Lagoons, Lily Pads, and Largemouths
Fishing the shoreline at Carey Lake, southwest of Craters of the moon, near Carey, Idaho, kept us happy on a not-too-hot summer day with small bass and bluegill. Sometimes, especially with the kids, itís all you want.
by Sharon Watson
Other days can be different. Even with the whole family along, there is a need for drama. A heavy strike, please, a leap of a monster, a keeper, a- more-than-you-can-ask-for kind of day. No bluegill or crappie, thank you. A big-momma bass that sings on the line. Iím never careful what I ask for. Hey! It keeps things interesting.
One day in August on Anderson Lake up north, I must have whined for excitement. I hooked the biggest bucketmouth Iíve ever tangled with in Idaho. And kept hooking the big ones -- but couldnít quite land them. That causes a lot of whimpering.
Anderson Lake is one among many reedy lagoon-like lateral lakes along the lower Coeur díAlene River in the Panhandle region. It is known for big bass. In fact a state record of 10 lb., 15 oz. largemouth came out of there many years back.
It was just before sunrise. We couldnít catch anything fishing the same shoreline we had fished the night before where we caught several two-scary-pounders. Fishing with surface plugs, they were really smashing the lures. We lost several too, as they tangled in brush and dead trees in the water.
We finally electric-motored out to deeper water where some old bridge pilings looked awfully good. Bingo! My mateís second cast drew a big swirl under his favorite topwater lure, a tooth-scarred Tiny Torpedo on which he had taken many bass from Florida to Texas to Arizona, Mexico, all the way to Idaho.
(It has been my thought at times that a man wonít do what he has to do to hang onto his woman, but heíll sure hang onto his favorite lure, his old boots, and bloody game vest until they fall apart!)
As usual, I grabbed cameras, and waited. But that fish wouldnít hit again, so I eased the boat over to the next piling. His lure had hardly splashed down when Andersonís dawnsilver surface blew apart with a violent strike. With several quick rod-jabs, he set the hooks into a fish big enough to tow our small Porta-Bote across the lake! That didnít last long, however, as the lunker bored for bottom cover instead.
The water was about eight feet deep, but late-summer weeds grew to within three feet of the surface. The 8-lb. mono was soon tangled in those weeds, though he tried for a long time to work it free. It finally snapped.
We routinely used lighter weight lines, despite losses like this. But, perhaps it would have been advisable with these bigger bass to gear up with something heavier. Itís just that we got a little more than we asked for!
Idahoís biggest bass generally live away back in the weeds, sunken brush, and lily-pad thickets, just as their relatives do in the deep South. As is especially true if you want to get the big ones youíve heard about at Lake Lowell between Nampa and Caldwell, for example. To catch big Idaho largemouths by design, you often must land a bale of wet "hay" along with each fish. So, heavier line is smart. I probably wonít change, though.
While bank-fishing a willow-choked Snake River slough north of Weiser, I managed to cast a Rapala over a dead limb just under the waterís surface. A chunky May largemouth promptly smacked my lure and dove for the bottom, sawing my line across the limb. I didnít dare put much pressure on the fish for fear of cutting my line. By the time I worked my way along the bank to pull from the other direction, the bass managed to shake free. With a heavier line I could have maintained better hook tension and probably landed the fish. Did I say I wasnít too smart?
Lots of Idaho anglers cast the edges of brush tangles for bass, but few really work at penetrating these sunken thickets. I was among the latter group until I went snorkeling in a C.J. Strike Reservoir cove one summer and swam face-to-face with a huge bucketmouth 30 feet back in a cattail tangle!
Not long after that, a young man who fishes exclusively for largemouth lunkers said he uses enormous weedless lures in the thickest weeds he can find, usually on Paddock Reservoir north of Payette or on Lake Lowell. He catches just one or two fish a day, but most of them run five pounds and up.
Paddock no longer has big bass, but it has been re-stocked and the bass are growing. If you want a fun day with a flyrod, the kids and a dog, maybe even using a floattube -- Paddockís your place right now. A few legal-size bass are showing up this year and lots of action.
A level-wind baitcasting reel on a fairly stiff 5 to 6 foot rod is the way to go for "lily-pad largemouths". Thatís because spinning reels, for all their ease and grace, wonít handle heavier line as well. A short, stiff rod also lets you set big hooks into heavy fish, then man-haul the bass quickly away from cover.
A plastic worm rigged "Texas style".
More than once Iíve bent light rods double on good fish and still had my line woven into nearby brush tangles. One of the deadliest lures for weedbed bass is the old standby -- a 6 to 8 inch plastic worm rigged "Texas style" -- the hook point re-embedded in the worm body to avoid catching on weeds. A conical slip-sinker at the wormís head moves through weeds better than a round split-shot.
Some anglers say you should delay hookset in open-water worm-fishing until you feel the line moving away, but in close-range ambush cover Iíve found you can put the barb to a fish the instant you feel that first tap on your worm.
The main trouble in weed-fishing plastic worms is that these lures are meant to be retrieved slowly, so you canít cover quite as much water as with fast-moving "prospecting" lures. These include spinnerbaits and buzzbaits with their weed-deflecting wireguards, and weedless spoons.
A few topwater lures can be fished weedless, most notably the hollow, soft-bodied plastic type resembling mice or frogs, with upturned hooks protected by the lure body until a bass clamps down on it. Some topwater plugs like Jitterbugs can be made nearly weedless by snipping off the lower hook on each treble.
All these lures are fished mostly by casting directly into weeds and making a straight retrieve, with strategic pauses to entice hidden bass. Another deadly lure category for weedbed fishing is leadhead jigs with plastic or metal weedguards. Just the simple stuff.
You can fish weedless jigs by "flipping" and its close relative, "potholing". The former is nothing more than an underhanded toss toward weed pockets to improve cast accuracy and minimize "splashdown" in shallow water. Specialized flipping rods about seven feet in length are widely used by bass devotees, though you can get by with most any rod.
Flipping works great on three-sided pockets in a weedline, but what about those dozens of small open potholes far back in the weeds? In the deep South, bass anglers use long, stiff cane poles to lower lures and baits vertically into such holes, but this method of "potholing" hasnít caught on in the West.
Fishing massive weedbeds for big largemouths is done even more rarely at night on Idaho waters. Recently I spoke with a local sporting goods store clerk who raved over the great summer night bassing he enjoys on small Treasure Valley ponds. He likes the steady gurgling retrieve of a black Jitterbug instead of the jerky, erratic sounds of a plunker or prop-buzz plug. The Jitterbugís even plop-plop-plop sound lets night-cruising bass zero in on their target better.
Whether you fish Idaho largemouths at dawn or dusk, under a bright sun or full moon, learn to fish shallow water and brushy tangles with heavy tackle! Youíll hook more and bigger bucketmouths, and youíll stand a better chance of landing those you tangle with.
Contact the Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge about boating restrictions on Lake Lowell; 208/467-9278 or 208/888-5582. Or, visit the Deer Flat Refuge Visitor Center there.