By Rob Phillips
Over the past couple decades the Yakima River has become known as one of the Northwest’s premier trout rivers. Anglers from all over travel to the Yakima and fish the waters from Cle Elum to Yakima. Many times of the year it is catch-and-release flyfishing at its best. But the Yakima is more than just a quality trout fishing river. The lower portion of the Yakima, between Horn Rapids Dam near Benton City and the mouth of the river where it meets the Columbia at Richland, can provide some excellent smallmouth bass fishing.
During the spring of each year anglers working the right baits in this lower portion of the river can have days where they catch bass after bass. And while most will be only a pound or two in size, bass in the four and five pound class are caught each year. Smallmouth inhabit big portions of the Columbia and the Snake and because the lower Yakima is slower, warmer and it provides excellent spawning habitat, the smallmouth move up into the Yakima during this time of year. Actually, even though the water doesn’t look the same, fishing on the lower Yakima for smallmouth can be similar to fishing for trout on the upper river. Like trout, the bass hold close to the shorelines using the protection of the overhanging brush. And the rocks that are scattered along the shallow shorelines provide excellent holding spots for the bass to wait to ambush their next meal.
If possible, it is best to fish for Yakima River smallies from a boat. In a drift boat or rubber raft an angler can cover both sides of the river and casting from a boat allows your lure or bait to be cast under the overhanging brush and around the rocks.
Smallmouth bass are typically ferocious feeders, and the Yakima smallies are no different. A variety of lures, jigs and plugs. Crankbaits are good choices if you are looking for a really big bass. Best colors are browns and oranges that imitate the crawdads that the bass feed on. If you are going for quantity over quality however, a small curly tailed grub in white, black, chartreuse or brown may be a better choice. Put the rubber jig on a quarter ounce jig head and bounce it along the bottom near the brushy shorelines. Another good choice is an in-line spinner. I’ve had my best luck on the Yakima with a quarter ounce Vibric Rooster Tail. Good colors are brown, black, white or chartreuse. Regular Rooster Tails, Beetle Spins and other small spinners will also work.
While drifting and casting from a boat is probably the most productive way to catch Yakima River smallmouths because you can work both sides of the river, it isn’t the only way to do it. Working the same kinds of jigs and spinners from the bank will also catch bass.
From the bank it is best to throw your lure either upriver or down, parallel with the bank, and work it along the river’s edge. Again, work under any overhanging trees or brush where the bass might be holding. And if you have chest or hip waders, getting out away from the shore even a little bit will allow you to work different fish-holding pockets.
Whether you wade or not, concentrate your efforts within 10 or 15 feet of shore and keep trying different colors and types of jigs or lures. Weather and light conditions seem to trigger different responses to different lures and colors.
There are not many put-ins and take-outs on the lower Yakima so it is advisable to do some scouting beforehand to determine where you want to get on and off of the river. This is essential if you are going to use a drift boat. A rubber raft will give you a little more flexibility.
Yes, the Yakima River is a blue ribbon trout stream. But what you may not know is that it is a pretty darned good bass river as well. If you’re interested in some excellent smallmouth bass fishing, the lower Yakima is the place and now is the time.
Rob Phillips is a lifelong Washington resident and has been fishing around the state since 1970. He is also an award winning freelance outdoor writer who has been writing professionally since 1986. His weekly column “Northwest Sportsman” appears every Thursday in the Yakima Herald-Republic.