I’ve been trying to figure out how to get in there for about a year.
Nobody talks about it or even seems to know much about it. It is the perfect spot for a kayak fisherman. Right in the middle of everything and difficult to access, the Willamette River runs right through the heart of Salem, Oregon, and flows north to where it joins the Columbia River in Portland. It is home to both smallmouth and largemouth bass among many other types of fish. Along the Willamette there are many sloughs that have seasonal through flow when the water level is high, but most of the year they sit as a still arm or pond attached to a moving body of water. There is one such slough in the heart of downtown Salem. I have been looking for a way in for about a year. On one side, it is bordered by downtown and railroad tracks and a busy road and on the other. It is surrounded by a large natural area complete with hiking trails and sports fields. There is no easy or even permitted access through any of these areas. It is only accessible by crossing the river and hauling your kayak up and over the land bridge that cuts it off from the river for 10 months out of the year.
The main thing I needed to attempt entry to the slough was an accomplice, and I had just the victim in mind. My brother takes an annual family trip to the Oregon Coast and usually stops by on his way. I’m not sure who was more intrigued by this fishing hole hidden in plain sight, me or him. We planned, waited and finally the day came. As all good fishing trips start, we left home at 0 dark 30, and we were on the water before sunrise. We put in at a public launch on the west side of the river and pedaled our Lure 11.5’s across the river. In this area, the river is between 6 and 20 feet deep and is about 200 yards across. Our Lure 11.5’s cut through the steady current with ease as we made a b-line for our not-so-hidden treasure.
The slough splits off from the river in a spot where a small stream cuts into the main river channel. This allowed for a thirty yard drag upstream before it got to the final 40 yards; the part of the expedition that would either make or break our trip. The mix of soft compacted silt and softball sized river rock made it a two man carry situation. It proved to be the only terrain that my C Tug with Sandtrakz hasn’t been able to tackle. The portage over the land bridge was a bit more difficult than expected. It made me so thankful for the wheel in the keel and a good cart. Finally, feeling sweaty and very middle aged, we slid our kayaks into the waters of the slough.
We made it. The excitement of actually being somewhere I had been dreaming of for the past year was tempered by the fact that I had never seen such dirty water in my life. There was literally 6 inches of visibility. In an instant my fishing game plan had to change drastically. I needed lots of sound and vibration. Chatterbait, spinnerbait, crankbait, jerkbait and topwater were the new plan of attack. As the morning moved on, we picked up a few on the chatterbait. Nothing to take pictures of, just some pound-and-a-halfers, but we were on the board. We made our way down the length of the slough and had a couple of small bite windows adding up to 6 or 8 fish.
We rounded the end and started the one-mile journey back toward the river. The bite we were on stopped, so we changed our baits to shallow diving crankbaits. The bite was almost non-existent until we got about halfway back. My brother cast his crankbait parallel down a line of lay downs. “There’s one, finally!” I heard him say from across the slough. The fish seemed like one of the others until they caught sight of each other through the thick, black water.
In an instant, they both felt a surge of adrenaline. The bass flashed a quick glance of his immense side as he rolled back toward the cover of the laydown he ambushed the bait from. “Oh dude, It's a good one,” he exclaimed in a hushed but excited tone. I turned and pedaled over to him as he netted the beast. As he lifted the fish out of the net, it just kept coming. Bobby clamped the scale grips on the lower jaw of the largemouth and hefted him in the air. The heart of downtown is a 5-minute walk away and my brother caught his new PB right here, in the middle of everything.
We found a hawg haven smack dab in the middle of downtown Salem, Oregon. That is one of the advantages of kayak fishing that I love; I can get to places that others can’t. No one would have thought that we would have caught a new PB by passing through the middle of the city. My Lure 11.5 OD was up to the task. It's light enough to portage and stable enough for a 6’ 3” 210lb. guy like me to stand up and fish in. It’s always up to the challenge, and always ready to explore the most remote or the most urban environments.
Andy's Adventure Gear List
Written by Andy Ulrich, Feelfree US Pro Staff Team Member
Edited by Bobby Ulrich, Feelfree US Pro Staff Team Member