Aug 012015

We braved the 105° afternoon heat to do a little kayak fishing for smallmouth bass on the Columbia River. A few days ago, water was released from the upstream Columbia River dam which raised the very low river water levels and probably cooled the water off as well, which seemed to make the smallmouth bass more eager to bite. Today, after a couple 100° days, the water is lower and no doubt warmer, so the fishing was a little slow. It’s always harder to find bass in the hot summer months than it is in the spring. The bigger fish are in deeper water, so the best place to fish is along underwater dropoffs. With the new Lowrance Elite 3X on the blink, finding these underwater ridges is much more difficult. We caught a few smaller fish and I managed to get a nice one on one of the underwater ridges before the intense heat forced us off the water.

Columbia River smallmouth bass

I do the best I can to protect myself from the sun using sunscreen, protective clothing and sunglasses, but a couple days on the water in over 100° has left me with some sunburn and feeling pretty drained. The heat and drought conditions are not good for the fish either and the news about the drought’s effect on the local fish is not good. Salmon and steelhead fishing will, hopefully, begin in earnest here in the next week or two, but it doesn’t look like the weather is going to cool down very much, who knows what’s going to happen?

Jul 312015

I installed a Lowrance Elite-3X fishfinder on the kayak and have been very disapointed with the performance, to say the least. I did a super careful installation and documented each step to update the photos on the kayak fishfinder installation page of the website.

Lowrance Elite-3X installation

I tested the fishfinder and transducer before installation to make sure it wasn’t a DOA unit, but there is no way to test the sonar until it is in the water. First time out it was pretty clear the fishfinder was defective. Bummer. On the phone with Lowrance and a customer service representative gave me instructions on how to do a “soft” and “hard” device reset, neither of which did anything. If you own a Lowrance Elite-3X and you see the display in the photo below, your unit is defective.

Defective Lowrance Elite-3X

Another call to Navionics, Lowrence’s corporate entity and they told me they are sending out a transducer for me to test and see if the transducer or head unit is defective. Maybe my standards are a little high since I’ve worked as an aviation and medical electronics technician, but I would hope that companies test their electronic components to see if they actually work before they leave the factory. Heck, the Lowrence Elite-3X only has two components to test, how hard can it be?

When I review and rate products here at, it’s just like you sitting here because I have to buy all this stuff, nobody sponsors us. You can’t wait to get your new thing and when it gets here, you wish you never bought it. I’ve been installing electronics in kayaks for years and in boats for decades; nobody wants to install, then rip out, then re-install a fishfinder a couple times. I guess the people who make Lowrance fishfinders have not spent a lot of time working on boats, maybe never been on a boat.

Anyway, this is an ongoing deal. Maybe the transducer is bad, then I have to tear out the transducer, which is securely attached with Lexel, and install a new transducer, power cable and fuse; a lot of work. Or, the head of the unit is bad, then I suppose I have to send everything back to Lowrance and hope they return a working unit. That will probably take a month. Or, cut my losses and buy a different brand fishfinder with better quality control and customer support. There is not much of a choice if you are in the market for basic fishfinder. I’m really bummed because I got a piece of Lowrance junk, but the truth is I was thinking about buying one of their higher end DSI or CHIRP models. I emailed Lowrance/Navico a number of times for technical information, they never returned a single email, so I decided to not go too big with a company that will not respond to pre-sales information requests. If a company won’t answer questions to get you to buy their products, guess what things are going to be like after they have your money.

Maybe Navico/Lowrance will come through, but if I might try another company. A lot of people will look at this fishfinder because it is inexpensive, but it might not be the best buy in the long run.

Jul 292015

Finally, the wind died down for a day so we could get some kayak fishing in. Thankfully, the water level in the river is a little higher, so the smallmouth bass fishing was a little better than it’s been. The water is still pretty warm and very clear. The hot summer of 2015 continues with more days in the mid nineties and really low humidity. Woke up early to beat the heat(and the afternoon breeze), it was nice and cool to start the day.

