California Bass Fishing: 5 Top Lakes for Trophies
January 26, 2017
California bass fishing offers some of the best angling in the country.
California is a huge state, nearly 800 miles in length with more than 2,000 lakes and reservoirs, hundreds of rivers and a Delta system that boasts more than 1,200 miles of river, sloughs, canals backwater ponds and ditches.
And to the delight of state's bass anglers, the vast majority of these lakes and river systems support populations of black bass in the form of northern strain largemouths, Florida strain largemouths, smallmouths and spotted bass. When you consider the abundance and diversity of the Golden State's black bass population combined with the size our bass attain, you quickly realize that California is arguably country's premier bass fishing state!
Anyone that lives in or travels across California knows that the state's terrain and ecosystems are diverse, with the ocean to the west, the Sierra Nevada mountains to the east, desert in the south and redwood rainforests up north.
Our bass fisheries are a study in diversity, too. In the northern part of the state the bass fishing scene is at once dominated by both big canyon reservoirs and the California Delta. Canyon reservoirs such as Shasta, Folsom and Berryessa are the domain of swimbait tossing trophy hunters and finesse fishermen that get their thrills landing big numbers of average size fish with the occasional jumbo mixed in. In the Delta, "power fishing" is the way to go, with frog tossers, pitchers and flippers pulling in both numbers of bass as well as broad shoulder trophy caliber Florida bigmouths.
Down in the southern section of the Golden State, the bass grow just as large, perhaps larger than they do up north, but the feel and the character of the fisheries are quite different. Small to medium size municipal water supply reservoirs often with desert backdrops, and urban reservoirs dominate the fishing scene. These impoundments are filled with water diverted from the NorCal. As a result, they boast relatively stable water levels and ample forage in the form of threadfin shad and planted rainbow trout.
These conditions foster solid bass spawns year after year and a population that is well represented across year classes. With the south state's mild climate, the lakes remain warm enough for the bass to feed year round. This means small bass grow quickly munching on shad and crawfish, while trophy caliber double-digit largemouths have no problem maintaining their girth by gobbling down planter rainbows.
If you're planning on hunting south state largemouths in 2017 you'll want to continue reading because we are going to take a look at some of the region's most promising bass fisheries for the coming season!
If you're a trophy bass angler Castaic Lake is the Holy Grail. Since the 1980s six of the biggest bass caught in the entire history of bass fishing have come out of the lake, including a handful of fish over 20 pounds. Ray Easley pulled a 21.3-pounder out of Castaic in 1980. Robert Crupi got a 21-pound monster in 1990 and a 22- pounder in 1991. Dan Kadota came close to the 20-pound mark in 1989 when he boated a massive 19-pound largemouth.
Castaic is run by the County of Los Angeles Department of Parks and Recreation. The lake is large, at 320,000 acre-feet, and is located just off Highway 5 near Santa Clarita.
If your goal is to land a monster largemouth at the lake, winter and spring are the best time. A handful of techniques produce most of the truly big fish.
Rainbow trout pattern swimbaits work well whenever trout plants occur. To hook up, pound the bank and stay in water that is 15 feet deep or less.
Live bait fishing is another go-to method in the winter and early spring. Crawfish are the best bait, but nightcrawlers and patience produce bites too.
During the winter, vertical jigging spoons near schools of shad is a proven big fish tactic. The key is to keep your spoon below the shad. That's where the biggest bass lurk, looking to pick off injured and dying baitfish.
Late summer and fall is numbers time at Castaic. This is when you want to break out your soft plastics and crankbaits to load up on fish in the 1- to 4-pound class, although an occasional big boy will inhale a finesse worm or deep diving plug.
Close to downtown San Diego sits tiny Lake Murray with its minuscule 171 surface acres, but don't let its size fool you. Murray's deep clear waters boot out massive largemouth bass that range into the teens.
The lake is basically featureless with sloping rock and gravel covered banks sliding gradually into deep water. There is the occasional rock hump and grass bed that hold fish, but beyond that there is little in the form of structure to attract and hold the bass.
Instead of working physical features, bassers at Lake Murray stay on the move covering as much water as possible with forage imitations. The lake's bass survive on a diet of crawfish and rainbow trout, so bass anglers focus on dragging jigs and slow rolling rainbow pattern swimbaits.
Live bait anglers score with shiners, nightcrawlers and crawfish. Crawfish are the most difficult to fish effectively since they tend to snag up a lot, but they also offer the most big fish potential. In the winter and summer you'll find the bass holding in deep water. In the spring and fall the bass will be up along the banks.
The lake offers rental boats. And since the lake is small, float tubing is a popular option.
Ventura County's Lake Casitas is a large impoundment, with a 254,000-acre foot capacity. The lake's main purpose is providing drinking and irrigation water, and its secondary focus is flood control. Recreation runs a distant third.
