In February 1909, President Theodore Roosevelt signed an executive order to create a national bird refuge in Canyon County.
More than a century later, Idahoans continue to reap the benefits of Lake Lowell, the centerpiece of Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge south of Nampa and Caldwell. The lake supports thriving populations of fish and wildlife, making it a prime destination for anglers and outdoors enthusiasts.
Lake Lowell is home to dozens of bird species. Special boating regulations and no-wake zones make it an excellent nesting and birdwatching area for ospreys, hawks, loons, egrets, herons, grebes and more.
The lake is also popular with jet skiers, water skiers and wakeboarders. Lowell is a shallow lake, so it warms up much earlier than Lucky Peak and other boating hot spots.
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Walking paths, beach areas and the Visitor Center (open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays) draw thousands of guests to Lake Lowell every year.
But of the lake’s many attractions, fishing — largemouth bass fishing, specifically — is the biggest draw of all.
“Lowell is a unique fishery,” said Mike Peterson, a regional fish biologist for Idaho Fish and Game. “It provides a lot of opportunity, and it certainly gets a lot of angler use. Our tagging program indicates that 95 to 99 percent of tagged fish are being caught and released by anglers during the season.”
Lake Lowell hosts numerous bass tournaments throughout the year and is the only big bass lake located within the Treasure Valley. In a region dominated by Boise River trout and Snake River smallmouth bass, the temptation of casting to big largemouth is too much for anglers to resist.
“It’s a lot of fun to get back into the trees and pitch to those fish,” said Lloyd Gilreath Jr., president of the Boise Bass Busters. “Lowell is really the only place around to enjoy that style of fishing. And with it being so close, it’s a huge convenience factor to be able to get the kids involved and hit it after work a couple times per week.”
Motorized boat season at Lowell opens in mid-April, and by then, largemouth bass are starting to stir. Water levels are typically high early in the season, and anglers focus most of their attention on the flooded trees and vegetation around the shoreline.
The lake’s edges and coves are easily accessed via float tube, kayak or pontoon. Just be sure to release early-season fish — Lowell bass are catch-and-release only through June 30 in order to protect the spawn.
“That protection is definitely a factor, especially in our region where the bass growing season is shorter,” Peterson said. “The catch-and-release rules ensure we have bigger fish in the lake.”
Fishing conditions change throughout the year, but the basic principle is this: Find cover and you’ll find bass. Largemouth bass are ambush predators who like to hang out around trees, thick weeds and other structure. This allows the fish to hide from potential predators as well as prey items, which range from smaller fish and insects to frogs and even baby ducklings. When a meal presents itself, the bass will dart out from their hiding spot and grab it before dragging it back to its lair.
Three basic methods of largemouth fishing are pitching/flipping, using retrieve lures and throwing top-water baits.
Pitching involves throwing soft plastic jigs, worms, crayfish or lizards directly into thick cover. When a fish bites, the angler must be prepared to horse it out of its hiding place in a hurry.
Retrieve-type lures such as spinnerbaits, crankbaits and jerk baits require a cast and steady or intermittent retrieve. Throwing these types of lures parallel to cover rather than directly into it will give fish a chance to ambush the lure without getting hung up on as many snags.
Try varying the speed and cadence of your retrieve to illicit more strikes. Rocky dams, points and shallow flats are good places to throw retrieve lures, especially crankbaits.
Top-water baits include plastic frogs, buzz baits and poppers. Bass often feed near the surface early and late in the day, when visibility is low. Weedless frogs can be thrown directly into weeds and lily pads, while other top-water plugs are designed for open pockets of water. When the top-water strike is on, it’s nearly impossible to beat the excitement of watching a big bass destroying your lure at the surface.
“There’s nothing like seeing those bass come up and whack top-water,” said Caleb Nichols, a Boise angler who fishes Lowell more than a dozen times every season. “Sometimes, even if other lures are producing more fish, I’ll throw top-water just so I can watch them slam it.”
At Lowell, most largemouth bass measure 12 to 18 inches and weigh anywhere from one to three pounds. Fish up to five pounds are possible, but rare. Still, when the fish are biting, anglers easily can put a dozen or more bass in the boat, and catching two-pounders all afternoon is nothing to sneeze at.
“The numbers are great, and the fish look healthy,” Gilreath said. “The size isn’t quite what it was a few years back, but those things go in cycles. I think with the rules and limits, it’s been a huge help keeping fish in the lake and helping build the population up.”
In addition to largemouth bass, Lowell has healthy populations of smallmouth bass and channel catfish. Bluegill, perch, crappie, bullhead catfish and trout are possible catches. Smallmouth anglers usually target the rocky dam areas; catfish anglers fish from shore or a boat with worms, crickets, chicken livers or crankbaits; and panfish anglers tend to use small jigs or live worms.
Spring fishing is heating up at Lowell, so get out on the water and get in on the fun. Whether you are fishing from shore, a small watercraft or a big motorboat, you’re almost certain to hook up with some bass — and catch a new appreciation for one of Southwest Idaho’s most productive fisheries.
Jordan Rodriguez has been fishing in Idaho since he was a teen. Share your stories and tips at outdoors @idahostatesman.com.
Fishing at Lake Lowell
Getting there: Lake Lowell is south of Nampa and Caldwell. Boat launches can be accessed by turning south off Highway 55 (Karcher Road) onto Lake Avenue, Indiana Avenue or Riverside Road.
Fishing rules: Bass are catch-and-release only through June 30. Starting July 1, anglers may keep two bass per day, none between 12 and 16 inches. General rules apply on all other species. Bow fishing is allowed for carp and suckers only.
Other rules: Motorized boats are allowed April 15 through Sept. 30. Boating closes at sunset — the boat ramps have closing times listed, and they change throughout the summer as day length shifts.
Coast Guard offers boat safety checks
Coast Guard Vessel Safety Check events are Saturday and May 28 at Lucky Peak Lake. The events run from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the dam causeway just before the Barclay Bay parking area. Safety checks are free.