Columbia River Shad: 6/14/19

The last time I fished for Shad was 4 years ago. Time sure does fly by when you have kids and busy with life. I had heard from Mark Yuasa that this years run was projected to beat the record run of over 6.1M fish that came through the Columbia river in 2018.  I checked the fish counts and like to visit the John Day dam when the counts exceed 3 Million Shad as counted at Bonneville.

While there isn’t a stat for the John Day for Shad one can get a good idea of how the run is doing based on the numbers through Bonneville Dam. I wanted to organize a trip with my sons now aged 9 and 7 and my dad since it was Father’s Day weekend. We recently replaced our beloved Chevy hightop conversion van with a GMC Savanna conversion van and wanted to also road trip with the new rig.

The drive via I-90 was OK after the slow Friday evening rush hour and construction traffic from North Bend to Snoqualmie Pass. The mileage to John Day is 222 mile from my house and it took us around 4 hours to get there. Its a long drive, but I always appreciate and enjoy the scenery and time on the road with the landscape of rolling hills, wide open spaces, and the smell of sagebrush in the spring air.

We rolled into the dam road about 9 pm and you can see Mt. Adams off in the distance. It was pretty windy, so I was concerned about how we’d set up camp and if it was going to be a factor for fishing the next morning. 

After a quick bite of Cup-O-Noodles and setting up the van awning and the kids tent we were off to bed. Joe H. David and his son Charlie K arrived around 11 pm we finally had a little quiet and slept for 5 hours. Chris M. also made the drive out but took I-5 and then highway 14 as he was planning to fish the Kalama on the way back. 

Pictured is the ‘new’ to us van. She doesn’t look like much outside, but has a full Explorer conversion inside. I made a platform bed with gear storage underneath, and installed a new ARB Touring 2500 series awning. This thing is worth its weight in gold when its hot and the sun is shining. 

I was the first to wake up and was on the river before my friends roll out of camp. I had 3 shad to the bank and when I noticed David up, he was smiling as he scampered on his clothes to grab his rod and run down to the water edge to join me. You can see Joe to the left, Chris in the middle and Charlie to the right. We had a nice section of river to ourselves for the day. 

It took a while for the guys to figure out the drift and technique, but once they did, it was automatic hook up after hook up. You can see Charlie, aged 11 fighting and landing his first of many Shad.

Mr. Moyer did well too, landing not only Shad but a small mouth bass and a sucker both on a fly that he tied himself and used as an attractor top bug. He was shocked to know those fish were hitting on the small lead jigs with the gold hooks. 

We were fortunate the winds were calm and able to cast with no issues. The 1/16 oz weights were perfectly suited to get the jigs into the strike zone. I only wished that I started fly fishing at the beginning of the day versus at the end of it as the action is definitely better in the mornings. I did fish for an hour or so with the fly rod, but was a bit under gunned. I had a 5 wt rod with integrated sink tip, but I think my 10′ 6 wt would have been better suited for casting the heavy tips. While I didn’t land any shad, I did connect with a sucker and the pull was pretty good and put a nice bend in the fly rod. 

David K. pictured above working the seam and Joe H. with a good example of typical size shad. There were some jumbo fish in the 2-3# class, nice fighters and a few of them had some good leaps.

Taking a break under the 92 degree desert sun. I made a side privacy and extra sun guard from a 5×7′ piece of tarp with yellow poly rope taped down with duct tape. It fit perfectly inside a grooved channel that the ARB awning has for a Lean To insert accessory they sell.

We filled up two coolers with Shad which was plenty enough for crab and halibut bait for our future trips to the Hood Canal, Puget Sound and to Neah Bay. 

We stopped by Union Gap on the way back for a take out of Asparagus tamales from Los Hernandez and a visit to the food court at Fiesta Foods. Its like walking into Mexico with a wide selection of ethnic foods. The $13 Carnitas Family Special was nice with 1# of carnitas, 1# of Refried Beans, 1# of Arroz (Rice) 2 dozen tortillas and fresh tomatillo. 

If I return, I’ll try fly fishing earlier, but I didn’t bring waders and the morning was cool. I was wet wading in my swim trunks and sandals, but it was 90+ degrees by then and was actually nice to cool down in the river while making my casts and starting at Mt. Adams in the distance. We’re heading back to Neah Bay next week with my kids, their first time out there to fish, so it will be an interesting trip, but looking forward to it! Tight Lines everyone.

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