If we can offer just one tip to waterfowlers concerned about hunting pressure and the odds against getting a spot at popular refuge areas it’d be this: Skip it.
Instead, head out to the open waters of northern and central California’s inland lakes. Four of them in particular — Clear Lake, the Thermalito Afterbay, Lake Almanor and Eagle Lake — offer outstanding waterfowling with a bonus: They’re also some of California’s most desirable fishing waters.
In a single morning you can put a few ducks and an occasional goose in your bag and still have time to toss some lures after a trophy bass or trout.
These fours spots are all Type C areas, which means hunting is allowed seven days a week, no reservations are required and no check-ins and no extra fees. Just bring a valid hunting license and duck stamps and you’re good to go.
To be sure, hunting will be better during the early days of the season in these areas. Still, water levels play a big role in determining if the game will show up during your outing.
Even so, they’re a great option for hunters in search of a new and challenging option. So, grab your decoys, your calls and your steel shot, but don’t forget your rod and tackle box. A great “blast and cast” adventure awaits.
It’s one of the best bass lakes in the country, so few hard-core duck hunters give this Lake County gem a second look. At more than 68 square miles, Clear Lake is the largest natural lake within California.
In additional to the local mallards, there are widgeons, green-winged teal, gadwalls and wood ducks.
The large number of homes and roads around the lake limit the hunting areas to a few choice spots. Rodman Slough in the lake’s northeast corner actually feels more like Arkansas than California. With more than three miles of flooded timber, pockets of tules and small flooded fields, it has plenty to offer waterfowlers.
Also on the north end, the west shoreline between Clear Lake State Park and Lakeport provides more than five miles of flooded tules and willow trees.
For years, the area around Long Tule Point has been a favorite among hunters. On the south end of the lake, the area in and around Cache Creek can also be productive. Hunters should be aware, however, that the areas within the Clear Lake State Park and the Anderson Marsh are closed to hunting year ’round. Also, shooting within 150 yards of any occupied residence or public road is prohibited.
You can only access hunting areas by boat. The Lakeside Park ramp in Kelseyville and the 5th Street ramp in Lakeport are both centrally located for hunters headed out to the northwest areas.
For Rodman Slough, there’s a small gravel ramp located off the Nice-Lucerne Cutoff Road, right at the mouth of the slough. This ramp is only suitable for canoes, float tubes or small aluminum boats. Waterfowlers who want to hunt the south-end areas use the ramp at the Redbud Park in the town of Clear Lake.
Regarding when to go, local guide Terry Manthey said waterfowling on the lake isn’t what it used to be a few years ago, so opening weekend will be the best bet. Another option is the first day or two after a good powerful storm hits the central valley and gets the birds moving around. Otherwise, hunting pressure and central valley rice fields are likely to send the birds elsewhere.
Whenever you go, however, definitely bring your fishing tackle. A solid morning of hunting will still leave plenty of time to take advantage of Clear Lake’s reputation as the “Bass Capital of the West.”
THE THERMALITO AFTERBAY
Well known as an excellent bass and landlocked steelhead fishery, the Thermalito Afterbay has been one of the best-kept waterfowling secrets in the entire Sacramento Valley.
Six miles west of Oroville in Butte County, the Afterbay is a manmade reservoir within the Oroville Wildlife Area. It was built in the ’60s as part of the Thermalito Complex of Lake Oroville to serve as a warming basin for the water sent out to the rice fields to the west and to control the flow of the Feather River.
At only 6.7 square miles with 26 miles of shoreline, it’s a relatively small body of water, but its location makes it a hotspot for waterfowl.
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