Tag Archives: Jeff Holmes

Spring’s Other Hunt

With millions of acres burned around the Northwest in 2015 and the past few years, this season could provide a bumper crop of morel mushrooms.
By Jeff Holmes

Spring comes more quickly to Southcentral and Southeast Washington than to the rest  of the Inland Northwest, and most of the Northwest for that matter. Longer days, more sunshine and higher nighttime temperatures warm the earth and water and awaken the land. Sporting opportunities compound as the weeks progress through April and further into spring, creating a welcome conflict: What to do?
As April begins, water temps awaken species like walleye and bass; catfish and sturgeon respond too. On trout lakes the longer days and warmer water mean hatches of increasing intensity and correspondingly intense feeding behavior. As the month moves along, eyes turn to dam counts as upriver-bound spring Chinook move through the Columbia Gorge and eventually into four distinct zones on the lower Snake: Ice Harbor, Little Goose, Lower Granite and Clarkston.
On the 15th, thousands also take to the hills for the general turkey hunting opener, where they might stumble across some early morel mushrooms emerging amid a chorus of gobblers, pileated woodpeckers, ravens and wild canids. As the month moves toward its final week, the symphony of opportunity reaches a near crescendo. Spring Chinook fever afflicts an army of anglers everywhere there is a legitimate retention opportunity. Meanwhile bass and trout fishing get even better, crappie move shallow, and turkeys strut near almost every fishery. Millions and millions of dollars worth of morels erupt on timbered and burned-forested hillsides throughout the region’s mountains. The final week of the month is one of my favorite times of year. While I don’t often take part in the trout opener anymore, it once was the biggest event on my angling calendar, and it’s surely the single biggest event in all of Northwest angling. Hundreds of thousands of kids catch trout, many for the first time, on the fourth weekend of April: It’s a big deal!
There are too many options to engage in everything, and it’s also easy to spread one’s focus too thin; it’s my specialty, in fact. Nonetheless, I just can’t be the guy who locks in on one way to enjoy the outdoors when so many special things are happening. My burning passion during the last week  of April will be to catch and eat spring Chinook, I know that going in, so I’ll make sure to already have a few from the Lower Columbia and Willamette in the freezer. That’ll help clear the way for me to do some cool stuff this late April into early May without getting the shakes from springer withdrawal. Those activities will include some trout fishing with a friend near Cheney and float trips down the Walla Walla and Yakima Rivers for smallmouth bass and channel catfish, but what I’m most looking forward to is combing the woods for delicious and valuable morel mushrooms.

Before you head afield, be sure to check how many mushrooms you can gather. The limit varies by jurisdiction, so call local national forest, state forest or other government offices to find out. (JEFF HOLMES)

Before you head afield, be sure to check how many mushrooms you can gather. The limit varies by jurisdiction, so call local national forest, state forest or other government offices to find out. (JEFF HOLMES)

WITHOUT A DOUBT, this is an underappreciated activity, although plenty of people pick for themselves, like me, or commercially. Still, I’m amazed  at how little competition I find in the Blue Mountains for morels, and I’m pleasantly surprised when I enjoy picking more every year. Morels can be found just about everywhere there are mountains east of the Cascade Crest. The fire-ravaged landscapes from the last couple years should produce great picking, as should older burns. Use websites such as inciweb.nwcg.gov and geomac.gov to view  past fire perimeters. Generally, morels become steadily less abundant as years pass after the couple/few-year boom right after a fire. I’ve enjoyed very good picking in unburned landscapes too. Scouting for mushrooms is the key until you find good numbers that are in good shape. They come on later at higher elevations, so starting low and working high to find them is a preferred technique for pickers.
Fishing and hunting are my passions, but so is morel picking these days. Walking out of the woods with several pounds makes me very happy. I dry morels, freeze morels, fry them fresh, make soup, and sautee and blend them with butter for freezer storage as “morel butter.” This substance is dangerous because it’s been known to make me sick from overconsumption. Mashed potatoes made with morel butter can’t be beat, nor can morel butter in air-popped popcorn or on rice. Along with being some of the  best eats on the landscape, morels inspire the act of slowly searching the Earth at a slow, micro level. It lends a different perspective and is a great opportunity to bring along field guides for wildflowers and other plants. If you haven’t picked before, my story may illustrate how easy it is to start.

