Sep 092017

No sooner than we get the kayak fishing for salmon started, the fishing is on hold thanks to high winds, and even worse, an out of control wildfire that is burning just a few miles away. The local interstate is closed and the roads are full of fire fighting vehicles. The air is full of thick smoke and ash, unhealthy to breathe, so any kind of physical activity is limited.

Cleaning fishing reels

Not much else to do except clean and repair the salmon fishing reels. One was in bad need of a grease job and the other one, the front line salmon reel, had a few loose screws and needed a lube job as well. Catching these big fish and getting banged around on the kayak is tough on the fishing gear, it’s a pretty good idea to do regular maintenance, which of course, nobody seems to do.

Sorry, nothing much to report this time. Thanks to all the firefighters working the Eagle Creek fire, they have a big job ahead of them and we hope that nobody gets injured.

Sep 062017

We finally got out for our first kayak fishing for salmon trip of the season. It was unlike any of the other first salmon fishing trips of the year because the Columbia River Gorge is filled with heavy smoke and ash from the nearby Eagle Creek wildfire. It’s not exactly easy breathing and visibility was often less than a quarter mile, but we had to get out there and try for the first salmon of the season.

It didn’t take long for me to get the first fish of the year. After only a few casts, about a half hour before sunrise, I hooked into the first Chinook salmon of the season. It was a smaller fish, probably ten pounds or less, so I released it. Little did I know it would be quite a few hours before I felt another serious tug on the line. The sun came up, but it didn’t get too bright because of the thick smoke. There were a few fish being caught, but for this time in the annual salmon run, I would have to rate the fishing as “somewhat slow”. The slow fishing, hot weather and smoke from wildfire made for a typical challenging day of fishing.

A smoky Columbia River challenges salmon fishermen

After going all day with only a few half-hearted hits and no solid strikes, I was pretty disappointed after catching a salmon in the first half hour on the water. Then, I got a solid hit and a good hookup. It was a good fish, but I could tell it was not a salmon or steelhead. Turns out it was a big smallmouth bass. At least I caught some kind of fish. I was about to call it a day when I got a hit that nearly ripped the fishing rod out of my tired hands.

Kayak fishing for salmon

This fish was a salmon; a big salmon. It went on a couple long runs, ripping line from the reel and giving the drag a real workout. Between the runs, the fish made two huge jumps out of the water. It was a real battle and I was not making any progress getting the fish to the boat. When I finally got the fish close to the kayak, I could see that it was a big Chinook salmon. It would never fit into my landing net, but it didn’t matter. A closer look at the fish I could see that it was foul hooked in the dorsal fin, that’s why I couldn’t make much progress getting it to the kayak. I was wondering how to unhook and release a thirty pound salmon when the hook worked itself loose and the monster salmon swam away.

Quite a way to start the salmon fishing season!

Aug 042017

How about some hot and smoky smallmouth bass fishing? After a couple long months away from the Columbia River Gorge, when we get back, the whole place is on fire! Temperatures over 100° for nearly a week and numerous wildfires have things baking hot and choked with smoke. It’s making outdoor activities nearly impossible but we got for a little bit of smallmouth bass fishing on the Columbia River. We camped right next to the 75° river, but it only brought minimal relief from the 105° heat. It was dead calm with smoke from nearby wildfires sat like a giant fog bank over everything.

Camping for kayak fishing on the Columbia River near Rufus, OR

The smoke and heat didn’t seem to bother this SUPer all that much. He paddled across the river and pulled up by where I was camped. His name was Alex and he stood around talking for awhile, had a few drinks of water and a couple cigarettes, jumped back on the board and paddled back across the river before it got dark.

SUPer on the Columbia River on a hot and smoky August day

The next morning, we launched before sunrise at Lepage Park boat ramp. We were in the water well before sunrise to beat the severe heat that was in store for the day. It was such a relief to be on the water with the water and air temperatures in the mid-seventies, just about perfect.

