Western Smallmouth Adventure

Tim and a Salmon River Smallie

Tim and a Salmon River Smallie

I took my own advice in 2017 and did some serious traveling, which included seeking out new bronzeback adventures. During August, Lyn and I headed west across the rolling Dakota prairies and into the trout country of the mountain West. But nary a trout was caught. Instead, my angling goal was Western smallmouth in various rivers. We stopped at the Flathead River in Montana, the Salmon in Idaho and the Snake and Grande Ronde in Washington. These rivers are quite different from one another, and each has its own unique characteristics. But all have good populations of smallmouth and they offer uncrowded angling in spectacular settings.

While I didn’t fish trout, I did stop at several landings on various trout rivers, and it was an eye-opener. In contrast to the often wide open smallmouth waters, I found the trout rivers to be packed with anglers. The landings were full of driftboat trailers, and looking up and downstream the water was dotted with fellas flinging casts. Famed rivers like the Upper Missouri, Yellowstone, the Big Horn and others in Montana were all jam-packed with guys trying to catch a trout. While at times I also like to fish trout, I’ll have to say that this elbow-to-elbow trouting so common during the peak of the season doesn’t interest me. Especially since right in those same states there are numerous other rivers almost devoid of anglers. I saw just one other angler on the beautiful Grande Ronde River in Washington, even though I fished it two different times in two different locations. On the big and powerful Salmon in Idaho I saw only a couple of bank fisherman in five days. Even on the massive Snake River, not far from the city of Lewiston, I only saw a few guys fishing over two days.

Tim kayak Fishing the Grande Ronde

Kayak Fishing on the Grande Ronde River


While on some western waters smallies are gaining popularity, in the majority of the places the troutcentric anglers of the West still overlook river bronze. This means those of us who know a good species when we hook one can find some excellent fishing if we head west. You still get the Western experience of beautiful mountains, spectacular canyons, vast forests and clean, clear waters, but you’ll probably not have to fight the crowds while you fish. Just one example is what I experienced on the Salmon River.

The big and beautiful Salmon River north of Boise, Idaho, has long been a popular whitewater rafting and steelhead destination. The steelhead and salmon fisheries have dramatically declined, but a booming smallmouth population makes this river a real gem waiting to be discovered by smallmouth fans.

Using a very reasonably priced guide service like H2O in Riggins, smallmouth fans can comfortably navigate the fast-flowing Salmon in large drift boats. The guides will put you on smallies up to 19 inches in the river’s innumerable boulder-studded bank eddies. And it is often very fast action, with catch rates of often 35 to 45 fish a day. Plus even 12 inchers are power-packed in the swift flowing river. The conditions are perfect for light-medium action spin sticks or 6- or 7-weight fly rods.

With central Idaho’s high desert climate, the spectacular canyon country of the Salmon stays consistently warm and dry all during the prime months of July through September. There are very reasonably priced accommodations right on the river in the small town of Riggins, Idaho. There is more information on the Smallmouth Angler trip page about Salmon River fishing trips, go to: http://smallmouthangler.com//trips/

And the Salmon is just one of over 2 dozen Western smallmouth rivers with excellent potential. Isn’t it time to experience a Western bronzeback adventure?

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply