Vol. 8, #9; July 1, 1994
Smallmouth bass will be spawning at Flaming Gorge through the month of June, and that makes for some mighty good fishing.
The Gorge has a tremendous smallmouth population, and action can be very fast during the spawning season. The bass are aggressive and will readily take lures or baits cast in their general direction. It's not uncommon for experienced bass fishermen to catch 100 fish a day.
Novice anglers who work at it will almost certainly be rewarded with fish if they concentrate on rocky shorelines using jigs, crankbaits, spinners or worms. The best fishing is in the morning and evening, but action can be good through out the day.
Go to your favorite tackle shop and ask for some jigs which resemble crawdads. Have the salesman show you how to thread them onto a lead-head jig.
Get out in a boat if you can. Stay out an easy casting distance from shore and then anchor or drift very slowly. Cast jigs or lures right up to shore and then work them slowly back to your boat. You want to bump rocks, and you will certainly get a few snags. Jigs are cheap, don't be afraid to lose a few. You'll catch more fish if you get down to the base of the rocks. Look for the biggest rock in shallow water and work it carefully. Let a jig settle into the rocks, then pull up on your rod to hop it along the bottom. Let it settle back between each hop.
Keep the slack out of your line. You won't feel bites if there is slack, and you won't be able to set the hook. Bites are soft and can be difficult to detect. Sometimes you will just sense something different. Sometimes your line will move sideways. Pull up, you may have a fish.
Pull you boat in close to shore and hover over a large rock which is deep enough that you can just see its base. Drop your jig straight down, watching it settle, until it reaches bottom. Jig it up and down, watching how it flutters. Bump it into a rock and see how that feels. Watch closely and small bass will probably appear in the vicinity. One might chase the jig, or bite at it, so you can see how that feels.
Use a worm on a jig head in a similar manner. It can be fun.
The Antelope Flat area, on the east side of the Gorge, straight across from Lucerne, is a great spot for smallmouth. Get over there and give it a try.
(There is a very nice boat ramp and campground at Antelope Flat, and it's always less congested than Lucerne or most other marinas.
Tips for spawn-time smallmouth
- Smallmouth usually nest in gravel or rocky areas, in water 2-4 feet deep.
- Smallmouth prefer larger rocks. Find the biggest rock in a cove and there will always be smallmouth around its base.
- Males usually move into spawning areas when the water temperature reaches about 55 degrees. Females follow a few days later, and spawning takes place at temperatures between 60-65 degrees. At Flaming Gorge the spawn usually begins in late May and peaks about June. It tapers off after that, but there are often fish spawning into the first week of July.
- After the spawn the fish move into deeper water. Look for them near the base of large rocks down 10-20 feet.
- Crayfish are the main food item for Flaming Gorge smallmouth. Anything which resembles a crayfish will take fish. Small jigs in colors from green to olive to brown work well. Crayfish imitating crankbaits are also very effective. Other lures, and worms can be good at times. Fly fishermen often do well using streamers, also in greens and browns.
- Whatever you fish, it is best to work the bottom, bouncing in and out of the rocks, from shallow water into deep water.
- Small sizes are best. A 1/16 to 1/8 ounce jig works well.
- A slow retrieval is generally the most effective. The fish are aggressive during the spawn, and a faster retrieval may work at times. A jig tipped with a 2-inch pork strip can be worked very slowly.
- Smallmouth often inhale a jig as it sinks to the bottom, making it difficult to detect the strike. The fish will quickly spit out the jig if you don't set the hook. The pickup is often described as a "tick" on the line. It is easier to detect if you are fishing with a good medium-action graphite rod, with 6-8 pound line, and you keep slack out of your line.
- Smallmouth reproduce well but grow slowly in Flaming Gorge. There are huge numbers of small fish, but relatively few big ones. On average, there are more fish in the lower reservoir, but bigger fish up-lake where the water warms faster. The Lucerne/ Antelope Flat area is a good compromise because it has a lot of fish, including some large ones.
- Biologists say it will actually help the smallmouth population if more of the small fish are harvested. Don't hesitate to take a few home.