Today we are joined by Bobby and Andy Ulrich, both pro staff with Feelfree Kayaks. While a lot of our customers live down south, both Bobby and Andy live in the Northwest, with Bobby being just a two hour drive from the Canadian border. They live in an area where the lakes are free of ice about 9 months per year, but there comes a stretch from December through the end of February where open water is hard to find. Today they are sharing with us one of their recent trips together to find some bass toward the end of the winter.
Bobby: What people need to know about my brother Andy and I is that we grew up fishing together, but now we are separated by about 600 miles, so sadly, we only get to go fishing together a couple of times per year. It’s usually a quicker trip, but we’ve had some fun experiences together. We really enjoy trying new places together, and new techniques, all of them involving a kayak.
Andy: Every spring break we make the annual trip back home to visit family. My main objective is to get in a day of fishing with my brother, Bobby. Now the term “spring break” is a rather generous term that implies warm weather, but in the Northwest it just means that spring is still a month away. Fishing during this time means looking for water that isn’t iced over, and praying that we don’t go home skunked.
Bobby: Yeah, there really aren’t a ton of places to get a kayak into the water in early March. Everyone is still ice fishing, and the water temps fluctuate between the upper 30’s and low 40’s. All of my normal spots were frozen solid, so we found a place to put kayaks into the Spokane River near Tumtum, Washington, about an hour north of where I live. It is a larger body of water than either of us are used to, but literally, in the winter, it is our only option for open water.
Andy: The hardest thing for me was leaving my kayak behind in Oregon and fishing in somebody else’s set up. Honestly, one of my favorite things about Kayak Fishing is customizing my kayak to make it suited for the way I want to fish. Luckily, you have a spare Lure 11.5 with Overdrive that I could use, which is the same model I fish out of at home. I managed to bring a few rods and a tackle bag, but truth be told, I didn’t even know what to prepare for, besides sitting in a kayak in water that was barely above freezing. Nevertheless, there we were, shivering in the dark at 5:45 AM, loading up our gear and heading out to a new body of water.
Bobby: It was a really nice drive, through vast pine tree forests. We slid our kayaks down a 45 degree bank and into the icy water. We watched my fish finder, hunting for any sort of underwater structure for quite a while. We must have fished for over an hour with no luck.
What all did we try, Andy?
Andy: I tried a whole spread of different baits. Crank baits, dropshots, jigs, and a spinnerbait, to name a few. Each lure change felt like a move of desperation, as what little confidence I had drained from my heart, along with my heat. I was so happy to be out on the water, but that sinking feeling of an impending skunk was setting in.
Bobby: I remember my hands and feet feeling pretty cold, and the ice in the guides on our rods. About an hour in, we decided to make a run to that large rock pile that I had marked on my side scan in January. It was about a two mile pedal. But once we got there, our luck really started to change.
Andy: Can I just interrupt and say that I can’t imagine fishing in those conditions without having sidescan. I have grown to rely on my fish finder and it felt crippling fishing blind. We were both dependent on your Lowrance unit to find some of the rock piles in 30’-60’ of water that you had tagged previously. I remember making that run to that large rock outcropping. Cutting across the main river channel and watching the water depth drop from 30’ to 110’ was a little eerie. That rock pile seemed like our last hope that day. Not having my down imaging or side scan I just had to triangulate with your clues and landmarks.
We found that rock pile. It was probably 30’ long by 15’ wide and stretched from 25’ of water to nearly 60’. I remember when you handed me a blade bait. As someone who had never fished one before I felt like I was tying on a soup can lid with a hook on it. I don’t think I have ever had less confidence in a lure when I first tied it on.
Bobby: (Laughing) A soup can lid. That’s funny. It literally is the most archaic lure I’ve ever used. And until that trip, I’d never caught anything on one of them.
Andy: You were the first to catch a fish on the blade bait. It was a decent smallmouth which came as a surprise after all of our conversation about fearing all we would catch were pikeminnow. My opinion of the soup can lure started to change.
Bobby: As I let that first smallie go, I remember just sitting there, staring at you and saying, “Are you kidding me?!” over and over again. We both ended up catching some decent fish in that spot.
Andy: I’m glad we’re both here for this story, my recollection is a little different. You caught the first one or two and then I did a lot of catching and you had a hard time keeping up. I think I caught 7 and you caught 3, but let’s not turn this into a contest. There was no contest.
Bobby: (Again, laughing) There was no contest. But I lost.
Andy: All in all it was a great day. We tried out a new spot, and learned a few things along the way about winter bass fishing. My biggest take away was to pay attention to what the exact thing was that I was doing when I got bit. We had the overall technique for a while before we dialed in the exact presentation they were biting on. It was the slow, steady yo-yo, with no sharp rod snaps or slack line that was really getting the consistent bite.
Bobby: It really was such a great trip. Planning an outing with a buddy, trying some new things, catching some fish, laughing a lot and in the end grabbing some food on the way home. That all adds us to a great day. I can’t wait to come fish in Oregon with you this spring. I’m so excited!
To read about our last spring outing in the middle of Salem, Oregon, check out our previous blog here.
In retrospect, I will also say that this trip introduced us to some new thoughts in the realm of safety in cold water. We have talked at length about what we could do better on our next cold water trip. But that will be the subject of a future blog. Cold water really is no joke. While catching fish is a blast, safety really should be our top priority year round. So we’ll cover how to keep yourself safe during the cold water months in a couple weeks.
Andy's Adventure Gear List
Bobby's Adventure Gear List
Yakgear Backwater Assassin paddle
Lowrance 9” Ti2 with Ram Mounts
Railblaza C-Tug with Sandtrakz
Written by Bobby and Andy Ulrich, Feelfree US Pro Staff Team Member
Edited by Bobby Ulrich, Feelfree US Pro Staff Team Member