By Stan Fagerstrom
Product Review Editor
April 12, 2011
You’ve heard it a jillion times---the only thing that doesn’t change is change itself.
Does that bit of wisdom apply where fishing is concerned? You better dang well believe it! And it applies every bit as much as to where fish are to be found as it does to how they can be caught.
Except for the first 12 years I spent as a kid on the prairies of North Dakota, most of my life has been lived close to the Columbia River where it divides the states of Washington and Oregon. I learned almost as soon as I got there that the backwaters of the big river provided a home for largemouth bass as well as panfish.
I cut my bass fishing teeth on these backwater bass. At that time---in the mid-1930s---these largemouth were just a fringe benefit where Columbia River fishing was concerned. I hung my hat in that part of the world for more than half a century. Except for those backwater bass I never associated the Columbia with anything other than salmon, steelhead and the other species that come in from the Pacific Ocean on their annual spawning migrations.
Does that situation still exist? No way, baby! And talk about change! Today the Columbia River produces some of the best smallmouth bass fishing to be found in the West and also is home to some of the largest walleye being caught anywhere in the country.
A half century ago you’d not have heard of or seen either of these species on lower stretches of the Columbia. Be assured that’s not how it is now. I could introduce you to friends who manage to catch more than a 1,000 smallmouth a year from the Columbia.
Think that bit about big walleye being caught out there in the Pacific Northwest is nonsense? Check the record books and you’ll find the current Washington State size record for walleye is 19-pounds, 3-ounces. The record in Oregon stands at 19-pounds, 15.3-ounces. Both of those whoppers came out of the Columbia River. How do those size records compare to those in your home state?
Scads of walleye and bass anglers love having the opportunity to fish the Columbia for these fish. Their enthusiasm is not always shared by fishery officials doing their best to protect and preserve what’s left of the diminishing runs of the migratory species.
But any way you slice it, right now the opportunity to catch both walleyes and smallmouth are there big time. My purpose in these next few columns isn’t to debate the affect these relative newcomers to the Pacific Northwest angling scene have had or haven’t had on the Columbia. My objective is to detail how a darn good friend goes about putting the big river’s smallmouth in his boat.
The guy I’m talking about is Bruce Holt. Bruce lives in the southwestern Washington community of Kalama. When he’s not in his home town or running around the country someplace he’s working in the town of Woodland and that community is also right on the Columbia about 10 miles upriver. Both Kalama and Woodland are less than 50 miles downriver from Portland, Oregon.
Bruce Holt will undoubtedly be a familiar name to some readers. Well it might be. Bruce has been front and center on the angling scene for decades. He started working in a sporting goods store right out of college and also writing fishing stories for several outdoor publications.
Those early jobs led to an opportunity to join Gary Loomis as Gary brought some of the country’s best known fishing rods onto the angling scene. When Gary eventually sold his rod business to Shimano, Bruce was selected to head up Shimano’s Woodland rod building operation. He did this for a number of years.
Bruce is well known to bass anglers around the country. He has taken an active role in the operation of the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame. He is currently one of the vice presidents of that organization.
Holt stepped down from the top job at G.Loomis Rods last year. He’s still working for Shimano’s G.Loomis rod operation at Woodland, Washington but today he’s doing so as a specialist in the company’s media and public relations department.
That doesn’t surprise me because for years Bruce has been taking important G.Loomis visitors fishing on the Columbia River. More often than not those trips he’s hosted have been for smallmouth bass.
I’ve provided this bit of background on my pal Bruce because it sets the stage for what’s to follow. Some of the questions that come my regularly are in regard to Columbia River smallmouth angling. I’ve asked Holt to share his views in those regards.
Nobody is better qualified to provide the answers newcomers to the big river’s smallmouth fishing are seeking. While the Columbia River is his home water, in recent decades he has been a widely travelled angler who has fished darn near all over the world at one time or another.
I selected the title I did for these columns about the Columbia with good reason. Bruce, you see, told me something up front I’ve heard before from other Columbia smallmouth anglers. It’s that Yamamoto Senkos are among his favorite lures in his search for the big river’s bass.
And that’s just for starters. Stay tuned because in my next column I’ll detail some of Holt’s other thoughts about the Columbia. They will include pinpointing the relatively brief time span when you’ll have a good chance of taking fish in the 5 and 6-pound bracket---maybe even a tad larger.
Like I said in the beginning, things change. Sometimes you and I might not like it, but we darn well better prepare for it because sooner later it’s going to happen. The Columbia River has seen more than its share of these changes. I’m going to make dealing with these changes easier for you if your travels take you out to fish on that big and important waterway.
When you do head out, don’t forget to pack your Senkos. Those Columbia River salmon probably won’t mess with ‘em, but the smallmouth sure as heck will!-part two-