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Tualatin River Fishing: Learn from the Guides

From its origins in the Tillamook Forest, till it meets with the Willamette River, the Tualatin River runs quietly for about 83 miles. It’s a popular destination for outdoor water fun.

The slow-flowing water of the river makes it a perfect destination for Kayaking, paddling, and fishing. There are several launch sites and ramps along the banks.

Tualatin River is a popular freshwater fishing destination in Oregon. Several fishing sites along the river’s banks are less than an hour’s drive from Portland.

If you’re interested in Tualatin river fishing, read along for some in-depth exploration of the river’s fishing potential. And for some best freshwater fishing techniques, tools, and more.

Types of Fish in the Tualatin River

The three most reported catches in the Tualatin River are smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, and north pikeminnow. Other fish types that are known to live in the river are catfish, bullhead, carp, cutthroat trout, and rainbow trout.

Tualatin River Fishing Techniques and Tips

To successfully fish river streams, you need to know where to look for fish, what equipment to use, and when to hit the water.

Where Do Fish Hide?

It’s very important to remember that 80% of the fish can be found in 20% of the water. Fish huddle together in places where the current is slower and the water is colder.

Author Note: Fish need to find hiding places where they can rest from swimming and hide from predators. You can easily spot these places by looking for changes in current speed and water depth.

Changes in water speed can be seen by the naked eye. Rippling water is faster moving water, while a smooth surface means slow-moving water. Speed changes create eddies.

Eddies usually form downstream a boulder or a fallen tree trunk near the bottom. That low spot is where the fish hide. If you drop your bait near, you will catch something.

Changes in depth can be a bit trickier to see, especially in murky water. You can sense the change in-depth as you wade into the water by checking the submersion level of your body.

Deeper water is colder, and big fish like to settle there to help them control their body temperature. These types of fish are also called bottom feeders.

So, look for vegetation, tree stumps, rock formations, and other obstacles in the waterway and drop your bait nearby. You might want to consider using a float tube to get to hard-to-reach places on the river.

Baits and Lures

Tualatin River
Tualatin River near West Linn, OR

Baits are live critters and small fish that can be used to attract fish to your hook. While lures are artificial devices made to mimic the movement of live baits.

Live Worms

Worms, including earthworms, manure worms, and nightcrawlers are a good choice to catch most types of fish. Bottom feeders tend to prefer earthworms.


Minnows are common small fish found in rivers and they are a natural food resource for bigger fish. Cutting the minnow produces a scent that attracts big fish to bite.

Topwater Plugs

Topwater plugs are lures that imitate the movement of small fish. They come attached with one or two propellers that splash water. They are great for top feeders like largemouth bass.


Crankbaits are lures that take the shape of a small fish or a crawdad. They’re good for fishing mid-water, where smallmouth bass usually feed.

Plastic Worms

Plastic worms are wiggly imitations of live worm baits. In the water current, they move in almost the same way, jerking and bending. Good for fishing bottom feeders.

Fishing Rods

Fishing rods selection depends on where you’re fishing and what you’re attempting to catch. There are several options to choose from, and we’re going to help you make the right choice.

Top Tip: Generally, the best freshwater rods are both strong and flexible. This allows them to bend under the pull of a particularly feisty fish without snapping.

Spinning Rods

Spinning rods include five to eight large-diameter guides to regulate the line positioned. The guides are located at the underside of the rod and reduce in size as they reach the tip.

The eye closest to the handle is larger than the others to allow for less friction as the coiled line comes off the reel. Spinning reels are placed under the handle.

This type is popular for catching trout, bass, and pikeminnow.

Bait-Casting Rods

Similar to the Spinning rods, the bait-casting rods also include five to eight guides. However, they are positioned on top of the rod instead of at the underside. The fishing reel is placed above the handle.

Note that the bait-casting reels rods are not recommended for beginners. They are usually used for catching big fish with a lot of fight in them.

Also, the spinning rod reels don’t work well with the bait-casting rod, and vice versa. So, choose well.

