Columbia River Smallmouth Adventure: Lake Bonneville ( The Dalles, Oregon)
“Combating Rough Water (Part 2)” Cold water makes bass fishing generally difficult, not just on the Columbia River, but everywhere too. – Fishingboy and David Swendseid (DUO Realis U.S.A)
Cold water makes bass fishing generally difficult, not just on the Columbia River, but everywhere too. In conditions found in the North Country of the U.S., however, cold water makes fishing generally difficult, not just for the angler but for the fish living in it too.
This is a time when smallmouths and other organisms are trying to stay alive. Early season smallmouths stay alive by relating to environments that reward them with protection and forage. In some environments, other factors such as water clarity and sunlight penetration are more vital than water temperature itself and you will see why that is so.
Clear water allows better penetration of sunlight that brings heat. Improved visibility also enables fish to position themselves better for the hunt. Sunlight energizes aquatic microorganisms and activates plant matter and warms the environment. Therefore, sunlight above other vital factors is an important element in both smallmouth and forage moments.
River smallmouths in the North Country seek deep, slow, almost motionless water in winter. Big rivers often have backwater pools for wintering. However, that is not the case in Lake Bonneville where most of the conductive areas are primarily main river areas.
>> Story and Images by Fishingboy and David Swendseid (DUO Realis U.S.A)
Our strategy was to focus on protected banks, riprap banks, stone walls with bluff or sloping banks, and protected areas in and behind current breaks. Despite our best efforts to stay out of the wind, we were frequently engaged in ‘combat fishing’ mode, a term coined by Swendseid to denote the way he fishes on the Columbia River. What is combat fishing?
Combat fishing for smallmouth bass
Combat fishing is a mentality and an execution of fishing hard and direct on specific targets. For instance, target cranking and casting to specific submerge rock or grass and so forth. Combat fishing is usually executed with the utilization of reaction baits but can also be done with other ‘combat lures’ such as jigs, spinnerbaits, swimbaits, blade baits and so forth.
Combat fishing is about getting your baits into cover and extracting bass from cover, fighting it out in a slugfest manner. The way we combat fished for smallmouth on Lake Bonneville involves more than just that. It was a twopart strategy that involves target selection and how you approach those selected targets effectively.
When selecting and dissecting targets we sought out shoreline irregularities that are visible to the naked eye that
would literally propagate underwater to hone in our baits. For instance, breaks, cuts or even culverts on otherwise straight cut banks and so forth.
In addition to that, covering water is imperative. Most of the bites were uncommitted or subtle and the big smallmouths were mostly holding out deep, often on mud bottom or rocks. Some of the baits that were crucial to our approach fishing deep were crankbaits, lipless vibration crankbaits, sinking glidebaits as well as dropshot, splitshot and light Texas-rig.
As you can see, we had to combine finesse tactics with combat fishing strategies because the reaction bites were still unconducive in the predominantly cold water conditions.
Top baits of the day
The baits that were vital to our strategies for early season smallmouth on Lake Bonneville’s east pool were mainly deep running and bottom contact baits.
Deep water patterns were the deal of the day. The reaction baits that were imperative to our approach were the DUO Realis Crank M65 and Realis Vibration. We utilised the 8A and 11A variants, as well as the Vibration 62 and 68 G-Fix variants. The M65 and Vibration cast accurately, even in strong winds, and are extremely durable from a structural integrity front.
In deep areas where the crankbait bite is unconducive, we would switch to either Vibration 62 or 68 G-Fix. Colors were not really the make or break deal. We were primarily using Chartreuse Blues (ACC3126), Mustard Seed (ACC3067) and Omnicraw (CCC3014).
In areas where we had to switch things up to finesse fishing, we relied on the 4” Zoom Baby Brush Hog creature bait for bottom contact presentation, either on split-shot or light Texas-rig. I caught one of the biggest fish of the day on a Texas-rigged 6.5” Zoom Trick Worm but the worm bite was not as conductive as I had anticipated.
I even caught a decent size fish in deep water on a Gan Craft Jointed Claw 148 glidebait and some shallow on 1/2oz spinnerbait. As you can see, there was not much of a
predominant pattern. I ended up catching all of my fish on different baits, primarily fishing deep.
Despite the rough conditions, my first day on the Columbia River exceeded all my expectations. From an angling perspective, however, I was amazed by how well things had panned out.
For a smallmouth bass rookie, I was grateful to be fishing under Swendseid’s guidance and catching quality fish consistently in some of the roughest conditions I have seen on a freshwater river system. Frankly speaking, getting dialled-in to the fishing as early as Day-1 was the one thing I did not see coming.
All in all, we had an awesome day and our tactics worked out pretty well. Importantly, the results of the day had literally filled me with newfound confidence for what is to come next.
Coming up in the next instalment
Check out next month’s instalment to find out more about early season smallmouth fishing in rough water conditions on the Columbia River’s Lake Bonneville, where we would be headed to Hood River, Oregon to fish the west pool where conditions are different.
In the next issue: We look at the Day-2 highlights of my trip to Lake Bonneville’s west pool in Hood River, focusing on crankbait fishing in the mid-depth range.
Rough water manoeuvring had inconveniently become a routine for us
The majestic Lyle Bluffs on the Washington State shoreline of the Columbia River
This is an area where I caught my first of my many big smallmouths
Swendseid works a sloping bank in an area where the wind is incredibly strong. Noticed the windsurfers in the background?
The M65 Crank 8A in Mustard Seed color pattern is a solid performer
Swendseid checks out some of the big smallmouths in the live-well
Climbing waves and manoeuvring through swells looks so easy aboard the Allison
Swendseid delivers his Columbia River smallmouth one-two punch
My first smallmouth bass fishing trip on the Columbia River turned out to be better than I had expected