I retired some three years ago. Although most of the readership hasn’t quite reached that epic part of life, here are some thoughts: It takes a lot longer to settle into retirement than you might think. I believe this is the first year I’ve been able to sit back and relax with the new lifestyle. Secondly, I now realize how fortunate and lucky a person has to be just to reach this magical age. However, retirement isn’t the “settling in” I’m writing about for Game Over Angling.
I started bass fishing some 60 years ago. Over those six decades, I’ve bought, borrowed, and used so very many rods, reels, and lures to pursue bass that it is just more than a little bit embarrassing. You’re probably not like that though, are you?
I’ve used space in the kitchen, bedroom, den, and garage to store, hide, and collect more equipment than any sane person would possibly be interested in doing. However, the other day I was able to view KVD’s tackle storage on YouTube in his home, and it made me feel a little better. At least he’s doing it for a living! I have no excuse.
Probably like a lot of you, I have neatly (and not so neatly) stored and labeled tackle storage boxes for almost every category of hooks, line, and lures available. Damn the online tackle stores anyway. So much so that I have become first name acquaintances with the UPS drivers and their families. Once, however, Linda (wife) caught one of the drivers making another delivery to the front door. She ran outside to intercept him and tell him that if that was another fishing tackle delivery, that he could just go put it back in the truck and leave. He didn’t know what the heck to do until she smiled and told him it was okay, but he should really come in the house and look round to see what she was talking about. True story by the way.
Anyway, let’s get back to the purpose of this post. Game Over Angling was designed to be able for members to “tell all”. To share their deep dark secrets with others – right? So, here goes:
This year I decided that I would greatly simplify my onboard arsenal and concentrate on seasonal locations versus having 10 rods on the deck and 150 lbs of gear in the compartments “just in case”. Many times I would blame my gear for a lack of success instead of thinking about where the bass are most likely spending their time. I needed to change things around, and you know what? I really believe this has been my most successful and productive year on the water. So, I’ve decided to share much of my changes with you. This post, however, is primarily concerning the Columbia Basin rivers and lakes where I spend 95% of my fishing time.
Let’s get started with the pre-spawn time of year on the Columbia River. I normally start my season on the river in mid to late March and usually in and around the Boardman, Oregon area, especially in the Crow Butte area on the Washington side of the river. Here I concentrate most of my efforts in about 2 to 5 ft depths. Usually at this time of year with water temperatures in the high 40s to low 50s, I’m looking for reaction strikes.
During this time my most effective lures (by far) are the spinner bait and the lipless crankbait. It is here that I only use these two lures. The other 20 boxes of lures and extra rods/reels are left home. I will usually bring 2 to 3 bait casting outfits in medium action, glass composite 7 to 7 1/2 ft rods. My spinner bait color will be confined to copper and my lipless baits to reds and oranges. Of course, we all know that other baits/colors can work, but for ME the only variance I will make will be slight adjustments to retrieval speed. A War Eagle 3/8 or 1/2 oz double willow leaf with copper blades and a copper skirt is my favorite. Why? It just works!
My lipless crankbait will be a Spro Aruku Shad in size 75. By the way, I’ve modified all my crankbaits by removing the rear treble hook and replacing the front one with one size larger than the factory installed treble. I do this for several reasons: One, Ryan Brown said I should give it a try – thanks Ryan. Two, I hate wasting time untangling trebles from the net. Three, protecting my fingers. And four, trying to reduce the harm to the fish. You know what – it works just great!
So, for the pre-spawn period in the Columbia River – only three rod/reel combos and two lure boxes – I like that a lot!
I’m primarily a river guy and just about the only lake that I spend any appreciable amount of time on during this time of year is Potholes Reservoir. In the very back ends of the reservoir, in 3 to 6 ft of water, but very close to 8 to 10 ft depths, I come equipped with a spinnerbait box and a swim jig box. Two casting rods equipped to handle either/or and I’m ready. Again, I’m much more successful with these two lure types while concentrating on location, location, location.