Dawn kayak launch on the Columbia River

There was a bit of wind but it died down as the sun came up. As expected for summer, the smallmouth bass are moving into deeper water and the nooks and crannies of rocky shoreline. I just installed a new fishfinder, and wouldn’t you know it, it didn’t work. As a bass fisherman, I don’t use the fishfinder to look for fish, I use it to look for places fish might be. I could have really used it today, so not a good start. More on that later. We did manage to find a few bass, mostly smaller fish, and managed to get one pretty nice fish and one really nice bass. The way the season has been going, it was a pretty good day.

Smallmouth bass fishing on the Columbia River

Next few days could go either way, weather-wise, I might have to get out on the water to test the device reset to the fishfinder. If the reset doesn’t work, I’ll probably have to send it in. Out of the box, turn it on, back in the box for warranty service; welcome to the modern world.

Jul 192015

Normally, at this time of year the blog would be full of photos and fish stories about fishing for smallmouth bass on the Columbia River and trips into the high country for trout fishing, but this year is a little different. The weather determines what you can and can’t do around here and that is the case with the fishing. It has been unusually hot and dry so far this year. Daytime temperatures have regularly been in the nineties and yesterday the relative humidity was 7%, you don’t see that too often in the Pacific Northwest. The water level in the Columbia River is far lower than usual for this time of year and the water temperature is in the mid seventies. The water level changes with the amounts of water let over the many dams on the river, but it’s safe to say there is less water because of the dryer than normal winter and spring.

These conditions are having a major impact on the sport fishing. Prolonged periods of warm and low water are not good for the native fish populations. Conditions are so marginal that the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has started to regulate fishing on most of Oregon’s rivers due to the drought conditions. The smallmouth bass have headed for the deeper parts of the Columbia River, the normally great smallmouth bass fishing has been below average, for sure. Dead fish are starting to wash up on the banks of the Columbia River. On top of all that, as far as kayak fishing goes, it has been windy so the fishing opportunities have been limited.

Dead sturgeon on the Columbia River

The salmon fishing season is coming up and we are wondering how these drought conditions are going to affect the fall salmon and steelhead runs. Environmental conditions change all the time around here, so you never know what’s going to happen. The bigger question is are these dry conditions short term or the initial signs of potential planetary climate change? Many unanswered questions, as there always are.

Jun 222015

The old Eagle fishfinder in the kayak is finally going to be replaced with an newer model. I started to get bad water temperature readings; -4°F and the sonar was way off, so I knew something was wrong. Because of the poor readings, I was guessing that the transducer or the transducer wiring was bad. Since I had to replace all the wiring, I might as well spend a hundred bucks and get a whole new unit. I ripped out the old transducer and wiring, sure enough, it looks like the wire to the transducer has gone bad.

I got a new fishfinder; a Lowrance Elite-3x. I don’t believe in expensive fishfinders on a kayak and the Elite-3x fits the bill, it’s about $100. I’m a little worried about Lowrance customer service, they don’t respond to customer inquires or emails. Hope nothing goes wrong with the fishfinder. With customer service concerns, no way would I buy a $500 GPS/Sonar from them, $100 is all I’m willing to risk.

Install kayak fishfinder

Everything is installed and we are waiting for adhesive to cure before we can get the kayak in the water to test the installation. We used Lexel to glue the transducer to the hull of the kayak, it takes at least a week to cure properly. We are updating the Fishfinder Installation page on the website with new photos and information.

Jun 142015

We got a little break in what has been a windy week so we headed out on the Columbia River to look for those smallmouth bass that have been a little hard to find this year. We caught a lot of small to medium sized bass up at the John Day River last weekend, but we hadn’t caught any close to the 20″ mark, which I think is a fair size to call a “trophy” bass. By this time last year, I probably had four or five twenty inch fish, so I’m starting to wonder what the heck is going on. We have to find out where those bigger bass are hanging out.

The weather remains mainly hot and dry. It feels like late August. We got out early in the cool morning and loaded up the kayaks.

