2019 Group outing, John Day float trip, kayaks and drift boats?


Aervax

Active member
I am in early planning stage, thinking about a smallmouth fishing-camping-float trip down the John Day River in the late spring for OFF-ers. I will open the trip to fill slots once the overall plan starts to gel.

Those who have done this run please chime in with thoughtful advice. I do a fair bit of walk-in fishing and hiking on the public access stretches of the JDR, but have never drifted it. Your feedback and ideas would be helpful and appreciated while formulating the plan.

1.) Did you run in rafts, drift boats, or kayaks?
2.) When did you run it, what was cfs, and how was water depth for your type of craft?
3.) Of course, how did you do on fishing?
4.) How many days and miles do you think are optimal for a group trip - say 4-8 anglers?
5.) What launch and take out did you use?
6.) How much traffic did you come across that time of year - whitewater rafters, anglers, and guides?
7.) How was fishing pressure?
8.) How was competition for the better campsites?

My initial thoughts on the plan are a 5 day/4 night, 20-40 mile long float trip of 6-8 anglers in a combination of kayaks and drift boats in late April, May or early June. The plan will evolve of course as feedback and ideas come in and have a chance to ferment and distill.

I look forward to the conversation about this topic, and to catching many spring bass together in 2019...

Eric
Pics taken on the John Day River on Sunday, 2/17.

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Aervax

Active member
I took a long deep dive into the forum archives looking for the kind of details I need to make decisions about this trip. Lots of good general knowledge and great stories about fish catching on the John Day, but not much about the particulars I am looking for. I have some other resources, a pal who is a whitewater fanatic and floats the JDR 2 or 3 times a year mostly in the spring, and a local old timer and acquaintance who grew up drift boating the JDR for a week every spring. Those sources in addition to info contributed by OFF-ers should cover the bases pretty well. Tightlines Dudes!
 

pinstriper

Active member
There was an OPB thing a few months back, SUP trip down the JD. Don’t know they start/end but it was mainly very calm water.

I would feel better in a drift boat or pram until I knew the water. A SOT kayak won’t do well in really sporty rapids. Of course if a SUP can do it, no problemo.
 

Aervax

Active member
There was an OPB thing a few months back, SUP trip down the JD. Don’t know they start/end but it was mainly very calm water.

I would feel better in a drift boat or pram until I knew the water. A SOT kayak won’t do well in really sporty rapids. Of course if a SUP can do it, no problemo.
That is a great tip. Thank you. I will check out the OPB segment.

The John Day varies a great deal depending on flows. It is high in the spring which brings bigger rapids for sure. Once farmers start irrigating the river drops quickly and it is soon too low for drift boats - usually by late June. Then it is canoe and kayak only time. Late summer it drops below 300 cfs. Then even kayaks and canoes give up on it. Then walk in and backpack in trips on public lands can be amazing. Fish are schooled in the deep holes and no one else is around to bother them.

You might be surprised what an SOT kayak can handle without much trouble if you are used to paddling in strong current. The beauty of them is that if you take a tumble into the water they are easy on and off, and you do not have to bail them out. Wearing a flotation vest and helmet as well as using a paddle leash are all critical for safety if paddling bumpy water. When I flip and fall off I just drift along into calmer water, then get right back on and go. SOT are unlike whitewater kayaks that use spray skirts and are built to roll over. My opinion, that can be more dangerous than getting tossed off an SOT and just climbing back on. Of course, that is worst case scenario.

Preference would be 3 drift boats. If flow is looking low enough for a couple of anglers to float along comfortably in SOTs, the idea would be for their camping gear to be on board the drift boat. It would offer freedom for a couple of experienced yakkers to go ahead, or lag behind and catch up with the rest of the crew in camp.

