Best Bassin’ of the Southwest
We could argue all night over which part of Idaho has the "best" bassing waters. Fair-minded observers might conclude it’s a tossup between southwest Idaho’s plentiful smallmouth reservoirs and streams, versus the Panhandle’s numerous reed-lined largemouth lakes. Residents of north-central Idaho, however, could rightly point out their great bronzeback angling along the lower Snake, Salmon, and Clearwater Rivers. Magic Valley bassers would speak up for that area’s many largemouth ponds, scattered reservoirs, and the massive Snake drainage itself. Even trout-rich southeast Idaho can claim a number of modest largemouth fisheries, though only local anglers tend to know about them.
By Lew Watson
Let’s examine a few of Idaho’s better bassing hotspots, starting this issue with several in the southwest corner of the state:
This deep, narrow, 40-mile long impoundment is the oldest and largest of Idaho’s three Hells Canyon reservoirs. It’s also one of the best smallmouth pools in the West! Except in cold winter months, you can hardly toss a lure anywhere in Brownlee without catching bronzebacks. If you fish shallow shoreline waters, most of these fish will be undersized peewees. For larger fish, drag a crawfish-imitating jig slowly over bottom rocks 20 to 50 feet down. During the April-May spawning period, try bottom-tapping crankbaits in gravelly shallows. A few largemouths inhabit Brownlee, but the deep, rocky treeless lake is overwhelmingly a smallmouth fishery.
This 10-mile long impoundment begins in the shadow of Brownlee Dam. Oxbow is very narrow, with a sluggish current flowing in its upper third.
Largemouths and smallmouths are present, but again the latter dominates by a wide margin. Highway access is mainly on the Oregon side. From primitive campgrounds there, Idahoans can launch and fish from boats, but fishing from Oxbow’s western shore requires an Oregon license. Idaho Power’s excellent McCormick Park Campground and boat launch can be found on a gravel spur-road on the Idaho side a mile or so below Brownlee Dam. Because the small, narrow reservoir is fed by cold water from Brownlee’s depths, upper-lake water temps are colder in summer and warmer in winter. Keep that in mind – it can make a big difference in bass behavior.
Hells Canyon Reservoir
This most remote impoundment in Hells Canyon is lightly fished for its size and quality. Both smallmouths and largemouths lurk in the deep 25-mile-long reservoir. Paved access lies entirely on the Idaho side, though a good dirt road extends several miles below Oxbow Dam on the Oregon side. Idaho Power’s superb Hells Canyon Park and launch ramp lie at about the lake’s mid-point. Autumn is a great time to fish this impoundment. You avoid the Canyon’s sizzling summer heat, few anglers and boaters are even on the water and bass are feeding eagerly along the many "staircase" banks. Clear, sterile waters call for deeper lures to reach fish hiding from bright light. At dusk and dawn and on overcast days, you may do well with shallow-running lures and even topwater plugs.
Many out-of-area anglers don’t take Lake Lowell’s largemouth fishing seriously. They note this shallow, brushy lake lies in the heart of Treasure Valley and conclude the place must be fished out. Not true. This fertile bigmouth fishery cranks out scads of bass every year, with many in the 4- and 5-pound class! In spring and early summer, Lowell rises into dense shoreline trees, reeds, and other aquatic tangles. At dusk and down, try working surface plugs back in quiet brush pockets. Under brighter conditions, cast Texas-rigged plastic worms, wire-guarded spoons, spinnerbaits, and "flippin’ jigs" directly into all that thick brush. Under drought conditions, late-summer bass fishing in Lowell is restricted as fish become concentrated and vulnerable in low water.
Paddock Valley Reservoir
For the last 14 years, this remote four-mile-long impoundment has been one of my favorite largemouth lakes. It’s exceptionally fertile, and produces untold thousands of bass for its size. Though hard to reach over a long dirt road, Paddock fishing is usually fast and furious. You can still have a ball with multiple dozens of 11-inchers, along with the lake’s healthy population of crappie. Work its open shoreline and shallow weedbeds at dusk with surface plugs, or its rocky depths with spinnerbaits. Paddock is really murky, so fast-moving lures are needed to "prospect" more water.
Snake River between C. J. Strike and Brownlee
Tricky currents, sandbars, and apparent inaccessibility keep most bassers off this part of the middle Snake. Too bad, because it’s one of the best smallmouth waters in southwest Idaho! Whether you fish from a boat or from shore, the gravelly pools and swirling eddies here are loaded with hefty bronzebacks that few anglers ever bother. You’ll also find good largemouth fishing in adjoining reed-lined sloughs and slower river sections, especially during summer and early fall. Check any good local map for nearest road access, then ask locally for places you can launch a cartopper or smaller trailered boat. Watch those currents, though – they’re deceptively strong and erratic -- and powerful undertows may be present in deeper stretches.
Lower Boise and Payette Rivers
A lot of untapped smallmouth fishing is available in these shallow and lovely little rivers. Floating to them in raft or canoe is the easiest way to go, though you can reach most points on foot after getting trespass permission from local landowners. Fish here can be spooky under low-water conditions, so casting near sundown is a good bet. Work the deeper, rockier pools below their fast-water heads.
Anderson Ranch Reservoir
In normal years this big impoundment produces good enough smallmouth fishing for local clubs to hold major tournaments there. Also dip into its sister reservoir, Arrowrock, a few miles downstream.
Besides the above major bass fisheries, southwest Idaho has numerous small ponds and marginal reservoirs with largemouths, smallmouths, or both in them. The Caldwell ponds, Emmett airport ponds, and check out Emmett’s newest pond, Ed’s Pond, Black Canyon Reservoir, Crane Creek Reservoir, C. Ben Ross, Mann Creek Reservoir, and Lucky Peak are just a few examples. At times these various waters can produce terrific bass action!
Copyright ©1999 Spring Creek Communications