With the world changed forever by the coronavirus pandemic and the Pacific Northwest leading the nation with social unrest and political division, kayak fishing seems to be a small thing in the big picture. Fishing is one of those things that is normal on any given day, perhaps we are looking for any semblance of what “normal” used to be.
Mostly due an incredible months long run of windy weather, and with nearly all public facilities closed, this season’s kayak fishing for smallmouth bass on the Columbia River has been a total washout. We’ve not had the kayaks out in months and don’t see much happening in the weeks ahead. This is normally the time of year we would start fishing for salmon and steelhead, but with the rapidly diminishing number of fish making it this far up the Columbia, it’s not worth the effort.
Due to the drought conditions here in the PacNW, the water levels in the Columbia and other local rivers are extremely low. The aquatic vegetation gets thicker every year. Warmer water and agricultural runoff? Fishing conditions get tougher every year.
Watching the extraordinary decline of returning salmon and steelhead to the Columbia River has been stunning. I think it would be hard to find a local salmon fisherman who thinks the salmon and steelhead will come back to previous numbers. Salmon fishing season is now very short and catching fish is very tough while gill netting continues year round. It’s sad to think that I may have caught my last Columbia River salmon. I haven’t hooked a steelhead in years.
This area has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic from the very beginning. With a good deal of the economy based on outdoor recreation and out of town visitors, businesses in these small towns are struggling or have already closed down. The next few months are going to be critical for all of us, let’s hope we all will be fishing again soon.
We finally got a break in the weather and managed to get in a great day of kayak fishing for smallmouth bass on the Columbia River. It’s been a windy and rainy spring in this part of the PacNW making it tough for kayak fishing. A calm day on the river, albeit with the entire PacNW rain, sun and everything in between weather show, is a rare thing this year so far.
When I say “a day” of fishing, I mean one day. The next day the wind has come up again with another round of rain and high wind storms coming up for the next four or five days.
The day started out overcast and calm with intermittent drizzle. The fishing was a little slow to get started, but the Columbia River water level is very high and once we found where the bass were hanging out, the fishing was very good. A rainstorm passed through, but when the fishing is good you hardly notice.
Due to the changing water levels of the river, it can be like fishing different spots. The smallmouth bass move around as the water level and temperature change. You have to paddle around looking for them, but they are nearly always around rocks or some kind of structure.
There is a lot of seaweed and algae in the water. Usually, it backs off in the cold water of winter and grows very quickly as the water warms up towards summer. The water is not that warm, yet the aquatic vegetation, especially the slimy, free floating algae, is already taking over the river. When we get fishing again, we’ll check out some other spots so stop back soon.
We are back in the Pacific NW where nearly everything is shut down due to the COVID pandemic. The widely different parts of Washington and Oregon have widely different opinions on how to proceed with reopening the states while keeping everyone safe. This has increased the tension between the densely populated west side of the states and the mostly rural eastern side of the states. On top of that, it’s been mostly windy and raining since we returned from swelteringly hot southwest Arizona.
Best thing we can do is get as far away from civilization as possible. Life is difficult on land but out on the water things are almost always good. We left the largemouth bass biting on the Colorado River and were stoked to find the smallmouth bass biting on the Columbia River.
There was a small break in a series of storms that allowed us to get out on the Columbia River for some kayak fishing. The first day was overcast and damp with light rain on and off, but the fish were biting and the wind was calm. The next day was something that has been rare this late spring in the Pac NW; calm winds and a bit of sunshine.
The day started off in spectacular fashion but in a couple hours the clouds thickened and the light rain showers were back. The wind stayed calm and the fishing was good. Lots of smallmouth bass fishing action with some nicer fish being caught.
Camping is still not allowed at campgrounds, rest areas or even spots on the side of the road where travellers rest are closed. Public restrooms are closed. Port-a-pottys have been placed at the recently opened boat launches while the restrooms are closed.
With more storms on the way, we got everything we could out of a few days of fishing. Without any sustained fishing pressure for the entire spring, it should be a great late spring and summer fishing for smallmouth bass on the Columbia River.
As we wait for more windy and rainy weather to pass through, hopefully more of the outdoor areas will be opened up. There’s plenty of the state where it’s easy to keep your distance to other people. That’s why people come to these places; to get away from other people. Who knows what is going to happen? Keep checking back because if it’s the end of the world, we want to get some fishing in.
