Most folks think of the S&P 500 as a stock market index but on a recent trip to the Columbia River Gorge, I realized it had a fishing meaning as well. Namely, the opportunity to catch 500 shad and pikeminnow over the course of a week.
My friend Rusty Johnston and I spent a couple of days fishing on the Columbia River between Rufus and The Dalles. Our first goal was to catch a bunch of shad, not just for fun, but also to use for crab bait this summer. Our second goal was to catch some pikeminnow and turn them in for money through the Northern Pikeminnow Sport Reward Fishery Program.
This program is administered by the Bonneville Power Administration along with both the Washington and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. The northern pikeminnow is a native fish, but fish nine inches and longer feed on outgoing salmon and steelhead smolt, impacting the survival of both species.
In this program, anglers are paid anywhere from $6 to $10 a fish for any pikeminnow turned into a designated station along the Columbia or Snake River. The more fish you catch, the more they are worth and if you catch a tagged fish, it is worth $500. You can find out more about this program, designed not to eliminate, but control the population of pikeminnow, at www.pikeminnow.org.
Rusty and I decided to start our trip fishing for shad below the John Day Dam. You can fish below the dam on both the Washington and Oregon side of the river but we decided to buy a non-resident license at Gorge Outfitters Supply in Rufus and fish the Oregon side at Giles French Park.
We were using Shad Killers, a local jig sold at Gorge Outfitters Supply, and the hot color for us was red and white. The Shad Killer is a 1/16th ounce jig with a bit of flashabou on it. We tied the jig onto a two-to-three-foot leader which we tied to a barrel swivel. Above the swivel we had another swivel which held a ½ ounce lead weight. Other lures that work well with this set up are shad darts and Dick Nite spoons.
We cast our offering from the bank, let it sink a few seconds, and the reeled in with a slow-to-moderate retrieve as the lure drifted downstream. We were soon rewarded by hook ups with a whole bunch of shad. The American Shad averages one to three pounds in size. They are scrappy fighters and up to six million of them make their way over Bonneville Dam between the end of May and mid-July, all heading up the Columbia to spawn. I have enjoyed good days on the water catching shad before but this day was epic. Rusty and I hooked into some 50 shad in just two hours of fishing. We lost a few (they have a nasty habit of throwing the hook) but reeled in some three-dozen fish, getting more than enough crab bait for the summer.
Speaking of uses for shad, the oily fish is also a favorite bait for sturgeon and some even cut them up into chunks to use for catfish bait. Still others will eat them. We met one angler at a cleaning station at Maryhill State Park who carefully filleted out the shad he caught. He told me he brines them and puts them in a pressure cooker (which gets rid of the bones) before canning them. He said the fish taste very good. I will have to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Finished with shad, we next registered at a check station and fished around The Dalles for pikeminnow. We only caught four keeper pikeminnow (worth $6 each) but since this was our first time participating, we also each got to turn in a coupon worth $10 each after checking in our first fish. Better still, three anglers from Idaho were desperate for sturgeon bait and paid us $20 for a single shad which they promptly put to use, casting their lines out at The Dalles marina hoping to hook into a monster fish. Altogether, we made $64. That covered a good portion of our gas money getting back home.
One other fun thing about fishing for pikeminnow are the other fish you catch. I ended up catching eight perch and we both also caught smallmouth bass on the nightcrawlers we were using for pikeminnow bait, fished just off the bottom of the river with a two-ounce sliding weight. Rusty caught the most interesting bycatch of the day though, a 30-to-33-inch sturgeon on a bass rod that was spooled with braided line and just a 10-lb leader. It took him 15 minutes to get that prehistoric looking fish to shore at which point I snapped a photo of the fish and he released it. It made for the end of a perfect day of fishing.
John Kruse – www.northwesternoutdoors.com and www.americaoutdoorsradio.com
No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here