“River Savages” by Trevor Johnson of Kit’s Tackle
By angelamontana

Posted: March 13, 2014

riversavageIt is hard to believe that it has been almost a full week since we made the long trek home from the Columbia River.  I will honestly admit I have left in a physical state, but am still 110% “Jiggin’ the Dream” with the Glass Minnows on a  breakline in the haunting waters of the big river to this very moment.  So I will apologize ahead of time if you place an order through the website for fire tiger glass minnows and I I ship you a spoon, toothbrush and a tire gauge…I actually woke up last night in a deep sweat having nightmares about the giant that broke me off at the boat.   But we will get to that…a little further on in the blog.  We returned late last week just in time for our annual Helena trade show and just in time for a second HUGE storm.  I still owe my wife a million date nights for leaving her during the storm of the century!!  Knowing my pregnant wife was stuck at home was an daunting feeling…but I had a job to do.  I had to face the elements and paint the LOWRANCE black in search of the allusive, yet attainable big pre spawn Sander Vitreus!!  Dad and I metamorphed from a couple regular ol’ guys into full blown river savages ready for battlefield action.  If you are going to test your angling spirits against the blunt harshness and humbleness of the Columbia River…you must turn your fishing switch to savage mode.  And pack a big cooler full of patience!

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Now that patience has been mentioned, the drive over the passes during the midst of winter will test every drip you have in your body.  As we left for our adventure, we knew we were going to have a true beast upon us.  We sailed smoothly west to Missoula and then the poop hit the fan…almost literally!  The roads went from decent to OH SH#T!!  And although this isn’t funny, I have to tell the story.  As we stopped at a rest stop to do a quick breather before trudging over Lookout Pass, we overheard a gal yelling at her man to slow down in these conditions.  As we left the rest area the truck came ripping by us at an insane speed for the conditions.  It wasn’t thirty miles down the road and his beautiful aftermarket Chevy truck was facing the wrong way on the highway and was destroyed from bumper to bumper.  After noticing everybody was ok…I had to bite my lip not to giggleJ  It is actually other drivers that make the conditions so scary and dangerous!  Normally, the drive from Helena to Pasco takes a conservative driver eight hours…we clocked in at just less than twelve hours of driving.  Let’s just say we were very tense and happy to be at the RIVER OF GIANTS.  The big blue bridge that divides Pasco and Kennewick is the finish line of goose bumps.  As the alarm sounded just a couple hours from shutting our eyes…I didn’t know where the heck I was.  Usually it takes to at least the third day to become this delirious…HIGH OCTANE COFFEE AND SAVAGE MODE FOR THE NEXT COUPLE DAYS!!

As we pulled up to the Burbank ramp we were met by friendly fellow anglers and some awesome clients of ours.  The first thing I always notice is the GLORIOUS smell of the river that has a salty/sweet musky oder like no other.  You are probably wondering why in the world would anyone be at the ramp before the Kit’s boys?  We actually had some awesome in store business in Kennewick in the morning.  If you are ever in the Tri Cities make sure you get your licensing and everything else at RANCH AND HOME.  This store is incredible from the elk sheds hanging everywhere to the most impressive fishing department I have ever seen. Make sure to ask for TJ Hester, who is actually an awesome licensed guide on the big river.  If you ever need a salmon or steelhead trip…this is your guy (www.hesterssportfishing.com).  Getting back to the salty/sweet we headed down the Snake River and dumped into the river of dreams.  This was actually an incredible morning in that we have tried to fish this stretch of river multiple times and it has always been too windy.  This day was different, the fishing gods were on our side and ready to show us a good time.  I don’t know if I was more excited to fish or just be in the famous newer stretch of the Boise Cascade paper mill.  Just writing those very words my body just exploded with tingling goose bumps…the Columbia River truly has my heart.

If things couldn’t get better we searched through the armada of boats for the true RIVER SAVAGE GURU…KIMO GABRIEL.  Those words also bring the goose bumps right back!  This man, or superhuman I should say is the BEST walleye angler on the Columbia River.  Yes, that is a big statement but a statement I don’t hesitate saying.  Not only is he Kit’s Pro Staff, but a huge inspiration and mentor to me and my dad.  He is truly a class act and has the most insane knowledge of the big river’s walleye.  There was actually a gentleman at the ramp that mentioned Kimo was Kit’s Pro Staff and said, “Dang, that guy’s wife better put out because he’s a freakin’ rockstar!!”  And that about sums it up folks!  I will dig deeper into Kimo in a couple weeks with a blog on him and his river.  To give him a sneak peak or to learn from the very best check him out here: (www.gabrielguides.net). After finding his white Yar Craft we shared some great laughs with him and Jaramy.  Then he gave us a tour of the river and set our bearings straight.  Now it was time to kick some walleye butt! Fishing the afternoon away we hooked a big fish and got her in.  The first fish of the trip was a beautiful 30” walleye.  Man, how cool, how blessed we felt to be so fortunate to be “Jiggin’ the Dream” on the Columbia River.