I did 20 miles of the upper Klickitat with my dog on board. I had to make her sit to make it through the 3.5 rapids, but no spills. My buddy did the same stretch on his SOT kayak loaded with 50lbs of camping gear without a spill. He took 3 days and I floated straight through. Afterward, he unloaded the gear and ran the 4.5s below Klickitat without a spill as well. He also ran a 4 day trip down the Deschutes on his SOT with camping gear, Mack's Canyon to the mouth. That has several 3.5 -4.5. He got dumped one time in a big rapid, got wet and climbed back on. He had a blast. Gotta be okay with getting wet though.

What I see on most of the JDR is swift current and flat water with occasional bumps. Serious white water, let's say Class 3 - 4.5. does occur in the spring flows. A paddler would want to gauge flow rate before deciding to take a yak down the river, and flow will be dependent on trip dates and snow pack on the mountains. Yakkers would also need some experience and confidence, but mostly be okay with portaging if they come across a section outside their comfort zone. Those are judgement calls that cannot be made until the dates are nailed down and the flow rate and weather forecast are known. It might come down to no kayaks allowed.

I have a 16.5 foot high side drift boat that I will be rowing. I also have a 4 day trip planned to scout it during high water in late March or early April. That will be with a friend who has run Clarno to Cottonwood around 20 times. I am hoping we will have at least one drift boater along who has floated the stretch we choose multiple times. I am working on my old timer friend for that position. He in turn is working on his wife and the dates for their DIY home remodel. We will see.

There will be back up plans if the river is blown out or just too high to be in our comfort zone. Postponing due to blowout will be an option. If the weather is decent we can always take the trip to tamer Waters, maybe even a still water camping trip if conditions make that the next best option. There are also places where a person can primitive car camp, or be in a formal campground along the John Day. We will see how it unfolds.
 

hobster

Well-known member
Sounds like a good time! I'd love to join but need to see how work is then, 5 day trip is pretty lengthy. Always wanted to do it though!
 

Aervax

Active member
@hobster
Great point on the 5 day trip length. That may be an obstacle for too many. I am open to a 3 day or 4 day alternative. What if we were to coordinate the float to hit a take out on day 3 or 4, and some could finish the trip there. Assuming weather and water conditions are good the remnant could continue down river a couple days to the next take out.
 

Aervax

Active member
Snowpack and water content for the John Day River drainage are hovering at 100% of the average.

This is good news. Flows should be about right for floating during peak action for smallmouth spawn in April/May. Old timers say they spawn a month sooner on the JDR than on the Columbia. I am looking to verify that info this year. The mamas are the biggest ones, and they will be shallower and more agressive then.

One day I was watching a 5 lb bedding female and small male in the shallows while my buddy fished a deep hole below. I was on the bluff above as my pal cast a brushhog into the water. The lure splashed down 30 feet from her. She turned and drifted off the bed suspending over deep water after the disturbance. He let it sink a foot or so and twitched it a couple of times. She charged full speed at it for 20 feet without hesitation and inhaled. He was using 6lb mono, so it was a crazy battle. He got her in and released her for another day. It was really fun to be the spectator and commentator telling my pal what was happening in the water that he could not see from his vantage point. I want to do that one again!
 

hobster

Well-known member
I could more than likely do a 3 day. Another run I've always wanted to do is the Big K Loop on the Umpqua, I think it's 2 or 3 days. I know Shane has done it
 

Aervax

Active member
I could more than likely do a 3 day. Another run I've always wanted to do is the Big K Loop on the Umpqua, I think it's 2 or 3 days. I know Shane has done it
How about you lead a trip on the Umpwua? I have never been there. I will lead on the JD. We can do both...
 

Aervax

Active member
I might be interested. Iv got a 12' Scadden pontoon. What's the weather generally like over there that time of year?
Pontoons are the perfect craft for that river. Weather wise that area is high dessert. It tends to warm up sooner than most of the state. Early May can be 70s and 80s. June can be 80s to 105 or so. It can rain of course, but annual precip is around 15", almost all of which comes down from Nov thru April. I had my son out there in August when he was a youngster about 8 yrs old, and it was 107 F. We put on our flotation vests and grabbed our rods and jumped into a deeper stretch to float and fish. We caught a hundred or so Basses in a couple of hours. Then got out and walked back to the truck. We were dry in the 20 minutes it took to get there.
 

