Fishing in Cars - by Gary Lewis

Fishing in Cars - by Gary Lewis

On an afternoon in May I buckled on a waist-belted automatic life vest I brought for the occasion. And guess what, I did not use the seat belt! Then we drove straight down the boat launch into the water. 



Gary Lewis releases a fish while fishing with Chuck Ceccarelli in an amphibious car at C.J. Strike Reservoir. Samuel Pyke image


I have fished out of hotel windows and—sneaking a collapsible rod into a golf bag—on par 3 water hazards. I have fished in restaurants, in fish hatcheries and off the backs of horses on two continents, which I don’t recommend. I have dangled a line in Disney World and cast jigs in a king’s bathing pool (not telling you which one). But I have always been fascinated by fishing in cars.

My dad’s dad, Marion Lewis, is the archetype. He loved to fish, but he liked driving better. In fact, he went through as much of life as he could sitting in the driver seat. He would sit in the car at a grocery store, at church, at family gatherings. If he could sit in the car and fish, it was a pretty good day.


Sometimes he took me and my uncle, two years my senior, on fishing trips, where he would sit in the car.

The first time I fished in Central Oregon, he was there watching from the bench seat of his Ford pickup. Along the dike at Trillium Lake. From the parking lot at East Lake and Paulina and Elk Lake too, and on the Warm Springs River when you used to be able to fish that hallowed water.

We often drove along the lower Cowlitz and the mouth of the Kalama where old guys could walk down to the river, cast a Spin-N-Glo and gob of eggs, set the rod in a holder, attach a bell and ease back to the rig and pop in an 8-track cassette.

There was a time when, on a Saturday morning, a person could park along the river wall in downtown Oregon City and angle for sturgeon or spring Chinook off the guard rail.

The practice is still in play, although out of vogue. Fishermen still drive along the water and park where they can cast a bait and back up to the car to listen to the radio and watch the rod tip.



What you want is a good place to park within a few steps of the water. Central Oregon’s Haystack Reservoir is one option. When Chickahominy Reservoir has water in it, a lot of people park within a stone’s throw and retreat to their cars when the wind starts blowing. It’s easy to fish from the tailgate at Burns Pond. Another good year-round fishery is Willow Creek Reservoir in Heppner, known for trophy trout, some of which are tagged with reward money I’m told.

The Columbia River and Snake River offer ample opportunities to fish from cars for sturgeon, salmon and catfish. The Columbia River roadside ponds are also in play from Hood River to Hermiston. People fish from cars at Bikini Pond and Taylor Lake near The Dalles.

Or fish for pikeminnow on the Columbia in spring and summer. Check in early in the morning at Maryhill, drive around and fish for northern pikeminnow (nightcrawlers are a good bait) and take your fish to the check-out station at the end of the day (click on You can make $6 a fish these days. Catch cash, save salmon. Grandpa would have loved that. Bring an extra bucket to keep the fish fresh.



The best fishing I ever had in a car was on C.J. Strike Reservoir in Idaho. My friend Chuck Ceccarelli has an Amphicar Model 770. Descended from the VW Schwimmwagen, the Amphicar is equally at home on the highway as it is in the lake, which is to say it is neither fabulous on the freeway nor particularly steady in still water. An 1147cc Triumph motor is the powerplant, driving the wheels through a 4-speed trans-mission or the twin props.


A few steps away from the pickup, 8-year-old Little Smokey with a first-cast rainbow at a roadside pond. 


On an afternoon in May I buckled on a waist-belted automatic life vest I brought for the occasion. And guess what, I did not use the seat belt! Then we drove straight down the boat launch into the water. You know what it’s like to back a boat into the water at a boat ramp? Yah, this is not like that. It’s weird. The water pushes up over the hood of the car, but as long as you don’t sink you’re fishing.

C.J. Strike Reservoir is home to crappie, bluegill, bass, sturgeon and who knows what else. We threw small crankbaits and TTI Swim-N-Runners and caught smallmouth bass and big blue-gills. An hour of fishing was about all we could stand with the water lapping around the door handles. When we went to net a big fish and everyone leaned over to look at it, the boat listed and a little water came in. Just a little. That was enough for 11-year-old Alex Ceccarelli. He jumped in the lake and swam over to the other boat. No one could fault his judgment.




Taking off from the launch, the anglers turned left to drive along the shoreline where, if the car went down, it was just a short flail to the bank. Samuel Pyke image


My dad and I stopped at Lake Simtustus on an abnormally warm September day. We found a wide spot in the road, close to the water and parked our trucks. Dad opened the back of his Toyota 4Runner and pulled out a couple of folding chairs. It was old school. We set up with bait at first then switched over to spinning lures and dad caught a 12-inch hatchery rainbow to cap off a fabulous season on his home water. This was the first time he fished Simtustus from the bank, but I’m betting we do it again soon. Probably with a little campfire and a Dutch oven.

I think the ultimate fishing car has a pickup bed where you can put your tackle bucket and fishing rods and firewood. It should be low enough to the ground that you can just back up to the seat and sit down. To my mind the ultimate fishing car is a 1967 Ford Ranchero with a 289 under the hood, but you could also get by with an El Camino—make mine a ‘59 with a 348 cubic inch V8—or a 2022 Ford Maverick if you can order it with the 8-track option. Gary Lewis is a co-author and publisher of Fishing Mt. Hood Country and Fishing Central Oregon and is host of Frontier Unlimited. Visit


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