Waking up looking out the front window of the Black Bear Lodge over the Columbia river is a great way to get amped for the day of fishing. On the other hand, watching the mountains socked in by rain clouds can put a bit of a damper on your enthusiasm. When days like this come along I remember one of the best quotes from a fishing film called Eastern Rises. “The true definition of a fisherman is that he/she will go fishing no matter what.” This keeps me in the zone of why I’m here, why I travel endless miles over the northwest for just one good fish. Luckily Troy and I have been in weather situations that demanded we wear every stitch of clothing we had with us to keep warm while drifting down the Missouri river on a two day camp/fishing trip. Now, we over-pack for every occasion and, it just so happens, waders are the best rain pant you can wear… We drink our way through a couple pots of coffee between the 3 of us, watching as the sky remains grey without any signs of improvement . With a bit of the caffeine shakes, we layer up, wader up, and fill the boats dry compartments with jackets and extra jackets and a few more just in case.
The drive to the same put-in consists of the normal fishy chatter of what tactics we would be using for this finicky monster of a waterway. The skiff is in the water once again and it looks a little bit more confident today, since it has seen what lies downriver. We share in its confidence. On this day, we decide to fish everything we passed by the day before. Down river left bank we go, fishing tight to the boulder ridden bank and the other angler fishing deep we pick up a few fish. Although they are fun, the “cookie cutters” are not our target. We are hunting for a pig, I had filled Lacey and Troy’s heads with stories of big redbands in this river and I’m really looking forward to seeing one up close. It doesn’t even matter if it’s my fish. I enjoy watching an angler battle a worthy fish almost as much as doing it myself.
Getting on the river earlier gave us some time to stop, hop out of the boat, and do some fishing via foot. We spend a good hour and a half working our way up and down the banks, nymphing pattern after pattern, hoping to see what was turning heads, picking up fish here and there, but still, in the words of Eastern Rises, no Hog Johnson. Then it’s my turn on the sticks, with Troy up front. “It’s time to get serious,” I tell him. Shortly thereafter, out of no remarkably fishy-looking water, I see Troy’s rod bend over and there it is, finally the fish we’ve looking for! Troy explains to us, “This is a good fish,” as we hear the reel start to scream. As I mentioned before, a bit of that steelhead chaos was apparently in full effect. After some acrobatics and nearly seeing backing come out of the tip of the rod, he puts some muscle to her and she’s in the net! This is the moment we’ve been waiting. I pull the boat over and we hop out to get an easier shot where the fish can stay in the water. I can’t quote you exact length, but this healthy hen was easily over 22”. Upon releasing this gem back into the Jurassic from which she came, there were an abundance of high-fives, which I’ve learned as a guide is something you will come to do a whole lot of.
Troy had officially earned his seat on the sticks for the next mile of so until we come into “Dead Man’s Eddy”. This is where the streamer rods come out. This eddy is the biggest I have ever seen, let alone drifted circles in. The size of a legitimate football field with boils that would spew up in a certain central spot every 5 min or so, we spend some time in here, to say the least. Stripping meat from the bank turns out to be the most productive. Lacey is ready for a break, and by that I mean she’s rowing. It feels good to sit down after 7 hrs of standing and casting bigger gear than normal. It seems we’ve circled the dead man a good 20 times when we all decide let’s just watch, listen and really try to soak in what is happening on the water, in the water, and flying in the air.
I will say this adventure was the most difficult fishing, and at the very same time humbling in the sense that we barely scraped the surface of how to effectively fish the Upper Columbia River.
Until next time, my friends, Fish On!