MOST OF MY life I fished trout hardcore every spring, and I spent little time in the woods in April and May. That changed when I took up turkey hunting years ago, and while chasing gobblers I found my first few morel mushrooms on Mica Peak near Spokane and in Ferry County north of Republic. They were delicious, and I made a mental note to one day go on a dedicated morel hunt. Well, several Aprils ago during the peak of springer fishing on the Snake, two friends and I drove to Little Goose Dam towing my 15-foot boat despite a less-than-nice forecast. As we neared the river, paralleling it near Texas Rapids, we watched the wind pick up river water  and spiral it in great water spouts, high in the air. For that to happen it has to be blowing over 40 miles an hour, so we took it as an omen to look for a back-up option. There’s probably not a better place to see turkeys in Southeast Washington than in the open country near the Tucannon River and in the  foothills of the Blue Mountains to the south, but we didn’t have shotguns or calls with us and were towing a boat.
Nowhere fun to fish exists when it’s blowing 40 and gusting higher, but the woods are always fun, and morels sprung to mind. It had been several years since the School House and Columbia Complex fires of the mid-2000s charred many tens of thousands of acres of timber and timbered foothills on and above the Tucannon. Morel spores are of course activated by the fire cycle, and I’d heard rumors of good picking somewhere in the vastness of one of the Blues’ largest watersheds, but where to start? A boat would be a hindrance to our search,  so we grabbed all of the beer and food out of it, along with two backpacks and some plastic bags, and we left it in Starbuck, at Darver Tackle.
Giant salmonflies exploded on my windshield as we drove through the Tucannon River farmland into the green, flowering foothills and pines of the Wooten Wildlife Area, home to the Tucannon Lakes. This little collection of stocked impoundments was created as mitigation for the loss of sporting opportunity from the damming of the nearby Snake and offers fair to excellent fishing for rainbow trout, including some nice holdovers. The lakes are designed to be fished from shore, and there’s ample room and an ideal setting for kids or people with mobility issues. We drove past the many dispersed campsites, near the lakes and almost hit a whitetail doe eating regenerating browse from the fires. Unsure where to start looking,  we started low on the valley floor near some old-growth cottonwoods mixed with firs. I’d heard morels grow near cottonwoods, and I’ve since found that to be true sometimes, but not this time. The ground seemed dry, and the mushrooms we saw were dried out and definitely not morels. So we jumped in the rig and gained elevation and made a few more forays into the woods on foot, slowly scanning the forest floor, checking different forest types and slopes of southern and northern exposure, and in between.
We climbed still higher into the mountains with melting snow in sight several hundred feet of elevation above us. My friends and I decided to do a long, boom-or-bust hike, so we loaded all our beer, food and water into backpacks and set off uphill on a partially burned hillside with some big pines and firs. I spotted one right away, and a friend spotted one, and another friend spotted one. We kept finding singles as we worked our way up and  along a hillside, and then my addiction  started. Inside of a hole from a burned-out root ball was a cluster of 11 morels! Soon we were on our hands and knees filling up bags with the precious little honeycomb-capped beauties; they were everywhere! Morels are worth a lot of money, sometimes as much as $30 to $50 a pound, much more for dried mushrooms. We grew drunk on the wealth this beautiful hillside was providing and ran smack into a cow moose with two large calves. Moose are relative newcomers to the Blues, but they are expanding their numbers rapidly. This big cow bristled her mane at us, and we detoured well around her with dogs on leashes.
I’d end up seeing the cow in almost exactly the same spot for four more years, with seven different calves! One of those sightings was disturbingly close and frightening, my closest call with a big herbivore. I had my English setters at heel because there were morels everywhere in the moss under some degenerating firs. I was on hands and knees and had stopped paying attention to my surroundings until my female dog growled low. The hair went up on my neck. I looked up and saw that big cow inside of 50 feet with her neck flat and ears pinned, staring at me. I firmly whispered, “Heel!” with urgency my dogs felt, and we backed out of there for a long time.