REMINDER – this is just me sharing with what I prefer to use. You’re likely perfectly happy with your own style and equipment. Of course, you’re invited to tell us about your “stuff” as well! Let’s see if you’ll really do it.
I’ll most likely return to this area in mid-May, or so, but the only lure I’m going to add when I do is a frog – it’s just so damn much fun – right?
Okay, let’s move on to the spawning season. I spend a lot of May and June in one of two areas: Boardman and in the first 5 miles above McNary Dam on the Columbia. I really like both of these places for their great populations of nice-sized smallmouth and also because of the fairly low populations of bass fishermen. Here I really don’t need to use but two lure types while water temps are ranging from the low to upper 50s: That lipless crankbait I described earlier, running head down through the rocks and gravel, and the tube. The tube I’ve been using is a “fat” tube rigged either on a standard tube jig or on a swing head.
So again, I’ve reduced my gear to two boxes and two rod/reel types. Now I can spend my time as I should, on locations.
From mid-summer to late fall, I’m a Zoom Super Fluke guy. It’s a rare, rare day when I can’t find a way to be successful with this lure, and this lure alone! I’ll bet that sounds really far-fetched to most of you, but it’s absolutely true. So right away, let’s deal with what I get asked the most – yep, color. Wrong question though, huh? I’m not sure how many colors Zoom makes with this lure, but it must be nearing fifty! It is an exceptional day indeed when a specific color will outproduce another color. What I have found out though is that the shade of color is, or often can be, magic. I’ll keep my stock of flukes in three separate categories: light, such as Silver Rainbow. A medium such as Bluegill. Or dark shades like Smokin Silver. You really, really don’t need other colors unless you just want to play.
I keep two spinning rod/reel combos on the ready, each with a different shade to start out. I don’t think it’s necessary to specify the rod or reel I use, as there are a whole host of them that do just fine. I do, however, like to use a hi-vis line, which allows me to “line watch” and a fluorocarbon leader for abrasion help when needed, although I’ve done just fine without any leader. I’m pretty particular on the knot that I use. I prefer a loop knot which really frees up the flukes’ action. Other folks prefer a wide gap hook with a solid ring, such as is made by Gamakatsu or VMC, for the same purpose.
I’m a bird watcher. I’m always fascinated by their instincts and intelligence when it comes to spotting prey. There’s not a time on the river when I’m not looking for pelicans, seagulls, and terns as they spot minnows from above and the loons and grebes swimming about looking under the surface for the same. If this isn’t your mode of operation out there on the river, I think you’re really handicapping yourself. As soon as I spot these birds gatherings, my boat is on the move. Other than “bird watching”, I am constantly watching for the “chase.” Those smallies can really put on a show chasing minnows to the top of the water. As soon as I spot that, it’s “game over” with my fluke.
You’ll almost always find my boat in around 8 ft depths near weed lines when fishing the fluke. The exception might be when the birds are gathering, or I spot some chasing going on. Normally, I’ll back drift against the current allowing me to work shallow water on one side of the boat and deeper on the other. I’m not sure about you, but for some reason, 8 ft depths seem very near to where minnows. and thus bass hang out. I’ve often said that I’m “not looking for bass”, but rather “I’m looking for minnows”. Now, it’s important to note that you can literally drift miles of weed lines, and you may do okay or you may not. The key isn’t that you are along weed lines in eight feet of water, but rather that you’re looking for open or “bald areas” locations within that type of structure. When you find that combo, you can be almost certain there’s a big smallie hanging there waiting to attack minnows coming out of their “weed” protection.
Recently, with water temperatures in the high 40s, I’ve found some good populations of bass hanging just off some of the steep (45 degrees or so) ledges bordering 20 ft. depths in the river. Keeping the boat up current in these areas has produced some really nice fish while letting the fluke hang about 50 feet behind the boat and just over the ledge while on “Spot-Lock“. They’ll come up and really smack it even though the fluke may only be two foot down in the water column – that really surprised me!
In conclusion, the tactics I use, and the equipment I take out with me have allowed me to “Settle In” on what is effective for me. Yep, it’s all about location. If they ain’t biting here, they’re biting somewhere.