Yakima Smallmouth

I fished the lower river April 25 with Paul Hoffarth, Region 2 Fish Biologist. The smallmouth are starting to move into the river from the Columbia. We caught fish ranging from six inches to 20 inches weighing in at 5 pounds 14 ounces. Also landed one bulldogging carp and lost one mystery fish-either another big bass or a mucho grande channel cat.
Paul was running his drift boat and fishing gear. I was experimenting with a bunch of new patterns I tied to imitate either fall Chinook fry or spring Chinook smolts. The two largest fish both hit a white BananaRama. If interested in the dressing, look on page 54 of my article in the Spring 2005 Northwest Fly Fishing article.
This is a great fly fishing river, easily floated with much improved access due to Paul's and Tapteal Greenway's efforts.
Great article by the way! Well written and informative :thumb: I grew up in Grandview and used to fish the stretch by the Chandler diversion dam as a kid. In the diversion channel itself out to the main flow we would slay them on plastic worms and nightcrawlers ( this was back in the 70's). Often in just an evening 3 of us would catch 15-20 in the 2-4 lbs range. We thought no one else would ever discover there were bass there :hmmm: I was just wondering if that was still a productive area. I'd like to go back there and try and bananarama them ? :beer2:
Thanks for the props. We had great fun doing the "field research" and another article for a different magazine is in the works.
Depending on water flows, the Chandler to Benton City run can be great fishing, both for bass and carp. Last September I fished that stretch and was sight fishing the BananaRama for carp in a current seam. I saw a carp suck in and spit out my fly before I could set the hook. Amazing how they can do that.
Did you ever fish the river between Prosser and Chandler Powerhouse?

Paul Huffman

Driven by irrational exuberance.
I made the Chandler Powerhouse to Benton Drift just last week, April 21, but I was on the clock, so no fishing. I thought it was cool that at 12:00, there was a good hatch of little mayflies. I'm not sure they were BWOs exactly. Not exactly BWO habitat and they were a bit more yellowish. The redside shiners were slashing them. It's too bad those shiners aren't twice as big. They'd be fun on a fly rod.

My shipmate just couldn't figure out why I was so excited to see a big school of carp on a flat.

Because we had go'ment plates and look official and impotent and all, the Bureau of Wreck the Nation dude unlocked the gate and we were able to roll a drift boat right down to the water at the Chandler Power Plant. Otherwise you'd have to park outside the gate and carry your boat about 50 yards.

What's the drifts below Horn Rapids?

Zen Piscator

Supporting wild steelhead, gravel to gravel.
Great article, i guess the secretes out, if it ever was one. U probably had a toad catfish, i picked one up last year during on of the floats we did.

The fishing from chandler to benton city isnt nearly as good as the benton city to horn rapids is most of the time, i cant wait to get out onto the water with my flyrod this year, nice article by the way, i saw it in walmart belive it or not.

Great article on the lower yak and I plan on hitting it up this spring. However with all this debate about pontoons and river running in another post by bwtucker83 I'm beginning to wonder if it is such a good idea :eek: . I've never been on a river in a pontoon boat and am wondering what exactly to expect. I have a 9' outcast will this be sufficient and safe for this part of the yak??
Your 9' pontoon boat is plenty of boat for the lower river. There really are no hazards to navigation on the lower river-all you need to do is keep you feet up in the riffles and avoid the mid-stream rocks. And, make sure you wear your PFD.
I second the "great article" props. Alone with yours is the article about Columbia River smallmouth by Joe Warren in the Winter 2000 issue of NWF. Both have inspired me to to start prospecting this fishery some, so far on foot in the Vantage area.

There is tons of great shoreline accessible above and below the WANAPUM Dam. In the last couple weeks I spent two days prospecting both sides from I-90 down to an area below Beverly. I hit only the areas easiest to reach, lookin for slower water with rocky bottoms and any areas that looked like areas the smallie would feed in their prespawn mode. I have to say, at the end of the second day I had not one strike to show for it, just sore feet from scrambling over basalt outcrops in running shoes. At the end of the second day I stopped below Wanapum State Park at a little inlet with a bridge over the outlet to the main stem, there is a little mom'n pop campground there. I climbed down the riprap and rollcast my white bunny leech out into water on the inside of the bridge. Couple casts later I got a tug, then a hookup with a 12"er which LDR'd. Couple more tugs and I switched to a black bunny leach. I roll cast, sat down for a minute and relaxed while the intermediate sunk to the bottom then started a slooowww retrieve. One thing Joe Warren mentions in his article is that smallies often take the fly during the pause in the retrieve and if you feel any pressure on the line don't immediately try to set the hook, you'll just yank it out of their mouth. Let the fish mouth it and begin to move away with it then strike . So I resisted jerking when I felt a little pressure and waited, sloowwly gathering in line till it was snug then BAM, I jerked the rod up! DAMN IT, I'm hooked on the bottom..... oh no I'm not! My god, what a brief but violent encounter that was. I was using an 8wt and that baby was bent double as the smallie went straight down like a bowling ball dropped out of a second story window. A big stick and and heavy leader made it no contest though and soon I was releasing the biggest bass I ever caught in my brief bass-on-the-fly foray, 17-18" long, tall from stomach to dorsal, at least 7", thick across the body, man what a fish!

