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Fishing for Largemouth Bass in Southeastern Montana


June 5:12 AM

The sun, peeking over stately buttes in eastern Montana, pulses and glows sending shimmering shafts of reflected sunlight from the surface of the reservoir. The heavy scent of sage carried by delicate currents of moving air lingers in the early morning air.

Only a special breed of recreationist ventures to this remote area of prairie country at this hour - sunrise worshippers, bird watchers and bass anglers.

At this early hour, two bass anglers walk down to the edge of the large reservoir, unlimber their fly rods and rig up with bass poppers.

One angler turns to his fishing companion and says, "Here's a sporty fish that gives you all the fight you want and one that's a challenge to hook. What more could you ask of a fish?"

Largemouth bass.

Largemouth Bass

Admittedly, a fair number of eastern Montanans think walleyes, catfish, paddlefish and trout are "top shelf" and as traditional as apple pie, corn on the cob and firecrackers on the Fourth of July. Lately, though, more and more eastern Montanans are now realizing that the largemouth bass is also as American as the hamburger and as sporting as the Merriam's Turkey

That the largemouth bass is one of our finest game fish need not be argued. He is prolific, hits artificial lures with gusto, fights strenuously with intermittent spectacular jumps and grows to a large size. Here is a stubborn fighter, strong and unyielding, and one definitely worth pursuing.

Temperature and Light

Fortunately, bass fishing is not an exact science. If it were, it wouldn't be much of a sport or much fun. As all fishermen must discover eventually, there are many factors which affect the way bass behave and feed. But there is so little consistency in the cause and effect that it is nearly impossible to make any reliable rule that will not soon be ripled with exceptions. Nevertheless, here's a couple of fairly reliable environmental factors that you should know a little bit about.


Bass, like all fish, are cold blooded, which means that their body temperature is always the same as the water in which they swim. Although some anglers disagree on which water temperature is the best for bass fishing, almost everyone agrees that the metabolic rate of bass is influenced by temperature, and this means that the behavior, especially the feeding characteristics, of bass is also influenced. If there is an ideal water temperature for bass fishing, it probably falls between 68° and 74°F.


It is a well established fact that bass hate bright light. When the sun is bright, bass have little choice but to find relief by seeking deeper, darker water areas or finding some sort of cover to shade them. If you like to fish for bass on the surface, a bright sunshiny day will probably not be your best bet. The deeper the sun penetrates the water, the deeper the bass will go. And, the deeper they go, the tougher they are to catch. For some reason, young bass are not so much affected by the sun. But the lunkers, the ones fishermen want, are. It has long been known that bass bite best just before or after a storm. Protected from the sun by cloud cover, the big bass are free to roam the shallows in search of food.

Fishing Tips

  • Spawning occurs when water temperatures reach 60°F. Bass build and actively defend nests. Largemouths are very aggressive at this time and may strike at almost anything that moves near them. Males guard the nest and fiercely protect the newly hatched fry.
  • Try your luck with largemouths in the spring and fall, with the best fishing in the morning and late evening. During summer, lunkers seek haven in the deeper, cooler waters, so fishing is often better at night. Bass generally lurk near some kind of cover - shady spots under weed beds, over. hanging trees, logs, brush, stumps, rocks and rocky points.
  • The cardinal rule in bass fishing is caution. A sloppy or noisy approach will scare wary bass away.
  • Fishing methods vary with season and water conditions. A surface lure (e.g., popper, swimmer, crippled minnow or darter) works best in calm water. These lures kick up a fuss on top and convince old Mr. Bass that a fish is in distress - easy prey. To fish surface lures, cast and let the bait rest a minute or two. Then, twitch it, let it rest, then jerk and twitch it again. Keep this up all the way in. This technique also works well at night.
  • Shallow-running and underwater plugs work on rough or choppy water. Retrieve these lures steadily, with speed determining depth of the return.
  • Deep-water lures range from plastic worms to lead-head jigs. Use plastic worms during mid-day by crawling or bouncing them slowly along the bottom with pauses and short jerks of the rod tip to supply action to the lure. Cast jigs out into deep water. Wait until they hit bottom and then bounce them slowly - by raising and lowering ("jigging") - along weed beds, rocky ledges and in holes.
  • Bass bugs provide great action with the fly rod when largemouths roam in the shallows. Try them around weed beds, lily pads, stumps, logs and rocks. Work most bugs very slowly with long rests, pauses, short jerks and twitches to imitate a bug, moth or dragonfly.
  • Many bass are also taken on natural bait such as live frogs, night crawlers, minnows and other creatures. Largemouth bass put up an exciting fight, leaping from the water, standing on their tails and shaking their heads violently to throw the lure. The excellent flesh is easily filleted, resulting in large pieces of skinless, flaky, delectable meat.

Finding a Bass Pond to Fish

Before we point the way to some of the better ponds, we would like to say a few words about some important fishing regulations.

  1. Permission is required from the landowner to fish ponds on private land.
  2. Littering around ponds is illegal and may cause the landowner to close access.
  3. Live fish or eggs cannot be planted in any Montana waters.
  4. Nongame fish (except carp, goldfish and rainbow smelt) can be used as bait only in the following ponds in southeastern Montana: Baker Lake (Falion County), Castle Rock Lake (Rosebud Co.), Lindsay Reservoir (Dawson Co.), Silvertip Reservoir (Prairie Co.), South Sandstone Reservoir (Fallon Co.), Spotted Eagle Pond (Custer Co.), Tongue River Reservoir (Big Horn Co.), Whiteside Reservoir(Garfield Co.).

The following ponds are good largemouth bass producers.The descriptive write-up for each pond provides information on location, fish stocking data, and other general information of interest.

We hope that your fishing trip produces a couple braggin' lunker bass. Even if it doesn't, a greater benefit lies in psychological and emotional refreshment -the cluttered mind uncluttered, the frazzled nerve restrung and the spirit rejuvenated. Have a good trip!

Largemouth Bass Reservoirs

Castle Rock Reservoir (Rosebud County)

This site is within the town of Colstrip and is owned by PP& L. The Colstrip Parks & Recreation Department maintains a publicly accessible access site on the reservoir. Sampling in 2011 found bass to 14 inches. This waterbody allows only manually powered or electric trolling motors.

Dan Hanghian Reservoir (Custer County)

Largemouth bass were introduced in 1977 and the pond has become an excellent producer. Largemouth bass were restocked in July 2011 following a substantial winterkill. Landowner permission is required to access this pond! Contact FWP region 7 headquarters for landowner details. To reach the pond, take the Brockway road north from Terry to the Cherry Creek Road (approximately 10-11 miles), turn left (west) and follow the Cherry Creek Road for approximately 11 miles. Turn left (south) at the access road leading to South Fork Reservoir. Drive over the face of the dam and continue until reaching a fork in the road. Take the south (left) fork and not the west fork! Drive 3 miles south to near summit of divide; turn right (west) and travel 2 miles to the pond, which is located on Physic Creek.

Gartside Reservoir (Richland County)

This site, near Sidney, has a Fishing Access Site (FAS) off Hwy 16, 1 mile north of Crane, west 1 mile on County Road. Sampling in July 2011 found largemouth bass up to 5 pounds. This waterbody allows only manually powered or electric motors.