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]


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