Kayak fishing on the Columbia River at the John Day Rivermouth

There were huge carp jumping all over the place, but the smallmouth bass fishing was pretty tough going. The warm river water and low summer water levels seems to have pushed the bass to the deeper water where they are harder to find. I think when the water is too warm, the smallmouth bass get sluggish and not as eager to bite. We had a number of short hits, which usually are smaller fish, and managed to scrape out a couple decent sized bass and a few smaller fish.

Kayak fishing for smallmouth  bass on a hot and smoky Columbia River in Central Oregon

The fishing wasn’t exactly on fire and the temperature closing in on 100° about noon, we called it a day. We hope to get a few more bass fishing days in, but with the weather like this, not sure if it will be worth it. With salmon/steelhead season looking to get started here in a few weeks, we are starting to worry the weather and warm water will have a negative effect on the salmon runs. Last year was not a banner year for salmon fishing so we don’t need any extra problems. It’s supposed to remain extremely hot for the next few days, so we’ll see how it goes.

Jun 152017

We get a lot of requests asking what smallmouth bass lures we use. We here at do a lot of smallmouth bass fishing on the Columbia River and it’s tributaries and have a pretty good idea what works and what doesn’t. Not all the lures below will work everyplace, everyday, but as a fisherman, what lures to use where and when is what it’s all about. We can’t tell you everything you need to know about every single smallmouth bass fishery, successful fishing has a lot to do with experience. The more you learn, the better your chances of regular success as a bass fisherman.

Smallmouth bass hang out in many different environments depending on the time of year and the water conditions. Finding the fish is the first priority and then getting them to bite a piece of plastic with hooks in it is the second. That’s pretty much smallmouth bass fishing in one sentence. Of course, there’s more to it than that, but that’s pretty much it. The fishing environment and time of year will determine which lures will be successful almost all the time.

We use three main kinds of lures for smallmouth bass fishing; crankbaits, spinnerbaits and soft plastics, which include grubs, worms and other soft baits. We’ve caught big twenty inch plus smallmouth bass with all these types of lures so it’s more about using the right lure at the right time and the right place than which type of lure works everyplace all the time. There is no single lure that is guaranteed to catch bass everyplace all the time. It’s your job as a fisherman to figure that out.

We’ll start off with crankbaits. Crankbaits are hard plastic lures with a plastic lip that will make them wiggle around and dive anywhere from a couple feet to more than ten feet or deeper depending on how fast you reel them in. Bass crankbaits usually come with two treble hooks. There are a lot of crankbaits to choose from, but we only use a few types that have proven themselves over time.

Smallmouth bass crankbaits

On top is a floating crankbait the dives below the surface on retrieve. This is kind of an old school lure because it is actually made out of balsa wood. This floating crankbait works best in shallow water so it would be used mainly in the spring and early summer when the smallmouth bass are spawning in shallow water when the water is cool. As the water warms up, the fish head to deeper water. The second lure is a suspended diving crankbait, or “slashbait”. “Suspended” means it will float, or “suspend” below the surface of the water and dive deeper on retrieve. This lure is also hollow and has a ball in it that rattles, but we’re not sure if that actually does anything or is just a marketing deal. This is a really nice lure and will catch lots of smallmouth bass, but it costs about ten bucks, which makes snags, which are common with smallmouth bass habitiat, very expensive. The lip on this particular lure broke off after a short time, not too happy about that. The last lure in this photo is a “Wiggle Wort”. You will probably see this lure more in our salmon fishing posts because the Wiggle Wort is one our favorite salmon fishing lures, but it works for smallmouth bass as well. We don’t catch a whole lot of bass with this lure, but all the smallmouth bass we do catch with it have been big ones, so we keep throwing it out there.

Big Columbia River smallmouth bass caught on a Wiggle Wort

What is our favorite crankbait? Until further notice, it would be the Berkley Flicker Shad. This is a really basic diving crankbait. It works when casting for bass and also can be used to catch smallmouth bass by trolling along dropoffs or weed lines.

Berkley Flicker Shad crankbait for smallmouth bass

A big advantage of the Flicker Shad is that it is inexpensive and readily available. The home base is in the Columbia River Gorge and the nearest sporting goods store is a long trip away. The Berkley crankbait is available at Walmart for about four bucks, so losing one is not going to break the bank. We’ve caught a lot of smallmouth bass with this humble and cheap lure.

