The 7 Best Kayak Fishing Vacations in the Northwest

The 7 Best Kayak Fishing Vacations in the Northwest

Growing up fishing the Northwest I caught a lot of big fish. From salmon in the Columbia River to giant sturgeon in the Snake River. I have been lucky over the years. But one thing I should have done more of was kayak fish. In this article, I have put together a list of places I want to kayak fish. I might not be able to hit all of them but maybe you can help me decide.

Umpqua River Oregon

Located near Winchester Bay and extending west for 111 miles is the Umpqua River. Salmon and steelhead travel up this river year-round. This could possibly be one of the best fishing spots in the United States, with winter steelhead being caught up to 20lbs on a regular basis.

For our kayak trip, we would want to go for an early fall run. Fall chinook starts to run up the Umpqua in September and will run through October. The fall chinook can be an aggressive bite and full of action. In the fall the water levels will be stable and safe to kayak fish.

Fishing the Umpqua from your kayak will be one of the best fishing trips you could ever have from a kayak. Imagine catching a 30lb wild king salmon from your kayak. I personally would try up the river a little bit while still being in the calmer waters of the bay.

Added side note - while fishing this river in the fall for chinook you could have a chance to catch some coho. Bring your vacuum sealer and a large cooler because we are talking about bringing salmon home for you, your grandma, friends and maybe the neighbor.

Detroit Lake Oregon

While this spot won’t land you the biggest fish you ever caught from a kayak. It will land you in the heart of some of the most beautiful country in Oregon. Only 2 hours away from Portland, if you live in this region it’s an easy trip over the mountain.

Detroit lake offers some primo kayak fishing. There is an abundant amount of trout and kokanee. Paddle this lake during the day and cook your catch on the shores at night. Offering over 300 campsites you should be able to find your place in this beautiful country.

Detroit Lake is known for its trout fishing. Being stocked with thousands of fish every year, it can get up to around 40,000 fish in April and May. One thing I have learned over the years fishing lakes stocked with trout is there is always a group that no one is catching. Take your kayak and explore this lake because some rock ledge is holding a group of monster rainbows.

A tip for targeting large rainbows in stocked lakes - troll small trout-like rapallas and red and white daredevils. Here in Idaho, we can catch some monster fish with this technique.  You just need to mix up the depths and wait until the last hour of the day. That is when the big boys come out. With your kayak, you should be able to sneak up on bigger fish who know the sound of a trolling motor.

While this spot might not be worth traveling across the country for, it makes the list of best kayaking vacations because if you live in this area it would totally be worth the trip.

Deadwood Reservoir Columbia-Kayaks Photo by: Pexels

Deadwood Reservoir Idaho

 Deadwood Reservoir Idaho is a secret spot. Later this year we will be posting kayak videos from this reservoir. You can only fish this lake a couple of months out of the year, sometimes 3 months. Located at 5300ft, there are some high passes that are usually blocked with snow until June. The road in can be rough on boats so not a lot of boaters hit this lake.

Being a hidden gem and hardly ever fished this could be one of those places worth loading up the kayak and driving all the way from Texas. The fish get huge here and the limits on kokanee are robust. I have heard stories of people bringing deep freezers and generators to get themselves a year supply of kokanee. 

Oregon coast bay Photo taken by: Viridi_Ranae

Tillamook Bay Oregon

The Tillamook Bay in Oregon is the mouth of 5 rivers.  All of these rivers have a fall salmon run. The two that concern us are the Wilson and the Kilchis. In the fall, these two rivers get the most fall salmon out of all the rivers and also some of the biggest salmon you can catch in the United States. With the average fish being between 20-30lbs.  With some fish ranging up into the 50lb range.

The Tillamook Bay is no place for an amateur kayak fisherman. With high winds picking up sporadically and incoming and outgoing tides. This is a place that should be kayaked with extreme caution. It would not be a bad idea to reach out to local kayak fisherman and see if someone will take you out and show you around before you go alone. There is also a local kayak guide that does day trips. This would be perfect for learning how to navigate the Tillamook Bay. Check out their website for more information on kayaking the Tillamook Bay. Kayak Tillamook

This would be a late October fishing trip and the water will be cooling down. Be prepared to get wet and cold. But this bay offers some great fishing opportunities as well as a bonus chance to catch some crabs. This made the list because a day where you catch a king salmon then head over to a couple of keeper Dungeness crab would be one of the best days of kayak fishing anyone could have.

