I hit the Willamette for the first time in nearly 2 years. I was not sure what to expect but it ended up being a beautiful day on the river. The water conditions were perfect. A good amount of current and probably about 5' of visibility. The wind was anywhere from nonexistent to creating a light ripple (the wind forecast for the gorge scared me away from there). I was worried that it would be really crowded given that it was memorial day weekend but the parking lot was only 20% full of trailers by the end of the day (that really blew my mind). The best part is that the bass were nice and hungry and I caught more decent sized fish than normal for the Willamette.
I was on the water by 5:30am. A bass boat was already pounding the Tualatin cove but I still decided to fish the water they had already covered since there were lots of fish splashing around the surface. I did not get a sniff nor did I see them get anything (they may have before I launched but not when I was there). The water temp in that cove was 67F. The funny thing is that during the day I saw quite a few bass boats race past me down the river and setup on the point at the mouth of the cove. I am not sure if anyone got into them but that spot saw a lot of fishing.
After that fruitless effort I decided to fish my way upstream. I was cycling between the jackhammer stealth, stick bait, jerk bait and Ned rig. After about an hour of fishing I finally felt something grab my Ned rig and I set the hook. Fish on, or rather I should say minnow on. That smallmouth was all of 8" long At least the skunk was off! The water temp in the main river was 63F.
I continued working my way along the shoreline thinking the fish should be up shallow and spawning but that did not seem to be the case. About 20 minutes later I missed a hard strike on the jackhammer stealth. I circled back through the area with a jerkbait and picked up my 2nd smallmouth of the day. It was all of 10". At least it was bigger than the first fish.
At that point I decided to abandon the shoreline game and fish the midriver humps that are prevalent in that section of the river. The first hump I fished was a small one and yielded nothing. I got to the second hump and was working my way across it with my jackhammer stealth when WAM!. A really hard hit and a fish with some weight. After a brief tug of war I landed a really chunky ~3lb pikieminnow. Dang! At least it was a fun fight, especially in the current.
I then moved out to the main hump/reef that dominates the middle of the river. I was working my way along alternating between thejackhammer stealth and a stick bait (sammy) looking for schooling fish chasing bait. That ended up being the deal. The funny thing is that most of my section on that huge structure came from a fairly small area. There is a point near the shore and it pushes the current sideways across the hump. The bass seem to really like that spot when there is decent current. I got my first nice fish on the reliable jack hammer and it really told me what was going on. That fish was probably at least 17" and only weighed 1lb 13oz and was skinny as a rail. Definitely a post-spawn fish. I was not expecting the fish to be so far along so early.
For the next 5 hours or so I beat on that general area, mostly alternating between the sammy and the jackhammer stealth. I occasionally threw other things but those were my staples. I picked fish up by both blindly casting over that hump and by racing over to schooling fish. Nothing is more exciting that seeing smolt frantically leaping with huge splashes and swirls all around. When I got there in time I was rewarded with a nice topwater smash. I missed quite a few fish on that erratic stick bait but they really love hitting and coming back for it when they miss. I don't think fishing gets any better than that!!
Most of my fish from that spot came on the sammy but at one point I decided to tie a Huddleston 68 trout lure on my new crankbait rod and heave that around for a while. The second time I picked that rod up I got my best fish of the day. No monster but a respectable 17.5" bass that only weighed 2lb 4oz. I think the skinniest fish I caught was a 17" bass that weighed only 1lb 15oz. They look so different from the prespawn tanks I was catching on the Columbia last month, but at least they were hungry
I did lose a bigger fish (it felt really heavy) that smashed my sammy when I launched it near some schooling action. I got it most of the way to the kayak when the hook pulled out. I was reeling the sammy (which was still underwater) when another bass grabbed it right near the kayak and immediately came unpinned. I looked down in the water and there were at least 10 really good-sized smallmouth swarming under my kayak but they quickly vanished without letting me catch one. Talk about rude
When the bite slowed on that spot I decided to fish my way upstream to see if I could find another hot spot. I occasionally would get a bite or catch a smaller fish but I did not find another concentration on that big hump. I am sure they were there but I did not find them.
I worked further upstream to some other humps but they did not produce anything noteworthy. Occasionally I would catch a small bass but no size, no schooling activity and no concentrations of fish. I did notice that the current on these upriver smaller humps was a lot less. I think the river has a lot more deep water around those humps (more cross section) and thus slows down to keep the same volumetric flow.
At some point I realized the fish must be wanting more current so I went up closer to a reef that is downstream a short ways from Rock Island. There were a ton of fish on that reef. I had lots of back to back fish and tons of strikes on the sammy. The fish were mostly smaller but a few decent ones including the leaping fish from the picture above. That fish was also chunkier at 1lb 15oz and 15.75". I did try the shallow reefy stuff up closer to the narrows but the current was really ripping. I did not get bit there.
I also briefly fished one of the Rock Island sloughs but after catching 2 dinks I figured all the good sized fish were likely done spawning and out on the humps where I did most of my damage.
Speaking of damage I saw 3 boats smash into the the one super shallow spot below rock island The channel markers are not in yet and folks who did not know the river were flying into the rocks that were probably no more than 1' deep. That is in the middle of the river. I tried to warn the 2nd two boats but they either did not understand me or just ignored me. The three boats I saw hit were fortunately aluminum. They all hit really hard and I am sure dented their bottoms but if those were fiberglass boats they would have cracked them for sure. That was all in about a hour window. I am sure there were plenty of other folks finding that reef during the rest of theday.
Eventually I was pretty whipped and headed back at the ramp. I decided to stop back at the magic spot from earlier in the day. I fished it with the jack hammer without a sniff. I was just about to head in when I figured I would toss the sammy a few times even though it was sunny and glassy calm. That resulted in my last fish of the day and my second biggest (2lb 1oz). Great way to end a wonderful day on the river.
I caught a lot of dinks and I did not catch any pigs but I caught enough 16 to 17.5" bass to make for a really fun day. I ended up with 26 smallmouth and the one pikieminnow on the day. I would guess a little over half came on topwater. Mostly the sammy but I did catch a couple of whopper plopper which I through when ever the wind kicked up a little. I like the plopper when it is choppy. They still hit the sammy but my hookup ratio just becomes really terrible. The plopper is easier for them to grab since it is not erratic.
I did put in a long day (10.5 hours) so it was not on fire all day long by any means. I have an hour lull in the morning and probably a 2-3 hour lull in the afternoon
before I found the second hot spot. However, when I was on the two good spots I found the bite was pretty good and steady. It was a blast chasing down those schooling fish. I did not always get there in time but that kind of action it really gets the heart racing.
I am bummed that I did not get video of my best fish. I thought I was l recording when I caught it. I got this really cool picture of me holding that fish up with the Huddleston along its side. You will just have to close your eyes and imagine that
Here is some video from the day.