John Day River Smallmouths

John Day River Smallmouths


John Day River Fishing

This is all we know about the John Day River, and the surrounding area. The best way to learn the area is to book a trip, and spend a few days learning the different fishing techniques and what the area has to offer. We created this information page to help those curious about the area and the "do-it-yourselfer".  We offer this information in an easy to use and read format.  If we haven't answered your questions contact Steve Fleming via e-mail:, and he will get back to you as soon as he has time.


     There are two publications:  John Day River Recreation Guide (Kimberly to Tumwater Falls) for $5, and the Lower John Day River Public Lands map.  You can order these from:

     BLM - Prineville District Office

     3050 NE Third Street

     Prineville, OR 97754


     These are a must, because they show private and public lands on the river, very helpful information about the river and planning a trip, and can save you lots of time.


     The Service Creek gauging station is the one most people use to gauge the river flow.  Each section of the river is different, and where one section is easy and no problems at 500 CFS, another may have some skinny rapids that will require some extra time to get through.

     Some rules of thumb:

  • For each 1000 cfs the river is flowing approximately 1 mph.  So if you plan on floating Clarno to the Cottonwood Bridge, 71 river miles, at 1000 cfs it will take about 71 hours on the water.  If you row while on the water you should make at least 2 mph, so now it will take 35 hours on the water.  And, conversely if you stop and fish a lot it will take more than 71 hours.  If you put on the water at 8 AM and take off at 4 PM, that's 8 hours of floating time, and if you row hard you will make it in four days.
  • The lowest cfs for a fiberglass drift boat (bottom flexes) to get through - 350 cfs
  • The lowest cfs for an aluminum drift boat to get through - 500 cfs
  • Rafts, canoes, and kyaks can get through at flows of 150 cfs
  • Trips over 7000 cfs are float trips, and not fishing trips.  We have rowed from Thirtymile Creek (river mile 85) to the Cottonwood Bridge (river mile 41) in one day at 7000 cfs.
  • Trips over 5000 cfs through Clarno Rapids can pose a threat to all vessels especially drift boats.  Be careful in all rapids.
  • Fishing is best on a dropping or stable river under 7000 cfs, not a fast rising river that is climbing 1000 cfs or more a day.  It will be muddy.
  • River flow helps you plan a trip.  Once you know the flow and how many river miles you can easily make in a day, now look at the John Day River Recreation Guide for put-ins, takeouts, and campsites to plan your trip. Please do not call us to plan your trip!


     It's always good to get the 5-10 day predictions before you start your trip.  We use: , the Zip Code is 97830.


     Service Creek Stage Stop, 541-468-3331, is the only local raft and pontoon boat rental company.  They have a Bed and Breakfast, and also do shuttles.


  • Donna's Shuttles - 541-763-4884
  • Fossil Motel - 541-763-4075
  • Service Creek Shuttles - 541-468-3331
  • J & Z Shuttles - 541-468-2182
  • John Day River Shuttle Service, Ruby Nunn, 541-763-2061




  • Wilson Ranches Retreat, 541-763-2227
  • Fossil Motel & RV Park, 541-763-4075
  • Wheeler County RV Park, 541-763-4560
  • Mayville Flat Clubhouse (dog kennels available), 541-384-4705
  • Big Sarvice Corral and RV Park, 541-468-2121
  • Service Creek Stage Stop B & B, 541-468-3331




  • Lazy Wolf Resort & RV Park, 541-468-2001
  • River Bend Motel & Retreat, 541-468-2053


  • Sky Hook Motel, 541-462-3569


  • Bear Hollow Park (outhouse and water) is 5 miles south of Fossil on Hwy 19
  • Shelton Park (outhouse and water) is 12 miles south of Fossil on Hwy 19
  • Donnelly's Service Creek BLM Park (outhouse only) is located at the Service Creek Bridge on Hwy 207 and 20 miles south of Fossil, take Hwy 19
  • Muleshoe BLM Park (outhouse only) is 23 miles south of Fossil on Hwy 19
  • Spray City Park (outhouse and water) is at the Bridge in Spray
  • Lone Pine and Big Bend BLM Parks are on the North Fork of the John Day River above Kimberly


     Each of the small towns in the area have at least one restaurant.


     Each of the small towns in our area have at least one service station (close at 6PM).

SHOOTING PRESERVES (open August 1 - March 31)

  • Mayville Flat Shooting Preserve and Clubhouse, 541-384-4705, Skip Geer
  • Mallardith Northwest, 541-980-1922, Bruce Meredith


  • Northwest Outdoor Specialties, 541-442-5237, Don Richelderfer
  • Mallardith Northwest, 541-980-1922, Bruce Meredith


     The John Day River is rated one of the best rivers in the USA for smallmouth bass. Guide trips start in March and finish in November.  The catch rates are low at first and as the water warms up, the numbers go up.  The bigger fish are typically caught in March, April, and the first two weeks of May (the water temp is under 52 and the dinks are not active yet).  If you want to catch a lot of fish or fly fish then May, June, July, August, and the first two weeks in September are best.

     The early fishery (March - mid May) can be very tough and/ or very rewarding. It is very difficult to read the water and the fish on some days, but usually fishing very slow is the best bet.  Texas style, split shot, and Carolina rigs are best at this time, with 3" to 5" plastic baits.  Crankbaits can work and the best is the Rapala in CD7 (bring lots of colors).

     The smallmouth bass are very aggressive in the warm water months (June, July, August, and September) and will bite on any technique.  They are very color selective, so bring along colors from black to white.  We find using Smelly Jelly scent in Craw/Anise and Anchovy helps on the plastic baits.  We usually fish with 1/16 oz leadhead and 2" and 3" plastic grubs or worms at this time.

     The fly fishermen love this time of year because we can usually attract good numbers of smallies on top water poppers.  Round out your tackle with Wolley Buggers of all colors, and you're sure to catch a good number of fish. 

     The steelhead are in the river from October to early March, and after that they are above Kimberly. The easiest way to fish for the steelhead is bobber and jig, in-line spinners, drift-fishing oakies and corkies, or throwing steelies.

     Please don't call us to see what we are using.  We have large tackle packs with lots of different colors and find we must change often during a day. You have to be in the boat in order for us to show and tell you what we are doing to catch fish.  We can't teach fishing over the phone.  Thanks!


  • Fossil Hardware and Liquor Store, Monday - Saturday, 8 AM to 6 PM
  • Lazy Wolf Resort and Gas in Spray, open seven days a week, 7 AM to 6 PM


  • The National Park Service John Day Fossil Bed Parks:  Clarno, Painted Hills, and Sheep Rock Units
  • Thomas Condon Paleontology Site at the Sheep Rock Unit
  • Digging your own fossils behind the Wheeler County High School in Fossil
  • Kinzua Hills Golf Course (ten miles from Fossil)
  • Museums in Fossil and Spray

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