‘It should be good,” Chad Meadows said. “The moon is going away and the fish will be feeding ahead of the darker night.”
Ninety-nine miles from my front door, the drive usually takes a bit less than two hours, and the mercury was headed to a balmy 60 degrees on a January afternoon.
Brimming with confidence, Brooke Snavely, Tim Wehde and I climbed into the Ford and drove down toward the town of Summer Lake and made that left turn onto Carlon where Ana Reservoir came into view.
There’s only one place in Oregon where you can catch a hybrid, that sterile cross between a white bass and a striper. Hybrid bass are stocked in Ana Reservoir to control the invasive tui chub and provide the raw materials for fish and chips.
Meadows and his cousin Dakota Toombs were there ahead of us, their baits already wet.
As we pulled on boots, my mom and dad showed up. And friend Troy Boyd would join us later. Several people in our party had two-rod licenses, so there would be a lot of bait in the water. That’s what it takes. Or so they say.
Hybrid bass have proven elusive for me. This was not my first quest for hybrids or wipers or whatever we decide to call them that day. I’m still in the dues-paying stage. It’s not that I don’t know where to fish. I do. And I know when to fish. And I know what bait to use. And who to fish with.
Chad Meadows holds the state record for hybrid bass. That biggest Ana wiper weighed 19 pounds, 12 ounces, caught on a kid’s trout rod on a December day in 2014.
Ana Reservoir is stocked regularly with rainbow trout. Hybrid bass are stocked as fingerlings every other year. Averaging 20 feet in depth, Ana Reservoir is fed by cold and hot springs that keep the lake constant in temperature.
Since the bass do not expend energy spawning, they are long-lived, and they can get big in the food-rich water. Five-pound fish are common and it is not unusual to catch bass of 10 pounds or more. Those big ones Ana anglers call windshield wipers.
On light fluorocarbon lines, we offered our baits to the big bass. Slip sinkers would allow the fish to pick up the baits without feeling the weight. Our temptations were the usual whole shrimp, poultry livers and other goodies.
Meadows, after decades of plying Ana’s waters, likes to use 24 inches of fluorocarbon leader terminated with an egg loop knot on a 1/0 bait hook. To switch things up he uses a rainbow pattern Rapala — like the one he caught the state record on.
And Meadows is not above a little superstition. He still fishes on each trip with the rod he caught that biggest bass on — his little boy’s trout combo spinning rod and reel complete with green, red and blue lights that whir like a UFO going up into the starry desert sky.
We soaked our baits as the sun slid behind Winter Rim and thought of soldier/explorer/politician John C. Fremont and his men slogging down those slopes to the shores of Summer Lake on a December day back in 1843.
The bass stole our baits with the skill of a Washington, D.C., politico or a New York pickpocket.
Time after time, the fish picked up the bait then spit it out. Sometimes the line would pull out fast and I’d set the hook. Into nothing.
That’s how it goes. Meadows, Toombs, Snavely and Boyd had all seen the fishing at its finest, but wipers are fickle. Sometimes the bite just turns on. You want to be there when it happens. I want to be there when it happens.
At dark, Meadows, Snavely, Boyd and Wehde stalked the shoreline casting Rapalas. Meadows hooked one and battled it in. We didn’t weigh it, but it’s safe to say it was 1/19th the size of his trophy fish. He let it go to prowl the channels and put on a few pounds before someone gets him again.
I guess I’ve told you where to fish and how to fish. But there’s more. You want to fish when the bite is on. Watch for a waning moon, ahead of a falling barometer. Build a fire and drown your bait. It should be good.
— Gary Lewis is the host of “Frontier Unlimited TV” and author of “Fishing Central Oregon,” “Fishing Mount Hood Country,” “Hunting Oregon” and other titles. Contact Gary at www.GaryLewisOutdoors.com