The alarm went off at 1:30 am. After 45 minutes of sleep my partner, Nick Barr, and I were loaded up and ready to hit the road. It was a two-hour drive to Columbia Point Park for the NWBass Championship. We arrived at the ramp and signed up. You could feel the excitement in the air. We were in the last flight for Saturday and Sunday. After what seemed like an hour of waiting to blast off we finally left the marina and headed down the river. We drove a ways down the river to our first spot. The weather was overcast with the wind blowing about 10 mph. We started fishing a 45-degree bank with rock and scattered grass. The boat was sitting in 20 feet of water and we were throwing up to the bank. My partner caught 3 smallmouth about 8-10 inches long and since there was no size limit for the tournament they went in the well.
After fishing another 100 yards down the bank without a bite we headed back up the river to fish a main lake point in 10 feet of water. After fishing around the point for a half of an hour without getting a bite we headed down the river another 20 minutes and fished a main-river weed bed in 10 feet of water. My partner caught an 8-pound carp off of the weed bed and that was it.
We decided to head across the river and fish some man made cover in very shallow water hoping to catch a big largemouth. We fished in and around the shallow cover without success. We moved up river and fished a shallow stretch with rock piles and scattered grass. Very quickly I caught one on a Bass Pro Shops XPS crankbait. It was 2 1/2 pounder that gave us a total of four smallmouth. Forty yards down the river my partner caught a nice 3 1/2 pound fish on a rock pile. So we culled our fish and had two decent ones and three small fish.
We kept fishing up river and came to a rocky stretch with deep-water access very close by. I was throwing a Bass Pro Shops XPS deep diving crankbait targeting the deeper rocks in 17-20 feet. On my second cast, my XPS plug came in contact with the rocky ledge and my RainShadow Forecast cranking rod with a 5.4:1 Lews Cranking reel loaded up when a 3 1/4 pound fish nailed it.
After culling our smallest we turned around and I fired the big plug back out and as soon as it came in contact with the ledge again a 2 1/2 pound chocked it.
It was noon and we had four decent fish and one small smallmouth still. We continued up river and fished several spots without any bites. We had enough time to stop and check four spots on our way back to the ramp before weigh in. We stopped on a main lake point and fished for 5 minutes. The wind was blowing into the point and I was targeting the rocks off of the end of the point in 15 feet of water. I was throwing the XPS deep diving crankbait and on my third cast I had a fish bite as I was bringing my bait out of the water. I had the fish on for 3 seconds before the fish came off. After the disappointing lost fish off of the point, we headed up the river a couple of miles and fished a rocky stretch in 10 feet of water.
We had 30 minutes to fish before we had to be back at the ramp for weigh in. We pulled up and starting fishing our last spot of the day. After fishing for two minutes my partner set the hook on a nice smallmouth. The fish came up and jumped and I netted it right by the side of the boat. We culled out our smallest and headed back upriver and checked two other spots without any bites. Back at the ramp we weighed in almost 13 pounds for our best five. We got all our gear together that night and went to bed very early!
We woke up at 4 am and drove to the ramp. We launched the boat and waited for take off. We made the decision to make the boat ride all the way down to the Umatilla pool, which meant we had to lock through the McNary dam.
We took off from the ramp and headed down the river for the dam. We had to be at the lock at 7 am to make it. We had an extra 15 minutes to kill before we had to be there. So we stopped at the spot where we caught our last fish the day before and stated fishing. I caught a 2 1/2 pound fish very quickly on a Bass Pro Shops XPS lipless crankbait. We fished for a couple of more minutes and then left to make the lock. The wind was blowing close to 30 mph so the boat ride to the dam was very, very wet and bumpy. We got to the lock on time and waited 15 minutes for them to start the locking process.
After thirty minutes we where through the lock and heading down the river on the Umatilla stretch of the river. We stopped and fished a stretch of bank with a current break close to the main river current. We spent ten minutes fishing the break without a bite. So we headed down river and fished a shallow weed line in 7-10 feet of water. The wind was blowing pretty good and we had a nice chop on the water. The weed bed was a 200-yard stretch of the river with current flowing over the top of it. I had a smallmouth about 4 lbs follow up my crankbait but never ate it. My partner had a nice fish eat his reaction bait five minutes later but it came off right at the boat. We continued down the weed edge and when we got close to the end my partner caught a 3 1/4 pound fish on his reaction bait. That gave us two fish in the live well.
We decided to go back up and fish down the same weed edge again. We started down the edge and I quickly caught a 2 pound fish on a soft plastic jig head. After I put the fish in the well, we continued down the edge without a bite. We went across the river and fished a weed flat in 10 feet of water. We spent 30 minutes fishing the flat without a bite.
By this time it was 12:45 and we had to be back at the dam by 1:30 to make the lock back up river. With only 30 minutes left to fish we stopped on one more spot before we had to leave. It was a rocky point with current sweeping over the top of it. I quickly caught a good fish on a V&M Shakey Shad on a drop shot in 10 feet if water.
The fish took off for deep water and I played it out, my 8 lbs Sunline Super FC Sniper handled her great! After what seamed like forever my partner finally netted the 3 3/4 pound fish and I put her in the live well.
I retied and we got the boat back to the point. On my second cast with the Shaky Shad I had another bite. I played the fish out and my partner netted it. After putting the 2 1/4 pound fish in the live well I felt a huge sigh of relief, we had our limit of five fish and we only had a couple of minutes left before we had to leave.
We packed up the boat and headed towards the dam. We had to make a quick stop and get gas at the Umatilla marina because we were almost out! On our way to the marina we came to a straight of the river and the waves got real bad from the wind. We speared four waves that had the bottom of the boat completely covered in water, but we eventually made it to the marina. After fueling up we headed for the dam. We made the lock and after 30 minutes we where headed back up the river towards the Tri Cities.
On our way back we had 40 minutes to fish. We stopped and fish several of the places where we had caught fish the day before. But unfortunately we didn’t have any bites. Back at the ramp we weighed in almost 14 pounds.
Out of the 54 teams in the tournament we finished in 16th place. It was a great tournament and I really learned a lot about the river and I had an awesome time. We had the fish on to better us, but they came off. That’s fishing though!
I’m excited for next year and can’t wait for next season to start!
Nik Autrey “Do whatever it takes”
Photo credit: Nick Autrey, Wikipedia