COLUMN: Plenty of buzz about big smallmouth

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There has been quite a buzz in the local angling community lately about a new state record fish caught in Northwest Montana — in Flathead Lake, in fact.

Nope, not a new lake trout record (although the current record was caught there), and not a yellow perch either (but no one will be surprised if the next one is from there).

No, the recent shattering of the record for the largest smallmouth bass, by almost three quarters of a pound, is what’s got everyone all in a tizzy.

First and foremost, as far as Smallies are concerned, they are not supposed to be here, another in a long line of non-native fish already happily swimming in the largest natural freshwater lake in the West.

In fact, of the 62 listed record fish, nearly 25 percent come from our Region One alone. Consider that another 25 percent come from two single bodies of water: Eastern Montana’s Fort Peck and Nelson reservoirs and the remaining 50 percent from the rest of the state, our part of the state certainly is getting our share of the pages in the “book.” As it mirrors the rest of the state, nearly half of the record fish species are non-native.

So what makes a “record book” fish in Montana? It’s a pretty simple formula, actually: weight and length. No complicated formulas of length times weight times girth or was it kept or released. You have to beat the weight and the length to claim a record. In fact, I had a client, almost three years ago, that broke the lake trout length record by 3 inches, but was 6.69 pounds shy. Close but no cigar!

And lest we get caught up by those big numbers, consider that the state record pygmy whitefish, currently held by Russ Geldrich, is less than 10 inches long and weighs right at one third of a pound!

If that name sounds familiar, it is because Russ has been talked about a lot this year as the current Perch Pounder champion and Perch Assault co-champion. And if Josh Emmert’s current yellow perch record falls, don’t be surprised to see Geldrich’s name on it as well.

Some other notable Northwest Montana records include the previously mentioned lake trout (42.5 inches and 42.69 pounds) and the lake whitefish (27 inches and 10.46 pounds), both from Flathead Lake, giving Flathead a total of three current records with Jacob Fowler’s aforementioned smallmouth bass coming in at 21 inches and 7.40 pounds.

Ashley Lake gave up a 30-pound cutt-bow hybrid back in 1982, the Kootenai River a 33-pound rainbow and Noxon Rapids Reservoir has given up two record fish, including Darin Williams’ 8.8-pound largemouth bass.

Getting back to Fowler’s recent record catch, Dick Zimmer of Zimmer Tackle in Pablo recently reported in his newsletter that, in his opinion, fish managers on Flathead Lake have created an environment that is very welcoming to the smaller, non-native species such as smallmouth bass, yellow perch, crappie and more by removing the larger, highly predacious lake trout.

These species will now proliferate, as evidenced by the phenomenal numbers of spawning yellow perch this spring, and this recent giant smallmouth bass. The fact that smallmouth LOVE to eat trout just adds an entirely different dimension to an already complicated situation.

With the area’s waters really muddying up, anglers this Memorial Day weekend should consider using scent to help make their presentations stand out in low-visibility water. Baits with lots of thump and noise also help in these conditions.

Have a safe and happy Memorial Day, and I’ll see you on the water!

Howe runs Howes Fishing/A Able Charters. Contact him at or 257-5214 or by emailing

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