Learning about bass fishing at South Fork


Mar 11, 2001
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Learning about bass fishing at South Fork Reservoir



“South Fork Reservoir? Hell, it’s just a muddy sump hole in the middle of the desert”. In an authoritative and convincing manner, that’s how one person described SFR during a casual conversation some years ago about different fishing waters in Nevada. Although I had been to the reservoir to view it, but not fish it, a couple of times prior to that discussion, I remember thinking what a shame it was that the idea of building a reservoir just for recreational purposes had not worked out very well.

SFR, about 15 miles south of Elko, was constructed in 1988 to provide a place for water-related sports like fishing and boating and is termed a flow-in, flow-out concept reservoir. When full, it impounds approximately 40,000-acre feet of water, forming a pool covering 1,640 acres. However, its relatively small size belies its potential to produce not only big fish, but a wide variety of species that is hard to match in any other water in the state.

My first fishing trip to SFR in 2001 came after encouragement from Joe Doucette, conservation educator at Nevada Department of Wildlife’s Eastern Regional office in Elko. Doucette and I visited the reservoir the year before, after I relayed my story about the “muddy sump hole” discussion. Doucette said that the story teller had either never been to SFR or had been and was trying to discourage additional competition. I think it was probably the latter.

Earlier this month, I fished SFR for the third time with fellow angler Dan Fox of Sparks, and once again we found the fishing well worth the 650-mile round trip. We caught more than a dozen nice-sized rainbow, bowcut hybrids and brown trout, but no smallmouth bass this trip. And once again, small gold and black Rapalas and chartreuse with red spots Z-Ray lures were the best producers, for the trout anyway.

Last year, we caught two smallmouth bass –- 16 and 19 inches — on the gold and black Rapalas while trolling for trout, but this year we did not hook a single bass. During our three-day stay, we saw and talked with a couple of bass anglers who were concentrating their fishing efforts along the rocky face of the dam, and they did catch a few small smallmouth. Those we talked with seemed to be somewhat protective of their successful methods of capturing these bass, so when I returned I contacted Dennis Lattin of Elko who frequently fishes for bass at SFR.

Lattin, who was more than willing to share his knowledge, tells me that his favorites for smallmouth are a 2-inch white rubber grub, and what he calls his secret weapon, a Kalin’s 3-inch chartreuse with copper flakes grub that he feels must imitate a gray-colored fish. He said that the latter also works well for trout. He also likes a 4-inch plastic worm known as a rattlesnake, and a 2-4-inch worm that looks a little like a crawdad, in color anyway.

“Every large smallmouth over 15 inches, that I have seen taken this year from SFR that was kept and cleaned, was full of crawdads,” Lattin said.

Lattin said that in June he does well on the east side of the reservoir, just south of the boat ramp. Later in the season, he likes to fish what he calls the shallow plateaus along the west side, from jet ski beach up towards the dam, out from shore about 150 yards. There the water is only 10 to 15 feet deep above and along the old river channel.

He has found that the most productive method of fishing the artificial baits is, “...a real slow retrieve with a slight jig or bounce off the bottom occasionally, just like a crawdad would do.”

Although he has fished the rocks along the dam, he has not caught any larger fish in this area at or over the 15-inch minimum size limit. Lattin also likes fishing the area directly south of the dam along the west side of the reservoir.

At certain times of the year, Lattin says that his secret weapon grub catches as many brown trout as smallmouth in a day of fishing.

SFR also is home to largemouth bass. Lattin has found fishing for these is best at the extreme end of the reservoir at the inlet of the South Fork of the Humboldt River.

“I like casting lures towards the willows in about 2-4-feet of water,” he said.

He has never caught a largemouth near the dam and believes “...these fish pretty much keep to themselves at the south end of the lake.”

Having learned last year that there is a large population of crayfish in the reservoir, Fox and I brought two traps and enough bait for three days. We also brought a deep fry turkey cooker that also works well as a crab/crayfish cooker. Using cans of tuna fish — poked full of holes — as bait, in three days we caught a total of five of the delicious crustaceans. After talking with Lattin, it appears that we were trying to catch them in water that was too deep.

He suggests setting the traps along the east side in 2-3-feet of water and using pieces of chicken as bait. We had set ours along the face of the dam in 15 to 20 feet.

Nevada Division of State Parks manages the land encompassing the reservoir and has built a great camping area with 25 sites, with a few overlooking the lake. They have heated bathrooms with flush toilets, and even heated showers. For more information on camping, visit NDSP’s Web site: state.nv.us/stparks. Additional information on fishing SFR is available on NDOW’s Web site: ndow.org.

Dave Rice retired in 2001 after 30 years with the Nevada Division of Wildlife, 25 years as chief conservation officer. He can be reached at thomascreek@worldnet.att.net.

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