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.
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.