With the future just about as uncertain and as unsafe as it can be, we’ve loaded up the kayaks and fishing gear one last time after a great spring kayak fishing season in the desert southwest.
We’ve been kayak camping in the desert since before the coronavirus pandemic hit. This is a remote area with few people and very limited personal interaction. As far as spread of the virus goes, this would one of the safest spots in the country. Due to the pandemic, the Bureau of Land Management(BLM), has closed nearly all facilities like restrooms, water and showers, but the land remains open for public use under BLM rules. Fishing was still allowed and a couple miles away, so not much reason to head back to the Pacific NW where the virus was spreading and most everything was closed.
Amid this life changing event, we are in this beautiful, natural place. Nature has stayed the same while the human race faces changes that will make life in the future much different than it is today. Paddling out on the lakes and rivers with the stars overhead as the sun rises over the desert mountains is like an escape to another dimension.
As summer approaches in the desert southwest, the temperature increases rapidly. 100°F during the day and 75°F at night makes for an uncomfortable and potentially dangerous environment. Most of the kayak fishing was done in the early morning. I think most of the largemouth bass fishing action was between about an hour before and an hour after sunrise.
Although it’s not cool, it’s the coolest time of the day in the desert. The wind has been mostly calm so the water is usually pretty glassy. It’s an ideal kayak fishing situation and the payoff can be a nice largemouth bass.
As the sun rises over the hills, the temperature rises quickly and the wind increases. We usually start fishing well before sunrise and fish our way back to the launch. Even if the best fishing was around sunrise, the rest of the morning was pretty good as well.
Some days were just about perfect for kayak fishing. The desert wildlife is active in the morning before it gets too hot. Of course, fishing can be better on some days than others, but usually, there’s not much to complain about.
You try to cover as much of the water as you can before it gets too hot, the wind picks up, or the fish stop biting.
After waking up hours before sunrise, paddling five or six miles, getting attacked by mosquitoes and horseflies and baked in the 100° desert sun, the hottest part of the day is still to come. Get loaded up and get ready for a few hours in the desert sauna.
A quick glance at the news on the phone after coming in from kayak fishing is a quick reminder of the harsh reality away from this remote spot. We did not really want to leave, but the heat was becoming a bit too much.
With daytime temperatures reaching 107°F and only dropping into the low 80’s at night, we knew we wouldn’t be able to hang on much longer. Everything, including water and food, was no cooler than 80°. Dehydration or heatstroke is a real risk.
Knowing we were down to the last few days of largemouth bass fishing, we were on the water every day long before sunrise. The skies are dark and full of stars. In the last few days, we saw a few meteors enter the atmosphere leaving bright green and white trails.
It was also easy to get going early because that’s when the largemouth bass fishing seemed to be the best. I caught a lot of nice fish before the sun came up.
Sunrise means that it is going to get hot very quickly, but it also means that the mosquitoes will no longer be attacking you. The best time of the day for fishing is about half over.
The early morning fishing continued to be good. I think that quietly moving in on these fish with a kayak was a key factor in our success.
Our last day of fishing turned out to be a hot, but spectacular day. Partly overcast, which is break from the normal clear blue skies, and calm desert wind.
The last largemouth bass on the last day of the kayak fishing trip turned out to be a nice one.
We paddled through the Colorado River backwaters to the launch beach for the last time this season, I couldn’t help but wonder what the future holds.
By the time we loaded our gear and drove back to our campsite, it was 105°. We’d spent the last couple weeks in the desert with the temperature over 100° every day. If it wasn’t for this desolate tree in the desert that provided shade in the afternoon, we wouldn’t have been able to stay that long. We were baked, time to get out of the oven.
We posted this blog and are currently in transit back to our home in the Columbia River Gorge. The pandemic has already caused major disruptions in this area of small towns with large cities an hour’s drive away. I’m not sure what we’ll find when we get there, but there may be a delays in blog entries.
When the coronavirus hit the United States and travel restrictions were announced, we were camping in the desert southwest, kayak fishing for largemouth bass. Services and personnel on this BLM land were reduced, but the land stayed open. Far from civilization and close to good fishing, we were fortunate indeed to be self quarantined here. The internet service is slow and intermittent, no TV, all there is to do is go fishing, so that’s what we did.