2019 Skagit River Pink Salmon

Every other year on an odd year the Puget Sound blows up with pink salmon. The Skagit, Snohomish, Green, Puyallup, Nooksack and the Nisqually River all get a pink salmon run. In 2017, the run size was 6.8 million fish and that was a bad year. The Puget Sound can be rough water but kayak fishing the mouths of these rivers could put some awesome salmon in your freezer.

The next pink salmon run is going to be in August of 2019. The weather is going to be nice the fish are going to be plenty and you can bet I will be out there in my kayak. With so many options, be sure to check your regulations and talk to locals via Facebook to find where it is safe to fish from a kayak.

Henry’s Lake Idaho

Located only 67 miles away from Yellow Stone National Park, Henry’s Lake in Idaho offers some of the largest cutthroat and brook trout in the lower 48. With daily bag limits reduced to two fish and limited fishing season. The food and nutrients in the water provide rapid growth to the fish. This lake is known for its trophy fish and could be one of the best kayak fishing trips in America.

If you are into fly fishing from a kayak this could be a great opportunity. Henry’s Lake is known for great fly fishing as a lot of the food comes from large bug hatches.

While this lake can get very popular in the summer months, try fishing later in the fall for less competition and larger congregations of fish. Trolling from your kayak and covering some ground is how you will find these large pockets of fish.

Much of the shoreline at Henrys Lake is private property. This is a great opportunity to capitalize on having a kayak. Another benefit to having a kayak is the ability to be quiet. Some of the largest fish are caught in about 3-6 feet of water. If you have ever heard a boat motor under water, you know it scares the fish. Use your kayak to stealth your way into a resting 6-pound brook trout.

2019 Fall Columbia River Salmon

Over the last two years, the fall salmon run on the Columbia River has not been as abundant. In 2019, the Coho run in the Columbia River is going to be estimated at around 1 million fish. This is up from last years forecast at 349,000 fish.  The salmon fishing on the Columbia River is going to be amazing in 2019.

There will also be around 340,000 wild chinooks running up the Columbia River in 2019. Not as high as some years in the past, but this will allow for some great fishing from your kayak. One of the reasons we are looking at fishing the Columbia River in the fall is because of the mild weather.

In the fall things seem to settle down weather wise. In the springtime, the Columbia River usually is blown out with the wind. Putting your kayak on the Columbia River in the spring can be very risky as one minute the river is glass and the next it is producing 5 ft rolling waves.

To catch some of these cohos and chinook I would honestly watch some YouTube videos and find out where all the boats are fishing. With your kayak take advantage of being able to launch anywhere. There are plenty of camping areas in Oregon and Washington. Camp close to a bunch of boats launch your yak nearby and get your lures in the water.

One tip is to watch the dam fish counts. Look at previous years and plan your trip based off of when the fish pass certain dams and what section of the river you wish to fish. With this strategy, you can pinpoint when and where the salmon are going to be located at specific times of the year. Here is a link to the dam fish counts.

I have fished the Columbia River for Fall salmon before. If you have made it this far into the article you are in for a treat. Use brads super bait stuffed with tuna soaked in garlic. There are plenty of YouTube videos on this lure and I will vouch that they out-fish the boats.


Most of these fishing spots are best in the fall. This makes it hard to hit them all in one year. But, all of these trips would produce some bannerfish. It might take me a couple of years to fish all of these locations, but this is a goal I would love to strive for. If you have any suggestions of spots I should add to this list, then please comment down below. Also, we are thinking of doing more list like this so if you have a place you would like on a dream kayak fishing list then please share down below.

One thought on “The 7 Best Kayak Fishing Vacations in the Northwest

  1. avatar Benjamin Andrews says:

    I like that you state that looking at previous year’s fishing information is a good idea. I’m trying to plan a fishing trip with my dad. I will keep this in mind while we are looking for ideas.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *