January 23, 2017
When many anglers envision a day on the water Out West, thoughts of trout-packed mountain streams might be at the forefront. However, great bass-fishing opportunities abound, and so do trophy-sized smallies and lunker largemouths. What follows are some locations to consider if you've ever wanted to plan a memorable trip to one or more of The West's best bass-fishing waters.
1. Lake Cuyamaca California
Good things come in small packages, as Lake Cuyamaca is only 110 acres. Located an hour east of San Diego, the lake has plenty of largemouths that go well into double-digit size, with the lake record topping 14 pounds.
Claim to Fame: The lake was formed when the dam, the second oldest in California, was built in 1888. Most fishermen target the rainbow trout, leaving the bass unpressured and available for the dedicated bass angler. There is also a remnant population of smallmouths, a rarity in Southern California.
Tips: Located at 4,600 feet elevation, the lake warms slowly, with the spawn taking place in late May or even June. Bring your rainbow trout and crappie swimbaits and ask the staff where the biggest fish hang out. By summer, bass can be pulled up from the shallow on topwater baits.
Facilities: Cuyamaca has cabins, RV sites and tent spots for lakeside camping. San Diego and surrounding cites like El Cajon and La Mesa have plenty of motels and restaurants. Closer to the lake lies the B&B's of Julian.
Attractions: The 1870s gold rush made Julian famous.
2. Lake Almanor California
Smallmouths swim and grow fat in Almanor's 28,257 acres. The lake is located in Plumas County. Almanor bass chomp pond smelt and large aquatic insects such as hexagenia mayflies and forage fish.
Claim to Fame: Fly-fishermen flock to Lake Almanor to take advantage of big smallmouths slurping big hexagenia mayflies. Gear fishermen get in on the action with cranks that imitate the smelt.
Tips: The lake is nearly bisected by a large peninsula that is really a long sloping point that holds smallies on the west side. The spawn will be over by mid-May with plenty of fish moving south towards Rocky Point.
Facilities: Chester has hotels or the 14-room Bidwell House B&B, plus the usual assortment of small town cafes, grocery stores and such. There are numerous cabin and house rentals on the lake as well. Boat rentals are available for the boatless fishermen.
Attractions: Lassen Volcanic National Park, one of the nation's oldest national parks, has the southernmost volcano in the Cascade Range.
3. Henry Hagg Lake Oregon
Located in the foothills southwest of Forest Grove, Henry Hagg Lake, is a top smallmouth bass water that really turns on when the water temperature tops 60 degrees. In addition to boat-and shore-fishing opportunities, there is a 260-foot-long ADA-accessible fishing pier.
Claim to Fame: The Oregon state- record smallmouth of over 8 pounds and the previous five state-record smallies all came from here. The lake also has plenty of largemouths.
Tips: For smallmouth, target the points, ledges and the face of Scoggins Dam. Largemouths love the wood, and if you have a fish finder, try to locate, then fish around the man-made fish structures that look like giant spiders. Locals favor Senkos and cranks running about 10 feet deep.
Facilities: Henry Hagg Park has boat ramps, boat rentals and restrooms for day use, plus 13 miles of hiking and mountain bike trails. Forest Grove has the usual array of motels, restaurants and grocery stores. An interesting choice is McMenamins Grand Lodge in the renovated former Masonic and Eastern Star building, complete with restaurant, bar and soaking pool.
Attractions: Evergreen Museum in McMinnville houses the Spruce Goose, the largest wooden aircraft built.
4. Potholes Reservoir Washington
At full pool, Potholes Reservoir in central Washington spans 33,000 acres, ranging from the hummocks and willow islands in the Dunes, the narrow arm of Lind Coulee to the rocky face of O'Sullivan Dam. Abundant yellow perch and other forage fish provide plenty of fish-growing food.
Claim to Fame: A favorite of tournament sponsors and participants, bags are growing and now approach 50 pounds, with both largemouths and smallmouths showing up.
