Well, just returned from a two day float on Oregon's John Day river this past weekend. The third longest free flowing river in the US, about 280 miles. This is a national wild and scenic river.
The idea my cousin and i had was to try our hand at fly fishing the river for the now well known smallmouth fishery. We have an annual family camp out at the mouth if the John Day on the Columbia and we have fished there often. Sadly the bass we find there are pretty small that time of year. So, we knew that the river was getting pretty famous for this smallmouth fishing so we wanted to try higher up river.Well, you know the saying about best laid plans.....
In Oregon we have been experiencing the longest February that i can recall. Lots and lots and lots of rain. Cold weather very late into the year. When we made our plans we were hopeful the weather would be somewhat normal. Suffice it to say, the river was pretty blown out of shape. It was clear enough but it was flowing really fast at 7300 cfm on Sat and 6800cfm on Sun. Normal for this time of year, iirc, is about 3800.
The guide knew we were mainly wanting to fly fish and was prepared for that. He was also prepared for the conditions we encountered. This time of year he told us there is normally seven good fly fishing holes along our drift. Now there was two.
Did i tell you about the constant winds in the river canyon this time of year? No? Oh. Well, there is a constant 15-20mph wind down river until mid day, then it turns around and heads upriver in the warmer afternoons.
All this, along with my lack of skill with heavy bugs in windy conditions, on fast water and trying to not knock our guide and oarsman unconscious meant the fly rods were put away by noon on the first day, not to see action again since the conditions didnt change.
So, this shall become a post that is just some general info on the river and fish.
4/30/11: Hit the water about 7:30. It was a nice brisk 38 degrees on the river and water was 43.9 degrees.
Our opportunities to fly fish came up rather fast. The first hole was somewhat protected from the wind and really fast current. Out of the first hole i pulled two bass. We were using a favorite of our guide. It is called the Outlaw Minnow, a Dave Scadden fly.
It certainly worked for me for the brief time i was able to "fly fish". More like fling a heavy item while attempting to not trip myself or others up. The largest of the two...
The next stop wasnt as protected as the one before and quickly devolved into a line management mess. Wind was full on us as was the current. However, i was able to hook a nice native steelhead at this point.
Unfortunately the only pic of it is this action shot....
The guide attempted to take a pic with my camera but somehow it didnt go off.
At this point we packed away the fly rods to we could concentrate on having a good time instead of fighting ourselves and the conditions just to keep a fly rod in our hands.
From here on out we used mainly big spinner plugs on bait casting rods. A few crank baits and worms on spin rods.
More river pics...
About noonish it had warmed up nicely on Sunday and after a very slow morning the bite was back on. To start things off we had a visit from this little fella...
And a few million of his relatives. The cloud of the hatch stretched for miles and they coated the river in huge swaths. Big slicks of bugs covered the river. Large sections of the river bank had an edging of tannish foam that consisted of dead bugs. My buff got some heavy use keep the bugs out of my mouth. lol
Then i landed this fellow....
Only to be followed by....
We wanted to get this guy back in the water asap and he was only netted long enough to remove the lure and snap a quick photo. I know he doesnt look it but he was about 28". The previous one was around 26". Both fish were returners and on the thin side. There are no hatcheries on the John Day so the Steelhead and Salmon runs are obviously all natives.
A bit later i caught another nice fish who had survived some kind of serious injury...
My cousin caught a Smallmouth that was so agitated its eyes were blazing red. It looked possessed.
All said and done, i caught eight smallmouth and two steelhead over two days and my cousin caught 11 bass and a pike minnow. Most decent sized and considering the conditions, not too bad, imo.
We are bummed that we were not able to spend the days fly fishing the whole time, but we had a great time none the less. Perhaps next time the conditions will be back to normal or my skills at deal with such conditions with a fly rod will be much, much better. While we only got to use them briefly the flies we used seem to be very effective. During the summer months the bass go crazy for poppers and small frog imitations. Big numbers of fish are landed.
If anyone is looking to fish this water, i cannot recommend our guide highly enough. He was a great guy, smart fisherman, a font of knowledge about the local area and river.
John Day River Fishing
Next up is a couple days spent on the Deschutes during the Salmon fly hatch in June.