Author Jeff Holmes has many uses for morels – drying or freezing for later use, frying them fresh, in soup, and sauteing and blending them with butter to make “morel butter.” (JEFF HOLMES)

Author Jeff Holmes has many uses for morels – drying or freezing for later use, frying them fresh, in soup, and sauteing and blending them with butter to make “morel butter.” (JEFF HOLMES)

You likely won’t have moose trouble, but carrying bear spray is wise, especially if you bring dogs that could bring a rampaging critter back your way. Don’t forget that dogs also often snap off morels you could have picked. Mine are trained to stay somewhat calmly at heel when commanded. I let them run most of the time and share IPA drinks with my female dog, Alice.

THE BIGGEST SAFETY concern, other than getting drunk enough in the woods to drink beer with a dog, is obviously relative to mushroom identification. Definitely eat mushrooms at your own risk, and do your research first! Thankfully the morel is very distinctive with its honeycombed cap, both blonde and brown phases. Its mildly poisonous cousin, the false morel, looks quite a bit different and could really only be confused with  an inky, expired morel rather than anything that should be picked and eaten. Getting a book and doing some Internet research is advisable but not always necessary. Here’s a handful of lessons that have served me, and I recommend them to anyone just getting started morel picking:

  • Don’t look for a long time in one place if you’re not finding morels;
  • Start lower in elevation and work your way up to where they are fresh and to your liking;
  • Pay attention to where you’re finding them and try to replicate your success – location matters;
  • Look for places with filtered light and shade, like forest edges;
  • When you find one morel, stop and look around it in widening circles –always assume there are more;
  • Big grand firs very often hide morels in their shade;
  • Leave the really decomposed ones behind to spread spores, and place the ones you keep in a mesh bag to distribute spores as you walk and pick;
  • Take good care of your mushrooms and get them home and sort into classes by freshness and size. I take many of the oldest morels I pick and combine them with primo fresh morels to make morel butter. The pretty morels meet a variety of culinary fates. NS
A pair of morel mushrooms grow beneath a burned log in the northern Cascades. The fungi are found throughout the Northwest, and though mainly associated with recent wildfires, can pop up elsewhere. True morels are honeycombed on the outside, hollow inside. (PFLY, FLICKR)

A pair of morel mushrooms grow beneath a burned log in the northern Cascades. The fungi are found throughout the Northwest, and though mainly associated with recent wildfires, can pop up elsewhere. True morels are honeycombed on the outside, hollow inside. (PFLY, FLICKR)

Now Serving Fish ’N Chips

Washington state’s bountiful ocean coast offers a mix of tasty bottomfish in spring.
By Jeff Holmes

Fine fixin’s for fish and chips – saltwater anglers and Capt. Kerry Allen heft a mix of black rockfish and lingcod hooked off the Evergreen State’s rockier northern coast. (DAIWA PHOTO CONTEST)

Fine fixin’s for fish and chips – saltwater anglers and Capt. Kerry Allen heft a mix of black rockfish and lingcod hooked off the Evergreen State’s rockier northern coast. (DAIWA PHOTO CONTEST)

Next week when a good friend and his lovely, player-hater wife co-celebrate their birthdays with a big dance party in their new shop, I’m frying, grilling and baking 30 pounds of  halibut, lingcod and rockfish left over from an especially productive 2015 season. Without trying, I’ll probably make a lot of friends at the party while clearing freezer room for 2016’s ocean bounty. Like most of you, I love eating white-fleshed ocean fish, and I could make you a long Bubba-Gump list of dishes. For modest prices often cheaper than sled or drift boat seats, bottomfish charters offer safe and fun fishing yielding big bags of snow-white fillets. For us Northwesterners, the Pacific can be a U-pick fish market where the freshest fish and greatest thrills and memories can be had. Charter prices are often eclipsed by the value of fish taken home when considering retail prices. Pike Place Market brings up the distant rear for quality of Northwest seafood experiences, and charter fishing with fish and chips on the brain is easily on the list of quintessential, must-do Northwest outdoor experiences.
April marks the beginning of bottomfishing opportunities in Washington with the opening of deep-water lingcod fishing for the month’s last two weeks. Typically the only limiting factor to catching big lings out of Washington ports during April is weather, and not too many operators bother. But some do, and private boats also get in on the action closer to shore by fishing jetties and nearshore reefs that have repopulated with bottomfish through the winter months. A friend of mine and his buddies and family make an annual trek to Neah Bay in April to fish the protected waters all the way out to Tatoosh Island, and they do very well fishing over reefs that have seen no pressure in six months. April may not be prime-time ocean fishing season yet, but it is a clear wake-up call with some advantages and excellent payoffs in fillets.

