Bass On The Fly...Columbia River Desert Unit

Bass On The Fly Is Still Strong!

I was fortunate enough to spend the day back in the Columbia River Desert this week and found the Smallmouth fishing is still going strong on the "Big River".  It's not surprising after the strong snow pack conditions that occurred in Washington, Idaho and Montana this winter.

The spring months of April, May & June are typically the prime time months for fly fishing for Smallmouth in the desert unit.  However, the early spring run-off of snow pack that flowed the majority of these months throughout the big river has created ideal water conditions late into the month of August.  Even after a long stint of high heat and desert fires that burned along the river line, Smallmouth bass fishing is still going strong.

Typically by now, the weed mass has taken over much of the shallow edges and pools of the river, however at this time water conditions are excellent for fly fishing.  I would expect these same conditions throughout the month of September as well.

Hunting big Smallmouth on Columbia River is not an easy task. Why.?  The vastness of this river is at times overwhelming and its steep, rocky ledges can be a daunting task for a fly fishermen.  Getting the fly to fish is the biggest hurdle, especially once the spring conditions have vanished and the warmer water starts to settle in.  Big smallie's tend to seek cooler, deeper water during these times, making our job as fly fishermen much more difficult, even with the fastest of sinking lines.

When you are required to go deep to find em', casting sinking lines and heavy flies is not an easy task, especially under the penetrating heat of the desert sun. The desert will test you in a variety of way's.  Be prepared to encounter, high heat, explosive UV's and blustery winds throughout the day and throughout the season. 

It's always a treat when you find prey holding in ideal depths to catch them on flies. Ledges, boulder fields, broken basalt gardens and any other types of structure are good places to begin your hunt.  Even finding ideal water depths to cast top water poppers and divers was successful.  Big Small-mouth crushing summer top water patterns is as much fun as you can have in a day's time of bass fishing.  Keeping track of water temperatures with a good, accurate thermometer is a must and will aid you in your search of the right water to tackle.

Go prepared for a day fishing with a loaded box of streamers, divers and poppers.  The Clouser Minnow tied with craft fur is one of my favorites and I tie them in a variety of colors to match the many diverse bait fish in the Columbia.  Also have some time tested Crayfish patterns.  There are many times throughout the year that Smallmouth are feasting on these freshwater crustaceans.  They cruise the edges and shallows in search of them throughout the course of a day.  

Also have top water poppers in Yellow, Black and Chartreuse.  White can also be a sleeper color for smallie's.  Sizes 2 thru 8 are good choices.  Make sure to pack your hook sharpener.  The Columbia River basalt is brutal on hook points and could cause you to lose a monster bronzeback if you have a dull blade.

Also knowing and studying the habits and idiosyncrasies of this fierce apex predator is definitely a requirement for super success on this river.   Be prepared with a couple of 9' 6 weight rods.  I find these the ideal tools for big Columbia River Bronzebacks.  

One rod should be rigged with a floating line for shallow top water fishing.  The other rod should be equipped with a fast sinking tip in 10 feet length or longer.  This way you are prepared to cover several different depths of water in constant changing water conditions, especially as you move from point to point. 

I have been fishing the Echo Ion XL for the past couple of months and the 906/4 is an ideal rod for fishing bass in the desert unit.  It is light weight, responsive and has tons of power for casting weighted flies and leaded lines.  It is also a very accurate casting stick for under $200.00 bones. We keep them stocked at the WBFC for desert bass caster.

Also be aware, this isn't drift boating water like the Yakima.  You need a larger style boat with plenty of horse power to get you from place to place quickly, especially when fish are on the move. 

Strong western winds are typically a factor in Central Washington when you are fishing the "Big River". Ideal conditions are anything under 15 mph.  Anything gusting more then this becomes unruly and dangerous and it's time to head for home.  Watch your conditions well in advance and plan you fishing time accordingly here.  Then you won't be disappointed.

I already have my day planned out for next week.  Of course conditions can change from day to day, so always have a back up plan in case that occurs.

Stop by the WBFC pro-shop in Ellensburg, if you need some advice on fly fishing for Smallmouth or Largemouth.  Our professional, friendly staff are all well versed in the sport of "bass on the fly" and will be happy to assist you with any questions you may have.

Enjoy the upcoming holiday weekend and the last hurrah of the 2018 summer.  Be safe, responsible, have fun and make sure to get outdoors and go fly fishing!

Steve Worley-Owner-Head Guide
Worley-Bugger Fly Co.

1713 South Canyon Road
Ellensburg, WA  98926

Listen Every Monday Night At 7:00 pm to our live podcast of "Guide Chronicles" On Ellensburg Community Radio at


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