Early Spring at Crow Butte

Clark, October 20, 1805 …

A cool morning wind S. W. we concluded to delay untill after brackfast which we were obliged to make on the flesh of dog. after brackfast we gave all the Indian men Smoke, and we Set out leaveing about 200 of the nativs at our Encampment [near Irrigon, Oregon]; passd. three Indian Lodges on the Lard Side a little below our Camp [Irrigon, Oregon] which lodges <we> I did not discover last evening, passed a rapid at Seven miles one at a Short distance below we passed a verry bad rapid, a chane or rocks makeing from the Stard. Side and nearly Chokeing the river up entirely with hugh black rocks [Lewis and Clark called these rapids “Pelican Rapids”] an Island below close under the Stard. Side on which was four Lodges of Indians drying fish,- here I Saw a great number of pelicons on the wing, and black Comerants [American White Pelicans and Double-crested Cormorants]. at one oClock we landed on the lower point of <Some> an Island at Some Indian Lodges, a large Island on the Stard Side nearly opposit and a Small one a little below on the Lard Side on those three Island I counted Seventeen Indian Lodges,

[Lewis and Clark are passing through the Blalock Islands area. Today most of the islands are beneath the waters of Lake Umatilla, the reservoir behind the John Day Dam. In this vicinity are today’s Boardman, Whitcomb Island, Canoe Ridge, slightly downstream is Crow Butte and historic Castle Rock, along with the many lands of the Umatilla National Wildlife Refuge.]

after diner we proceeded on to a bad rapid at the lower point of a Small Island on which four Lodges of Indians were Situated drying fish; here the high countrey Commences again on the Stard. Side [Alder Ridge] leaveing a vallie of 40 miles in width, from the mustle Shel rapid [Umatilla Rapids at the McNary Dam]. examined and passed this rapid close to the Island at 8 miles lower passed a large Island near the middle of the river a brook on the Stard. Side [Alder Creek] and 11 Islds. all in view of each other below, a riverlit [Willow Creek] falls in on the Lard. Side behind a Small Island a Small rapid below. The Star Side is high rugid hills [Alder Ridge], the Lard. Side a low plain and not a tree to be Seen in any Direction except a fiew Small willow bushes which are Scattered partially on the Sides of the bank

The river to day is about 1/4 of a mile in width; this evening the Countrey on the Lard. Side [area around Arlington, Oregon] rises to the hight of that on the Starboard Side [ridge above Roosevelt], and is wavering- we made 42 <days> miles to day [to Roosevelt, Washington]; the current much more uniform than yesterday or the day before. Killed 2 Speckle guls Severl. ducks of a delicious flavour.


Thought you might enjoy a little history from the Lewis and Clark expedition before my article.

Early-spring smallie at Crow Butte

Within the next 10 days or so, I’ll likely kick off the season by fishing the Crow Butte area. I’m pretty sure a lot of you have fished it or at least know of it’s whereabouts. For those not familiar with it, the easiest way to locate this are is to tell you that it’s almost directly across the Columbia River from Boardman, Oregon.  Crow Butte is really an island that is accessed by road via a causeway off of U.S. Highway 14 (Washington side of the river.)

Should you choose, there’s a public launch in Crow Butte park adjacent to a public camping area.  Personally, I prefer to use the launch at the Boardman City Park as it is not only free, but contains nicer ramps and is very well kept.  Both parks provide for some very nice camping, but the amenities such as food and gas are convenient from the Oregon shore and near non-existent from the Washington side. The launch at Crow Butte although not too bad does cost $5/day.  Although the water inside the park area contains some very nice bass and walleye, I spend most of my time fishing the upriver side of the island.  The upriver side of the island would be on the left side of the access road to the park.  The access to this area from the Crow Butte boat launch is by heading west and going around the island and then heading east (upstream) for a couple of miles.

The jaunt across the river from the Boardman launch to the same area is about equal time and distance.  Either way you’ll need to be prudent about getting a good reliable wind forecast before making the drive as the water in this area can be treacherous with winds sometimes up to 30 plus mph.  Those eight foot rollers are just too dangerous heading back to Boardman when they’re coming at you from stern to port.  I like to see wind forecasts at less then 10 mph before heading here.  I like to use the Pro Windfinder app.

Like all the backwater or slough areas on the Columbia, the entire smallmouth populations do not migrate from the river channel edges to the spawning grounds at the same time.  I believe most (not all) arrive in distinct “gangs” or schools over about a four to six week period beginning in late March through mid May.  Therefore, before I will proceed into the shallows in March, I’ll usually try and work areas along the channel in about 12 to 25 ft depths.  These depths can be pretty good at times both upstream and downstream along Crow Butte island.  Traditional jigs and tubes can produce well here.

If you’ll access Google or Bing maps you will see that the distance from the river channel to the rip rap along Highway 14 is about a half mile or so.  Along this rip rap is a large irrigation pump station.  The pump station is about a half mile from the Crow Butte access road.  There is an old roadbed (you should be able to see part of it on your satellite view) that starts at the access road and continues past the pump station until it meets landfall up river about a quarter mile.  This rocky roadbed is around 8 ft wide and is mostly in about 4 ft of water with shoulders dropping down to 10 feet or so on each side.  The road is about 80 yards out from the rip rap.  I believe this roadbed represents the area where at least 50% of all the smallmouth will use for spawning in this side of Crow Butte.

As you head in from the river proper to the shallows, you’ll be seeing your graphs showing you some wild ups and downs revealing gravel and rocky structure.  They will range in depth from 6 ft down to 12 ft deep.  Normally, I’ll start fishing the 8 ft depths where I believe they will stage again before moving in to the spawning depths of 2 to 4 ft.

Battling a nice smallmouth in the spring on the Columbia River @ Crow Butte

As for gear, I’ll normally be using bait casting rigs, crankbaits (usually lipless in reds and orange hues) and spinner baits, I prefer copper blades myself. (click links below)

War Eagle Cooper Spinnerbait


Great Crow Butte Crank
Boat positioning and lining up for just the right cast is critical when working a roadbed.

Now, that’s just my preferences as we all know that there are a ton of lures and colors that do great.  But remember that I’m discussing tactics, lures, and depths for late March into late April.  The water temps at this time of year will range from the mid-forties into the mid-fifties.  So what you’ll be experiencing will be primarily reaction bites.  AND…this is when you will likely run into those early season huge females – 5s and 6s.

During the next couple of weeks (early to late April), these same bass begin to get near or on the roadbed mentioned earlier.  As the temperatures start getting up in the mid to upper fifties, I’ll mix in some spinning gear and start working tubes on the roadbed and super flukes along the roadbed shoulders.  This now the time to start traversing this roadbed from start to finish with your favorite lures.


Jig n Tube

Now, go enjoy.  Maybe I’ll see you out there.  I’ll be in my black/copper Ranger, but usually Monday thru Thursday as I hate those weekender crowds.  Any comments or questions, just let me know.

See ya on the water,

Bob Hogue




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