The eagerly awaited halibut season won’t open off the coast until next month, but it should yield good catches, as this nice haul from an All Rivers and Saltwater Charters’ express boat exemplifies.(ALLRIVERSGUIDESERVICE.COM)

The eagerly awaited halibut season won’t open off the coast until next month, but it should yield good catches, as this nice haul from an All Rivers and Saltwater Charters’ express boat exemplifies.(ALLRIVERSGUIDESERVICE.COM)

FROM ILWACO AT the mouth of the Columbia River, north to Neah Bay and beautiful Tatoosh Island, Washington’s coastline offers four ocean ports from which to pursue bottomfish. Early-season ocean angling often goes overlooked, what with spring Chinook mania, trout season, and the reawakening of warmwater fish. A sometimes cantankerous ocean also limits popularity, but getting ahead of the game for early bottomfish means scores of clean, firm fillets. Much of my annual bounty every year comes from British Columbia’s Vancouver Island, but a significant portion comes off the coasts of Washington, sometimes Oregon. One could easily collect all the fish he or she might ever want or need without visiting our friends to the north, and this is especially true of black rockfish and lingcod. Stocks of both tasty species are robust in both Northwest states, especially so in Washington. There, fishery managers allow a daily limit of 10 black rockfish and two lingcod. The poundage adds up fast after a few trips, and whacking limits of these tasty fish on light gear is a lot of fun and sometimes results in incidental catches of salmon and halibut, retention opportunities for which typically commence in May.
I make a point to fish the early season every year, even if it means the loss of a spring Chinook or morel mushroom weekend. Ilwaco, Westport, La Push and Neah Bay offer excellent fishing, and I have fished them all and I  recommend them all. My usual choice is Westport because of the ease of getting there and because I really like All Rivers and Saltwater Charters’ guiding program. But when I fish in April, it’s usually for big lingcod, and always with one of the skippers who licks his chops for a chance at big deepwater lings: Mike Jamboretz of Jambo’s Sportfishing. His immaculate 37-foot boat, the Malia Kai, is good in big water, making him a great bet for early in the year when the ocean is still sometimes sporty. The Washington  Department of Fish and Wildlife allows Jamboretz and other early-season enthusiasts the last two weekends of April and a little over a week in May to chase lings in waters deeper than 20 fathoms (120 feet). He is an extremely good lingcod skipper, with high-end specialized tackle and the most advanced bank of electronics I’ve seen in a sport boat. He’s a bottomfishing specialist with a two-year-plus wait to fish halibut during Washington’s short season. Similarly, his deepwater lingcod trips fill quickly, but it’s definitely worth calling him. After almost three years of waiting, I got out for halibut last year with him, followed by a stop at the deepwater ling reefs, which are fair game later in May on halibut days. I went home with a nice halibut and two lings over 20. Every time I’ve booked with him in April for lings, we’ve laid out a very nice class of fish on the deck by day’s end, along  with limits of extra-tasty yellowtail  rockfish, a species that suspends in deep water near the ling haunts. Neah Bay is worth the trip, and  services are available at Big Salmon Resort.

