June 14, 2019
By M.D. Johnson
Ah, road trips! Those memory-making adventures that epitomize the cliché, “’Tis not the destination, but the journey that makes the trip worthwhile.”
And while the concept of the road trip across Washington and Oregon is undeniably wonderful, such can be done one better: Simply, add fishing. It’s easy. Drive to “Stop A” … Fish. Drive to “Stop B” … Fish.
And repeat until you’re out of money or the boss is blowing up your phone to see if you’re coming back to work. Depends, you figure, on the fishing.
Mixed Bag on the Long Beach Peninsula
First stop, the Long Beach Peninsula in far southwest Washington. Here, anglers will find themselves hooked on the horns of a dilemma — that is, what to do. Not that there’s too little, but rather that there’s so much.
Largemouth bass will keep freshwater anglers busy, fishing Loomis, Island, Lost and Black lakes. Loomis also supports a fair population of yellow perch and bluegills, while both Loomis and Black lakes receive rainbow trout, courtesy of the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife. The Peninsula is home to dozens of small private ponds as well, many holding the warm-water species, too; however, permission is necessary to fish these.
Anglers who prefer the salt fish from the Oysterville Beach Approach south to Beard’s Hollow. Here, redtail surfperch — a sort of saltwater panfish that fights like a mammoth bluegill and tastes like a crappie, only better — are the primary focus. When open to public access, the Peninsula’s North Jetty is a favorite among those targeting surfperch, black rockfish (sea bass), lingcod and, during late August and early September, tackle-busting silver salmon.
If You Go
Established in 1885, Jack’s Country Store in Ocean Park is a great place to spend an hour or two. Rods, reels, line, bait, lures, knives, crab pots, clam guns and $1.59 jalapeno cheddar hot dogs — everything the travelling angler needs. For more information, call the Long Beach Visitors Bureau at (360) 642-2400.
Lake Washington’s Smallmouth Bass
Leaving the peninsula, take U.S. Highway 101 north to U.S. Highway 12 East to Interstate 5. From there, it’s a couple hours, give or take with Seattle traffic, to the shores of Lake Washington, the freshwater gem of the Westside.
This is smallmouth country. There’s plenty of 1- to 2-pounders, with the occasional fish bumping the needle down to 5 and even 6 pounds. But they don’t come easy. It’s a big lake, and come early summer, scores of boaters whip the water to a froth, particularly on the weekends. The best advice? Be on the water at dawn, and fish hard until spotting the first jet-ski.
A warm-water fisheries biologist for the WDFW and dedicated tournament bass fisherman, Danny Garrett, speaks highly of the big lake, referring to Washington as a “nine out of 10” in terms of bass potential. And it’s not only smallmouth that attract the go-fast boats and crankbait-chuck’n hardcores.
“You have smallmouth in the main lake on the rocky habitat there,” Garrett says, “and largemouth in the bays.”
Not a bass fanatic? Lake Washington supports incredible numbers of yellow perch, as well as black crappie and huge rock bass.
If You Go
Per Garrett, Lake Washington bass fishermen want to make sure they pack plenty of Snub worms from Sniper Lures or similar finesse plastics in brown, white or crawdad colors. Drop-shotting is his go-go strategy, but crankbaits and early morning jerkbaits work well, too.
For more information, contact the WDFW Region 4 office at (425) 775-1311.
Walleyes at Potholes Reservoir
Next, it’s up and over the Cascades via Interstate 90 and Snoqualmie Pass into Grant County and onto Washington’s famed Potholes Reservoir. Like Lake Washington, Potholes is a popular recreational boating destination for folks from both sides of the mountains. Translation? Summer fishing is best on Potholes early and late before both the human activity and the temperatures rise.
When anglers speak of Potholes, they’re more often than not talking walleyes. ‘Eyes can be caught year ‘round, including through the ice; however, it’s the warm-weather months of May through August that truly sees an uptick in the walleye-fishing success rates. Strategies for walleyes vary from month to month and angler to angler. Trolling crankbaits is a favorite, as is jigging with leadhead-twistertail combinations, spoons or blade baits like Reef Runner Cicadas or the Heddon Sonar. Working ‘crawler harnesses behind bottom walkers along contour breaks and creek channels is another go-to rigging among Potholes’ walleye crowd.
Largemouth and smallmouth bass are present in excellent numbers, too, as are stocked rainbow trout, black crappie, big bluegill, channel catfish and yellow perch.
If You Go
In the mood for lodging less rustic? The Meseberg Family has owned and operated MarDon Resort on the lake’s southern shore for generations now. Anglers would do well to stop in, peruse their selection of hot lake-specific hardware, and ask a pointed question or two about what’s happening.
For more information, contactMarDon Resort at 509-346-2651.
Yakima River Rainbow Trout
A little backtracking and a jump onto I-90 brings travelers to the Yakima River and the sleepy little town of Cle Elum. As with Lake Washington and her smallmouths, Potholes and its summer ‘eyes, the upper reaches of the Yakima are, perhaps, best known for providing some of the finest trout fishing to be had in the West.
