Cowlitz River Fishing

Cowlitz River fishing offers ample opportunities!

The Cowlitz River is tributary of the Columbia River. Its Cowlitz River Steelheadtributaries drain a large region including the slopes of Mount Rainier, Mount Adams, and Mount St. Helens.  The Cowlitz River has a 2,586-square-mile drainage basin.  The Cowlitz River is roughly 105 miles long, not counting tributaries.

Major tributaries of the Cowlitz River include the Cispus River and the Toutle River, which was overtaken by volcanic mudflows during the May 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens.

Fishing Opportunity

The Cowlitz River provides natural spawning habitat for fish. The runs include;

  • Chinook – which are known in Washington as King Salmon, Blackmouth, and Springers
  • Coho – which are also known as Silvers
  • Steelhead – Winter & Summer Steelhead
  • Cutthroat trout

Cowlitz River fishing can be done primarily by drift boat and river sleds.  The WDFW fishing regulations govern this river and a Columbia River Salmon/Steelhead endorsement is required.

We have several boat launches we use to launch and start our fishing trips.  Depending on the time of year, we will launch at the following boat launches;

  • Blue Creek Boat Launch
  • Toledo Boat Launch
  • Castle Rock Boat Launch
  • Longview Boat Launch

The Cowlitz River is a great conventional gear and fly fishing river.  It is best known for its steelhead fishing.  When the Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery began operation in 1968, it was the largest salmon hatchery in the world. Currently, it produces nearly 13 million fish each year. Adjacent to the salmon hatchery is the barrier dam, which diverts spawning and upriver migrating fish to a separating station where fish are sorted by species. Some of the fish are used by the hatchery while others are transported upstream to continue migration.

The Cowlitz River consistently ranks as one of the states top 10 steelhead and salmon rivers!


  • Cowlitz is from the Salish, tawallitch, perhaps meaning “capturing the medicine spirit”
  • Columbia River smelt spawn in the Cowlitz River
  • The Cowlitz River currently has 3 major hydroelectric dams, with several small-scale hydropower and sediment retention structures within the Cowlitz Basin.
  • The Cowlitz Falls Project is a 70 megawatt hydroelectric dam that was completed in 1994. The dam is 140 feet high and 700 feet wide. Its reservoir, Lake Scanewa, is located at the confluence of the Cowlitz and Cispus Rivers downstream of Randle.
  • Mossyrock Dam began generating power for Tacoma City Light in 1968. It rises 605 feet from bedrock and created 23-mile long Riffe Lake. It is the highest dam in the Pacific Northwest.
  • The Mayfield Dam is 850 feet long and 185 feet high.  The modulated inflow from the Mossyrock Dam allows Mayfield Lake to maintain a water level that rarely fluctuates more than a few feet. It is located several miles downstream of Mossyrock.
  • A serious side effect of the Mount St. Helens 1980 eruption has been the downstream movement of enormous amounts of sediment through the North Fork Toutle River. After the eruption, river-borne sediment increased over five thousand-fold, making the Toutle River one of the most sediment-laden rivers in the world.



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