Capt. Mark Coleman calls new sonar that shows bottom composition “a real game changer, because when locating good bottomfishing zones offshore from Westport, your spot is as much about what the bottom is made of as it is finding a significant rocky feature.” For more on that, see Randy Well’s South Coast column elsewhere this issue. (ALLRIVERSGUIDESERCapt. Mark Coleman calls new sonar that shows bottom composition “a real game changer, because when locating good bottomfishing zones offshore from Westport, your spot is as much about what the bottom is made of as it is finding a significant rocky feature.” For more on that, see Randy Well’s South Coast column elsewhere this issue. (ALLRIVERSGUIDESERVICE.COM)ICE.COM)

Capt. Mark Coleman calls new sonar that shows bottom composition “a real game changer, because when locating good bottomfishing zones offshore from Westport, your spot is as much about what the bottom is made of as it is finding a significant rocky feature.” (ALLRIVERSGUIDESERVICE.COM)

Westport, which is the most popular port on Washington coast, has the most operators and the  widest range of services. Westport’s boat basin is home to several excellent operations such as Deep Sea Charters, which has been running trips here for nearly six and a half decades, Westport Charters, which operates a fleet of eight boats from 40 to 55 feet in length, Ocean Sportfishing Charters, home of the Ranger and Capt. Don Davenport, and Capt. Dave McGowan of the Ms. Magoo. Offshore Northwest and Capt. Kerry Allen, and Tailwalker Charters  and Capt. Patrick Walker are here as well for part of the season, and there are many other options, so see charterwestport.com for more. And while you’re there, check out the annual fishing derbies, which began with lingcod in mid-March and pay out thousands of dollars in prizes for big salmon, halibut and tuna.

MY FAVORITE WAY to fish on the ocean is in fast boats with sporty gear. Lots of awesome Westport skippers will take you to the action and show you an amazing day of fishing and service in some badass boats. My personal choice for speed, versatility, kindness and dry sense of humor is All Rivers and Saltwater Charters’ Mark Coleman and his four express tuna boats.
“Our bottomfishing trip is especially cool because of our custom-built Defiance boats and the fact that we handle just six anglers,” says Coleman. “Once aboard we  travel very quickly to the best fishing zones and get right to fishing.”
Coleman and his skippers are able to rocket around, seeking out the best bite possible on the best class of fish, which often results in an extra-large class of black rockfish and very nice lings.
“We keep an eye on the inshore halibut season too,” says Coleman. “It’s open seven days a week until the quota is met, and we do catch a few each spring while targeting lings and rockfish.”
Although contrary to tradition, Coleman takes an ultralight approach with his gear. Because of the versatility of only fishing six anglers and being able to move fast from spot to spot, his clients can take the extra time to land the occasional nearshore halibut or very large lingcod or salmon on sporty gear.
“We recommend using the lightest tackle you can get away with to feel every bite and have the most fun at the rail,” says Coleman. “For us that usually means 7-foot Okuma spinning rods with Okuma RTX reels loaded with 50-pound TUF-Line braid. From the mainline we attach a 5-foot double-dropper-loop leader, loop on a couple shrimp flies, and a little lead. We have clients let out slowly to convince the rockfish to suspend higher and higher off the bottom and eventually under the boat for wide-open action. Clients tend to love this, and so do I.”
I’m a big fan of top-rated Raymarine electronics and learned about them by fishing with Coleman. Sitting in his pilothouse and reading the displays is almost like watching video of the bottom, even running at 30 knots.
“We rely exclusively on FLIR’s Raymarine electronics to guide us below the water line each day. Our team found that the new CHIRP sonar with DownVision by Raymarine not only improved our vision below the water, but now shows us bottom composition as well. That’s been a real game changer, because when locating good bottomfishing zones offshore from Westport, your spot is as much about what the bottom is made of as it is finding a significant rocky feature.”
All of the operators in Westport have excellent electronics and will get you on bottomfish, and there are lots of cool boats of varying designs. No matter what reputable operator you fish with, I highly recommend a trip to Westport – and Neah Bay, La Push and Ilwaco. All ports offer their own charm and advantages. Look to local chambers of commerce (westportgrayland-chamber.orgilwacowashington.com; forkswa.com; neahbaywa.com) for lodging, dining and tourist activities. If you’re an Oregonian reading this and don’t already know, your coastline is also an excellent place to catch bottomfish and take home a fat sack of fillets. Look to Astoria/Warrenton, Garibaldi, Depoe Bay, Newport, and more, and see the pages of this issue for charter choices to include Yaquina Bay Charters, Captain’s Reel Deep Sea Fishing, and Dockside ChartersNS

