Little Payette Lake’s diverse fishery received a much needed boost in late June when staff from the Idaho Fish and Game transplanted 600 adult smallmouth bass to the lake from Oxbow Reservoir on the Snake River.
Located just east of McCall, Little Payette Lake provides opportunity for anglers targeting a variety of species, from kokanee salmon and rainbow trout to smallmouth bass and tiger musky. Smallmouth bass are one of the most frequently targeted species in the lake, and fishing for smallmouth can be exceptional during and just after spawning season.
Smallmouth bass build nests to spawn, much like salmon and steelhead. But unlike salmon and steelhead, smallmouth bass are nest guarders. Males will aggressively protect a nest and attack anything that comes too close, which is why fishing for them can be particularly good during and after spawning season.
In Little Payette Lake, smallmouth bass typically spawn in mid- to late-June. This is later compared with smallmouth bass populations in other regions of the country, but water temperatures in Little Payette Lake preclude earlier spawning. With the late spawn, the young fish that hatch typically do not grow large enough to survive through the winter months, so natural recruitment is fairly low. This is where Fish and Game's transplant efforts come into play.
To maintain Little Payette Lake’s quality smallmouth fishery, Fish and Game staff routinely transplant smallmouth from Oxbow Reservoir on the Snake River. Fisheries staff launch an electrofishing boat on Oxbow Reservoir in the evening, and after dark, apply electricity to the water around the shoreline of the reservoir looking for smallmouth to capture and haul back to Little Payette. The electricity temporarily stuns the fish long enough for netters on the front of the boat to scoop them up and place them in a live well. It typically takes between two and four hours to capture 600 smallmouth at Oxbow Reservoir - this year we finished capturing our fish at around 2 a.m.
After a few hours of shut-eye, fisheries staff load their catch onto a hatchery truck and drive the 600 smallmouth 100 miles back to Little Payette Lake, where they are released into their new home. These transplant efforts have been going on since 1988, and have been the main driver behind quality smallmouth catch rates in Little Payette Lake.
A natural lake, Little Payette is nearly 200 feet deep. However, operation of a small dam at the outlet floods a vast shallow area with an abundance of "structure." If you find yourself fishing Little Payette Lake for smallmouth bass, focus on these structures. Smallmouth bass like to hang out near rocky shorelines, and close to stumps, downed trees, and root wads. If you’re fishing the lake in June, you should target shallow, rocky areas where they will build and guard their nests, but fishing near other areas of "structure" the rest of the year can be productive as well.
Little Payette Lake is managed as a quality fishery. Regulations allow harvest of two smallmouth bass per day, per angler, none under 20 inches. Good fishing!