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Big steelhead can’t run from Bass

While people deserving a lofty title, such as the “king of swing,” will always generate debate, Robert Bass is nearly indisputable as the “king of metalheaders” at Lewiston’s annual Snake River Steelhead Derby.

And he’s not even a local – ouch!

For six consecutive years, the owner of Great Northern Interiors in Spokane has been the dominant angler, winning the “skins” competition – and extracting a pile of cash from the Lewiston-Clarkston economy – for catching the three largest fish during the derby week in late November.

This fall, he added another jewel to his crown by catching the heaviest fish of the event – 18.64 pounds – as well as winning the skins competition and two big-fish-of-the-day awards to bring home $2,100 – the most any angler has won in the derby.

“Plus, they’re going to mount my winning fish for free,” he said.

Bass is not universally adored by Lewiston-area fishermen. “Some people don’t think it’s possible to consistently catch that many big fish,” he said, indicating that some anglers assume he cheats.

“A few people like to follow and keep and eye on me while I’m fishing,” he said.

But Rory Bursch of Lewiston, one of the derby’s best-fish-of-the day winners, was in a nearby boat when Bass caught this year’s top derby fish.

“We were both up the Clearwater and I saw him near the hole where I’d caught the biggest fish of the day on the day before,” Bursch said. “We introduced each other, but I knew who he was. Turns out, he’s a real gentleman.

“It wasn’t two minutes later that he caught the big one. He had no trouble landing it by himself. He’s obviously good at it.

“My hat’s off to Rob Bass. He puts in a lot of hours.”

Both men said the fishing was tough this year during the Nov. 16-24 derby. Dam counts indicated 11,000 fewer of the big B-Run fish headed upstream toward the Clearwater this year.

Bursch was skunked on three days of fishing and Bass said he didn’t catch a fish on two days of the derby.

Both men fish the derby exclusively by casting and drifting shrimp under bobbers.

“Trolling is fine, especially when the fish are moving,” Bursch said. “But when the water gets cold and the big fish start holing up, that slow presentation of the jig floating to them seems to be more effective.

“Aside from that, seeing that bobber start to dance around gets my adrenaline running like nothing else.”

Bass said he agrees with all of that, but, in the words of a true champion, he divulged few other details.

Which license? Anglers fishing boundary waters between jurisdictions – such as Lake Rufus Woods and the Snake and Columbia rivers – sometimes are confused about license requirements.

At Rufus Woods, a Colville Tribe license is require to fish from the shore within the reservation boundaries. However, even if you launch from the reservation side, you need only a Washington state fishing license while fishing Rufus from a boat, the Tribes’ Fish and Wildlife office confirmed.

Similarly, anglers on the Snake and Columbia rivers must be licensed for the shore they are fishing in boundary waters, but while they’re on the water they’re OK with a license from either state.

Idaho’s clarifies the confusion in the Lewiston area with a map on page 67 of the current fishing regulations pamphlet.

An Idaho license is mandatory if you boat out of the Snake and into the Clearwater while a Washington license is required once you drift down the Snake from Lewiston and cross the Washington state line.

Note that states sometimes have different catch or possession limits, as in the case of steelhead rules in Washington and Oregon. Regardless of what fishing license you’re using on the water, you must not break the rules of the state where you land.