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The next morning we were met again at the ramp, but not by the fellow friendly anglers like the day before; we were met by the more familiar harsh elements of the Columbia River.  Cold wind and ice pellets to the face will definitely wake a guy up in a hurry…and want to crawl under the console and cry!  The next few days on the river were much worse conditions, but we put in our time and fared very well in our book of pre-spawn walleye fishing.  We were fishing a new stretch right below where the Snake River dumps in the mighty Columbia River. The week before we arrived, the Snake actually blew out making the water very muddy so we quickly adapted our presentation. We were using the Glass Minnows with Berkley Gulp and Trigger X.  We were actually sliding the bait up the shank of the hook so it would bulk out the material on the jig.  We were killing two birds with one stone here by creating a bigger, more visual profile in the water and also mimicking a sculpin (the main walleye forage in this stretch of river).  Then to make a complete smorgasbord…we added a half night crawler for scent.  Any little addition that can help increase a bite from cold water walleye is a plus.  Or like I’ve said a million times before…if it increases your confidence…DO IT!!  Confidence is the golden skeleton key to catching fish…and of course the Glass Minnows!

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I will take this segment to describe in a nutshell how we approached this intimidating river.  As you all know, we are big fish freaks and that was our main objective on this trip.  We won’t argue with a five pound male, but the big gals were our mission’s target.  The biggest key to catching BIG cold water wintertime walleye on the Columbia is a VERY, VERY SLOW PRESENTATION!  We do our best to keep the boat equal to the current and therefore keeping the Glass Minnows as vertical as possible making a better presentation.  Keeping the boat in the strike zone is a lot of work…but very rewarding.  We actually start at the top of a drift and sweep back and forth through the hole covering the water.  To get technical (which I don’t like to think about) you actually have to place your jig just inches in front of a big females face in one of the biggest bodies of water in the world to get bit.  If that’s not bad enough, only a rare few fish will actually bite during this time of year.  This is where you lift the lid on the cooler full of patience and take a couple deep breathes…and grab a caffeinated beverage!  To properly jig for these majestic creatures we have what we call the 10’’ rule.  We consistently lift our jig up and down, but never more than a couple inches off the bottom.  We are trying to mimic a crippled sculpin or yellow perch scurrying across the bottom.  And now the most important part…ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS LET YOUR JIG FALL ON A SLACK LINE.  There is two key purposes for this:

1.)   By letting your jig fall on a lack line it creates a more realistic presentation with no line drag imparting on the action on the jig.

2.)   When a fish sucks your jig in on a slack line it will not feel you and think it just got a delicious meal…WRONG!  Then when you lift back up, the jig is inside the fish’s mouth and you will get better hook sets.  When the jig falls on a tight line the fish will feel you and immediately spit the jig causing more missed bites.   

Now, let’s get back to the slimy facts of the Columbia River and our trip.  After catching a few more studs and few heartbreaks with big suckers, I hooked into a very heavy fish!  It was actually pretty awesome because we were putting on a mini seminar on the water when I hooked this beast.  It took at least three or four minutes to get the fish up and all the boats were saying it was going to be a twenty pound walleye.  This was actually the first time I think I was shaking a little in my fishing career.  Then, as I could feel the fish coming in I was scouring the depths for a glance at the beast on my line.  There the fish was and it was big…big whiskers that is.  It was a big ol’ channel catfish and I was pumped!  All the boats were saying what a bummer it was but I was actually quite thrilled to have caught such an awesome fish.  Now that we are on the subject of big fish, it wasn’t a couple drifts later and I lifted my rod tip up and that magic feeling a dead weight was waiting for me on the other end.  That feeling we all know, but no words in the human vocabulary can describe.  I ripped my rod up and yelled at dad, “BIG, BIG FISH ON!!”  It was crazy how I could tell it was a very heavy fish but it came up faster than others which had me confused.  The fish appeared about ten feet from the boat on the surface and she was a true pig…one of the largest walleye I have ever seen.  And we have caught some true giants in our time on the water.  The beast started thrashing around and actually broke my fluorocarbon leader.  In absolute disbelief the huge fish just sat there disoriented for a few seconds then swept back into the depths with my Glass Minnow in her mouth.  Dad and I looked at each other and couldn’t believe what had just happened…it was nobody’s fault, but holy cow.  I think the only feeling that could compare would be sending an arrow flying over the back of a 380” class bull elk!!  Being so disappointed I could hardly pick my rod back up, I took a couple deep breaths and realized how lucky I have been in the past and it was due to happen eventually.  And in all reality…there isn’t a damn thing I could do about it.  Just like my grandpa used to say, “If you poop your pants, you can’t suck it back in.”  

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On a brighter more uplifting note, the real reason you do adventures like this is for the experience and the memories.  It isn’t the eighteen pound walleye that makes the trip worthwhile.  It is the dream and the experiences shared while chasing your passion.  Some of the best memories from the trip were coming off the water in the dark and driving under the giant train tresses and the magnificent flocks of birds.  One night coming off the water we were surrounded by thousands of small gulls that seemed to be following the boat.  If dad wasn’t there to witness it with me, I wouldn’t believe it ever happened.  It is these memories that will last a lifetime and mean the world forever.  Just like Kimo mentioned on our trip, “It sure is cool to see you and your dad sharing the same burning passion and creating memories together because they will last forever.”  Just as vivid as being there I can still look over and see dad’s goatee blowing in the rivers haunting wind. I cherish these memories and dream of the new ones to come…they truly are the mix between an oil canvas painting and a non-fiction novel.  Although the memories are so magical they might be better categorized under a fishy FICTION fairytale named “RIVER SAVAGES.”  

(Written by Trevor Johnson of Kit’s Tackle)