I realized my lack of success could be that I was not letting my line sink enough and my retrieve was to "trout like", too fast. I'm looking forward to going back trying again with a slower approach

What a fantastic unexplored fishery. Unlimited access, no fishing pressure at all, add a boat and you'r in a dream world. I am looking forward to tubing from Wanapum State Park down to the inlet along the west shore, prime habitat. If you don't want to tube or pontoon the entire shoreline on both sides of the river is accesible on foot. If you like the desert scenery at's a fun place to explore and a nice diversion from cold rainy days on the west side. :thumb:


Zen Piscator

Supporting wild steelhead, gravel to gravel.
Smallies are an under fished species, as are most warmwater fish in eastern Washington. I have seen 2 possible state record fish in another small river near the Yakima. I hooked one that truly gave me a shock when it came out of the water. That was a brutal break of, one of the hardest hitting fish mentally and physically I have ever met. Night fishing for smallies is my favorite method on places I know. Nothin' but topwater at night. Hearing an explosion and feeling the power wrench your shoulder and telegraph down your spine is something that isn’t seen too often with trout fishing. During the daylight hours, there is one method I favor over all others when fishing slower waters. I like a leadcore shooting head or type "really damn heavy" sinking line. I attach 4 feet of 12lb flouro or ultra-green to this, and some type of very buoyant fly such as a rabbit muddler with large spun head, or some type of bass bug to the leader. Its gotta float as well as powerbait. I generally toss this rig along breaklines, points, or just straight out from shore like a powerbaiter on opening day. I have never had a fish take while im retrieving the fly; they ALWAYS take it on the pause when the fly is fluttering back up from the bottom. Some of the takes are easily seen, and your line will simple rip out between strips like a trout latching onto a green powerbait egg and feeling that snelled eagle claw. Other takes you will feel when you make the next strip, and the line gets tight like the way a stringer gets when it has 5 7inch hatchery trout on it. About 3 out of every 10 fish (which is a good day on big smallies for me) I catch seem to work a little like this; "strip, pause, strip, hmmm...that line doesn’t feel quite right, strip, pause, hmm...feels light or something, I should set to make sure I don’t have a crappie on...ZZZZZZZ oh yeah!" The fish will stay with the fly for long periods of time sometimes and swim forward so it is really hard to feel. Its like how hatchery trout caught on powerbait with 14 spit shot fight. Sadly, the fish that swim towards you when they have the fly will often have the fly very deep in their mouths before you can set up. Try fishing powerbait for trout, and make sure you let the fish "eat it a long time then rip dem' lips off", this is a good way to practice for the accidental gut hooking of smallmouth. I fish all barbless anyways, and can usually get it out, but if there is blood in the mouth, I cut the line or if im with someone who eats smallies and its not a trophy fish, I usually hand it over to them. The fish probably don't make it some of the time when they are hooked like this, but hey...crawdads need to eat. For the stripping method, I like to strip about once and wait long enough to say "Backyard can drink like a mofo but lost a rubber band fight with Ron's kid" then strip again. With the exception of a fish from the yak during smolt migration, I took all my biggest smallies last year on this method. It kills in small farm ponds and slow waters, but looses its effectiveness in riffles and faster moving water such as some sections of the lower yak. One more thing, don't skimp on the tippet because sometimes the line with get caught up in weeds and it will take a lot of force to get it and the fish out. Its not much like normal trout fishing, but I love it.

Yeah, I 've fished the stretch upstream to Prosser but access is a little more difficult and it's really rocky most of the time. Another stretch for you to try would between Mabton and Toppenish. There's some incredible largemouth fishing in what the locals call the Yakima sloughs. My uncle used to fish it alot for 5-7lb fish. I've not heard of anyone else trying it in years. Also, right about now there should be some incredible carp fishing just upstream of the Mabton bridge. There's several large flats that flood (maybe not this year) at the slightest excuse and the carp root around in the flooded grass. We used to hunt them with bows before people even thought about flyfishing for them :). I also know about some drainage ditches (for real- they were planted back in the 50's) that have steehead in them, but if I told yah, I'd have to kill yah heehhee.....


left-handed sort of way
regarding the stretch upstream from the prosser dam

i suspect that the bass are there. there's supposed to be a bass tournament originating from the boat launch in prosser this weekend (sat). i'm guessing with a start time about 7-8:00. the curious might want to wander down there around weigh in time to gather whatever information these guys have. this is the second or third year for the tournament, and i've observed some interesting activity on the river as people are searching for their 'spots' for the last couple of weekends, seeming to grow now during the week leading up. these are gear guys, but fish are fish.