Columbia River Bass


  As I look out the window it’s a rare sunny windless day in Hood River, the kind of day that warms murky spring runoff in the Columbia River and encourages Smallmouth Bass to leave deep water and move shallow to feed on crawfish. It’s the kind of day that makes me consider hanging up the spey rod and think of bronze instead of chrome.  The Columbia River bass fishery is an underutilized resource. Adventurous anglers will find that opportunity abounds and unlike other quality northwest fisheries uncrowded conditions are the norm.

     The fishing gets started in spring as the water temps approach 50 degrees. At this time the larger females move from their deep water winter lairs to shallow water where they become accessible to fly anglers. It is common to find these fish on islands, in coves or along points that are protected from the current. Cray fish patterns are very productive at this time of year.  Fish activity will vary day to day in the still cool water. Some days large patterns like our Trophy Craw fished quickly will draw reaction strikes while other days smaller more natural patterns like the Super Bugger crawled slowly over the rocks will be more productive.

     As the water warms towards the 60s Smallmouth will migrate further back into the coves and pockets to spawn. In five to ten feet of water they will look for sand or gravel in which to make their beds. At this time they will become aggressive and easy for fly anglers to target. A variety of flies will work at this time. Diver patterns are especially effective for searching. Then when a concentration of fish is found a Clouser Minnow fished slowly through the beds often makes for an outstanding day. This spawning activity lasts until late May and often happens in waves.

     After the spawn the females will move from the beds and spend a week or two recovering on the same same structures they used before the spawn and leave the males behind to guard the nest. This can be a challenging time to find larger fish but the smaller males are still around and aggressive.

     By the end of June the water has begun to clear, Smallmouth having recovered from the spawn will be actively feeding again. They look for places that concentrate food. Current seams, under water rock piles and islands are used by hungry Smallmouth to ambush their prey. Bait fish patterns like the Home Invader and Conehead Trout Streamer are excellent during low light or windy conditions. During bright sunny windless days smaller more natural patterns like Super Buggers and the Sculpin Bunny fished along the deeper edges of those same structures will produce.

     Though earlier seasons provide some top water opportunity the best action takes place during Mid-August through September. During this time the American Shad fry begin their migration to the sea and the Smallmouth feed on them heavily.  Our Articulated popper and Pencil Popper are two excellent choices to match this opportunity. Subsurface bait fish patterns like Enrico’s Mackerel or The Hot Flash Minnow would also produce excellent results. 

     The second half of September brings with it cooler days which quickly push the smallmouth into deeper water and by October they are out of reach of fly anglers, it’s again time to pick up the spey rod and start looking for chrome.

     It doesn’t take much special gear to get into bass fishing on the Columbia. The 6-8 weight rods you likely already own are perfect. A weight forward line with a heavy front taper like Rio’s Smallmouth line are also ideal. Rio’s tapered bass leaders will turn over the larger flies in the often windy conditions and their knotless construction will come through the weeds without snagging.

     There are plenty of access points to both the Oregon and Washington banks of the Columbia and its backwaters between Cascade Locks and Umatilla. They all hold plenty of bass. Whether you want to launch a boat and seriously pursue them or fish casually from the bank or a float tube the Columbia’s Smallmouth fishery is worthy of your attention.

by Rob Allen



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The Blog of Big Y Fly Co: Columbia River Bass
Columbia River Bass
The Blog of Big Y Fly Co
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