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Columbia River in Transition – Bass Fishing Late Summer/Early Fall

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Daytime temperatures all along the course of the Columbia River remain constant going into late summer.  Mid nineties on the east side of the Cascades and mid 70s and low 80s on the west side with the Pacific marine influence.  What were noticeable were the crisp early morning temperatures and the sunrise that’s an hour later.  When a cool air mass from British Columbia descended over the Northwest nighttime temperatures dropped by nearly ten degrees.  It wasn’t a big surprise to turn on the Hummingbird electronics and find the surface temperature had suddenly fallen four degrees as a result.

The event was The Bass Federation of Oregon’s 3rd of four State Qualifiers on September 13th at Celilo Park- the second reservoir up from Portland Or on the Columbia.  68 degrees is normally warm enough for top water fishing. Temperatures over 70 are ideal. Recreational fishing during the summer previously identified a few locations with adequate current.  Only small fish seemed to respond along shorelines with slack water.  It was a sudden morning chill that week and it rendered our top water offerings totally strike proof.  One peek into the livewell at 9am with a 7lb limit and the message was clear:  Fish do not watch a calendar.  This day was going to fish like fall.

By late summer bait in the river is big, and you see the schools of bait everywhere.  Biologically fish sense they must eat and store bulk and energy for the coming winter.  Instead of calling fish to the surface, we make a switch and we took our baits down to them.  4 to 5” swimbaits slow rolled far enough down to enter the strike zone.  There’s little cover to snag along the majority of the riverbank so open jig heads are the best choice.  On the bottom tubes rigged on traditional tube heads maintain a high strike to hookset ratio compared to Texas rigs, but the rock is basalt and they will hang up pretty often.  Easy to shake free- although time is lost, and it’s a good practice to keep a hook sharpener close by.  1/4oz heads with 8lb fluorocarbon leaders is finesse, but water clarity is approximately 6 feet and the mid day sun remains high and bright.

Winds were light this day, but we limited ourselves to just the middle section of this twenty-mile long pool.  Rotating on our spots was easy.  Plenty of time to recover and cull out the fish from the poor results in the morning.  Fish like this one caught by my TBF partner Chris Dustin begin falling for our subsurface offerings and we rally.  At noon Chris catches a 4.5lb on a swimbait and now we believe we have a chance.   I cull out the last 2lb with a tube on the channel side of an offshore rock at 2:30.  We weigh 15.96lbs- 2nd place, just two ounces away from winning.  Chris’s fish wins the big fish cash.

Columbia-River-Smallmounth-07The Dalles Or. launch is located at the east end of Bonneville- the first reservoir on the system 40 miles east of Portland.  Air temperatures rebounded and the river’s temperature only declined a degree per week throughout the remainder of September.  Top water fishing also rebounded as Steve Adams and I pleasantly discovered.  He met me at the ramp for a recreational fishing day and it wasn’t necessary to run far to find fish.  Shorelines that offered water over 10ft deep with current held groups of fish.  One twitch of a Sammy or a Superspook and fish rocketed up to crush the bait.  Steve tried a California Delta favorite the Whopper Plopper, but the fish keyed in on the wounded baitfish presentations only.  Somewhat stationary targets by comparison.  Perhaps they seemed more vulnerable.

The Bass Federation of Oregon held a Big Bass Tournament at The Dalles on Oct 4th.  Reports had already begun the week before of a few 5lb plus smallmouth being caught.  The weather remained stable throughout the entire month and by this date the surface temperature had fallen to 65 degrees.  The pool was off-limits for five days prior to the event.  I returned to the holes along the shoreline that Steve and I discovered.  The trend of the season was evident.  Fewer blow-ups and smaller fish although one of these two went for a Sammy 105 in American Shad.  Drifted over a shallow riffle between 3 and 5 feet deep with a hard rock bottom.  Fish in moving water are active fish.  She short struck the first time, but ate with a vengeance after giving the location a ten-minute rest.

Columbia-River-Smallmounth-06We knew 4lb fish would not win a big bass tournament on the Bonneville Pool in early fall.  Surface fishing wasn’t likely to deliver fish over 5lbs.  On this day water was being released through the Bonneville Dam and current was breaking around points and rocks and islands.  Big fish will eat reaction in these conditions and the action is steady.  I threw various swimbaits and Chris through lipless baits.  Luckycraft LV-500 in Red Craw- a Columbia favorite throughout the season.  Chris was making long casts to visible cover and we paid close attention to the location of the strikes.  I placed the boat well off shore because I predicted the location of bigger smallmouth in transition would be away from the bank.  They were, and these baits covered that zone.  Two smallmouth over 5.5lbs were weighed in.  The biggest 5.64lbs by Dave Simmons.

The following day October 5th The Bass Federation of Oregon held a Youth State Qualifier for the National Guard Junior World Championship. The location was twenty miles downstream at Hood River Oregon.  160 years ago the Lewis and Clark Expedition must have been fascinated by a transformation of the landscape from high desert to lush evergreen forest in such a short distance.  Though daytime temperatures are cooler on the west side, there’s no change in the surface temperatures of the river.  Boat captains for the competition are not allowed to fish or coach the contestants, but one makes observations and young anglers can make quite an impression.  These anglers stay on the cutting edge like the touring pros and they follow the trends.  Umbrella rigs perform here much like other waters with fall baitfish.  As Halloween approaches cover like this is productive if it’s located in water with depths over 12ft.  Light penetration is very high.  Dropshot locations with rock cover with depths over 20ft or more.