Smallmouth bass caught with a Berkley Flicker Shad crankbait

Fishing for smallmouth bass with a crankbait is a lot of fun because the bass hit the lure hard, there’s no guessing if you have a bite or not. Varying the speed the lure is retrieved or pausing the retrieve for a moment, then reeling quickly for a few feet will often induce a smallmouth bass to strike. At times, a crankbait may not work as well as other types of lures because the fish are sluggish due to water condtions and will not bother to chase what they think is an escaping baitfish, but we almost always have a crankbait on one of the fishing poles, because we have caught a lot of big smallmouth bass on crankbaits.

Columbia River smallmouth bass caught on a diving crankbait

We think that placement and depth are most important when fishing with crankbaits. Color and action, not so much. Putting that lure right in front of a hungry bass is what is going to get the fish to strike. While we don’t feel lure color is the most important thing, we like to have a little bit of red on the smallmouth bass crankbaits. Red eyes are good and when the hooks on the lure get worn out from catching fish or dragging them over rocks and tree stumps, we usually replace the stock black hooks with red hooks. It seems to work, maybe it’s just one of those lucky fishing things guys do.

Next up we have spinnerbaits. These particular spinnerbaits would probably be more accurately described as “safety pin” spinner baits because, well, they resemble a safety pin. The spinnerbaits we use are equipped with a Colorado spinner blade. The round blade with a deep cup create noise and vibration that catch the attention of smallmouth bass. By adjusting the rate of retrieve, you can control the depth of the lure and the amount of ruckus the spinner blade will produce. The vibrations made by the spinner’s blade make it a good choice in murky water or at night when the fish may not be able to see the lure.

Spinnerbaits with Colorado blade for smallmouth bass

Like other smallmouth bass lures, spinnerbaits come in a wide variety of colors. Our general rule of thumb for the best lure color is that on dark days, use a dark color and when the conditions are bright, use a light colored lure. Some smallmouth bass fishermen claim that certain colors work better when the water levels are high and other colors work well when the water levels are low. The same goes when the water is moving fast or if the water is moving slowly. We suspect that this is more of a localized theory and may or may not work where you fish, but if you pay attention to the conditions and lure color, you may discover a trend where you fish for bass. Spinnerbaits are our least used lures, but we have caught fish on all the spinnerbaits in the photo above.

Columbia River smallmouth bass caught with a spinnerbait

We have had the most success with the orange, yellow and green skirted spinnerbait. It seems we wind up using these lures during the summer when the sun is out and there are a lot of bass moving around.

Smallmouth bass caught with a spinnerbait with a Colorado blade

Like crankbaits, when a smallmouth bass hits a spinnerbait, there is no doubt if you have a bite or not. The bass hit the lure and the fight is on. Another great thing about spinnerbaits is that they are inexpensive. You can buy into the hype and pay two or three times as much for a “Pro endorsed” spinnerbait, but the truth is that you will most likely catch just as many bass on a lure that costs a couple bucks. We’ve caught some big smallmouth bass on spinnerbaits, but we use them mostly on summer days when the water is warm and there are a lot of medium size bass moving around looking for food. Casting a spinnerbait on light tackle is a lot of fun because even smaller bass put up a great fight.

The final group of lures we use can be grouped in the general classification of “soft plastics”. Almost every bass fisherman has a boatload of this type of lure because the come in so many configurations and colors, as well as being the cheapest smallmouth bass lures you can buy. This is important because smallmouth bass tend to hang around rocks and underwater structure like sunken trees and it is inevitable that you are going to lose some gear.

Soft plastic smallmouth bass lures

At the top of the photo there are two soft plastic swimbaits. This type of soft plastic lure has a lead core with a soft plastic body and a tail that spins when retrieved. This is a good lure to use in a place where you might want to use a crankbait but the potential for snags is high. Instead of losing an expensive crankbait to a snag, using a soft swimbait that resembles a small baitfish like a crankbait does will only set you back a buck or two instead of losing a crankbait that costs three or four times as much. These swimbaits work well when the smallmouth bass are hanging on the very bottom. Drop the swimbait to the bottom and do your best to make the thing look like an injured bait fish. We have caught some big smallmouth bass with swimbaits fished along the bottom.

