Saturday, February 21, 2015

Scouting the John Day River for Smallmouth Bass

Man standing on rock in river fishing for bass
Gary fly fishing the John Day River for smallmouth bass.
The John Day River in Oregon has prolific numbers of smallmouth bass, so my friend Gary and I decided to check it out. It was late summer and when we arrived the water was low and the temperature was hovering in the 90’s. Our chances for success were not favorable, but nonetheless we rigged up our rods and headed out.

The river was low and warm with a shore line that, in many places, was covered with tall grass, bulrushes, wild teasel and rocks of all sizes. The water looked and smelled fishy which bolstered our hopes of success. As we began to cast, we had to wade waist deep in places to cover the water effectively, but our efforts immediately paid off. We started hooking fish! However, most of them were 5 to 8 inches and very small by bass standards, but they hit hard for their size and fought aggressively. The most successful pattern was a #8 Black Girdle Bug.

Our fly fishing method was not difficult. We used 7 and 1/2 foot leaders with small split shots placed about 18 inches above the fly. A roll cast worked well to cover the water. Then, if they didn’t take the fly on the dead drift, we would hook them on a short, quick six-inch strip retrieve. A swift lift of the rod would quickly set the hook. We had the best luck casting in slower moving water that was broken up with a variety of surface and submerged rocks and vegetation. Gary caught the largest bass which was nearly 12 inches.

It was a good exploratory trip. The low water gave us a good idea of where and how to fish when the river rose in the late fall and when the bass would be spawning in the spring. When that time arrives, wading wet will not be an option.

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