Utah Fishing & Outdoors, Vol. 5, #13, July 15, 1991

By Dave Webb

Flaming Gorge is the place to learn to catch smallmouth bass. They are all over in the big reservoir.

It takes a little practice to get "on" to smallmouth — techniques are different from those traditionally used by trout fishermen. But when you get the hang of it, success can be hot in the Gorge and many other popular Utah waters.

I fished the Gorge on July 6th and saw an amazing demonstration of smallmouth strategy — how to "read" the water to identify likely spots, how to select bait, and how to make an effective presentation.

These skills can be tricky to learn, operating as we do from a human perspective. You’ve got to learn to think like a fish — to see the world through their eyes.

That’s just what my fishing buddy, Ralph Fallentine, did on this trip. He put on a mask and fins, grabbed his fishing rod and snorkeled over to the rocks where the bass were hiding.

There were bass all over, he said. Mostly small fish, hiding right in the rocks. He had a lead-head jig threaded through a night crawler, and he extended his rod and dangled the hook in front of the fish. That while kicking with his fins and breathing through his snorkel.

Small bass darted over to take a look as the night crawler fell into the rocks. Sometimes they struck at it, particularly if it wiggled. They trailed the bait as it fell, and sometimes picked it up out of the rocks. But more often they just watched. They often struck if the crawler was jigged up off the bottom.

Ralph tried his swim-and-fish study in several areas. He found small bass ready to take his worm anywhere broken rocks extended down into the water. There really are smallmouth all over that reservoir. Most of the fish were small, averaging 5-7 inches. He saw a few larger fish—mostly in deeper water farther out from shore. They spooked more easily, were difficult to approach and reluctant to take the hook. Ralph’s unusual method worked well — so well that I wondered: "Is this legal?" I even went back and read my proclamation, and it seems to qualify as legal angling.

After awhile, Ralph climbed back into the boat and we both began to fish in ernest. The techniques we used were effective, and can readily be learned by inexperienced bass anglers. We just put nightcrawlers on leadheads — half a crawler worked well if it was big, or the whole critter if it was pint-sized. We left the tail dangling free. The wiggling of lively crawlers really did seem to excite the fish and make them strike.

We pulled the boat up a comfortable casting distance from shore and anchored. Then we cast into the water right next to shore, turned the reel once or twice to take up any slack in the line, and let the crawler sink right to the bottom. Sometimes a fish would hit immediately. But more often we would have to dance it along the bottom out into deeper water, letting the bait sink back into the rocks after every jig. (You snag the line now and then using this technique, but it’s worth it because you catch more fish. The jig moves over the rocks fairly easily when you work from shore to boat, but you lose hooks to snags almost every time when you do it backwards, working from deep water toward shore.) If there is a large, submerged rock in the area, work it extensively — it will certainly shelter bass.

The biggest trick is learning to identify strikes, and reacting in time to hook the fish. Strikes can be extremely subtle or can be a bone crunching slam. It takes practice to learn the difference between the feel of a jig hitting a rock and one stopped by a fish. Basically, if you feel anything unusual, raise your rod as if you had a fish — often you will. And watch your line. If the line suddenly shoots forward or to the side, expect a fish — even if you don’t feel a thing. If you are catching little smallmouth regularly — and you want to try for bigger fish — just move back a little and work deeper water. The spawn is basically over now at the Gorge, and so the larger fish have moved out deeper — often down 10 to 20 feet. The experience you gain catching little smallmouth can be translated directly over as you try for big fish. Move your jig the same way, dancing it along the rocks on the bottom. Expect the same feel from subtle strikes. You will want to experiment with baits. Live nightcrawlers work well at times. But most experienced bass fishers prefer plastic — gitzits, grubs and worms. Work them exactly the same way. Crank baits and top-water lures can also be effective.

Bass fishing is far better in the early morning or late evening — when the sun is not hitting the water. Action slows considerably during the day. That isn’t to say you can’t catch smallmouth during the day. It’s just more difficult — you need to know what you are doing. But don’t stop fishing just because the bass action has slowed down. There are plenty of fish in the Gorge — and most other waters — that bite well throughout the day. Like kokanee salmon.

We were fishing in one of the arms of Linwood Bay, just south of the Lucerne Marina. We noticed lots of fish on the graph as we moved about. So we got out the downriggers and fished for kokanee. Kokanee are fairly easy to catch— and lots of fun. They hit flashy lures trolled or jigged close to them. The most difficult aspect is finding the fish and then getting the lure down to the right depth. This was Ralph’s day. He tied on a big, silver-and-red super duper with mother of all pearl inlay. It was flashy. And it caught fish—several kokanee, two small lake trout and a couple rainbows.

Charlie Bytheway and I tried other flashy lures, but the super duper proved to be the most effective that day. So, Charlie and I switched to super dupers — just like the one Ralph was using. Now, this is the great mystery of fishing. Three of us in the same boat, fishing the same lure at the same depth. And Ralph caught fish hand-over-fist. And we waited hours between strikes. Life isn’t fair. It was Ralph’s day.

We caught kokanee down 20 to 45 feet. We saw small groups of fish, but no large schools. Two high voltage power lines cross the lake where we were fishing, just about 50 yards apart. For some reason, we saw and caught most of our fish under those lines. I have no idea if the lines are a significant factor. Do you know any bored biologists looking for a research project? This is a good time to fish for kokanee at the Gorge, and at Porcupine Reservoir near Logan. They are in great shape. The fish we caught ranged from 15 to 20 inches.

During August they will start to congregate near the river mouths, and in September the mature fish will turn a bright red and spawn in the inlet streams. Then they will die. Kokanee are doing well in the Gorge and Porcupine. Natural reproduction is very effective, and I don’t mind taking a fish or two home for supper. They taste great. Bass, kokanee, rainbows and lake trout. We had a very enjoyable outing at Flaming Gorge. Now I want to go back.