Smallmouth bass caught on a soft plastic swimbait

Another popular soft plastic bait are plastic worms. You may also hear fishermen call this type of plastic worm “Senkos”, which is a brand name for a kind of plastic worm. They come in all sorts of colors and different lengths. Used with a lead head hook, the plastic worms are fished off the bottom. Letting the worm settle on the bottom, raising it up, reeling in a bit and letting it fall back to the bottom works well with smallmouth bass. Often, the bass will hit the worm as it falls back to the bottom, but smallmouth bass are aggressive fish and will hit a lure any time it’s in the water. Along with plastic worms and plastic fish, there are soft plastic frogs, lizards, crayfish, leeches and grubs; all in various sizes and colors for you to spend your hard earned cash on.

Our favorite soft plastic lure, in fact, our favorite smallmouth bass fishing lure, is a leadhead grub. The ones we like best are about three inches long in a clear/reddish pink color used with an 1/8 ounce yellow lead head with red eyes. As with other soft plastics, these grubs come in many colors and sizes. The lead heads also come in a wide variety of colors and weights. Since we use lightweight spinning tackle most of the time, the 1/8 ounce size casts a long way and doesn’t get snagged as easily as heavier lures.

Leadhead grubs for smallmouth bass fishing

I can’t tell you how many smallmouth bass we have caught on these simple lures. Many days, this will be the only lure we use. If a lure is catching fish, why would you change it? We might have to change to a new grub because the one we’ve been using is completely chewed up, but this is definitely our “go to” smallmouth bass lure. A smallmouth bass favorite food is crayfish and I guess this looks like one to them, that’s probably why we’ve had so much success with it.

Smallmouth bass caught with a leadhead grub

Casting a grub up against rocks on the river bank and letting the grub bounce down the rocks under water, waiting a couple seconds, then lifting the lure off the rocks or the bottom will often get a strike from a smallmouth bass that hangs along the rocks waiting for a crayfish to swim out. The key is casting the lure right next to the rocks, bouncing off the rocks is fine. You will get a few snags fishing like this, but in a kayak, you can paddle right up to the rocks and usually get your lure back. These grubs are probably the cheapest setup you can use. Even if you lose a whole pack of them, it would probably cost less than a single crankbait. That’s one of the big reasons we like these things. If it costs less to catch fish, why would you pay more? You can also cast the grubs, let them go to the bottom and sit for a second or two, then lift the lure off the bottom as you retrieve a few cranks and let the grub settle back to the bottom. Like the plastic worms, smallmouth bass will often hit the lure as it falls back down towards the bottom. Even though these grubs are small lures, we have caught many large twenty inch plus trophy smallmouth bass with them.

Nice Columbia River smallmouth bass caught with a leadhead grub

That’s pretty much our collection of smallmouth bass lures. Not saying we are the world’s greatest smallmouth bass fishermen, but we do OK and have caught quite a few big smallmouth bass all with the lures described in this article. As with all the product reviews and descriptions here on the website, we buy all these things ourselves just like you do. We are not sponsored by anybody, we don’t belong to any clubs and we don’t promote anything except for having fun kayak fishing without spending a lot of money. We are just guys who love to fish and we happen to use kayaks.

Now that you know what you need to catch smallmouth bass, you should get off your phone or computer and do some fishing.

May 242017

One thing about the Pacific Northwest; things change all the time and sometimes they can change pretty quickly. The Columbia River Gorge is noted for it’s “natural beauty”, but almost everything is controlled, or has been altered by humans. The one thing that still is 100% natural is the weather, there is plenty of that. The nice weather months seem to pass very quickly, spring is nearly over and summer is almost here. The sunrise is earlier every day.

Early morning kayak fishing for smallmouth bass on the Columbia River

The smallmouth bass fishing on the the Columbia River is starting to look more like summer conditions as well. More fish moving around and willing to bite, but most are smaller fish eating to grow.

