Near the end of June, I wrote about the smallmouth bass transplant on Flaming Gorge, at which my wife, Jeri, out fished me, catching 66 fish to my 58. We were attempting to catch smallmouth bass shorter than 12 inches so they could be collected and transplanted from the dam area north into the Wyoming side of the reservoir.
In the midst of the event, I discovered a series of areas that held larger fish than I expected, so on the July 24, I slipped out early to see if the smallmouth were still active and ready to bite. The results of that six-hour adventure is the topic of this week’s column.
On Flaming Gorge, most of the angler hours in July and August surround kokanee salmon, rainbows, and lake trout. And, why not? Without a doubt, the reservoir is full of all three of the above-mentioned species and with a little knowledge and some persistence, anglers do very well this time of year.
The smallmouth bass fishery, on the other hand, becomes more difficult as the fish move from spawn mode to summer mode in July and August. Rather than staying in shallow (less than 15 feet) water, the bass spread out and go deeper. It is not uncommon to find actively feeding bass in 40 feet of water. Yet, smaller fish still remain quite shallow, more out of protection from predators than chasing a food source.
On July 24, I decided to target larger fish even though smaller fish would bite in the process. In order to target larger fish, I tied on a 1/2-ounce chartreuse and white spinnerbait, made long casts and made deliberate, steady retrieves. I threw the lure beyond my targets, large rocks, boulders, and sand points that protruded out from the bank; then I slowly reeled the lure passed the obvious ambush spots.
While working my way from the Cedar Springs boat launch up canyon towards Sheep Creek, I realized a couple of important things. One, the smallmouth bass were so excited to see a lure that they would come from 25 to 30 feet deep to take a lure that was holding steady between eight to 10 feet deep. And, second, even the smaller fish (under 12 inches) stepped up to the plate and tried to eat that spinnerbait even though they didn’t have much hope of getting it in their tiny mouths.
Nearly every cast, several smaller bass would attack my lure, so I caught smaller fish literally every other cast when I passed through a likely fish holding area. Then, about every 10 minutes or so, after making a cast that presented the spinnerbait near an obvious ambush point, a two- to four-pound, 18 to 20-smallmouth would “smash” my lure.
After an hour of this kind of action (that stretched from 6 a.m. to Noon), I started counting the fish I released at the boat, and the number reached 100 fish just as my watch ticked over to 12 p.m.
It still amazes me that smallmouth bass can be so aggressive. The thing that stood out while on the water was that regardless of the size of fish, they struck with abandon and on almost every cast, multiple six- to 10-inch fish felt secure enough in their surroundings to chase my lure into open water
Most small fish are forced to hide in the rocks and stay in the shade in self preservation mode, but not these smallmouth bass. They were confident enough to be anywhere they wanted to roam.
If you want a treat while fishing Flaming Gorge, don’t pass up the opportunity to target smallmouth bass after you’ve fished for your kokanees, rainbows, and lake trout. You may not have a 100 fish day, but as my buddy Brent Daybell of West Jordan told me after mirroring my adventure last Friday, “I caught 100 fish, but only 20 of them were in the two-pound class or larger.” Well my friend, better luck next time.