Several Oregon waters that have recently developed populations of smallmouth bass have experienced a sharp reduction in the numbers of some of their other fish species.
A good example of such a fishery is Lake of the Woods west of Klamath Falls in Jackson County.
In past years, the lake gave up a surprising number of big largemouth bass up to about nine pounds, but with a fast-growing population of smallmouth bass, largemouth bass numbers have shrunk greatly and they don’t seem to get as big.
While it is reasonable to hope that the smallmouths would add a viable complement to the lake’s largemouth fishing, so far they haven’t – and it is fairly difficult to catch a smallmouth measuring more than nine inches.
Smallmouth bass do not do a good job of preying on smaller smallmouths and their populations are prone to becoming dominated by smaller bass.
The one Oregon smallmouth fishery that I have fished for nearly four decades is Lake Billy Chinook – and it has underwent major changes in the make up of its fish populations.
Prior to my first visit to Billy Chinook, back around 1975, I read an article about the reservoir that was written by Bruce Holt. While talking with Clay Hood later that year, I learned that the Oregon Hawghunters had visited the reservoir and caught some really fat largemouths – including one that barely topped 20-inches in length that weighed eight pounds.
When I made my initial visit to Billy Chinook in June of 1976, I landed five largemouts to two pounds and 13 smallmouths weighing between one and three pounds – all by 6:30 am. Needless to say, I was very impressed.
A few years later,on my next visit to the reservoir, I caught dozen’s of smallmouths, but could not catch a largemouth – or a smallmouth longer than nine inches – and the average size of the smallmouths seems to be smaller yet on each subsequent visit.
The biggest impact of Billy Chinooks robust smallmouth population has been the greatly reduced largemouth population. The reservoir’s occasional problem’s with it’s kokanee population can be linked to efficient predation by the reservoir’s bull trout.
Billy Chinook’s landlocked Chinook population has dwindled, but will soon be replaced by anadromous Chinooks. As for the trout anglers, the rainbow trout fishery is not a major draw, but there are some sizable brown trout in the Deschutes River above the reservoir.
What action is needed to solve the problems associated with a stunted smallmouth fishery? Removing number and minimum size limits won’t offer much help without a major increase in the fishing pressure directed at the smallmouths.