Only the big ones get away

The state record smallmouth bass is about eight or nine pounds, we use pretty lightweight tackle so we can have fun with the smaller fish. The fishing line we use may be a little heavier than normal, say about ten or twelve pound test, in case we do manage to hook into a new state record fish, but mostly because the bass are around rocks and you get a lot of snags.

With summer rolling around, there are more people out on the river, perfect timing for this SUPer to watch me catch a fish.

Kayak fishing for smallmouth bass on the Columbia River

Smallmouth bass are aggressive fish and great fighters when hooked. Even the small fish put up a great fight. Regardless if most of the bass are in the quarter to one pound range, you have to keep on your toes because not all the fish are small. The Columbia River is one of the best smallmouth bass fisheries anywhere and there a lot of big fish in the river. Nice day, good fishing and a big smallmouth bass is pretty much perfect fishing.

Smallmouth bass caught kayak fishing on the Columbia River

Get out there and go fishing!

May 212017

The weather here in the Pacific Northwest is starting to look more like summer. When the wind is calm, and it is not that easy to predict when that will occur, we are out again on the Columbia River for a little kayak fishing for smallmouth bass. The Columbia River is one of the best places for smallmouth bass fishing in the United States. The smallmouth bass can be found just about everywhere on the river, all a fisherman has to do is find them.

Kayak fishing in the Columbia River Gorge

There are many places to launch kayaks on the Columbia River. As long as you can get to the river’s edge, which in places is easier said than done, you can launch the kayak and look for the fish. A fisherman could easily spend the entire spring and summer on the Columbia River fishing for smallmouth bass. There are places to camp and the environment ranges from temperate rain forest to high desert in just a couple hundred miles.

Kayak fishing on the Columbia River at a remote launch site

As it has been since springtime struggled to emerge from the brutal 2016-17 winter here in the Columbia River Gorge, the water levels in the Columbia River remain high with strong currents and high river flows. The water level in the river is controlled by the dams and there is plenty of water from snowmelt to keep the pools behind the dams at maximum levels. I don’t think they can let much more water through the dams without flooding at this point. The high water, constantly changing water levels and sediment in the water have not made for the best fishing. Perhaps the oxygen level of the water, which comes from the bottom of the pool behind the dams, is lower than normal, making the fish sluggish. All of this is making for much slower than normal smallmouth bass fishing. We are catching a few bass, but you really have to work at it. We’re catching more small fish, so the spawning season is over and we should be seeing a little more action from the small to medium size smallies, but at this point, the smallmouth bass fishing around here remains challenging.

Early morning smallmouth bass fishing

We’ll be back out on the river tomorrow, then we have some business to take care of so we might not have a chance to go fishing as much as we would like to. The kayak is on the truck and ready to go in the morning.

Kayak fishing

When you have an opportunity to get out and do something you like to do, you should get out there. You can never be sure what tomorrow will bring. The only thing you can be sure of is that things will always change, many times not for the better. Don’t wait until tomorrow or next weekend or when the weather is better. Get out there today!

May 122017

We had a stretch of nice days with moderate winds so we were out on the Columbia River on the kayaks doing a little smallmouth bass fishing. There was a slight delay in launching in the morning as we waited out one of the Columbia Gorge’s infamous long trains. The tracks usually run along side the interstate so you don’t often have to cross train tracks, but if you do and there is a train coming, you may be in for a long wait watching the flashing red lights.

Early morning freight train in the Columbia River Gorge

The water level in the Columbia River is extremely high. It’s as high as I’ve ever seen and don’t think it goes much higher without calling it a flood. The upriver dam controls the amount of water in the river so unless there was some kind of huge natural disaster, there wouldn’t be any serious flooding on this part of the river. The water is high and the current is super strong, keeping us off the main channel until it calms down a bit. The water is still off color as well and the smallmouth bass fishing remains challenging. We did manage to scrape out a few fish before the early afternoon wind ended the kayak fishing day.

Columbia River smallmouth bass

The size of the fish seems to be getting a little smaller so that may mean the bass are starting to move around more as they normally do when the water warms up. That’s good news for the fishing, but now we are back to very windy days so it will be another day or two before we can get back out on the water. Perhaps the water level will drop a little and the water flow will start to settle down.

