Every September for 16 years, I’ve driven down the hill from Goldendale, taken the turn left on a road that passes by Maryhill State Park, and pulled into a campsite fronting the Columbia River at the impeccably clean and well cared for Peach Beach RV Park. What brings me here? Fish Camp. It’s an annual event attended by outdoors media members, professional anglers, and individuals in the fishing and outdoors retail and manufacturing industry.
The event is the brainchild of Ed Iman, a long- time fishing guide and promoter who calls The Dalles, Oregon, home and who helped pioneer walleye fishing here in the Pacific Northwest. The daily flow of Fish Camp is simple. After checking in with Ed, you put your sleeping bag in one of the tents set up for you or park your truck, camper, or RV or boat in one of the camp sites within the south half of the park taken over by this event. In the middle of all of this, a long line of tables under canopies is set up. This is where participants eat and socialize while a crew of helpers prepares three tasty meals a day for you.
Every day anglers go out on an adventure of their choosing. Most are after fall chinook, found in the Columbia River off the mouth of the Deschutes, Klickitat, or White Salmon Rivers. Others, particularly those who have never been to the Pacific Northwest before, head out onto the Columbia to wrestle with a sturgeon. The largest one caught at Fish Camp measured over 11-feet long and was caught by a longtime manager with Cabela’s a few years back.
Both the Klickitat River on the Washington side and the Deschutes River a short drive away from camp in Oregon offer a combination of Chinook and summer steelhead. Some years boats are available to take anglers up and down these rivers. Even when there are not, though, there are plenty of opportunities to catch fish from the bank if you are willing to hike to your fishing hole.
There are bass and walleye too. Originally, the main focus of Fish Camp was walleye fishing on the Columbia, but they can be tough to catch during the month of September due to an abundance of bait fish in the water that doesn’t have them too interested in the worms you are trolling past them. Having said that, there’s always a boat or two targeting these tasty fish and sometimes, the bite does come on below the John Day Dam, and some of those fillets become available for dinner.
As for me, I’ll miss my annual hike up the Deschutes River where I toss spinners and spoons for salmon and steelhead as well as my efforts to catch the same fish out of the Klickitat. The smallmouth bass fishing on the Columbia? I’ll miss that, too, and I’ve had some fun trips not only fishing from bass boats but also from a kayak. Hover fishing for salmon is another fun trip I’ll miss this year, and the opportunity to wrestle with a big sturgeon is also a fight I’ll miss. On top of this, I’ll miss my drive to the John Day River and Cottonwood Canyon State Park where you can hike for miles in a gorgeous, remote setting, fishing runs for smallmouth bass, and seeing wildlife from mule deer to bighorn sheep.
Yes, I will miss the fishing at Fish Camp this year, but truth be told, I think I’ll miss the friends I’ve made over the last 16 years even more. Here’s hoping I’ll be driving back to Fish Camp in 2021. In the meantime, I hope I’ve given you a few ideas about places to go fishing in the Columbia River Gorge this month!
PS – Speaking of cancellations, the Northwest Berkley Big Bass Tournament, scheduled for October 3 at MarDon Resort and Potholes Reservoir, has also been cancelled. Weather permitting though, it should be a good weekend for a cast and blast with quail hunting along with bass and walleye fishing available around here.