Idaho Smallmouth is New State Record

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Dworshak Reservoir, a popular fishery in northwest Idaho, is no stranger to smallmouth bass. Several brown backs over seven pounds – including two caught by angler Dan Steigers, one of which is the current certified weight state record – have been pulled from these waters.

On May 10, fishing guide Travis Wendt added to that tally, capturing Idaho’s catch-and-release state record for smallmouth.

Catch-and-Release vs. Certified Weight Records

Before we share Travis’ story, let’s address the inevitable question that will be asked on social media: yes, there is more than one Idaho state fishing record.

A certified weight record is based on, as you probably figured out, the weight of the fish on a certified scale. The catch-and-release record, however, is based upon the length of a fish that is safely returned to the water.

As mentioned above, Dan Steigers currently maintains the Idaho certified weight record for smallmouth. His Dworshak brown back was caught in October 2006 and weighed 9.72 pounds. It also measured 23.75 inches – a metric that might seem confusing considering Wendt’s catch was actually a quarter inch shorter.

Idaho did not implement its catch-and-release program until 2016, however, thus any fish caught before this date would not qualify for the record.

Big Fish, Small Window

Travis Wendt Smallmouth Bass
Photo via Travis Wendt

Wendt, who guides for Reel Time Fishing in Clarkston, Washington, is a regular at Dworshak, calling it “one of the most difficult lakes in the country” to fish for smallmouth.

That said, there is roughly a two-to-three-week window in Spring, according to Wendt, where sizeable smallmouth can be caught.

During the spawn, smallies can be found in about three-to-ten feet of water in Dworshak. On May 10, Wendt notes that the water was around 50 degrees, signifying typical pre-spawn temperatures. He also mentions that his record fish’s tail was pretty torn up, though, which may mean the spawning process has already begun.

At roughly 10:30 that morning, Wendt was fishing in eight-to-ten feet of water, slowly working his Z-Man Finesse TRD Ned Rig (in Canada Craw color).

Wendt recalls the hit, noting that for bigger smallies like this, the “hit” is more of a subtle “pop.” These fish tend to just inhale the bait and “sit there.” He notes that the fish also did not thrash on the topwater like the species is known to do but that it did give him a couple “short, line-peeling runs.”

Handling a State Record

Massive Smallmouth Bass Idaho
Photo via Travis Wendt

According to Idaho Fish & Game, two criteria must be in place for a fish to qualify as a catch-and-release state record:

  • A Record Fish Application Form must be completed and submitted, and the form must contain the signature of one witness who observed both the measurement and the release
  • At least one photo of the angler with the fish and two-to-three photos showing the measurement must accompany the application

Wendt’s smallmouth measured an impressive 23 1/2 inches with an 18 1/2 inch girth. The length may be just shy of Steigers’ 2006 catch, but it does eclipse Steigers’ 1995 smallmouth (22 inches) and Don Schiefelbein’s 1982 catch (20.75 inches) – some of the heaviest recorded smallmouth caught on Dworshak.

Thanks to the Kokanee

Wendt notes that in the weeks leading up to his catch, he and other guides on Dworshak had been pulling sizeable smallmouth. He had a feeling that a record could be looming and would not be surprised if the certified weight and/or the catch-and-release records are broken again next year.

Part of this is because Dworshak is home to millions of kokanee salmon. As the primary food source of the smallmouth, when kokanee are abundant, the bass flourish, growing faster than they will in other regional fisheries.

Idaho Game and Fish notes that once smallmouth bass reach a length of ten-to-twelve inches, they can begin to feed on kokanee. A graphic on the department’s website suggests that prior to abundant kokanee in Dworshak, a mature smallmouth at age seven would average roughly 14.4 inches in length. In 2016, however, just one year after the spike in kokanee-as-a-food-source, that average for seven-year-old smallmouth grew in 18.1 inches.

Assuming the kokanee population stays high, then, it is only a matter of time until another Idaho smallmouth state record is broken.

Want to take a shot at nailing an Idaho state record smallmouth? You can link up with Travis at Reel Time Fishing and hit the water the nest time you’re in the area.

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