Whenever the wind allowed, we were kayak fishing for largemouth bass. With the arrival of spring weather and warmer river water, the bass fishing improved daily. Some days were a bit slower than others, but overall, the fishing was very good with some nice fish caught.
With the calm wind and full moon lighting up the desert and water, we started fishing at night. Getting up about 2AM as the moon was high in the night sky, there was enough light to see. As we had hoped, the fishing at night was good. Fishing for largemouth bass during the day is challenging enough, it’s even more challenging at night.
Fishing at night adds another dimension for the kayak fisherman. The fishing was good in the middle of the night, so it wasn’t that hard to get up to go fishing. A few hours of night fishing, the usually pretty good sunrise action and maybe a few more fish before noon.
The cool desert night air causes the warming river water to steam until the sun rises enough to raise the temperature a few degrees. A spectacular time to be on a quiet kayak on a calm river
Early mornings are a busy time in the desert around the Colorado River. Water is life in the desert so all the animals make there way down to it sooner or later. Beavers, birds, fish, bugs and this curious desert coyote were all busy.
The lure that was really working for us was a 5″ watermelon plastic worm. Using a worm hook and Texas rig, this setup was relatively weedless and caught a lot of largemouth bass, day and night. When you have to replace lures because the fish keep chewing them up, the fishing has got to be pretty good.
We were hoping the wind would stay calm during the full moon so we could get out for more great night fishing. Get up at 2AM, check the wind and head out if it wasn’t too windy. Catching largemouth bass like this makes it easier to wake up when many people are just going to sleep.
With a few nice largemouth bass caught at night, fish caught as the sun rises are icing on the cake.
As the wind usually picks up in the late morning, we fished our way back to the launch. Usually, we can get another fish or two on the way back, sometimes you get lucky and get a bigger fish.
The fishing is good, the weather is nice and the desert with a full moon is spectacular, which makes it more of a harsher contrast to what is happening in the world. The coronavirus pandemic has changed life as we know it and what the future will bring is anybody’s guess. A trip to the nearest city for supplies brings that reality into sharp focus.
Being in a high risk group, I do everything I can to avoid human contact. Being in this remote area makes that a little easier. I camp and fish as far away from civilization as possible and hope I don’t get infected. I use public WiFi to post to this blog, each time I do that, I risk exposure to the virus. Like everyone else, hard decisions must be made.
While hoping the pandemic starts to stabilize, all I have to do is go fishing, so that’s what we’ve been doing. Fortunately, fishing is still allowed. The only time I see or speak to another person is if they are in a boat. Since we get up and on the water early, it’s about as remote as you can get.
The weather added a few extra twists with several intense rainstorms and flash flooding. These storms are usually accompanied by strong wind, so kayak fishing was out of the question. The days following these storms were pretty good fishing days under overcast skies.
With overcast skies overnight obscuring the full moon, the night fishing wasn’t as good as it had been. Night or day, the fishing was about the same. At times, it was pretty good.
When the skies cleared up, we were back out on the water at night under the full moon. The night fishing for largemouth bass was still good.
These wild desert burros were warming up in the early morning sun.
Some days were windy and we couldn’t go fishing. When you know the fish are biting, that sucks. When the wind is calm, it is about as good kayak fishing gets.
We caught a lot of largemouth bass and saw way more than we caught. The water was mostly very clear and the fish were easily spooked. Hooking a largemouth bass and catching one are two different things. We caught a few, but we lost a few as well.
The night fishing under the full moon remained on fire. There was one night when I caught seven or eight nice largemouth bass before sunrise. Once your eyes get used to the moonlight, you can see pretty well. If you use a headlamp, or take a flash photo, you’re temporarily blinded.
Aside from blinding you, a light also attracts mosquitoes. There are mosquitoes everywhere near the water in the desert and they come out at night. At times, it can be like an Alfred Hitchcock movie so you have to be prepared. Mosquitoes biting, largemouth bass biting, pretty much the full effect.
Day or night, you never know when a big bass is going to come out of the reeds and give you a run for the money.
There are some big largemouth bass in the lower Colorado River watershed. There are rivers, lakes, canals, backwaters and ponds that all hold big largemouth. First cast or last, that big bass might be ready to bite.