These are rainbows in the majority here, with just a light sprinkling of cutthroats, both growing fat on an abundance of salmon smolts, minnows, crawdads, leeches and multitudinous species of aquatic and terrestrial insects. Ten- to 18-inch ‘bows are the average; however, fish topping the 20-inch mark are spoken of each season. Anglers should note this blue-ribbon fishery exists in large part due to strict regulations, which include an exclusive catch-and-release policy (no bait-no barbs-no kill) from the Roza Diversion Dam, upriver some 75 miles to the dam at Lake Easton. Those wanting to partake, however, have the 10 miles of river above Easton to fill a creel; brook trout only, please.
If You Go
“Match the hatch,” albeit a cliché, is nonetheless excellent advice for those targeting the Yak’s ‘bows. The ultimate fly box will contain a wide variety of patterns, ranging from size 20 and smaller midges to true-to-life streamers and baitfish imitators. For more information, call Red’s Flyshop at (509) 933-2300.
Mixed Bag at Brownlee Reservoir
This leg of our trip is going to be “hike” of some 325 miles; however, the drive will be more than worth it. An impoundment of the Snake River, Brownlee Reservoir is shared by Oregon and Idaho, and offers some of the most diverse, multispecies fishing in the Pacific Northwest.
It’s tough to say what brings most anglers to Brownlee. Some say it’s the smallmouths, and if that’s the case, then May is the time to be on the water. Gravel points, rocky outcroppings, and submerged hard structure abound. Here, it’s a matter of interpreting the Lowrance screen and making the presentation — be it leadhead/grub, crankbait, drop-shot rig, or, at first light, a topwater plug.
There’s largemouths, too; however, Brownlee’s not exclusively green fish. Crappies, both blacks and whites, are there in abundance. Minnows are a no-no, but “specks” can be taken on ultralight marabou or tube-style jigs tipped with Berkley’s Crappie Nibbles. A slip bobber, finished with a 1/16- or 1/32-ounce jig/Nibble combo, is an excellent way to fool suspended specks.
If You Go
Springtime turkey hunters can find birds in the drainages above Brownlee, making for an itinerary that reads something like this: gobblers at daybreak, crappies mid-morning, and channel ‘cats at dusk. Now that’s an agenda. For more information, contact the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife at (503) 947-6000 or go online to dfw.state.or.us.
Trout/Bass/Salmon at Wickiup/Crane Prairie
Another long afternoon behind the wheel, but this 350-mile jaunt takes anglers through amazing scenery, including portions of the Malheur, Umatilla and Ochoco national forests before arriving on the shores of Wickiup and Crane Prairie reservoirs, themselves nestled in the Deschutes National Forest.
Crane Prairie encompasses roughly 3,500 acres at full pool. Trout, be they rainbow or brookies, are a draw, as are landlocked silvers (kokanee); however, much of Crane’s popularity in recent years has been an ever-increasing stock of bruiser largemouth bass. Introduced illegally around 1980, largemouths have thrived in Crane Prairie, thanks to ample nutrition in the form of trout fingerlings, small panfish, stickleback minnows and tui chub.
To the south of Crane, Wickiup’s reputation has been built on kokanee salmon and big brown trout, the latter providing an exciting night fishery for those who prefer such. However, here too, bass anglers find plenty of largemouths. It’s Zara Spooks, buzzbaits and ripped spinnerbaits at dawn, followed by down-low cranks and soft-plastics along the river channels mid-morning.
If You Go
A short 9 miles to the south and west of Wickiup lies 3,000-acre Davis Lake, a shallow weedy body of quick-warming water that some suggest might be the best largemouth fishery east of the Cascades. A tangent road trip, perhaps? For more information, contact Fly and Field Outfitters at (866) 800-2812.
Final Stop: Umpqua River’s Mixed Bag
One-hundred-fifty miles southwest of Wickiup, the motoring portion of the road trip comes to a close. The fishing, however, is just beginning. Here, and slightly less than 10 miles to the north and west of Roseburg, the decision-making begins: the North Umpqua River, and spring Chinooks, with the possibility of summer steelhead? Or the South Umpqua River and what some consider to be the best smallmouth bass fishing on the planet?
Spring kings enter the Umpqua system via Winchester Bay in March, with fishing getting better and farther into the system throughout April. Come May, kings have found cooler waters of the North Umpqua below the town of Winchester. In June, the fish, along with the fishermen, migrate upstream from Winchester Dam. Now, too, summer steelhead provide an alternative to kings, with this fishery lasting throughout June and into July.
As for smallmouths, both the mainstem Umpqua, as well as the South Fork are capable of handing out 100-fish days. Many of those 100 will be small — say, 10 to 14 inches long — but 20-inchers do exist, with several caught each season. And May is prime time for sight-fishing, thanks in part to the clear water. Lure of choice? Anything in the box.
If You Go
Situated on the banks of the mainstem Umpqua near Elkton, the 2,500-acre Big K Ranch provides almost exclusive access to 18 miles of the river that holds steelhead, Chinooks, silvers, smallmouths, sturgeon and shad. If it can be caught, the knowledgeable guides at the Big K can show you how. For more information, call (541) 584-2295 or contact the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife at (541) 826-8774.