Columbia River for shad, immediately below John Day dam,
on the south side of river. This report is in 2 parts:
1. Main tips, from my notes over the years
2. "Too-detailed" tips you'll need to follow if
you want to hook 100 shad per day (don't bother reading
unless a. you aren't satisfied w/catching a few dozen shad
per day, or b. you have way too much time on your hands,
Why fish at Bonneville when you seem to catch more shad
(and not have to put up with quite as many people) at John
Day? Unlimited number of super camping spots 100 feet to
2 miles away from the fishing area!
At John Day, my tests indicate that shad darts and the "Shad
Killer" brand lure noticeably beat those plain walleye-style
round-head jigs, and those crappie-style jigs, that are
both so popular at Bonneville! If you only have those round-head
jigs, add flashabou to them!
Shad "NEVER" seem to strike while your dart/jig
is pointing downstream or sideways to the current. On a
dart, "ALL" strikes come as the lure is swinging
or pointing UPSTREAM!
One day here I was catching a fish about every 4 casts,
but a guy next to me was catching them every 1.5 casts!
His secret: adding a ONE INCH LONG BRASS weight (the kind
bass fishermen use in front of rubber worms) about 23 inches
in front of his dart. It ATTRACTS the fish he said! I use
these 3/8 oz. BRASS weights now as my tests indicate it's
the best way!
DON'T USE 1/8 OZ. DARTS/JIGS....here, shad hardly bite unless
it's 1/16 or even 1/32 oz. darts/jigs. Best dart colors
· Chartreuse w/red head
· Shiny/bare jig head
To get flows & fish counts I go to:
One biologist I called said don't bother going to John Day
if flows are 450,000 or higher.
I feel that if flows are much under 280,000 that the shad
(the main horde of fish, anyway) congregate upstream of
the fishing boundary, where you can't fish.
I don't go until John Day shad counts are 10,000 per day
or more. My notes indicate this usually occurs between June
10 and July 6.
At Bonneville I have always had bad fishing BELOW 20,000
shad/day, and good fishing when it's OVER 20,000/day.
At John Day, I don't fish the north side of the river, I
fish the south side. At the usual June flows, the south
fish ladder has 2 to 8 times as many shad traversing it
as the north side.
"TOO-DETAILED" TIPS TO HOOK 100 SHAD PER DAY (if
you're happy catching a few dozen shad per day, then relax
and don't waste your time reading this):
For you Washington anglers, you can get an Oregon license
24 hours at Dinty's Market which is immediately on the Oregon
side just as you head south over the bridge at Biggs. Phone
My notes indicate that if you like bigger shad, or like
shad roe, fish after about June 25th. The females are bigger
than males, and mostly arrive about 10 days after the males.
My studies indicate that people "naturally" reel
at about 1 turn per second. But my notes indicate, that
in current, you'll catch way more if you don't reel in at
more than 1/2 of a turn of your reel handle per second.
The shad don't like to fight the current much to chase your
If you buy darts with hair tails, cut off the hair, or else
lure is too big!!
More current flow pushes the bulk of the fish downstream,
less flow and the fish move upstream. The flows here vary
by 80,000 cfs per day! Locating the fish is the key, and
experience has taught me that when the cfs flows at John
Day are the following, the best starting point will most
360,000 cfs: At the end of the parking lot, which is about
80' upstream from the end of the rip-rap.
330,000 cfs: A large white line is painted on the rocks,
in about the middle of the parking lot. Fish where the line
hits the water.
320,000 cfs: immediately below that huge "sluce"
that transports the salmon smolts downstream.
300,000 cfs: 80' upstream from "sluce" (1/2 way
from "sluce" to 1st Indian platform upstream.)
290,000 cfs: Within 50 feet of the upstream most fishing
deadline, right below the dam.
