not here to make money from the derby,” said Lovell. “We’re all working really hard to revitalize our town. Toledo is such a great town and it’s such a beautiful river. We hope to get more people out here to enjoy it.”
The Toledo boat launch and park has been open just over a year, dedicated in a ceremony of blessing by the Cowlitz Tribe on May 10, 2010. The launch site includes restrooms, a picnic table, and viewing decks and is handicapped accessible.
Toledo built it; now they hope that everyone will come and enjoy it. Word is getting out among the boaters on the river, Lovell said.
“We have people calling us from the river to order food to go,” said Lovell. “They stop in at the boat launch, grab a bite and then head back on the river again.”
Fishing for Steelhead
Karen Glaser at the Barrier Dam Campground said, “No two days are the same. They’ve been catching some real nice fish lately, but you’ve got to put in the time.”
Most of the boat anglers are using a diver and coon shrimp, Glaser said, and one of the more successful guides she knows is free drifting eggs.
“It’s all the usual stuff,” Glaser said. “Shrimp and eggs, corky and yarn, jig and a bobber.”
If one thing isn’t working, she said, try something else.
The water levels have been fluctuating. Sunday it was low, Glaser said, and now it’s back up again. The speed and depth of the water is just another variable to take into consideration when you are going after steelhead in the Cowlitz.
Kimberly Mason is a freelance writer based in Cinebar. She can be contacted at

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