Smallmouth Heaven – John Day River Trip 2020

John Day River #1

We took our annual John Day River trip late this year. Our trip started at the “30 Mile Wilderness Study Area” and ended at Cottonwood Bridge. The 40 mile journey travels through stunning canyons. We knew the water would be low, the Service Creek gauge was less than 200cfs when we started. At 200cfs making this float with anything other than a light raft or kayak is virtually impossible. Even in our Outcast Ambush we had to get out and drag in spots. Add the howling afternoon wind and you need to make sure you push through some areas and keep your days on the water from about 8am until 2pm, otherwise you are fighting an upstream breeze in low flows, and getting anywhere is brutal.


The John Day is an incredible smallmouth bass fishery. At 200cfs it’s simply ridiculous! Most casts would have four or five fish follow the fly. We primarily fished surface poppers and honestly it didn’t matter what size or color you were casting, it’s like the fish are starving. Often the fly is hammered upon landing, it’s like they were tracking it as it fell to the water.

John Day #3

John Day #4

John Day #5

John Day #6

Cash wanted to see if he could catch a bass on grass wrapped around a bare hook. Not a problem!

John Day #7


John Day #9

John Day #10

The scenery throughout the drift is phenomenal and not seeing another soul for 4 days was amazing.



There were deer near the rivers edge constantly, we saw five large herds of Big Horn Sheep, Chuckars clucking the entire time, coyotes, eagles, ospreys, snakes, beavers everyone was out to play.





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2 Responses to Smallmouth Heaven – John Day River Trip 2020

  1. David tate says:

    What a glorious beautiful land to see and play in very lucky I love to see this land and river.

  2. J says:

    I’ve always wanted to float the river at this flow. What dates did you go down and some of the temperatures you experienced? I usually float around memorial weekend but it’s too crowded as of late and finding sites with sooo many people on the water really makes a trip at that time difficult. How crowded was the river at that flow?

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