The Klickitat River will give you a buzzzzzz.Recently I read an article which claimed that we as humans get a euphoric charge out of hearing our phones go off with a text. Hmmm, could be true. However, if you want to get a true CHARGE out of a surprise message just wait until an explosive steelhead or charging salmon bends your fishing pole in half the moment you are relaxed and daydreaming on the beautiful Klickitat River.

Klickitat River Salmon
Daddy-Daughter Fishing Date

The Klickitat River is located just a few miles to the east of Hood River, Oregon on the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge and pours into the Columbia River. All spring long we whitewater raft the upper Klickitat and then come June first the steelhead and coho-salmon fishing season opens on the river and the fishing fun begins. As summer progresses and into the fall the chinook-salmon enter the river, which is probably the most popular fishery of the year. Directly after the fall chinook another hot run of explosive steelhead arrives for one last hurrah to complete six months of great fishing. While fish runs ebb and flow in total numbers, the beauty of the Klickitat is that there are four distinct runs of fish that overlap so there is always something good happening on the river. My personal favorite fishing experience is steelhead fishing because of how wild the fish are. However, having a 30lb chinook trying to pull your arm off on a warm September day is hard to beat. 

Klickitat River catching fish
Amanda catches another with Fishing Guide/Cousin Ben

Now before you think that I am the best fisherman in the Columbia River Gorge my success comes from who I know, not what I know. My brother Tracy and his two sons, Levi and Ben are very successful fishing guides on the Klickitat River. When I need to catch a salmon or steelhead I book a trip with them. 

Son-in-law Brady hooks the first fish of his life!

Putting on paper the sense of what it is like to fish this river is difficult but here is a list of my favorite elements that keep me coming back year after year. Sunrise on the river when all is still and the anticipation is high for a great day of fun. The guides are always so optimistic about the day and their enthusiasm is contagious. My competitive side of me wonders which seat I should take in the drift boat. Is the left seat going to be the lucky one, or maybe the right? Who’s rod is going to double over first today? Oh please, let it be mine! Early in the day the deer are moving on the oak/pine canyon walls and the flocks of wild turkeys may be coming off roost for some water. We are on super high alert waiting for a steelhead or salmon to strike early in the morning. The anticipation is off the charts as we fish that first undisturbed hole. The chance to see a river otter is likely as they zip up and down the river and scurry about on a sandy beach and they are always much bigger than I expect. The canyon warms up early so I get to peel off my jacket and soak up the sun. This is when I start getting relaxed. Very relaxed. Gently drifting down the river in a drift boat, I have escaped the world for the day and my mind and body appreciate it. At times we sit in silence or we might be chatting it up and then… WHAM! Left rod down and another fish is on. I can visualize how full my bbq is going to be with these fresh filets and I’m super thankful for a wife that has an amazing “secret recipe” and a fishing guide who can expertly filet my fish and the end of the day. I’m always surprised at how fast the day comes to a close when we are on the river. As we finish the adventure its apparent that I’ve become good friends with my fishing mates of the day (generally two or four of us fishing, plus the guide) so there are warm good-byes, the exchanging of contact info and the looking forward to our next fishing adventure. 

Klickitat river chinook salmon
The salmon is a keeper, and so is the son-in-law.

You’ll need the correct fishing license, and catch cards for the state of Washington but don’t worry about the gear and license, your fishing guide will walk you through all of it and make sure you are both legal and prepared. If you’d like to book a fishing trip, reach out to my family at and Make sure you tell them their favorite whitewater raft guide (me) sent you. 

As always, never hesitate to hit me up for a great rafting trip down the White Salmon and Klickitat Rivers, (, and by all means, ask me any questions about having all kinds of fun in the Columbia River Gorge.

Mark Zoller – Zoller’s Outdoor Odysseys –

Mark Zoller has been guiding whitewater rafting trips on the White Salmon and Klickitat Rivers since 1985. He lives in and loves the Columbia River Gorge