The current is strongest from 6AM to 9AM (power requirements
are highest, since customers are getting ready for their
day) so during this time the shad are pushed DOWNSTREAM
a bit from the normal spots. After 9AM I work my way UPSTREAM
slowly, as the perfect current flows will not be in the
same locations as during the peak flow periods of 6AM to
9AM. This is important since the water all looks the same,
but the biggest shad schools are concentrated in maybe a
60' section of the 60 miles of this part of the river!
I almost KNOW that your town probably does not sell the
best shad lures! Shad darts are so hard to find that no
place in Bellingham has them, and the nation's #1 fishing
tackle mail-order place, Bass Pro Shops, doesn't have ANY
of them either! But with this tip you can reach over to
your phone by your computer and get all the darts you need!:
Call Fishermen's Marine and Outdoor in Oregon City and mail
order stuff at 1-800-718-2628. It's shad section alone is
almost one third the size of my local Fred Meyer's entire
fishing section. Rufus General Store (3 miles from where
you fish) has licenses (opens at 6AM), and the 2nd largest
supply of shad darts I've ever seen. Phone 541-739-2534.
The "Shad Killer" lure is sold almost exclusively
by it's manufacturer, Bill Ezell from Hermiston Oregon.
Email me if you want his phone number, or mailing address
Don't use normal colored hooks on your darts/jigs! ALL highliners
I've ever interviewed use shiny GOLD colored hooks on their
darts/jigs! OR they use normal colored hooks but tie Flashabou
to the collar of the jig. Paint an eye (just a black dot,
a felt tip pen will do fine) on each side of the head of
White w/red head is the all-time #1 shad color. It's #1
on the Willamette, it's #1 on the Yuba River. It's often
the only color sold in stores...but many people have told
me it sucks at John Day!
I've noticed people catch way fewer fish if they use (like
I've done inadvertantly many times) a weight that's over
about 1/3 of an ounce. You'll have to reel too fast, to
keep it off the incredibly grabby rocks, for the shad to
really want to grab it in the strong current.
Don't use big lures. I was fishing next to a guy, and we
were both using the same color and style of lure, but I
caught a fish every other cast and he was skunked until
I gave him that lure in the 1/16 oz. size. Then he started
Flows data is given in arrears (you know, it's like a rear
view mirror - doesn't tell where you're going, only where
you've BEEN!) So I call the Columbia River flows FORECASTING
people at 503-808-3941. I call the day before I go, or plan
to go, to know what exact spot to fish, and whether it'll
be worth going or not.
The following site is the most detailed fishing-information
site for one river in the world! It has so much info that
you could even find out (not that you'd really want to)
what the barometric pressure, counts of all species of salmon/shad,
water clarity, flows, etc. at any Columbia River dam was
on any date in the last 20 years, nicely graphed out for
Technically, highliners say the best indicator of when you
should go right below John Day or not is how many shad went
over the Dalles Dam about ONE WEEK week ago. It takes the
shad about one week to go from Dalles to John Day.
Looking at JOHN DAY shad counts technically only tells you
how many shad LEFT the fishing spot in question, not how
many are IN it.
The real fancy way to determine how many fish are in this
general section of the river is to take the current Dalles
CUMMULATIVE total and from that subtract the John Day CUMMULATIVE
total! (Don't you wish you could tell exactly many fish
of one species are in EVERY section of a river you fish!)
My experiments indicate that (only the shad know why!) I
roughly double my catch rate if I tie the knot to the TOP
of the hook eye of the dart and not to the FRONT of the
hook eye of the dart, where you'd THINK it should be tied.
This might allow the dart to wobble from side to side just
a tad more? After every strike, or fish, or hang-up, I make
a point to glance at my dart to see if the knot is still
on the top, or has migrated to the front of the eye.
The rocks are so slippery when they get wet here that I've
slipped and hurt myself a bit. So now I only use FELT covered
For BONNEVILLE shad info, such as catch-rate per angler-day,
(Searches the Seattle Times site for the fishing report.
Does not give John Day info, however.) Practice catch and