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You Think The Rivers Are Crowded Now?

by Cameron Black

February 12, 2021

You think the rivers are crowded now?  Just wait...

Crowded River Fishing

First off, thanks for taking the time to read this article.  I plan on writing these once a week and I really want to do nothing but call balls and strikes on fishing issues in the PNW.  I’ll take these opportunities to hopefully shed some light on issues pertaining to sport fishermen and where our fisheries are going.  So here we go...

This season across the PNW has been off to a rough start.  Things are changing once again and not for the better.  Couple the covid pandemic with the closure of most indoor activities and sports, you have a ripe situation for people flocking to the river.  Can’t blame them, I received more inquiries from new potential clients in the last 8 months than I have at any time in my career.  People want to fish.

There’s been increases in license sales, boat deliveries are months or even years behind, and it’s been extremely tough to buy seasonal fishing gear just about everywhere.  There’s no doubt fishing has been the shining highlight of 2020 and 2021.

Fishing License

Now include some recent decisions from the WDFW closing vast amounts of steelhead waters to many different users groups, there’s been an absolute recipe for disaster.  These new anglers and displaced fishermen have been flocking to the only available spots for them.  Put a couple weeks of bad weather and small windows to fish, you have local guides saying they have never seen the rivers busier.  And if you think these anglers only fish steelhead and that your black mouth, sturgeon, or other quota based fishery won’t see a negative effect?  Guess again.  By getting locked out of one fishery, any angler in the NW will seek another, it’s what we do, especially this year.

Steelhead Fishing Washington and Oregon

Within the Washington and Oregon coastlines there still has been consistent, steady, steelhead fisheries and there’s reasons for that, which I know I’ll be writing about later for sure... But for now, these beacons of light are drawing EVERYBODY.  If you were lucky enough not be displaced by restrictions then you’re seeing more pressure for sure.  Yeah, we all love our own private fisheries but in this day and age of information that’s not going to last long and we all still want to fish.  

So here comes the point of this article...  Don’t take the easy, whiny, way out about being upset with the situation.  Taking to the interwebs and blaming this magazine, tv show, YouTube channel,  report discussion board, Facebook or instagram pictures, on the fact that “your” river is busier than it has been, is the cheap, lazy way out.  Discord like that does nothing but take away from the REAL issues at hand.  We are losing fisheries, there’s shorter seasons, and certain “groups” have full-time paid staff to figure out the ways to make themselves feel good removing hatchery fish while not suffering the consequences of added pressure on wild rivers and starving orcas.  All sportsmen need to wake up. 

Starving Orca Whales

Sportsmen also forget that the flow of information and techniques has been thrown around different media outlets for 70 plus years.  Back in those days, you could find full river maps and tv programs pointing every spot, put in, or take out on the river, what technique to use, and the latest and greatest equipment to use.  It may have brought a few extra people to the river, but the difference is, you had plenty of rivers to fish and people were able to spread out.  For the last few years Oregon and Washington has seen a decrease in license sales all while our fisheries and quotas are being eaten up faster.  We weren’t increasing anglers, we were squeezing them in where there was the only open seasons.  Now throw the Covid increases in the mix, you’re going to see them go even quicker…

Covid 19 Fishing

Personally, I embrace it.  Yes it sucks getting closed out early on seasons that I guide to make a living for my family.  Yes, it sucks running into a few extra individuals on the rivers.  But the way I see it, we will want those new anglers on our side later to start tackling the bigger issues at hand.  If we don’t see our new fellow anglers as assets for our biggest concerns, (predation, habitat, brood stock programs) then we are collectively “missing the boat.”  These people are votes, both at the ballot boxes and with their wallets.  The more those anglers support industry business and conservation groups, the more those businesses and groups can advocate for our fisheries.  We will need EVERYBODY.

Next week…  A TALE OF TWO RIVERS, One that’s barely making wild steelhead escapement and one that is forecasted to be over by 3500 fish.  One’s open to boat fishing, one’s not.  The difference?  Management Decisions… Let me know if you want to hear about it?


Cameron Black Addicted Fishing


  • I have been fishing here in Washington rivers for the past 72 years and have never seen it so bad as it is now. I have tried to do something about this, but it is hard when there is not much support from the sportsman. I really liked your article and keep up the good work. I love steelhead fishing and hate to see it go away.

    George Jameson on

  • I’ve pretty much given up on steelhead. I rigged my kayak for smallmouth, and I’m all in on Shad this year. I just inherited a boat. And, trout in any creek I can get my Trailhawk to better watch out.

    Ed Wood on

  • It’s more than just ‘a few extra individuals’ and it actually is ‘my river’. I live on this river. I see it from my bedroom. It’s impossible for those of us who live here to be ok with this. People from hours away, almost half of them from Oregon who don’t even pay taxes here (taxes fund the majority of the hatchery not license sales) show up at 3 am to ‘get the spot.’ There is literally no place to stand and cast at daylight during the work week most days now. Add to that all the rafts coming downstream, even in super low water, and there is no fishery for the locals here anymore. We at least had a few key spots that we could fish when it was flooding but you guys from places that let your programs get cut who ‘just want to fish’ finally figured that out and ‘flow of information’ ruined our high water spots and those are gone too.

    You already missed the boat in your regions. Now you are invading mine and making it so I don’t care if the hatchery programs get cut. They probably should. They put thousands of gallons of formaldehyde into the river each year, they have used antibiotic fish food so much that the bacteria have become resistant and the antibiotics no longer work.

    When the adults are stuck in low water waiting for a rain, wild adults, the twitching jigs come out and the poor fish stuck in the few deep holes get snagged and released over and over. It’s depressing to watch- and since i live on the river I get to watch it every day. No sympathy from me.

    If we are serious about saving wild fish, we really should quit fishing in the river all together.

    Angry Local Guy on

  • 20 years ago, I could land half a dozen Steelhead on both the Sandy and the Clackamas every summer. I did not even know what I was doing back then. Now that I have the best gear and years of experience, I can’t even find one. So far this year, caught and released one native to the amazement of my peers.


  • Good article Cam and it’s very important to shed light on some of the many nuances of the situation. The fact is more fisherman is good. It’s more enthusiasm, funding, and more people who (hopefully) care about long term conservation of the fisheries.

    Michael Martin on

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