FEATURED 2015 JulyColumbiaRiver

5 min to read

Columbia River Gorge – Summer Bass Fishing Report – Smallies on the Bonneville Pool


The Columbia River is listed among the five best Smallmouth Bass rivers in the country by BASSMASTER.com. Our destination for the day was the Bonneville Pool.

The community of Hood River Oregon is a major destination for water borne sports driven by the wind. There’s a reason, however about once per week throughout spring and summer atmospheric pressures on either end of the Gorge stabilize for a day. Any of the web sites can make accurate predictions about three days in advance. Sometimes a predicted flat calm morning transforms into an inland ocean playground for these enthusiasts.

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For bass fishing enthusiasts the flat calm that leaves kites and sailboards on the beach is the window to fish the Bonneville Pool. It’s the first reservoir upstream from Portland and it’s the first dam that was completed in the system in the 1930’s. These are river run reservoirs designed primarily for power generation. Thought the pool levels only fluctuate a few feet, flows can vary from immense to almost a trickle. Mid July is typically run-off from the melting mountain snows, but this year that’s all but over. The Northwest is part of the West and all of it is suffering from drought conditions.

Steve met me at the Starbuck’s across the road from the launch just after 5am. Convenient amenities are located right at the ramp at the foot of the Hood River Bridge. There’s a fee to cross the bridge from the Washington side but not for the ramp. It’s a well-maintained facility and it’s located on a harbor that’s protected. Only the 11,000ft peak of Mt Hood is in the morning sunshine. Our first few strikes on walking top water baits were not too impressive. Near the hatchery on the Washington side only one vicious blow up in the current flowing around the tips of basalt rock points. The pool level is low and the weed growth invades nearly all of the shallow flats. I switch to a finesse popper and one not so tentative clobbers this bait.

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I’m looking for signs the big bait is in the system. One of the large baitfish is a smelt called a Candlefish. Running up the river from the Pacific these have so much oil content that dried out they can be burned like a candle. One of our first keepers spits up a large piece of bait. I arrived with a 4.8” and 5” Swimbaits tied on and Steve has a D&M Custom Baits 5″ Grass Thumper rigged on 3/4oz Underdawg. Soon Steve gets a 2+lber to eat, but flat calm situation and warm temperatures aren’t the ideal conditions to fish shallow this day.

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Pay close attention to your navigation- at least three basalt reefs are located hundreds of yards off shore and the tops are barely submerged beneath the surface. Only running in the navigation channel can you be assured of no hazards like these. We probe the depths and current breaks around this structure but only small fish were caught.

The pool level was just high enough to idle trimmed up over a mid river sand bar that’s a quarter mile wide, in the middle of the pool. You could wade across it wearing a backpack and the contents would stay dry. On the bank is a channel that runs between 8 and 20ft deep. Vertical bluff shoreline with a couple of chunk rock slides in the water. Cranking delivers several small fish but the location may be too far from access to the main channel. Steve catches a good keeper but by now post spawn females have moved out. We fish the deepest spot with plastics on the bottom in case a few remained in the area.

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Flats with rocky bottoms aren’t rare but they are scattered up and down the 45-mile length of this pool. Behind us west winds were developing and a good flat is located down past a narrow section of the Gorge. Winds accelerate here and when they blow against the current they sometimes create extremely rough conditions. The weed growth occurs in sand and silt- not on rock. Bars with smooth river rock hold fish – the ones with enough water over them. White swimbaits produced several fish and this fish crushed it.

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A floating jerkbait was irresistible, but the fish shook it after the hook set and went rocketing out to deep water with two more chasing behind. She saw the boat and turned to the side and bulldogged along a weed edge. She passed the bow of the boat and kept going. Neither of the other fish got hooked though I left her down there for a moment so they could keep trying. Big moment of the day.

Resting that spot and returning one more about 3lbs came flying up and got hooked in the head. She shook off after several seconds. By then the others there were spooked. Railroad rip rap nearby produced more strikes including a nice one that came off in a weed clump. Steve was cranking with baits that ran at medium depths. The key to rip rap is where it fills over a depth of more than 8 feet of water. Anything less is choked with weed growth and the key for these fish is rock not silt. At a basalt monolith just off shore Steve pitched a D&M Pro Model Football Jig 34/oz in Greenpumpkin to it’s base. Two fish followed it up and when he flipped it back in one grabbed it. Right next to the boat.

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Steve caught a couple more solid keepers cranking a flat point with current. Adjusting down the water column mid day delivered a few more small fish, but by now wind gusts were becoming a distraction making boat handling a challenge. Even with 36 volts and 109lbs of thrust- recommended if you plan to become a frequent Gorge fisherman. It was a relief from the mid 90’s heat and water we took over the bow running back was refreshing. All electronics sensitive to moisture had been secured and they needed to be. Not the biggest water ever encountered, but big enough.

Zip Decker
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