The kayak fishing under the full moon continued to be good. At the peak of the full moon, I caught nearly all the fish for the day at night. Maybe a couple, sometimes pretty nice fish hit after the sun came up, but the best action was at night and before sunrise.
As the sun rises over the eastern desert hills, I paddled around this backwater, casting everywhere I thought a largemouth bass might be waiting. This is just about perfect kayak fishing conditions.
Most of the time the water is very clear, which is the unnatural result of the river dams. The water level of the Colorado River and adjacent waterways can rise or fall quickly. When conditions are right and the bass are biting, it’s great kayak fishing action.
The full moon was waning and wind was in the forecast as we headed out for the last day of kayak fishing for a few days. I used the time off to edit a lot of photos and video and dump the camera memory cards. This was the last nice largemouth bass I caught right before sunrise on the last day of a great run of fishing.
We’re kind of stuck out here in the desert until further notice and not exposing ourselves or anyone else to the coronavirus, might as well keep fishing. It might be my last chance. This is a nasty virus and it is going to affect everything in a big way. Hopefully they will get it under control soon and our way of life won’t go down the drain. Number one thing is to stay safe and not contract the coronavirus. Everything else can wait. Keep checking back for proof that the fish are still here.
It’s been a long time since we made a kayak fishing blog post. We are camping some distance from the nearest city so it’s difficult to get there to use WiFi to make blog posts. We don’t carry our laptop into the desert, only the stuff we need to camp and fish. Today, we are in town downloading photos and video to the laptop, tomorrow we will upload the blog post and head back out into the desert because the fishing is getting good as the weather warms up. Here in the city, there is panic and hoarding as coronavirus fear, unfounded or not, has gripped the town and we are more than willing to get out.
Now that the water temperature of the Colorado River and adjacent waters has warmed enough to get the fish biting after a long winter break, the biggest problem is the wind. The nights and early mornings are still cool, causing the warming water to steam until the sun comes up.
Even if it is cool and overcast, the fishing in the early mornings before the wind comes up has been pretty good. We’ve caught some nice largemouth bass that makes the paddle out in the dark early morning well worth it.
Paddling around in the dark is a bit spooky. There isn’t much boat traffic, but there are floating and submerged logs and trees. Morning is a popular time of day for bugs. You can’t see them, so it’s best to stay covered up. Not too many dangerous animals, but you still have to be alert because there are things you need to look out for, like this water snake.
When fishing on the lakes connected to the Colorado River, the largemouth bass tend to hang out in and under the vegetation that line the banks. Casting into these shoreline plants is normally where you find a lot of bass.
It doesn’t seem that big fish would be hanging out in dense reeds and shallow water, but they are. Extracting big bass from these reeds is quite a challenge.
We’ve tried a number of fishing spots as the water warms up and the fishing gets better. The lakes warm up quicker than the Colorado River, especially the shallow sections. Because water is always being released from dams, the river nearly always has some current and the water, from the bottom of the upstream reservoir, is colder.
The weather is not the only concern here in the American southwest. Wildfires are a fact of life in the American west and the Colorado River basin is no exception. A familiar sight anywhere in the western United States.
Along with the persistent wind, there have been a number of severe rain events that have caused flash flooding. In between storms, there has been some good fishing, but you don’t want to be out on a kayak during a desert thunderstorm.
When the wind is calm, it’s tough to beat a beautiful desert morning as the sun comes up over the low lying hills.
As winter fades and spring takes over, the fishing is getting better every day.
The largemouth bass are currently in pre-spawn mode. They are making spawning nests and hanging around the shallow water reeds. The clear water makes the fish easy to spook, sneaking up on a kayak does a good job at this. Pretty soon, mating will take place and the bass will be guarding these spawning nests and attacking anything that comes close.
Even in pre-spawn mode, there are plenty of big largemouth bass moving around. Usually the big bass are the first to become active as the water warms up and that certainly seems to be the case.
We are looking forward to more great fishing as long as the wind does not shut down kayak fishing operations. This is a great time of the year in the desert and we want to take advantage of every day we can.
Of course we don’t know what’s going to happen with the whole coronavirus deal. Common sense seems to be in short supply and the “every man for himself” syndrome seems to have gripped the population. We’re headed back out into the desert wondering what civilization is going to look like the next time we come to town. We continue to make photos and video and will publish them as long as we are able, so check back soon.