Trophy Bass in Oregon's Davis Lake
By Scott Richmond
"Midges," I thought as we traveled down Odell Creek, the inlet for Oregon's Davis Lake. I could see trout in front of the boat, making slow head-and-tail rises. I wondered which size and color of midge pupa would work. But we motored on past the trout.
"Caddis and Callibaetis ," I noted as we passed into the main lake. Again, trout were actively feeding. I speculated on which caddis pupa would entice that 20-incher whose huge dorsal fin was cutting an arc through the water. But we motored past that fish and dozens of others.
"Callibaetis spinners," I muttered as I glanced at the water in the main part of the lake. The surface of Davis Lake was dimpled everywhere by trout sipping spinners. "A Poly Wing Spinner would do just dandy," I thought.
But I had no Poly Wing Spinners in my fly box. Nor any caddis pupa, and not a single midge pattern. Trout were not on the agenda today.
We were after the fish nobody wants, the fish that shouldn't be there: largemouth bass.
Tiptoe Through the Tules
Several years ago, largemouth bass were illegally dumped into this big fly-fishing-only lake. Since very few fly anglers are interested in bass, and very few bass anglers carry a fly rod, Davis Lake's largemouths have been relatively unmolested.
I was fishing with Howard Abshere, a guide and former tournament angler who specializes in fly fishing for bass in the Bend area. Howard thinks he's died and gone to heaven when he's at Davis Lake.
"I've never seen so many big largemouth in any Oregon lake," he said as we pulled up to a line of tules near the lava dam. "They've been feeding on chubs, and they're huge."
We worked our way down a line of tules, casting floating frog "bugs" into the edges and the breaks. I was using an 8-weight rod, floating bass-taper fly line, and five feet of 20-pound maxima leader.
"Cast in there," said Howard, "then wait until the ripples die before moving the fly slowly." I did this for awhile without result. "Now try pulling it hard and making a ruckus," he said. I'm familiar with this process: every moment of every day is different with bass, and you have to figure out what's going to work NOW.
On the next cast, I jerked the bug forward six inches. The fly made a little "sploosh," which was followed by a big "SPLOOOOOSH" and I was onto a bass. You don't let bigmouth bass run in these conditions. You just point the rod at them and haul them out of the weeds before they have a chance to wrap your leader around a tule stem and break off.
This bass came unhooked, but another soon followed. Howard weighed it. It was just under four pounds. "Not especially big for here," Howard said. "Just typical."
A little later we poked into some lily pads on the northwest corner of the lake, flipping Rabbit Worms alongside the clumps of pads. The trick is to let the heavy fly land quietly (hah!) and sink to the bottom. Then pull it up and let it sink again. Grabs usually come when it's dropping. This tactic works very well when bass are keeping still, waiting for something to ambush.
Howard soon nailed a bass over five pounds. "On a good day," he said, "I'll get a dozen fish like this, and maybe even a seven pounder."
A flock of seagulls flew over. There was one huge splash after another as bass were spooked by the passing shadows.
Everything I saw and experienced at Davis Lake that day confirmed two things: first, the north end of the lake holds huge numbers of huge bass; second, hardly anybody is fishing for them.
For Better or Worse
I've done my share of railing at people who illegally plant fish. It's a dangerous and self-centered practice that can seriously deplete native fish populations. I'm not going to stop railing anytime soon.
Davis Lake's rainbow trout are self-perpetuating, wild, native fish. In the long term, the bass in Davis Lake may have a very negative impact on them. In the short term, the bass are occupying warm shallow water at the lake's north end--water that is very not good for trout. And the bass are eating chubs, which are too plentiful in the lake and compete with the trout for food. So short term, I admit that the bass could be helping the trout. Long term, we'll have to see.
Many fly anglers that have fished for Davis Lake's bass have kept all they've caught (there's no limit). Some have probably ended up as fillets, while others have become fertilizer.
Other anglers are like Howard, who releases all his fish.
Each angler must follow his or her own conscience and do what they feel is best for the resource and the lake's wild trout. But whether they release their catch or keep it, one thing's clear: there's some mighty fine bass catching that can be done.
Howard Abshere is a fishing guide who works out of The Hook in Sunriver. He is an expert on fly fishing for Davis Lake's bass. Howard can be reached at 541-593-2358 or www.hookfish.com.
Scott Richmond is Westfly's creator and Executive Director. He is the author of eight books on Oregon fly fishing, including Fishing Oregon's Deschutes River (second edition).