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Thursday, August 15, 2013
A good breeze was blowing through the Umpqua Valley on a recent warm August afternoon, creating a gentle chop on the South Umpqua River.
“Good conditions for a Spook,” the aging fisherman said.
He reared back with his fishing rod and tossed the lure — a Heddon Zara Spook — toward a boulder barely popping out of the water.
“I usually can get one there,” he said.
And he did, the smallmouth bass blasting the lure just a few feet into the retrieve.
The fisherman smiled.
So did I.
My dad introduced me to smallmouth fishing on this river. As we worked along the shoreline of the long, slow pool the other day, it was hard to believe that was 35 years ago.
During one of our early trips in the 1970s we floated a section of the river in Dad’s jonboat, which he still has. I caught my first nice smallmouth that day.
As Dad drove home I was already writing a story about the trip in my head, and a few days later I turned in the tale for a middle school English class assignment.
Two lifelong passions were kindled.
The river hasn’t really changed since then.
Cutting through the rolling hills of Douglas County, Oregon, it’s still a mix of gentle riffles, modest runs and deep pools, the shoreline home to a mix of crumbling shacks and pretty, well-kept homes.
Shoreline trees are bigger than they were when I was a kid, of course, but the rocky outcroppings and ledges from which we often fished, and sometimes jumped during swim breaks, are easy to recognize.
The fishing has changed quite a bit, though.
When we started fishing the South Umpqua for bass, the illegally introduced smallmouths were just becoming established.
They’re abundant now, with enough 5-pound-plus fish available to keep things interesting.
While they can be frustratingly tough on some days — according to Dad, who fishes the river regularly — they also can be quite angler-friendly.
This was one of those angler-friendly days.
The skies were cloudy, and that chop helped make the fish less wary.
Dad lost that first fish, but soon was into another.
Fittingly, he was putting it to me.
He landed the 16-incher and humored me while I took pictures.
I had been using a Sizmic Toad, a soft buzzbait that works well in Virginia. But Oregon’s bass apparently have different tastes.
On went a Spook, and soon I was into a 12-inch bass.
I wondered if we would luck into a bass like the 18-incher my brother pulled from this hole about 25 years ago.
But then the wind died, the chop waned and the river’s surface turned to glass.
It was time to change tactics again, and it was time to turn the tables.
“Have you ever fished a dropshot rig?” I asked Dad.
Because the bottom was covered with a layer of moss, the rig would be an ideal way to present a soft plastic in the deep without fouling.
I showed Dad how to put the rig together, tying a hook to the line about 16 inches above the weight.
The lure was a 3-inch-long Berkley Power Minnow.
The bass liked it.
As expected, the little minnow was attracting little bass. But the 8- to 12-inchers were a hoot on the ultralight rod.
Dad had opted to fish a Power Minnow under a float, and that rig was getting lots of attention, too.
Eventually we had pounded the hole into submission and the fishing slowed. It was time to call it a day.
We headed back to the truck, and climbed in.
I sat silently content in the passenger’s seat, writing another fishing story in my head.
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