By midmonth, lingcod will be fair game up and down Washington’s coast. Some pretty big specimens are out there, with a 48-pounder the largest weighed during 2015’s seasonlong derby in Westport. Wyatt Lundquist slammed his hook home on this nice one while fishing aboard the Slammer, skippered by Rhett Webber, last year. (DAIWA PHOTO CONTEST)

By midmonth, lingcod will be fair game up and down Washington’s coast. Some pretty big specimens are out there, with a 48-pounder the largest weighed during 2015’s seasonlong derby in Westport. Wyatt Lundquist slammed his hook home on this nice one while fishing aboard the Slammer, skippered by Rhett Webber, last year. (DAIWA PHOTO CONTEST)

Basaltland’s Backwater Bonanzas

This story was originally published in the May 2015 edition of Northwest Sportsman Magazine.

The sloughs and drowned river mouths of the mid-Columbia and Lower Snake are great places for small-boat anglers to hit for bass, catfish, more.

By Jeff Holmes 

Kayak angling continues to blow up in popularity across the entire United States, including here in the Northwest. Kayaks are especially prevalent on the Westside, and it’s almost becoming uncommon to not see some being paddled and pedaled around the outskirts of popular salmon and steelhead fisheries on the Lower Columbia and Willamette Rivers, among others. The economy, mobility and stability of kayaks makes them the clear consensus craft amongst the nonmotorized crowd these days, including yours truly. I’ve owned several float tubes, a pontoon, a canoe and a small cartopper over the years, but none of them approach a good fishing kayak for versatility. I watched friends and fellow anglers fish from kayaks with jealousy for a couple years until we bought our NuCanoe Frontiers in Bellingham last late spring. Now even my big bank- and boat-loving butt can be seen regularly paddling around my local Tri-Cities-area fisheries, often with my wife. (FYI, fellas: Most women love to paddle, and love it when men take the initiative to do something new and active with them.) You won’t catch me trying to slip in with the sleds at Drano Lake and other combat fisheries, nor likely anywhere a large boat makes more sense for safety, comfort and good company, but I use my kayak where it makes sense to me and where my wife wants to paddle. There are fish waiting to be caught everywhere in the Northwest, and they’re all susceptible to a kayak.

I’m looking ahead to a season of fishing around the edges, and not the edges of big-boat fisheries like many, but rather on the edges of most of the kayak fishing world’s consciousness. In other words, I’ll seek out the vast opportunities all over the Northwest where you’ll scarcely see someone in a kayak. I like solitude and exploration of all kinds of bodies of water, big and small, and May offers a wide range of possibilities to fish before the season’s jet- and waterskiier hatch occurs. Here are a few Eastern Washington options worthy of mention for kayakers and those with small boats.
SNAKE RIVER BACKWATERS
I opened up kayak season 2015 just downstream from Clarkston on a big Snake River backwater at Chief Timothy Park near the mouth of Alpowa Creek. I towed my Thunder Jet over to Clarkston on a beautiful late March day to have a radar arch welded on my boat and thought to toss my kayak on top of the truck in case the urge struck me to fish on the way home.

Duh, it struck.

I enjoyed 80-degree weather and almost complete solitude as I looked for early smallmouth concentrations moving out of the main Snake into the backwaters to feed and spawn. I was early and visibility was only a foot, and I got blanked, but I had a great time and confirmed that it wasn’t my fault when I talked to two anglers in a bass boat who were also getting blanked. Suntan lotion, warming sunshine, and a little exercise made the skunking more than worth it.
But the potential to catch something here increases rapidly as water temperatures rise throughout April and into May. Smallmouth, largemouth, catfish, crappie and perch are all present in the many backwaters and marinas along the Snake. Check out the marinas in Lewiston and Clarkston, Chief Timothy and Wawawai Parks, and various small backwaters along the river that allow entry under small railroad bridges. The Snake itself here is impounded and kayakable too, and the main river often yields even better fishing than backwaters.

The rocky shores of the Snake provide good habitat for bass. While smolt imitations are a good bet in spring, this one bit a crawdad imitation for Jamison Meeks, who was fishing at Lewiston. (DAIWA PHOTO CONTEST)

The rocky shores of the Snake provide good habitat for bass. While smolt imitations are a good bet in spring, this one bit a crawdad imitation for Jamison Meeks, who was fishing at Lewiston. (DAIWA PHOTO CONTEST)

Further down the Snake at Central Ferry, Lyons Ferry and backwaters all the way to the Columbia add lots of nice walleye to the potential bag.