Loading up the kayaks in the Columbia River Gorge

The river level was up a couple feet from the last time we were here. The dams on the Columbia River completely control the river levels and flow, conditions change on how much water comes through the upstream dam. My fishfinder is dying a slow death so it was no help when I needed it. Not so much to look for fish, but find underwater ledges and structure. Today, I have to find the fish without any electronic assistance. Some of the fish we caught were out in 10-15′ of water on an underwater ledge, some were caught in 6′ of water, right on the rocks.

Kayak fishing Columbia River smallmouth bass

I would describe the fishing conditions as “challenging”. The changing wind direction, faster than normal river flow and elusive fish made for a perfect kayak fishing trip. Because the fishfinder was dead, I had to read the river conditions and cast where I thought the fish were. Had to look in every nook and cranny. The two biggest bass of the day were hooked up literally inches from the rocky shore. The kayak allows you to silently move about and put the fisherman in the perfect spot to find the smallmouth bass. A kayak can maneuver in very close quarters that a boat can’t get too. I got one bass that was pretty close to 20″, another about 19″. Just eyeballing, I don’t use a tape measure or scale, just a camera!

Kayak fishing Columbia River smallmouth bass

Might be windy for the next few days so if we can’t go fishing, we are going to do some hull repair and probably an updated version of installing a fishfinder because my finder croaked today. Can’t complain, have had three fishfinder “heads”(the part with the screen and buttons), but only one transducer. That’s pretty good mileage for an inexpensive fishfinder. I think the replacement will be a low cost model as well.

The fish are always there, you just have to find them…

Jun 082015

Due to the low water levels and unseasonably warm water, the usually great late spring/early summer smallmouth bass fishing has not been that good. In addition, we’ve had more than our fair share of windy days which has limited the fishing opportunities. Fortunately, we have one of the best smallmouth bass fishing spots in the United States about an hour up the road; the John Day River. If you can’t catch smallmouth bass on the John Day, then the end of the world is probably right around the corner.

We headed to the John Day and got out on the river early because the weather here was really, really hot. It was about 80° an hour before sunrise and the river water was in the low 80’s. Normally you would see these temperatures in late August, but it’s only the beginning of June. The John Day River is a great kayak fishing spot, the cool early morning is one of the best times of the day.

Sunrise on the John Day River

The fishing was a little slower than normal. Usually, on the John Day River, it is not unusual to catch over a hundred smallmouth bass a day. This time, we probably caught about fifty fish a day, which is not bad at all, but expectations on the John Day are pretty high. We usually use a lead head grub that looks like a small crayfish, this lure will catch all sizes of smallmouth bass, even when other lures are not working. Our favorite summer mid-day lure is a spinnerbait with a green and orange skirt. This lure may not catch as many bass, but the bigger fish tend to hit this spinnerbait more often than the smaller fish.

Smallmouth bass fishing on the John Day River

We stopped fishing in the early afternoon, usually about 2:00PM, not because the fish stopped biting, but because it was so hot. The hottest part of the day here is in the afternoon, by 2:00 or 3:00PM, it was 100°. Preventing sunburn was a major task, it took repeated applications of SPF 30 sunscreen to prevent being burned to a crisp. There are not a lot of trees around here, shade is hard to come by. Finding a tree to camp under is a real bonus, even though it is still blazing hot, even in the shade.

John Day River fish camp

As is usually the case on the John Day, you can catch fifty pounds, or more, of smallmouth bass per day, usually a half pound to a pound at a time. If you know where to look and cast your lure in the right spot, there are bigger fish to be had. Catching one pounders that put up a great fight on light tackle while hoping for that twenty incher that will put up a fantastic fight on light tackle is what smallmouth bass fishing on the John Day River is all about.

John Day River smallmouth bass

We would have liked to stay another day, but it was just too hot. Today it was 105° on the John Day, that’s uncomfortably hot to be sitting in a kayak all day totally exposed to the sun. We’ll go back again when it cools off a bit.

May 312015

It’s been a slow start to the 2015 smallmouth bass season for sure. After a few kayak fishing trips, we finally managed to get a couple nice smallmouth bass in the boat. The secret was to target another species of fish, then we were able to get some smallies. The last time out, we caught a bunch of northern pikeminnows. Since the bass fishing wasn’t so good, we figured we’d try to go after the pikeminnows and make a few bucks. Of course we didn’t catch a single northern pikeminnow this trip, but did manage to get about ten smallmouth bass, including a couple nice ones, as well as a few small sturgeon.

