Wednesday, July 14, 2020
Little Sheep Creek to Summer Island
26 miles cruised today; 211 miles for the trip
From a few miles above Northport to its mouth just west of Ilwaco, the mighty Columbia flows for 750 miles across the height and length of Washington State. For all but 120 of those miles, the Columbia is a working river, impounded by 11 major dams which generate an incredible amount of hydroelectric energy. This storied river flows freely in just 3 sections. Below the first dam, Bonneville, the Columbia follows its natural course to the Pacific Ocean. The next freely flowing stretch is known as the Hanford Reach, nearly 50 miles of true river which was only saved from also being dammed up (the intended but never built Ben Franklin Dam) because of fears of elevated groundwater levels reaching contaminated nuclear storage areas at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. The free flowing Hanford Reach is one of the most important and productive chinook salmon spawning areas remaining in the entire Columbia drainage, below Chief Joseph Dam. The last free flowing segment of the Columbia River in Washington State extends from the upper reach of Lake Roosevelt to Keenleyside Dam, just north of Castlegar BC, a distance of over 40 miles. When we raise the anchor to begin today’s run we peek around a small island, gazing beyond Steamboat Rock and Deadman’s Eddy, where this uppermost free stretch of the Columbia begins. Alas, the strength of the Columbia, even in mid-summer and well after the higher volumes of spring runoff, is beyond the prudent reach of our boat, so we simply gaze admiringly upriver and then swing out into the current, making an easy descent of the swift water which gave us such challenge yesterday. We’re on our way back down Lake Roosevelt and toward our starting point.
I run the boat at under 2000 rpm and still make 8 miles per hour to start. Over the next couple of miles our speed drops, first to 7 and then to 6 mph. I decide to let out a fishing line, using a diver to get the line down 15 or 20 feet. I slow the engine to just over 1000 rpm, and we run a couple miles per hour faster than the current. The rig fishes well, however the fish aren’t impressed. After running too close to a shallow area I pull the line in and motor up, toward Summer Island, our day’s destination. We arrive around 2:30pm, and find an inviting dock and group of picnic tables at the downstream end of the island. A small boat is docked there, but the opposite side is open, so we land and tie up. The couple on shore are locals, out for a day on the water, and we enjoy visiting with
them. We go for a walk up the island. It’s a nice walk with good views of the lake, some pretty wildflowers, and a large band of wild turkeys for interest, however there is no established path and we return with shoes and socks filled with cheat grass. After cleaning shoes I go for a brief dip in the chilly waters. Dinner features our second steak dinner of the trip, and thanks to our Engel freezer, the steaks have remained frozen for the entire time, until I took them out to thaw this morning. It’s completely calm out here as evening sets in. A couple of boats are way out in the middle of the lake, fishing. We can clearly hear the fishermen chatting at a distance of ½ mile. An eagle must have a nest nearby. We hear him chittering occasionally. Canadian geese and wild turkeys also add to the background music.