The Angle: Smallmouth Bass: Underrated Fishing Near Portland
By Lucas Holmgren
Often thought of as a Salmon & Steelhead river, the Columbia River has also become one of the top 10 Smallmouth Bass rivers in the world. The Willamette River is also just as productive for those looking to catch bass!
Across the USA and beyond, Smallmouth are a prized sportfish due to their capacity to hammer a lure, fight well for their size and even — to some — taste excellent. Although keeping bass is allowed on both the Columbia and Willamette, I wouldn’t recommend keeping Willamette Bass due to the water quality of the river.
Where to Fish
Smallmouth Bass move around river systems chasing prey and responding to water temperature.
This is a basic run-down of a complex season behavior: Winter is the hardest time to locate Smallmouth Bass — often they are found in deep water and will not move far for bait. In the spring, Smallmouth Bass will start moving into back-channels, marinas and sloughs to find areas to spawn where water is around the mid 50s Farenheit. Fish along docks, looking for submerged wood, pilings and rock banks — you don’t even need a boat! In the Columbia, think of areas like Hood River, The Dalles & even the mouth of the Sandy River.
In the summer, you mostly want to target the main river currents. Look on a map for “points” in the river where land sticks out into the river, especially if they have rocky, gravelly banks. You can drive on either side of the Columbia River and fish along the entrances to marinas or the mainstem. Fall can be excellent as Smallmouth Bass will feed voraciously to stock up on weight before their wintertime slowdown.
Ultimately, do not sit casting in the same place — keep moving.
How to Catch Smallmouth Bass
There are tens of thousands of hours you could spend researching how to catch Smallmouth. However, here are some basic ways to get started.
Go to a sporting goods store and ask them to help you find a “spinning” bass fishing rod. Always bring at least two different types of lures! Ask a store rep for options for “crankbaits,” “grubtail jigs” and “spinnerbaits.” Also, the “earthworm” or “nightcrawler” will not only catch bass, but also Bluegill, Perch, Trout and others!
How to Fish
Once you’re rigged up and have chosen an area (don’t be afraid to try the Portland Waterfront…shhh), simply head out to the bank and start casting. Cast out as far as you can, then vary your retrieve of the lure with fast, slow, occasional “jerks.” Every cast you make should be different.
As someone who has enjoyed catching smallmouth, I feel it is the most highly overlooked fishery in our area. I would encourage you to research more techniques through books, magazines and the internet. You may be surprised at how fun it is to catch Smallmouth Bass in the northern region of Oregon!
To see the author catching Smallmouth Bass on the Columbia River, just search “Columbia River Smallmouth Bass Angler West TV” on Youtube.