Flaming Gorge Yields State Record Smallmouth to


Mar 11, 2001
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Flaming Gorge Yields State Record Smallmouth to Evanston Basketball Coach



FLAMING GORGE, WYO. – Bubba O’Neill had a good start to the 2003 Flaming Gorge season: Two casts. Two smallmouth bass. One state record.

But, if the Evanston High basketball coach could have written the script on that April 27 morning, fishing companion Garrett Lym, an Evanston High sophomore, would have hooked the 5.94-pound fish instead of himself. “That would have been just as fun for me,” O’Neill said.

Due to the 44-degree water, the fish didn’t display the acrobatics or fight the species is famed for, and O’Neill didn’t realize the magnitude of his catch until he got a look at it close to the boat. “That prompted me to say a few ‘choice’ words about getting the net ready,” he joked. Either the words or the boat prompted the fish to take a powerful deep-water run before being netted.

The boat scale said “6 pounds” prompting O’Neill to blast for the marina knowing he’d beaten the reservoir record. He didn’t realize he probably smashed the long-standing state record until calling a fellow Bear River Bassmaster on the way.

David Albrecht of Evanston was also in the boat that also released 10 rainbows “around 18 inches” that day.

O’Neill believes “it would have been nearly impossible” to land the 21-inch long, 15-inch around smallmouth in the summer when they are prodigious jumpers.

O’Neill’s fish eclipsed the previous record, which was caught in 1993 in the Tongue River, by over .8 of a pound. That fish topped another Tongue River catch, which had stood since 1982. The world record is an 11-pound, 15-ounce fish taken from Dale Hollow Lake, Tenn. in 1955.

His previous Flaming Gorge best was a “4-pounder about four years ago.” His Wyoming smallmouth fishing also includes Fontenelle Reservoir.

Prompted by fishing Flaming Gorge as a youngster, O’Neill has evolved into an ardent bass tournament angler dedicating his summer to fishing western bass reservoirs. Prior to the new record O’Neill hooked on a hand-painted crayfish crankbait, his personal smallmouth best was a 5-pounder from Jordanelle Reservoir in Utah.

“But, it’s hard to pass up Flaming Gorge,” the government and outdoor recreation teacher said, citing its trophy potential for lake trout, brown trout, kokanee salmon, channel catfish, smallmouths and even carp.

He likes to fish the reservoir’s “mid-section” early in the season because it tends to warm up first. But he ends up following the bronze-to-green hued fish to their lairs all over the reservoir through the course of a season. He doesn’t put his spinning rods down until his Red Devil team starts practice in November.

He said the new record was a great event for both the reservoir and the bass club. O’Neill believes the fish will help disprove the bum rap that Flaming Gorge is home to only little smallmouths. He added the Bassmasters “celebrated together” about the new notoriety of their home water.

Smallmouths were first stocked into Flaming Gorge in 1967 by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources to help control the burgeoning Utah chub population. Over the years the G&F netted juvenile smallmouths and relocated them to other parts of the reservoir. The G&F also flew some smallmouth fry in from Arkansas in 1982.

Green River Fisheries Biologist Bill Wengert says that due to high elevation and low water temperatures Flaming Gorge smallmouths are very slow growing. A study conducted by the University of Wyoming in the early 1990s discovered that 12-inch fish averaged 8 years old. One 15.5-inch fish was 11 years old.

“It would be really hard to even guess how old Bubba’s fish might be,” Wengert said.

He adds the reservoir has a 10-fish limit – more liberal the general statewide bass limit of 6 -- because smallmouths are very numerous, despite providing forage for brown trout and occasionally lake trout. Creel surveys show over half of all smallmouths caught are released.

Wengert adds about 800,000 largemouth bass were stocked four years in the 1970s, “But the lack of rooted aquatic vegetation and high elevation in the reservoir probably was the main reason they didn’t establish.” He has only seen one caught in his 26 years managing the reservoir.


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