High in the sub-desert wilderness of western Idaho lies C. Ben Ross Reservoir, a small irrigation reservoir tucked away from public view and consciousness. It’s the kind of place that even an Idaho native could go an entire lifetime without exploring.
But for those who are up for a little adventure, Ben Ross offers outdoor enjoyment in a peaceful, rustic setting. The 350-acre lake provides fishing that can be challenging and richly rewarding, as well as top-notch birdwatching and a quiet place to get away from the crowds.
Here are three reasons to explore C. Ben Ross Reservoir:
Ben Ross has a healthy population of largemouth bass, and virtually any motorized boat can explore the entire reservoir in a day, so odds are you’ll find a hot spot if you look hard enough.
Fishing at Ben Ross can be separated into two categories: high water and low water. In the spring and early summer, the reservoir is usually full, with submerged willow trees and other vegetation providing excellent cover for bass. In many areas you can hear the fish “popping” as they feed in the willows or you can watch cattails quiver above the surface as bass forage below.
During high-water conditions, look for those sunken trees, weed beds and other structures that provide cover for bass. Throw spinner baits, weedless soft plastics and jigs or leech patterns toward the cover and hold on tight when the fish come out of hiding to slam your lure.
It is important to note the special bass regulations on Ben Ross: Through June 30, it is catch-and-release only. From July 31 on, the limit is two fish — none between 12 and 16 inches.
Throughout the summer, the reservoir is drawn down and the shoreline cover vanishes. In dry years — it is particularly low this year — more than half of the lake’s surface area will dry up, leaving fish concentrated in deeper water. Fishing gets tricky as bass behavior becomes less predictable, but there’s less water to cover, so you can still find fish if you’re willing to put in the work.
Fishing from shore, a float tube or a canoe is a good bet in the low-water season because launching a boat becomes difficult. But it’s interesting to see the features of the lakebed — and beneficial to make note of them for your next high-water trip.
In addition to bass, Ben Ross is home to bluegill and crappie. The panfish typically hold to cover during high-water season and move into deeper pockets as the reservoir recedes. The rocky dam on the west bank is a popular area for catching panfish year-round.
The reservoir also holds some nice trout. Some anglers target them during the ice fishing season, but trolling and other methods used for trout on other multispecies lakes can do the trick throughout the year.
The life swimming below the surface of Ben Ross is surpassed by the variety of birds in the air. The reservoir is a prime location for birdwatchers, and even if you’re there to fish it’s hard not to watch the avian Olympics going on around you.
Idaho Fish and Game lists Ben Ross on its Idaho Birding Trail website, identifying nearly 20 species that call the lake home. Wood ducks, canvasbacks, snow geese, trumpeter swans and goldeneyes are among the waterfowl common to the region, and spring is the best time to see most of those species as they forage, nest and raise their young.
Along the shoreline, blue herons quietly stalk prey while killdeer and long-billed curlews strut through the sand. Quails belt out their trademark “whoos” from trees and fence posts, while owls keep watch over the lake by night.
On a recent trip, it was interesting to see the variety of fish-eating bird species attracted to Ben Ross during the low-water season. Osprey patrolled the skies, occasionally crashing into the blue-green water to capture a meal. The much smaller but equally impressive kingfisher also made several forays into the lake for small panfish, while a huge flock of pelicans lounged on the shallow east bank, yielding their hunting grounds briefly when a bald eagle came through.
Bird species and activity levels vary throughout the year, but no matter when you plan your trip, be sure to pack binoculars.
Ben Ross is a great destination if you’re looking to get away from the crowds. The nearest towns are Cambridge and Council, and apart from a few scattered farm houses and perhaps a fishing boat or two, you’ll have the place to yourself on most days.
Ben Ross has a certain serenity to it, and a natural beauty that is vastly different from Idaho’s mountainous regions and the desert of the Snake River canyon. It’s a great place to look for wildlife — mule deer, lizards, snakes, raccoons and muskrats are a few of the species you might see. At night, packs of coyotes sing a melancholy chorus (so keep your dogs close by). During the low-water season, it’s fun to walk the shoreline and check out the dozens of animal prints cast perfectly in the drying mud.
Ben Ross is a great place for a day trip. An overnight campout is doable, but only if you come prepared. There aren’t established campgrounds or amenities, so you’ll have to bring all the water you need, as well as a shovel and/or camp toilet. (There is an outhouse, but it’s not maintained and is usually full of wasps.)
A few makeshift campsites are available along the public access shorelines — including one that has a shelter and picnic table — and there is a concrete boat ramp, but no dock. Parts of the lake back up to private land, so be sure to watch for signs.