BassWestUSA - July/August, 2009, Page 48

Slow Days

By Perry P. Perkins

it would seem, can do as much for one’s reputation as talent. When a friend approached me to say that her cousin was flying in from Oklahoma the next weekend, loved to fly fish for bass, and needed someone to show him the local scene, I wasn’t all that surprised, nervous yes, but not surprised. Here in Oregon we have an amazing variety and selection of water. With sev- eral blue-ribbon rivers flowing through the state, the Deschutes, McKenzie, and Meto- lius just to name three, and some incredibly prolific still waters like Crane Prairie and Chickahominy Reservoirs, it’s hard work to find a place that even I can’t land a trout or two. For great bass fishing though, the choices can be a bit more limited. I knew that if I wanted these guys to take home some real memories from their trip west, I was going to have to get them into smallies on the John Day River. The John Day River runs more than 500 miles from its headwaters in the moun- tains of southeast Grant County, west through the sage and juniper landscapes of the city of John Day, and finally north to its confluence with the Columbia River, some 27 miles east of The Dalles. Under the Or- egon Scenic Waterways Act, the John Day is classified at ‘Wild and Scenic’ and con- sidered a protected river. Flowing through the deep basalt can- yons of Eastern Oregon, this watercourse is famous for enormous runs native Steel- head, and Chinook salmon. With 40,000- 50,000 Steelhead returning to the John Day each year, it rates as the best all-wild run in the lower 48. What this river is less well known for is that it’s possibly the best trophy bass river in the Western United States. In the early 1970’s, less than 100 Smallmouth bass were planted in the slow moving water of the lower river. Since then this species has spread and taken over. 50+ smallmouth bass days, on flies, is not unusual here. Ranging from 1 to 6lbs, these are hard fighting fish that will throw a serious bend in a 6wt fly rod. Whether you float the long deserted stretches of the river, or pull off somewhere along OR-19 or US 26 (these two highways parallel nearly 100 miles of

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river, leading into the city of John Day), you’ll have a hard time finding a spot that doesn’t hold at least a few of these belliger- ent, territorial fish. In a nutshell, if I were going to take strangers from bass country, bass fishing, this was the place to do it! Now the first problem that arises with taking a stranger fishing, especially one who is reputed as a lover of the sport, is that you never know just what his commit- ment is in comparison to your own. I, for example, keep about half of the pockets of my vest filled with flies, tippet, leaders, and the assorted miscellany of fly-fishing. The rest of the space is taken up with a camera, cigars, and usually a small paperback book. I’m used to having occasional down time along the river and I like, as the old scout motto says, to be prepared. These items, along with a fair assortment of unhealthy snacks, assure that I’ll find something to keep me occupied when the sun is high and the fish aren’t rising. My new out-of-state friend, however, kept nothing on his person that wasn’t strictly devoted to the sport. For Casey, down time was the ride there and back, and even that was spent pouring over

maps and talking about hatches. He was a hardcore angler, and was aghast that I would waste precious fly box space with a battered Tolkien novel. I had briefly considered taking him to a private catch-and-release-only pond of my acquaintance that held some very nice largemouth bass. Almost guaranteeing a fine day of kicking a float tube from bank to bank and being towed about by the occa- sional hawg. Reluctantly I decided against the sure thing, figuring that if I had just toted a couple of fly rods halfway across the country in search of bass, I would be look- ing for more of a challenge. So, it was off to the John Day we went, myself, Kathy’s husband Chris (a longtime friend), and Casey’s friend Scott, who had tagged along with him from Oklahoma at the last minute. My first twinge of concern came when the day of our trip dawned cool and drizzly, typical for Oregon but not the best for bass. The twinge increased when we met at a lo- cal parking lot to carpool to the river. All of Scott and Casey’s gear was top-notch, and not with that brand-new ‘I bought the most expensive stuff in the catalog, now what’s the funny line for’ look either, this stuff had

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July/August 2009