Catfish are everywhere in the Snake, but the Palouse River across from Lyons Ferry is the best bet. Lots
of large cats stack up here to spawn, and May is the best time to find them concentrated and snappy.
LOWER YAKIMA RIVER AND DELTA
Many thousands of mature smallmouth enter this Central Washington tributary in spring to spawn, and most of them are still in the river throughout May. As summer moves along, most large fish retreat back to the depths of the Columbia to gorge, so May is a great time for numbers and size.

It’s important to note that moving waters and stillwaters are different beasts for beginner kayakers. There are many places on the lower Yakima that would be irresponsible to send beginners, due to swift currents, sharp corners and some rocks to dodge. That said, the river is a treat to fish from the I-182 bridge in Richland all the way to the mouth at Bateman Island on the Columbia. There are occasional power boats here, but avoiding them is relatively easy since it’s best to fish along the edges anyway.

May will find channel catfish in the heat of the spawn, and the lower ends of tributaries such as the Walla Walla, Yakima and Palouse – where Sam Stuart of Moses Lake landed this nice one a few Mays ago – should provide good action for boat-in anglers. (DAIWA PHOTO CONTEST)

May will find channel catfish in the heat of the spawn, and the lower ends of tributaries such as the Walla Walla, Yakima and Palouse – where Sam Stuart of Moses Lake landed this nice one a few Mays ago – should provide good action for boat-in anglers. (DAIWA PHOTO CONTEST)

Treat the lower Yak like a trout stream: pull over or anchor up in soft shallow side water and fish seams, eddies and slots like you’re looking for rainbows or cutts. Also make sure to bring a variety of crayfish and minnow imitations in different colors. Crayfish are usually the main meal ticket in May. Along with smallmouth, channel catfish and walleye are also common, and a tight-lipped cadre of walleye anglers won’t like that I mentioned this.
LOWER WALLA WALLA
The first time I floated this western Blue Mountains river, I watched my friend and “guide” dump his kayak 200 yards into our trip, but that was upriver, in the tiny Touchet River a few hundred yards upstream of the Walla Walla. That was 100 percent operator error, but the river does require maneuvering and is best tackled only by intermediate kayakers with a sense for mild adventure. There are some corners and swift, rocky portions that could easily dump a newbie or an inattentive paddler. Take a pontoon or a raft if you don’t have the kayaking chops, or access the river from Wallula Junction and paddle the lower river and the edges of the delta.

Like other Columbia tribs, lots of smallmouth and channel cats move into the river in spring and offer sometimes-spectacular angling. I wrote about floating the Walla Walla last spring in my pontoon, and I’ll be back on it this month in my NuCanoe. The wildlife viewing is right up there with the fishing, which can be frenetically paced. I caught two smallmouth on one cast on my last trip, one of which was over 20 inches.
PATERSON SLOUGH
This large backwater of the midColumbia near the Washington town of the same name houses giant numbers of spawning smallmouth bass in spring. With a warm, lowwater year, much of that spawning probably occurred in April. But those bass – as well as great numbers of walleye – remain in the protected slough until waters get too warm, when they return to the depths of the big river for summer.

Bass and walleye are often concentrated in big numbers around rocky patches of bottom. Use electronics or a long section of 1-inch PVC to probe the bottom in search of rocks, and use marker buoys when you find structure or, better yet, fish. A variety of jigs, cranks, dropshot rigs and other plastic-bait set-ups will take plenty of fish here.

Small numbers of very large largemouth live here, tucked deep into the maze of backwaters. Look for deep pockets in the shallow slough with heavy cover, including beaver lodges. Some large crappie have historically come out of Paterson and other sloughs, but carp, as elsewhere, have degraded habitat for panfish. Still, there are some large perch and crappie, and I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a better place to catch carp, both on rod and reel and with a bow. Erika caught two last time we fished the slough together, one topping 20 pounds!

Access is through the refuge and off Paterson Road. NS