May 052017

We had a few nice days that have gotten the kayak fishing for smallmouth bass season going full speed ahead. The sun is out and the wind is mostly calm, that’s winning half the battle right there.

Kayak fishing on the Columbia River

The river flow has calmed down a bit, but there are still plenty of sections of fast moving water and dangerous currents. The water in the main channel is still on the off-color side, hopefully it will settle down over the next few days. The fishing conditions remain challenging, as they always are in the spring, but we managed to land a few nice springtime smallmouth bass.

Columbia River smallmouth bass caught while kayak fishing

The silty water is not the only challenge as far as river conditions go. There has been a lot of rain and snow this winter/spring, so there is plenty of water running down from the mountains into the Columbia River. As the huge river dams let water out, the water level between dams rises pretty quickly. When the dams cut down on releasing water during the dry summer months, the water level drops. We’ve found that these changing water levels tend to considerably slow the smallmouth bass bite. You can see in the photo below by the markings on the riverside plants how much the water level in the river can change in a day or two.

Changing water levels makes for challenging fishing conditions

No matter what time of the year, you must hunt for the smallmouth bass. You not get a bite in the morning, but catch a fish in the same spot in the afternoon. As the water levels and temperatures change, the bass will move and you have to find them.

Columbia River smallmouth bass

The smallmouth bass are there, we are hoping that the river water clears up a little. We think once the water is a little cleaner, the bass fishing will really turn on for the season.

Kayak fishing for smallmouth bass on the Columbia River

We’re pretty stoked to have been able to catch a few nice smallmouth bass in the past week or so. Spring bass fishing is challenging but those big fish are waiting.

Columbia River smallmouth bass

Had some wild thunderstorms last night and looks like a couple more days of wind, hoping the river will clean up and be ready for some great smallmouth bass fishing!

May 032017

We’ve had some good weather so we are out there kayak fishing for big smallmouth bass on the Columbia River. The weather is nice and the river water is actually pretty warm for this time of year, but the main channel looks like cement. Visibility is maybe a foot, if that. It’s the same story every season; get out early season and the bass are bigger, but you don’t catch nearly as many fish as you would in the summer. Last year the water was really low, this year it’s really high. Currents are very strong with a lot of water coming through the dams.

Early morning kayak fishing for smallmouth bass on the Columbia River

Even though the conditions are not ideal, this is the time of year for the big bass. We got a couple nice ones, but had to put in a lot of paddling and casting to get them. More photos in the next day or two, but the first back to back long kayak fishing days after a long winter of fattening up have got us tired out. Looks like one more try for the lunker smallmouth bass tomorrow and then the wind is back for a few days.

Apr 302017

The rainy and windy spring weather is finally starting to ease up and it’s time for some early spring smallmouth bass kayak fishing on the Columbia River. The calm winds and temperatures in the mid sixties were welcome conditions for winter weather weary Pacific Northwest kayak fishermen.

Kayak fishing on the Columbia River 4-29-17

The river water was a little warmer than expected, which helps the get the smallmouth bass moving. The Columbia River water level is very high and the river is running very strong due to the record winter snow melt and plentiful spring rain. The river water is full of sediment and silt, the water is a dark brown with low visibility. The low visibility is not the best for using artificial baits, but the trusty lead head grub was the lure of the day, catching all the fish.

Kayak fishing for smallmouth bass on the Columbia River

The high river water should give the smallmouth bass more potential spawning areas, many of which were dry land last year. The fish seem to be holding in the usual areas, as the water warms and clears up a bit, we could see fish move into the other areas that were not under water for the past couple years. As is always the case, no matter the size smallmouth bass, they always put up a great fight.

Kayak fishing for smallmouth bass on the Columbia River

Rain showers and wind have reappeared today and probably tomorrow, but the first kayak fishing trip of 2017 was a resounding success. These early season smallmouth bass trips can be hit or miss because a lot of the fish are not moving out of their winter coma yet, but we got lucky this time out.

Kayak fishing for smallmouth bass on the Columbia River

Stay tuned because the 2017 smallmouth bass fishing season is under way!