I think it’s appropriate that a father contribute to a website originated on the topic of bass fishing by said father’s son and his fishing partner. I’m guessing that many of you would like to contribute to this site too, but like me, aren’t sure of what you could possibly add that hasn’t been done and said already by everyone and, oh by the way, they all know a thousand times more than us, right?
My contributions might be worth more as a bass fishing history of our area rather than that of the latest refinements in gear, techniques, style, etc. And, at the very least, it’s pretty unlikely that you’ve read or heard of it previously.
So here is the first of maybe a few of what I’ll call “installments” or tales (historical fiction?) of my times bass fishing in Washington and Oregon for over sixty years.
In the mid to late 50s, that’s right, 1950s, I was a boy of little league age who had a passion to fish with his dad. Dad was a migrant from Oklahoma who settled here in Richland, WA to work at the Hanford Project around the year 1945 after being discharged from the army following WWII. He brought with him an intense competitive spirit and years of hunting and fishing know how from Oklahoma (no one was really from Richland back then.)
Let’s start with a little bit of an overview of the local rivers back in that era. First of all, there were only two hydroelectric dams on the Columbia River then and there weren’t any as of yet on the Snake River. Bonneville was built to produce electricity primarily to help support the Portland/Seattle area while Grand Coulee provided electrical power for the rest of the northwest including the nine plutonium producing reactors along the Columbia River at Hanford. From 1949 into the early 50s, Grand Coulee Dam was modified to provide irrigation to the mid-Columbia region of Washington. In 1948, McNary Dam was completed and it was a lifesaver for flood control in the Pasco/Richland areas as well as a much-needed addition to the generation of electricity in the Northwest.
But, let’s get back to fishing. Were there bass here in these rivers then? Yep, Largemouth and Smallmouth had been brought out by railcar from the Midwest (Ohio) in the 30s, if I remember correctly.) But understand, bass fishing was not truly a sport of any consequence in this era, and really may have been considered more of a food fish by the locals. As an example, the limit for bass was 20 pounds plus one bass! And everyone caught, cleaned and ate their catch. At the very least, they stocked their freezers or fed their neighbors. Catch and release was an unheard of “sin.” Fish management in these two rivers was, and still is, all about salmon and steelhead. Everything else was largely considered a nuisance trash fish, but boy were the trash fish doing well! As witness, look at the recent changes to the bag limits for bass – oh wait, there aren’t any are there.
A man-made reservoir called O’Sullivan Reservoir was created from the Grand Coulee project for irrigation purposes in the early 1950s. Now more commonly called Potholes Reservoir, this is where Dad introduced me to bass fishing. Initially planted with largemouth bass, crappie, perch, and rainbow trout, the lake gained a lot of notoriety after a few years with an abundance of quality fish. While still a pretty “young lake”, a 3 to 5 pound bass was surely a trophy!
A Lone Star aluminum boat with an 18 hp Johnson motor was the bass boat of choice in the mid 50s. It was equipped with a lead weight (from Hanford) on a 25 ft. rope for a depth finder AND a power pole (ha), and a gunnysack for a live well. There were always two wooden oars for sneaking up on those special spots (our electric motor.) Before we launched at MarDon Resort (yep, it was there), Dad went into the bait house to select the waterdogs we would use that day. If you’re not familiar with waterdogs, they’re actually a salamander (see below.) Anyways, he would buy a couple dozen of the smaller (5 inchers), dark-colored ones to put in the minnow bucket. They had to be of the right length and color – some things never change, right.
A little geography pause before I continue: When the reservoir was first created, and through the next 20 years or so, the hundreds of islands throughout Winchester, Frenchman, and Crab Creek arms were just bare sand dunes. There wasn’t any brush covering them as is present everywhere today – just bare sand dunes with water around these hundreds of tiny islands. Flooded treetops were sticking out of the water in between the dunes (crappie heaven) and every now and then a few willows were beginning to crop up.
So you had to run around to find a little bit of cover in order to find the fish. If you could find a combination of willows, treetops nearby and a dune with black sand – you were in for a treat.
We’d put a waterdog on a number 2 hook by running the hook up thru the chin and out between its eyes. The creature would stay alive (important, right) for 30 minutes or so with this setup. A small splitshot was placed about 18 inches up the line to keep the dog down near the bottom.
As for gear, we were using the newly introduced spinning reels back then, and owners of a Mitchell 300 were at the top of the game. Nylon line (later called monofilament) made life so much easier than ever before. Dacron line with a catgut leader on a casting reel made a pretty tough day.
Now for my lesson from Dad about catching largemouth with a waterdog: “Cast over into about 6ft. of water on the edge of the willows. After the dog hits bottom, flip open the bail. When a bass picks a waterdog up, it will grab it up from the side, swim to deeper water to get away from other bass, stop to turn it around and then swallow it head fi
rst.” He’d always do a brain check with me to make sure I understood cause that’s how dads are, right. “So, when that bass grabs that bait, the line will start coming off the spool, stop after a while, and then start again. When it stops to take off the second time, flip the bail close, and set the hook.” Worked every time!
Enough for today, I’ll move on to other eras and areas at a later date…time for a nap.