East of Lewiston, near the central Idaho town of Orofino, sprawls Dworshak Reservoir, which has a long history of giving up hefty smallmouth bass. Idaho angler Joey Walton had caught other big smallmouths from the 20,000-acre lake, including fish over 8 pounds.
He believed if he stayed focused and kept trying for a lunker bass, he’d eventually succeed, even in frigid winter weather, with snow and ice stacked around lake shores.
So early the morning of Dec. 13, when most folks were Christmas shopping, skiing, snowmobiling, or sitting indoors by the fireplace, Joey Walton set out for a long run in his bass boat.
Bundled up in clothing more akin to ice fishing than open-water bass casting, he ran across the frigid 54-mile-long reservoir looking for an outsize bass.
“Having been looking for a record fish (smallmouth) for months, and already catching several smallmouths this season just shy of the current state record (9.72-pounds), Walton knew he was in for a challenge,” said Martin Koenig, with the Idaho Fish and Game. “His hard work paid off when Walton finally connected with the fish he had been looking for.”
Walton revealed on his Facebook page that his giant smallmouth struck a “6th Sense Swim Jig” in shad color with no trailer.
“Couldn’t keep it low key forever,” said Walton. “The 6th Sense Swim Jig is the real deal. This 9.1 (record smallmouth bass) crushed it.”
After weighing the fish and using a measuring board to verify an accurate length and getting some quick photos, Walton released the 23.75-inch, 9.1-pound smallmouth back to the deep, clear, frigid waters of Dworshak Reservoir.
Koenig, who is IDFG’s Natural Resource Program Coordinator, confirmed Walton’s bass is the new catch-and-release Idaho smallmouth record.
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Koenig says that 2022 may be remembered as the best year for Dworshak Reservoir, as it produced several huge smallmouth bass.
“If conditions remain consistent, there could be another record coming,” he says. “But the 9.72-pound state record by angler Dan Steigers in 2006 will require a truly exceptional fish.”
Walton was low key about catching such an outsize smallmouth bass in the middle of winter in a lake 1,600 feet above sea level, over 600 feet deep, and in the shadow of Idaho’s Bitterroot Mountains.
“It’s pretty cool I finally etched my name in the record book,” he said about his mid-winter record smallmouth catch.