Aervax

Active member
It is said that flow needs to be above 600 cfs to run the John Day in a drift boat and above 300 to run it in a kayak. I have done hike in trips with flows at 300 cfs and barely got my feet wet crossing it in some places. I suspect one would have to do some yak dragging here and there at the 300 cfs cut off. That usually hits by late June.

Fishing should begin picking up at flows below 2000 cfs. Primary water source for the John Day is snow melt, so hot weather spikes the flow in March/April with it slowing in May and dropping fast in June. Partly because the snow is disappearing in the JDR drainage by then, but also because agricultural irrigation is picking up as things heat up and dry out. They grow some corn, orchard fruit and lots of hay and alfalfa up and down the various branches of the river.

So thinking about dates and flow rates: May would be ideal for "DRIFT BOATS" and mid to larger pontoons with possible flow ranging from 1200 - 3000 cfs. June would be better for "KAYAKS", canoes and smaller pontoons with flow ranging from 300 - 1200 cfs.

I have both kinds of boats, so I am okay with either option. I do need to choose between May and June and start nailing down the dates. Though we could get lucky in the end and wind up with flows that work for drift boats and kayaks, we need take aim at one or the other.

Those who are thinking about it, do you have a preference for DRIFT BOAT/MAY or KAYAK/JUNE; and do you prefer a 3, 4, or 5 day trip?
 
How about you lead a trip on the Umpwua? I have never been there. I will lead on the JD. We can do both...
Sounds good. I'm usually the lead guy on the Umpqua when we have new guys so they can follow the lead on the few spots to be careful at. We can plan out a big k Umpqua float for July through August. Three nights is preferable on that float, two is doable but you'll be rowing alot and not fishing as much.

Sounds like sometime in May should be good for the JD. Will they be hitting top water that early in the year?
 
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Aervax

Active member
I have only used top water in the summer on the John Day. It works really well then and is a blast of course.

I have not fished it early when the water is cooler. This will be my first season focusing on spring bass fishing on the JDR.

Generally speaking the water needs to be a bit warmer before the bass start paying much attention to what is happening on the surface. My experience with smallies especially on the Columbia has been when the shallow areas that are more protected from wind and current reach 65F the top water bite really blows up. That is usually mid-Mayish.

With the JDR being fed by snowmelt I imagine spring water temps can be in the 40s and 50s until flows get slower and shallower in June. Yet I have been watching youtube videos of drift boaters catching bass on topwater there in April and May.

I guess the answer is yes they will hit top water on the JD in spring based on video evidence, but without personal experience I remain a doubter. I am gonna find out by trying it myself though!
 

Aervax

Active member
I had a nip of 100% Rye Whiskey yesterday with the old timer local guru on the John Day River. Spicey and at the same time smooth. That is some good stuff! He is adamant that early April is the time the big female smallies get caught. It seems early to me, but he has been there many times before, and I have not been there that early in the year. I think it is too short of notice to coordinate for an OFF trip, but he and I are trying to put together a multi day trip with one of his pals in early April. We are talking about drifting 30 Mile to Cottonwood. I will keep you posted, and do a trip/scouting report once this comes together.
 

Aervax

Active member
Update here. I am still working on the plan for a group John Day River multi day float/camp/bass trip. When I initiated the discussion back in mid-February snowpack for the river drainage was hovering near 100% of normal. Then we had a long series of big dumps. At the moment snowpack there is 154% of average. River flow rate is 10,500 cfs and still climbing. I am going to wait until it peaks and starts dropping before finalizing a date for the trip. Ideally flows would be around 2000 cfs for the trip. Right now that is looking like May, or maybe even June. I hope to restart this conversation in late April.
 

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