Several years ago, about the same time I retired from working for other people, my wife and I each came up with our own “bucket list” and began to make plans to cross the items off these lists before time, age and health prevented us from doing so.
Some of the items on my list and hers could be accomplished in common settings, others, not so much.
One of my wife’s bucket list items was a visit to Oregon to see the many waterfalls which flow in the Beaver State.
Although Oregon offers well-known stream trout fishing, renowned salmon spawns, and has miles of saltwater coastline, none of those options were on my own bucket list. So, we made the sightseeing and hiking to the waterfalls the centerpiece of this getaway, and I did some research to find some fishing opportunities along the way.
We let weather and the calendar dictate the timing of our visit. The northwest is normally cooling off by early September, and with most of America’s schools back in session by Labor Day, congestion caused by summer vacationers normally has dropped off sharply. Additionally, my own fishing efforts in Texas are typically in a just so-so summer mode, so early September seemed a good choice to get away.
We left Texas from Austin, headed to Portland. We deplaned, rented a car and drove directly to the Trail of Ten Falls. Seven hours and 30,000 steps later, we’d taken in the eight falls which were flowing this time of year and called it a day.
Day two, Sunday, was similar. We then made a long drive from Medford in the southwest part of the state to Hermiston up in the northeast part of the state on Labor Day Monday.
On Tuesday we linked up with full-time professional fishing guide Jeremy Eubank who is employed by Stott’s Fishing, a company originated by the Stottlemyre family of baseball royalty.
We planned an eight-hour fishing trip on the Columbia River on the Oregon-Washington border, fishing a segment of the river between McNary Dam and the John Day Dam. Our target species were smallmouth bass and walleye.
We met Eubank at 6 a.m. at the Irrigon boat ramp. Eubank had the quiet confidence that comes with years of experience pursuing a specific species on a body of water. After covering where the safety gear was stowed, Eubank set some realistic expectations for the trip.
Due to a long, hot, dry summer, flow in the Columbia was lower than normal, and there was minimal flow coming through the upstream McNary Dam. Eubank let us know the fishing would be tough because the lack of current allows fish to disperse since they do not have to hold behind bottom objects and/or bottom topography to conserve energy while hiding from strong current.
We were clear that we did not want to troll for walleye, so Eubank combined our desires with the situation we encountered on the river and narrowed our approach down to two options.
Eubank’s first choice was to cover lots of water effectively by using bottom-bouncer weights in combination with nightcrawler harness rigs to present live bait just a foot or so off the river’s bottom consistently.
The bottom bouncer consisted of a thin wire (like the diameter of a spinnerbait wire) with a cigar-shaped, 3-ounce lead weight molded onto the middle of the roughly 12-inch-long wire. A fish-finder style sleeve/snap device allowed for the fishing line to pass through the sleeve toward the bait, while the snap allowed the bottom bouncer to be attached (and easily changed out for lighter or heavier weights if current demanded).
Once the 20-pound test braid coming from the rod was passed through the fish finder device’s sleeve, it was tied to a swivel. On the terminal end of the swivel was a roughly 36-inch leader on which a lightweight spinning propeller called a “smile blade” preceded the 2-hook nightcrawler harness.
Eubank rigged up a full-length nightcrawler on the harness so that it kept the nightcrawler in a straight, elongated posture as it was pulled behind the bottom bouncer, using long, limber casting rods.
The 7-foot-11-inch-long Edge StR7111-1 rods, designed by Gary Loomis just for this technique, were coupled with Diawa Lexa-LC 100H low-profile casting reels.
We focused on gentle topographic fluctuations in the river’s bottom in 30 to 50 feet of water. Using a Minn Kota Terrova trolling motor, Eubank considered both wind and current and moved us either up- or downstream while constantly observing the angle at which our lines entered the water, attempting to keep them at no more than about 30 degrees. Doing so allowed us to stay in good contact with the bottom and to feel strikes when they occurred.
The action was consistent the entire trip. We quickly figured out that the smallmouth bit with aggressive, multiple taps whereas the walleye took the bait more slowly and softly.
Around 1 p.m., we took a break for a shore lunch during which time Eubank kept the boat nosed into the rock bank with his 9.9 horsepower kicker motor while he grilled burgers on a propane-fired grill lashed to the back deck of his 28-foot aluminum jet boat.
After lunch, with about two hours left to fish, we used the second tactic which Eubank felt would allow us to be successful — vertical jigging.
In this scenario, we used half-ounce jigheads with a single, upturned hook to which a second stinger hook was attached, thus making the entire rig look like a crawler harness with a jighead at the front instead of a bare hook.
We used shorter, stiffer spinning rods for this tactic.
The results on this approach were not as good as on the bottom bouncer rigs, mainly because they had to be fished more slowly, thus limiting the amount of water we could effectively cover. Thus, for our final hour, we went back to using the bottom bouncer rigs and finished the day on a strong note.
For our efforts, we caught and released 45 fish, including five walleye, 39 smallmouth bass, and one sculpin.
Next week, I detail our second day of fishing spent in pursuit of America’s largest freshwater fish.