Ultra-light Rods

Ultra-light rods are usually shorter and much lighter than other rod types. They’re meant for catching smaller fish, although they can handle bigger fish too because they have good fixability.

Ultra-light rods can be attached to a fly-fishing reel. They’re usually recommended for beginners because they are light to carry and relatively easier to control.

Boat Fishing Tips

boat fishing
Fisherman with rod, spinning reel on the river bank. Sunrise. Fishing for pike, perch, carp. Fog against the backdrop of lake. background Misty morning. wild nature. The concept of a rural getaway.

For shallow water bodies like the Tualatin River, small, flat-bottom boats are a must. Using bigger boats can cause damage to the delicate ecosystem, and they can run aground.

Carolina Skiff, Gillgetter, and Lund usually have good options for shallow water fishing boats. That being said, let’s take a look at a few tips for boat fishing.

When In Doubt, Slow Down

If you’re worried that you steered into an area where you might run aground, slow down your boat. If you run aground at high speed you might damage your boat.

Color Changes Mean Depth Changes

Usually, darker water means deeper water, and shallow water appears lighter to the eye. Sometimes though, weeds can cause water to look darker in shallow areas.

Power Down Near Fish Habitats

As mentioned above, fish live in areas where currents are slow. When you’re close to a boulder or a tree stump try to power down and drift so as not to startle the fish in the area.

Ramp Fishing Tips

The Tualatin River has several launching sites with several boat ramps. Boat ramps can be great areas for fishing. They create ideal habitat places for bass and other fish types. 

Here are a few tips for fishing around boat ramps.

Don’t Hinder Launching and Docking

Keep in mind that boat ramps are just that, boat ramps. They’re meant to be used for launching and docking boats. So, don’t hinder boat users from using the ramp when they need to.

Fish The Corners

Ramp corners are points of high concentrations of fish. They act similar to a fallen stump or a large rock. Slow currents around the corners allow fish to rest and hide.

Fish The End

The area at the end of the ramp where people usually power up their boats is usually good for fishing. A hole is created in that place where fish can gather.

Access points

There are several access points along the banks of the Tualatin River for fishing enthusiasts. Three points stand out and have the potential to yield more catch than others points. 

Author Note: The three most popular access points for fishing are Cook Park, Swiftshore Park, and Willamette Park.

Best Times of the Day for Fishing

tualation river fishing

According to reports from fishers along the Tualatin River banks, the best time of the day for fishing is between 11:30 pm and 1:30 am. The second best reported time for fishing is between 7:25 am and 9:25 am.

The low water temperature at these times helps anglers get more bites. As fish can’t control their body temperature, they get heat stress when water temperatures rise. This is why fish are more active in colder waters.

Tualatin River Fishing Regulations

According to Oregon’s department for fish and wildlife, the Tualatin River is open for fishing all year round. You can catch trout, Chinook salmon, wild steelhead, and hatchery steelhead.

Starting November 1st, 2021, the use of baits will not be allowed in the Tualatin River. Only lures and artificial flies can be used for angling.

If you’d like to eat some of the fish you catch, you’re allowed to keep five hatchery trout and two wild trout each day.


If you’re a beginner or a master of angling, the Tualatin river will provide you with ample opportunity to enjoy fishing. You can even try some new techniques.

The biggest fish ever caught in the Tualatin River was a 15-pound white catfish, caught by Wayne Welch in 1989.  No one came close since then, although some reported catching fish as heavy as 10 pounds.

Would you like to hit the water and try to break the 15-pound record number for the river? Or do you prefer a more relaxed approach to fishing? Either way, we have provided you with a comprehensive guide for Tualatin River fishing. 

Please remember to avoid fishing while the water is excessively warm. When water is warm, there is less dissolved oxygen in the water. Also, fish can’t regulate their body temperature. During these conditions, fish are under great stress.

If a fish is caught in a hook and pulled out of the water it might die of stress even if it was released immediately back into the water. So, be careful and look out for hoot owl alerts.

Happy Hunting!


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