I was looking forward to a day trip on the lower Flathead River last week. It is the time of the year that the smallmouth bass fishing really turns on. I had received reports a week earlier that the smallies were biting, and I wanted to get in some of the action.
Fishing smallmouth can be done a number of ways. I like to use what Mike Riska, a longtime bass angler, showed me a few years back. It’s called the Carolina Rig. This set-up is really very simple; it contains a three way swivel with a 4 inch line of monofilament tied onto a bell sinker and a 30 inch leader with a single hook and a red or green bead in front of it. I tip my Carolina Rig with a whole night crawler by threading as much of the head into the hook and let the rest of the crawler swim free without a trailer hook or a stinger.
Fishing for bass is usually an early morning to noon affair as the bite normally goes off as the day heats up. I look for deep holes off rocky points and rocky river banks. I am always fishing on the bottom from as deep as 30 feet to as shallow as 8 feet, depending on the time of day. There are a lot snags, so be prepared to lose a few set-ups to the weeds and rocks below.
Most of the time, the bass are hanging in the 10-20 feet depth of water. There are a lot small 8-12 inch bass that you have to catch through until the bigger one takes your bait. It is important with the Carolina Rig to give the bass a little line or simply bend the tip of the rod toward the fish when you feel a bite, this gives the fish an opportunity to take the whole night crawler down to the hook.
Anyway, that is how I normally fish for small mouth bass, and this technique has always worked for me, until last week. As it turned out I was watching the river flow on the Flathead River come down to about 13,000 cubic feet per second, and I thought even though it was flowing a little higher than I would like that the fishing conditions would still be good. When I wasn’t having any luck early in the morning, I called Brandt Hamernick who fishes that stretch of river a lot and catches a lot of bass. “I fished a couple of days ago and didn’t have any luck, “ Hamernick added, “ I think it is because the river has been dropping about 800-1000 cubic feet per second daily for the last few days,” I then called Shawn Plakke who also fishes that stretch of the river and here is what he had to say, “My son and I fished yesterday and we didn’t have any luck catching bass but we did catch some very nice northern pike tossing a orange colored mepps spinner into the weeds”.
Normally, I would have a tackle box full of hardware to throw at pike but this trip I didn’t think of even bringing it. So, I continued to fish for bass till 3 in the afternoon and ended up finally catching a handful of very small fish. Both Hamernick and Plakke told me that when the river reaches about 8000-10,000 cubic feet per second that the bass fishing will pick back up again. So, I will be on the river again, but this time I will bring my northern pike tackle just in case.
(Written by the Captain)