Loving life at the end of a 6-pound-test line

COLUMBIA RIVER — The sight of 6-pound-test line arcing over the blue-green water of this huge river brought past and present together for me last week.

At one end of the line, the smallest Bomber Model A crankbait made sailed through the early-morning light and plopped into the big river.

At the other end, Courtney – my 19-year-old daughter – held her favorite spinning rod and started five-reel-cranks-and-stop retrieve that summer Columbia River smallmouth bass find so enticing.

I was standing higher on the bank, and I spotted three nice smallmouth chasing Courtney’s lure. One of them whacked the plug, and flipped into the air.

“I got one!” Courtney shouted. “I got one!”

Time expanded and compressed for me at that moment, and visions of my daughter as a young preschooler, a teenager and a young adult flashed to life in my mind.

Courtney has been casting lures tied to 6-pound-test line for most of her life. She started fishing in small bass and crappie ponds in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

In those days, she would cast a small marabou jig that dangled under a tiny bobber. She would reel in the bobber very, very slowly – and then giggle when the little plastic ball jiggled and dipped under the water.

When she got older, Courtney liked to fish plastic worms – and cast sparkling spinners. We have always been light-tackle anglers, and Courtney grew very adept at casting lures into ponds, creeks and rivers. Courtney is a good fly rod angler, but she is an artist with a light spinning rod and 6-pound-test line.

I’ve watched a lot of 6-pound-test line float over water during the past 16 years or so, and I never get tired of the sight.

I never knew how much I would love my daughter until she was born in Bend, Oregon in 1990 – but the connection was instant.

I started taking Courtney on tiny, half-hour fishing trips when she was 3 years old. Her first fish was a nice crappie.

Her second fish was a small bullhead catfish that rode in a bucket all the way home – and lived in her aquarium for years.

Courtney learned a lot about fish and the natural world on those trips, and she caught my habit of peering into any body of water in hopes of spotting a fish.

As Courtney grew, she embraced other passions – dancing, theater, art, reading, writing, camping and surfing.

Courtney graduated from Black Hills High School in 2008 and started college life at Portland State University. My girl is a city girl now, and she loves her town.

But Courtney has always loved the countryside and the haunts of fish.

I was on vacation last week – a week of kicking around Oregon and Washington in search of fish and waves – and Courtney was able to come along for three days.

Somehow, all the of the people I love best – my partner Heather, her children Malcolm and Miga and, of course, Courtney – all came together for the last three days of my vacation.

We gallivanted all over the Columbia River Gorge – from Hood River east to Sundale and back. We picked blackberries, grilled burgers and talked of so many things. I got to know Courtney’s boyfriend, Michael, a little better.

Everyone was eager to fish, and summer smallmouth bass on the Columbia River is an easy slam-dunk fishery. Millions of these aggressive fish swarm the rocky banks on the Oregon and Washington sides of the huge river, and shore fishing is incredible early and late in the day.

There is no better fishery for new anglers than this one. All they need is a rocky shoreline, small diving crankbaits, spinners or Rapala plugs – and reels strung with 6-pound-test line.

Everyone marched down to the rocky shore one balmy morning, and lures tied to 6-pound-test line arced over the big, windswept river. Red-eyed smallmouth bass shot out of their rocky hideouts and chased those lures.

But I didn’t fish.

I was too busy watching small plugs plop into the water.

I was too busy listening to my daughter’s burble of a laugh when a fish struck or chased her lure.

I was too busy tying on lures and unhooking bass.

I was too busy soaking in my small family of anglers picking their way over rocks and casting their lines.

My heart arced into the air with every cast.

Chester Allen: 360-754-4226