5 Patterns for Early Summer Bass on the Columbia River

Post-Spawn Main River Feeders

Some smallmouth and a few largemouth will get up in the main stem of the Columbia and begin feeding. These are typically skinny fish that have been pretty beat-up from the spawn, but they are willing to bite.

These bass are “head of the line” feeders, meaning you will find them upstream of structure/cover, so you should use baits that fit that scenario. Many will be as shallow as they can get, so don’t be surprised to find them in just a couple of feet of water.

Keep track of main river flows as well as tributary flows as both of these will contribute to which tactics work best for your fishing. In other words, there is no need to be surprised by water clarity, water levels and how fast the water is moving. Get that info here.

Be aware of and keep track of what the birds are doing. They will often be your best clue as to what is happening with that main river postspawn/early summer bite.

A pelican on the water is one sign that smallmouth are around and feeding.
Ospreys or “Riverhawks” will have young to feed and their activities are important signs as to what is happening with the whole food chain.

Main River Smallmouth Spawners

Yeah, you read that right. Not all smallmouth spawn in May in the sloughs and backwaters of the Columbia. Another group of smallmouth will spawn in the main stem of the Columbia – either behind islands or channel bends or anyplace that is flat and out of the current. These are usually not big spawning groups but what they lack in numbers they make up for in size over many of the post-spawn bass.

Main river flats are keys areas to look for early summer spawning smallmouth.

Way Back in the Backs Postspawn Largemouth

Some largemouth and some of the “right ones” will stay put and be just where they were earlier in the spring. Or very near. Look for deepest water available and then cover and shallow water opportunities all coming together in one spot. These alpha largemouths can be shy and spooky and selective in their feeding, targeting wayward baitfish, frogs, ducklings or whatever suits them. These largemouth eat what they want, when they want – including other bass.

The biggest key to is getting to these gals. Study access points, creating trails/tracks using Google Earth and then be as stealthy as possible. River flows will also play a big role in your ability to know if and when you can get back there, so don’t sleep on that.

Most of the backwaters along the Columbia can be divided into sections

Not So Far Back Postspawn Largemouth

The majority of postspawn largemouth will make their way out of the back end stuff and set up shop somewhere between the back and the main river. Again, access to deep (deeper) water is the key then cover and bait and then a feeding area. Combine all of these into a spot and you’ve got it. Now it’s just a matter of timing and not overstaying your welcome or over-educating those largemouth. These bass too can be selective in their feeding, often targeting a certain profile or column of the water to feed.

Post-spawn, off shore largemouth. They aren’t always in the shoreline cover.

Later Spawning Largemouth

Just like smallmouths, largemouth also don’t all spawn at once and in the same areas. Another group of largemouth will spawn in June and July. Sometimes in the same areas as the April-May spawners, but more often, they will spawn in those “in-between” areas that warm-up, clear-up and start getting some weed growth just a little later.

Overall, the thickness and progress of vegetation growth is probably your best clue as to the state of the spawn in that area. The further along that vegetation growth is, the further along the spawn is. But a move out towards the main river will often put you in a little different environment and you will first notice that with the weed growth. This timing varies from pool to pool along the Columbia and from backwater to backwater within a pool.

Be prepared and open to fishing a very diverse fishery and don’t assume what you found in location “X” along the Columbia applies to location “Y”.

Spawning pair of largemouth – Columbia River slough

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