Tips: Head for the Dunes pre-spawn before the water drops and use your fish finder to locate the beaver huts. Be willing to risk losing some gear in the brush and fish-filled shallow water. After the spawn, the fish disperse. The face of O'Sullivan Dam and the rock islands just offshore hold smallmouths.
Facilities: MarDon Resort offers accommodations from tents to cabins, a marina with moorage and boat rentals. Potholes State Park has tent and RV spaces and 6,000 feet of shoreline. Fishermen can find everything they need in nearby Moses Lake.
Attractions: The Gorge Amphitheater, touted as one the best outdoor concert venues in the world, offers live music in a stunning setting.
5. Dworshak Reservoir Idaho
Home to every Idaho state-record smallmouth bass since 1995, Dworshak is big water at 57 miles long and 17,000 acres. The current big smallmouth is 9.72 pounds, barely a pound shy of the state largemouth record. Bass grow big on crayfish.
Claim to Fame: Tournament sacks average over 5 pounds per fish, with heavier weights coming. Known for small, friendly tournaments.
Tips: In the early season, most of the smallie action in the south end, with boats launching at Freeman Creek or Big Eddy. Some fishermen go deep on the theory that's where the big fish live.
Facilities: Dworshak has one marina at Big Eddy and six boat ramps, with a number of remote campsites and improved sites and cabins at Dworshak State Park. Orofino on the north bank of the Clearwater River has all the amenities found in an Idaho county seat.
Attractions: Dworshak National Fish Hatchery, co-managed by the Nez Perce Tribe and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, is one of the largest anadromous fish hatcheries in the world.
6. Noxon Rapids Reservoir Montana
A long, narrow impoundment of the Clark Fork River, Noxon Rapids Reservoir covers 7,700 acres in forested, mountainous northwestern Montana. Largemouths and smallmouths are plentiful and grow to decent size on yellow perch, suckers and lake whitefish.
Claim to Fame: Noxon put out the state record largemouth at 8.8 pounds. The smallmouth average 1 to 2 pounds.
Tips: For largemouths, work plastic worms around the downed trees and submerged stumps. Smallmouths are found in typical smallmouth territory of rocky cliffs and points.
Facilities: Thompson Falls State Park, Finley Flats Campground and Trout Creek all have boat ramps. More remote camping can be had at Marten Creek, but take appropriate precautions as this is bear country. Thompson Falls has all the needed amenities.
Attractions: East of Thompson Falls is the Koo-Koo-Sint Bighorn Sheep Viewing Site, where visitors can learn about the sheep and the area geology.
7. Keyhole Reservoir Wyoming
Tucked into the northeast corner of Wyoming, Keyhole Reservoir's smallmouths swim on the western edge of the historic Black Hills. Several good water years have filled the pool to 9,300 acres and caused forage fish populations to explode and the bass have responded in kind.
Claim to Fame: Great smallmouth bass fishing in a state not known for warmwater fishing. Four-pound fish are common, and rumors abound of a state-record smallie swimming here.
Tips: Forage includes emerald and spottail shiners, plus young-of-the-year drum, carp, walleye, crappie and gizzard shad. Use slender or chunky crankbaits, depending on which forage fish you want to imitate.
Facilities: Keyhole State Park has nine campgrounds, a public boat ramp and a privately-operated marina. The small town of Moorland offers fuel, food and overnight accommodations.
Attractions: Go north to Devils Tower National Monument, the nation's first national monument.
8. Lonetree Reservoir Colorado
Larimer County's Lonetree Reservoir has 502 acres of largemouth and smallmouth bass, though finding them can be a bit challenging as fish-holding structure is limited. Most the lake features a gentle sloping bottom with the deepest water toward the outlet.
Claim to Fame: Plenty of nice-sized fish, with the occasional big one tossed into the mix.
Tips: When the water is up the bass move into the flooded cottonwood and willow thickets. Pitch jigs to haul them out. Later in the year when the water's down, try topwater baits early in the morning and late in the evening.
Facilities: Lonetree is part of a state wildlife area, has a boat ramp, parking and restrooms on the west side of the lake. Loveland, not far away, offers an assortment of overnight accommodations and eateries. For the adventurous, the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, which inspired The Shining, is reputed to be haunted.