Casitas holds a number of different sportfish species, but they are all overshadowed by the lake's largemouth bass. The reservoir is home to big numbers of bass in the 1- to 5-pound class, but it's a chance at a monster that captures the imagination of most bassers.
Ray Easley landed a 21.9-pound fish in 1990 and Randy Crabtree battled a 19.8-pound fish in 2002. Since then several double-digit fish have come out of the lake.
Planted trout fuel the big bass fishing at Casitas, and structure tends to concentrate both the forage rainbows and the bass. Historically the Coyote Creek area is known for producing heavy bass as is the main island. Areas that drop into deep water rapidly along the eastern shoreline are also worth exploring.
The lake tends to be clear, and the bass are pressured and spooky. Fluorocarbon lines are a must as are long casts and a stealthy approach.
For numbers of bass, both wacky- Senkos and drop-shotting worms on light spinning gear are effective approaches.
DIAMOND VALLEY LAKE
Diamond Valley Lake is situated in a wildflower-strewn valley near Hemet, Ca. The lake is 260 feet deep and provides 4,500 surface acres to explore. Since it's a drinking water lake owned by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California no body contact is permitted at Diamond Valley. This means you won't have to deal with water skiers during the warm months.
Unlike most of the other lakes we've focused on thus far, Diamond Valley isn't known for putting out 20- plus-pound bass. Instead, it supports an outstanding population of 4- to 9-pound fish, with double-digit bass showing up regularly.
DFW biologists had a hand in creating the structure and forage base that lies beneath the surface of Diamond Valley as the lake filled. The outcome is a self-sustaining bass fishery where both habitat and forage are plentiful.
Winter is trophy time at the lake, and this is the time when the big bass really put on the feedbag and bulk up for the spring spawning season.
You guessed it; winter is the time for tossing big rainbow trout pattern swimbaits. The water is clear, so fluorocarbon leaders are important. Virtually any point in the lake will give up a big bass now and then when the light level is low, but the best points are the ones that have a surface broken up by wind. The bass feel comfortable under the wind chop and will move up to feed with confidence even during the middle of the day.
During the spring spawning period a variety of approaches will take fish including swimbaits, jigs, rip baits and soft plastics.
During the summer, finesse tactics become the staple. Drop-shotting 4- inch worms works well as does slow rolling grubs rigged on darter heads and dropping 4- to 6-inch wacky- rigged Senkos.
Topwater action takes place in both the summer and fall. Fall topwater fishing can be fantastic when the bass are rampaging bait in open water. When that happens, clear poppers and Zara Spooks can produce 25 or more bass in an hour or two. Spoons can also be effective when the baitfish blitz drops beneath the surface. Use your sonar and GPS to track the progress of the action and you'll keep on catching fish until the bait ball evaporates.
EL CAPITAN RESERVOIR
El Capitan is an old timer compared to many other SoCal reservoirs since it's been around since 1935.
When at full capacity the reservoir has a maximum depth of 197 feet and features 22 miles of shoreline.
El Cap traditionally produces lots of double-digit Floridas, and 2017 should follow this pattern. It typically takes a 20-plus-pound sack to win a tournament at the lake, so there are plenty of 4- to 7-pound fish in the mix too.
Following the theme of trout infused fisheries, the true monsters at El Cap tend to bite on trout pattern swimbaits in winter and early spring.
During the spawn a number of different reaction baits including rip baits, spinnerbaits, crankbaits and flukes work well.
As the lake warms, concentrate on tossing shad colored soft plastics. In areas that feature weed growth, tossing frogs can be deadly.
Come fall, anglers score with shad pattern topwaters. In recent years, Alabama Rigs have become popular offerings during the fall when the bass are binging on bait.
Just like any other part of the state, or country for that matter, Southern California is dotted with little out of the way often overlooked lakes and ponds. These locations aren't on any tournament circuit, and if they don't boot out massive 15-plus-pound bass they don't typically show up on the radar.
Never the less, these spots are influenced by the same factors that make the south state's marquee lakes so good. They contain prolific forage and populations of Florida strain largemouths that can feed all year long due to the mild southern California climate.
Better still, these little out of the way spots don't get hammered like the premier destinations, and the bass that inhabit them don't see the volume of lures that fish in well-known waters do. This means the bass won't be as spooky or as hard to hook. The question is would you rather cast to a double-digit highly- educated bass that has lockjaw or a feisty 5-pounder that will attack with wild abandon? The answer is different for different anglers. Speaking for myself I'll take a 5-pounder with a side order of solitude every time!
How do you find these spots? Research them on maps and the Internet and then explore them with a rod in hand. That's the only way you'll determine what the potential of the waters you discover truly poses. Once you do stumble on a honey hole remember, loose lips sink ships!