Thursday, June 30, 2011

Home Sweet Home

Steamboat Inn

Today I finally began my summer steelhead season on my home river, the North Umpqua.  It was so nice being back after a six week departure.  I'll still be doing smallmouth bass trips on the mainstem Umpqua and summer steelhead and trout trips on the upper McKenzie and upper Willamette, but its so nice to be back on the North Umpqua.  After the season ended late last October I didn't think summer would ever return.  We had a great day but didn't raise any fish.  The river is still high with snow melt and runoff, but thats good for the fish and the outlook for the rest of the summer is excellent.

The folks at Steamboat Inn ( are interested in hearing from any of my guests who stay at the Inn.  They are considering making a change to the way they do dinners at the inn.  Every summer it seems just as the sun has left the canyon and the river falls completely into shade, its time to run the guests back to the inn for their 8:00 p.m. dinner.  We always seem to miss that magic last hour of daylight when so many grabs occur.  We've always kind of snivled about having to leave at such a great time to be on the water.  So the great folks at the Inn are trying to figure out a way to serve dinner to the guests who want to eat earlier than 8:00 p.m. as well as be able to let us guides stay out later with the guests who want to swing flies and twitch skaters when the bats are flitin' around.  So let them know your thoughts.  Its a great opportunity to make the Inn an even more special place for everyone. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Big Smallmouth

Ron Munshow from Pennsylvania came to the Big K today to catch smallmouth with me, and did he and his wife, Deborah catch smallmouth.  The above pictured smallie is the largest one to date for my boat.
A short time later, Ron landed this beast too! 

Deborah caught several nice fish as well and between the two of then they landed well over a hundred bass.  Not a bad day on the water! 

I didn't see any schools of Salmon or Steelhead smolts today trying to migrate out, but several of their bass did caugh up partially digested smolts. Perhaps the melay is slowing down a bit.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

2011 model years are in!

Stan Rocco from Salem with one of two today.

The past couple of days have seen consistent fishing for my clients on the McKenzie and upper Willamette.  Work continues on the dam at Dexter making water flows fluctuate wildly which is not helping out, but if you hit it when the flows have been allowed to stabilize so the fish can settle in a bit, they will get grabby.  The other thing I've noted so far this year is the above average sizes of fish we're finding.  Instead of the typical "cookie cutter" six to eight pound fish (like the one above) several of our recent fish have been large, like 10, 12 pound large. 

Tommorow I'm back on the Umpqua at the Big K for smallmouth, then.... 
my summer season on the North Umpqua starts Thursday and I can't wait!  Stay tuned!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Any Questions?

Umpqua Smallmouth with a salmon smolt stuck in its throat.
(note the "match the hatch" soft-plastic we use to catch these bass)

I love fishing for smallmouth bass.  They're a blast!  The eat flies readily.  They pull hard, jump, make decent runs and you can catch 'um by the hundreds.  They're a great way to introduce folks (especially young'uns) to fishin'.  BUT.....

I've always wondered, as have many others, how hard they are on our native stocks of salmon and steelhead.  Smallmouth bass are NOT native to our Oregon waters.  They were brought here from eastern waters by others who loved fishing for them back home.   As for how they got into the Umpqua, the story goes like this;  There was a fella who owned a logging mill in the Roseburg area.  The mill was on the banks of the Umpqua.  As most mills did back then, this one had a large log pond on it.  The owner, having previously resided in the Ozarks where smallmouth bass were abundant, loved the little olive-green fish.  He had a batch of smallmouth bass fry shipped out west where he planted them in his log pond on the banks of the Umpqua river.  Smallmouth bass like moving water.  They like ledges and other "rock" type structure.  They're VERY hardy and TOUGH!  Back to the log pond.  A big winter storm blew in, blew out the river until the rising river breached the dike containing the log pond and released the mill owner's smallmouth bass into the Umpqua.  

For several years no one seen or heard from the bass.  Then one summer day, some kids fishing downstream from the mill caught a mess of them and the rest is history.  By the 1980's enough bass had populated the river to the point that word began to spread about the great smallmouth bass fishing in the mainstem Umpqua.  

Several years ago I was running a winter steelhead trip in brutally cold water on the North Umpqua.  The water temps that day were in the mid-30's.  Air temps were in the teens.  It was COLD!  The water was low and clear and we were pulling plugs near the gravel bin below the Santos Ranch area of the river.  I watched as a Heron stalked along the south bank below a small feeder stream.  He paused for a moment and then plunged his spear-like beak into the icy water.  A moment later he came up with a much larger sized fish than you usually see Heron come up with.  A moment later the Heron released this fish on the gravel bar along the bank.  The fish didn't hardly move when it landed on the gravel.  I was curious about what kind of fish it was.  When we finished the run, I rowed my driftboat back up to the gravel bar and got out of the boat.  I was surprised to find a 12" long, nearly frozen smallmouth bass.  I was not happy to find a smallmouth that far up in the North Umpqua.  I'm still not sure if the bass had been in the North Umpqua all its life, or if it had washed down the feeder creek from some farm pond.  I still don't no the answer.  I just know at least one smallmouth bass was living in my beloved North Umpqua.  

During a "typical" year the smallmouth bass are not generally very active during the out-migration of salmon and steelhead smolts.  They begin to get active as the pike-minnow fry begin moving about which has worked out very nicely in helping keep their voracious, salmon-steelhead smolt eating numbers in check.  

This year, and last for that matter have NOT been typical years.  The high, cold flows we've had the past couple of springs have kept the smolts in the river longer and given the bass more of an opportunity to get after them.  Over the past week or two, every day I've watched hundreds, if not thousands of salmon and steelhead smolts in fairly large schools getting attacked by marauding smallmouth.  Nearly every smallmouth we catch is regurgitating several smolts as we bring them to the boat.  Even bass that are guarding beds are puking up smolts.  One gravel bar we were on the other day had dozens of morts (dead smolts) laying among the beds.  

Smallmouth bass that was found guarding a bed two days ago.

Nuther one.

So with all that being said, what should be done, if anything about this?  I sure don't have the answers.  Like I said at the outset, I love fishing for smallmouth.  I really love fishing for salmon and steelhead though and if the bass were removed (somehow?) I'd miss them for sure.  I'd also hate to see the pikeminnow numbers come back to what they used to be.  I've read a few studies and articles about bass predation on salmonids.  One that comes to mind was a small study conducted on the Willamette near Corvallis during a bass tournament where stomach examinations of several hundred bass caught during the tournament were conducted.  As I recall only one or two bass stomach contents contained evidence of salmonids being consumed.  The author of that article used this "study" as a way to make the argument that bass, smallmouth in particular don't play a role in salmon and steelhead populations in the Northwest. 

I beg to differ with that position.  They clearly do and what, if anything that should be done about that I guess is up to debate.  I'd love to get your thoughts and comments on it.