Attractions: Benson Sculpture Garden in Loveland features an annual exhibition of over 2,000 pieces of three-dimensional art.
9. Ute Lake New Mexico
Located near the western Texas border lies 7,400-acre Ute Lake. The largemouths and smallmouths grow well here on rusty crayfish, gizzard shad fry and bigscale logperch, a long and skinny fish that lives in the substrate. Fed by the Canadian River and Ute Creek, it has no irrigation drawdowns so the water levels are relatively stable.
Claim to Fame: Ute produced the New Mexico state-record smallmouth of over 7 pounds.
Tips: The best fishing starts mid-April when it's possible to sight-fish when the bass are shallow. Tubes, Senkos and curl-tail grubs worked along the bottom do well. Fly-fishermen use crayfish and baitfish patterns.
Facilities: Ute Lake State Park has five boat ramps and a privately operated full-service marina. Nearby Logan has several non-chain motels and other small town amenities. A half-hour away, Tucumcari has the usual assortment of chain motels and restaurants.
Attractions: Nostalgia fans can drive portions of U.S. Route 66 that tuns through New Mexico, then stop at the Route 66 Townhouse Welcome Center & Gift Shop, then tour the murals in Tucumcari.
10. Patagonia Lake Arizona
Southern Arizona features 252-acre Patagonia Lake, a largemouth bass water off the beaten track. Don't be fooled by its diminutive acreage. The bass put on weight by feeding on abundant sunfish, shad, frogs and the winter plant of rainbow trout.
Claim to Fame: Largemouth bass weighing close to 10 pounds swim over the drowned tracks of the New Mexico-Arizona Railroad.
Tips: The shallow and reedy no-wake east end of the lake is perfect for jerkbaits. Early in the year go with floating models, then move to suspending baits in summer and fall.
Facilities: Patagonia Lake State Park has camping and RV sites as well as a few boat-in sites. Visitors seeking urban comforts will find them in Nogales. An upscale experience can be found at the Esplendor Resort at Rio Rico.
Attractions: Pimeria Alta Museum in Nogales is a quaint museum focused on Nogales and the surrounding area. Tumacacori National Historical Park, north of Nogales, highlights indigenous people and the history of Spanish mission communities, two of which are historic landmarks.
11. Lake Powell Utah
On the other end of the size spectrum, Utah's Lake Powell, currently about 93,000 acres, has a good population of largemouths and an even better population of smallmouths. Crayfish, abundant threadfin shad and gizzard shad fry provide an excellent forage base for growing fish.
Claim to Fame: Ninety-six flooded canyons provide a lifetime of largely untapped fishing.
Tips: Find the threadfin shad and you'll find the bass. The smallmouth herd the shad toward the rocky edges all the way up into the ends of the canyons. The largemouth cruise in and out of the flooded tamarisk.
Facilities: The geography limits access, as there are only four marinas. Houseboats for rent are anchored around the lake. RV camping sites and tent sites are found nearby.
Attractions: Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument features spectacularly colored cliffs and plateaus rising over a mile from the Colorado River.
12. Lake Mohave Nevada
To complete the road trip, we head back to the big water. Lake Mohave covers 30,000 acres in its 67 miles and offers up largemouths and smallmouths. Primary forage includes threadfin shad, gizzard shad that have washed downriver from Lake Powell and crayfish. The availability of the shad depends on the level of predation by the striped bass.
Claim to Fame: A good number of 8-pound largemouths and 5-pound smallmouths are caught by anglers.
Tips: The spawn can start in February and last for months. Pay attention to the ends and sides of the brush-covered coves with Texas-rigged plastics. Fly-fishermen should use D-Dub's Marabou Minnow and D-Dub's Crawdad Candy.
Facilities: Cottonwood Cove Resort and Marina at the north end or Lake Mohave Marina at the southern end both offer full service marinas, motels and more. Las Vegas to the north and Laughlin to the south provide everything anyone could possibility desire.
Attractions: Nearby Hoover Dam, located near Boulder City, Nevada, attracts over a million visitors annually.