July 5, 2008
Summer Dawns on the Water Still Provide Thrill
By Chester Allen, The Olympian, Olympia, Wash.
Jul. 5--It already was 65 degrees when I rolled out of bed just after dawn.The sun was barely peeking over the Columbia River rimrock, but most of the river in the John Day Pool still was in shadow. A heat wave was baking Eastern Washington, and I figured the smallmouth bass -- so abundant in the Columbia River -- would bite best early in the day.
I rigged a fly rod with a floating popper fly -- and toted along a spinning rod as well. My overstuffed vest and tackle bag tinkled and clanked with flies and lures as I hiked through golden, sun-dried cheatgrass and sticker brush to the rocky shoreline.
I kept an eye out for rattlesnakes as I clambered down the warm boulders. The huge river oozed by, and no other anglers were around.
I flipped the popper over a shallow, rocky reef about 10 feet off the shoreline. I tugged the fly line, and the popper gurgled on the surface -- and then vanished in a swirling, boiling rise.
I stripped line hard, felt the weight of the fish and set the hook.
A nice smallmouth bass flipped out of the water and then dug for the rocks. A couple of minutes later, the fish -- chunky, with greenish-bronze sides and blood-red eyes -- wallowed at my feet.
I'm always alone when I catch a good fish on the first cast of the day. And I never expect to catch a fish right off the bat.
I worked a 300-yard section of bank -- hopscotching from boulder to boulder -- and the smallmouth whacked the popper often enough that I started expecting a bite on each cast.
The Columbia River is probably the world's best smallmouth bass water right now. The river's rocky banks and reefs teem with these fish, and there are a lot of rocks on the Columbia.
The sun soon rose above the rimrock and beat down on the river. The bass stopped hitting the popper, but I suspected that they were just a little deeper -- and still hungry.
For once, I guessed right on the first try.
I tied a Bitsy Pond Minnow -- a tiny plug -- pro bassers call them crankbaits -- onto the spinning rod and started working the deeper ledge water.
I cast the plug out to the deeper water, and cranked it in. Crankbaits are designed to dive with the tight shiver of a wounded baitfish.
I would stop cranking after about six turns of the reel handle, and the plug would slowly rise. The bass usually whacked the lure when I started cranking again.
I lost count of the smallmouth bass caught that morning, which means it was Bass-O-Rama.
The Columbia is worth the drive from South Sound.
Five days later -- Thursday -- I woke up to the rattle of rain on the roof. A summer shower in South Sound -- or any other part of the Northwest -- gets the trout working.
I bolted breakfast and headed for South Sound's own Deschutes River.
A summer trout stream has a distinctive scent early in the morning -- the musty odor of wet dirt mixed with the clean, clear smell of cold water.
A few trout rose to dead and dying caddisflies. The fish were grazing on the bugs that died the night before.
I tied on a spent caddis -- a fly that looks like a dead moth on the water -- got on my knees and cast to fish rising where the bouncy water of a riffle calmed down and turned into a deeper pool.
A cutthroat trout -- silver in the morning light -- ate the fly and darted for an undercut bank.
Another fish on the first cast of the day.
Yeah, I was alone.
Two rivers -- 200 miles apart -- gave me early morning gifts this week.
I never get tired of summer dawns on the water -- the still air, the scents of sagebrush or wild roses and the rings of rising trout or the meaty swirls of a rising bass.
And a fish on the first cast.
Chester Allen's fishing column appears Fridays in The Olympian. He can be reached at 360-754-4226 or [email protected]
To see more of The Olympian, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.theolympian.com.
Copyright (c) 2008, The Olympian, Olympia, Wash.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
For reprints, email [email protected], call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.