It’s been pretty hot and sunny the past few days, so we got an early start to avoid the heat and early summer sunburn. The wind was light and the water level in the Columbia River remains very low, especially for this time of year.

Columbia River sunrise

The fish weren’t exactly jumping in the kayak, but as the sun came up, we started to catch a few small bass and a couple small sturgeon. The time tested lures that always worked for us were not working today. When smallmouth bass are not hitting the lure you’re using, try something else. That’s what we did and, sure enough, the first cast with the different lure got slammed by the first decent sized smallmouth bass of the 2015 season.

First 2015 smallmouth bass

A few more casts with what would turn out to be the lucky lure of the day resulted in another pretty good bass. Not the early season lunkers we were hoping for, but the way things are looking this year, you have to take what you can get.

Another nice smallmouth bass

It’s looking like it’s going to be a tougher than normal year for smallmouth bass fishing so you have to use all the knowledge you have to try and figure out where the fish are and what they will bite. The low water levels and higher than normal water temperature make the fishing conditions now what they would normally be at the end of August. What’s going to happen at the end of summer is anybody’s guess. We’re going to head upriver next week and see if we can do a little better in another location, so stay tuned.

May 222015

We managed to get a relatively calm day in what has been a somewhat windy spring, not that unusual in one of the windiest spots in North America, so we headed out on the Columbia River looking for those big springtime smallmouth bass. The fishing for smallmouth bass has been very slow this spring and we may have gotten a glimpse of why that is happening. We did manage to catch a couple very small bass, but what we caught mostly were northern pikeminnows. I should have signed up for the pikeminnow catch reward program because I would have made $30.

Northern pikeminnow

What caught our attention more than anything was how low the water was in the Columbia River. It was the lowest I’d ever seen it, even lower than at the end of a normal summer. The water level at this time of year is usually the highest of the season due to melting snow and springtime rain. With the water level this low, it’s possible that the usual smallmouth bass spawning areas are now dry land and the smallmouth’s spring spawning behavior has been interrupted. This is not good news for the smallmouth bass population. We did not see any evidence of smallmouth bass in any of the areas where, during a normal year, they would be found in large numbers. It is likely that the fish are already in the deeper parts of the river where they would normally hang out to hide from the midsummer heat.

Not only have the smallmouth bass disappeared, but the low water level means the water is going to warm up more quickly than normal and the plants and weeds that choke the shallow sections of the Columbia are going to appear much earlier in the season. We saw patches of vegetation already starting to grow in the river shallows. Due to the numerous dams on the Columbia River, it’s hard to say if the low water is temporary or is going to get lower as the dry part of the year approaches. We live in a relatively rainy part of the Columbia River Gorge, it is much dryer to the east so it’s hard to imagine that the river east of here is full of water. We’ve all read and heard about the severe drought in the western United States, here in the Cascade Mountains we have less than 10% of normal snow pack, which means we are probably going to have some kind of water shortages. If this is the situation here in one of the rainiest parts of the country, then places like California, Arizona, Nevada and Texas may be in for what could be the biggest water crisis in the nation’s history. Nobody really knows what’s going to happen and the weather could change at any time, but from what we are seeing, there is real cause for concern.

Apr 212015

The weather is much nicer than “normal” this time of year, but the fish haven’t gotten the message that it’s time to start moving. There were a number of bass fisherman out looking for those first smallmouth bass of 2015, but as they say, there was a lot of fishing and not much catching. The water is warm enough and there are smaller fish around, fish that large smallmouth bass should be eating this time of year, but no sign of bass anywhere.

Early season smallmouth bass fishing on the Columbia River

Experienced smallmouth bass fishermen know that early spring is when you catch the big ones and they are going to start biting any day now so we are anxious to get out fishing this time of year. It is also the time of year for unpredictable and quickly changing weather so you have to get out on the river when you can. Looks like a few days of wind, so no fishing, but we are hoping to get back out there as soon as possible.