Fifty-eight anglers in 20 boats braved some serious afternoon winds to collect and assist in relocating 1,445 smallmouth bass from the Utah side of Flaming Gorge Reservoir to the Wyoming side. The smallmouth bass transplant (as an event) has been held on Flaming Gorge several times over the past few years. If you are not familiar with the reasoning behind catching fish in one section of a reservoir and transporting them to another section of the same reservoir, please read on as I will attempt to explain the logic.
Since burbot (known as freshwater ling cod) were illegally introduced into Flaming Gorge Reservoir, the species that has suffered the most from predation by the aggressive newcomers has been smallmouth bass. Estimates are that in the many areas on the Wyoming side of the reservoir, smallmouth bass numbers have plummeted as much as 90 percent.
However, on the Utah side of the massive reservoir, smallmouth bass numbers (especially in the areas from Red Canyon to the dam) are still robust, with healthy populations of bass from fry to 20-inches in length. In fact, there are so many bass that some believe they are stunted due to overpopulation.
Due to strict regulations about restocking smallmouth in Flaming Gorge from outside sources, a small but growing group of anglers from the Utah and Wyoming Bass Federation Nation, the Division of Wildlife Resources, and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department have cobbled together a smallmouth bass transplant day, when participants sign a two-page disclosure document that allows them hold more than the legal limit of smallmouth bass (under 12 inches in length) in their live wells and deliver them to a designated drop off point so that officials can collect and transport the small bass from Utah to Wyoming.
The 2019 event was timed so as to catch the tail end of the annual bass spawn so fish were found on or around spawning flats and coves and the targeted areas for bass collection were in the Canyon towards the dam from Sheep Creek, and all coves and bays on either side of the main channel.
I have fished this event with a couple of our grandchildren and other fishing buddies but this year, my wife, Jeri, joined me and had the time of her life, catching smallmouth bass regardless of the size.
“You always want us to catch the largest fish in the lake,” she said, “but it’s fun to catch and keep fish under 12 inches.”
Jeri threw a Yamamoto Shad-Shaped green worm on a dropshot rig, most of the day, but eventually switched to a chartreuse and dark green Ned Rig as the wind increased.
I threw the same color and size Ned Rig as Jeri, and caught 58 bass during the event. Jeri beat me my a few bass and boated 66. When she puts her mind to it, she is an excellent angler.
We carefully worked from the points to the backs of coves, looking for but really not finding many active beds. The fish were hanging around bedding areas but were either too young to spawn or had spawned a few days before the transplant event.
According to Ryan Mosely of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (the organizer of the event), the average size of the smallmouth was 8.27 inches and weighed an average of 1/4 quarter pound.
If you plan to fish Flaming Gorge and find yourselves near the dam or in the canyons above Sheep Creek, don’t be afraid to put on a Ned Rig, tube jig or a dropshot worm and throw to points, and drop offs in 10 to 20 feet of water all summer long. You will have a great opportunity to catch smallmouth bass, and as long as you release more fish than you take home, we could (over the next decade) revive the population of bass throughout the entire reservoir.
Next year, you too could help with the bass transplant. Stay tuned.