North State Bass Forecast

North State Bass Forecast

Some waters are great for catching trophy bass. Others offer big numbers of fish. You'll find plenty of each -- and some with both -- in 2007 on these standout bass waters. (April 2007)

Bass pro Leroy Bertolero uses topwater lures to coax Clear Lake's monster largemouths to bite.
Photo by Brian Sak

Over the past several years, Mother Nature has been kind to North State bass anglers. She's delivered ideal conditions for our favorite quarry.

Above-average precipitation has kept lakes and reservoirs at capacity well into spring, resulting in higher than normal spawning success for largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass. Thanks to an abundance of flooded brush, growth and survival of juvenile fishes has soared, too.

But all the rain and snowpack presents a downside for some anglers, according to regional fishery biologists. "Bodies of water are only capable of supporting limited biomasses (pounds of fishes). With the increased survival and growth rates that we've been experiencing, something has to give," says Bay Area biologist Peter Banash. "It's usually a dip in the number of trophy fish available."

Last year was exceptional for black bass anglers throughout Northern California, with outstanding reports of quantity and size. But with the potential for big-bass fisheries transitioning toward more of a numbers game, 2007 may be the year to try for that bass of a lifetime.

With Banash's help, California Game & Fish has put together a list of diverse waters that offer opportunities for catching lots of fish, a shot at a trophy and even a little of the best of both worlds.

* * *

THE NUMBERS GAME

It's not uncommon to hear or read about 100-bass days. But the truth is, few of us have experienced that kind of fishing. Ten to 20 legal-size bass are more typical of a successful outing, with anything approaching the mid-century mark worth bragging about. Hit any of the waters listed below just right, and you'll be boasting to all your fishing friends.

FEATHER RIVER

Butte and Sutter Counties

For starters, try something different by heading to the flowing waters of the Feather, between Gridley and Yuba City. Smallies are the quarry here, where a little current only adds to the strength of these worthy opponents. The bass average just over 2 pounds, but once the battle is on, you'll think you've hooked a fish twice that size.

There's not a lot of shoreline access along this reach of the Feather, so you'll need a boat, canoe or kayak to reach the fish. On the river, look for slack-water ambush points adjacent to the flow. Try small spinnerbaits now, topwater poppers throughout the summer and white grubs on 1/8- to 1/4-ounce dartheads in autumn.

For information, call Huntington's Sportsman's Store at (530) 534-8000.

LAKE OROVILLE

Butte County

For years, Oroville has been cursed with too many small bass. Even with the current 12- to 15-inch slot limit, incredible numbers of fish remain that fall within the slot. But an annoyance for some is others' delight. If you fall into the second category, plan a trip to this relatively large reservoir, where 50- to 100-fish catches are common.

Spotted bass are the main quarry here, and you'll find them all over the lake this spring. Start your search in the creek arms, drifting small plastics on dartheads along steep rocky banks. Drop-shotting deeper structure works best later in the year, when spots migrate toward the main lake. Move back up the creeks in fall, covering lots of water with crankbaits. Try spooning during the coldest months of the year.

For information, call Oroville Outdoors at (530) 533-4990.

LAKE PARDEE

Amador and Calaveras Counties

Looking for a quiet outing devoid of water-skiers and personal watercraft? That's just what you'll find at Pardee, where water contact is not allowed. This Sierra foothill reservoir opened to fishing in February and remains open until October. It's known for producing numbers of largemouth and smallmouth bass.

Success on Pardee comes down to location. If smallies suit your style of fishing, head upriver and cast downsized ripbaits, crankbaits and plastics to shallow flats. Largemouths tend to hang out along tapering points on the main body, where they'll take jigs and larger plastics.

For information, call Lake Pardee Marina at (209) 772-1472.

SHASTA LAKE

Shasta County

Not that any of us need reasons to go fishing, but here are three facts sure to motivate you to take a trip to Shasta sooner than later:

• This is one of the easiest mountain lakes to get to, with Interstate 5 crossing the main body.

• With 365 miles of shoreline, this reservoir never feels crowded.

• With three species of bass swimming Shasta's waters, there's always something biting.

Spotted bass dominate catches here year 'round. They'll almost always take soft-plastics and crankbaits fished around rocky structure.

Most largemouths are caught in the Pit River arm by anglers pitching jigs to submerged wood and willows.

Smallies are tougher to locate at Shasta, but you may stumble across a few by directing your efforts toward the steepest rocky banks.

For information, call Phil's Propeller at 1-800-462-3917.

LAKE TULLOCH

Tuolumne County

Smallmouths are not the first game fish that come to mind when talk turns to fishing the arid San Joaquin Valley. And that's how the Tulloch faithful would like it to stay. But this relatively small gem contains one of the healthiest populations of smallies in the state.

During spring and fall, smallmouth bass congregate in the Green Springs arm, chasing huge schools of shad to the surface. Casting ripbaits or weightless plastics into the commotion usually results in quick hookups. Try grub and darthead combinations or jigs upriver during the summer heat. Largemouths are also caught here, and can be found in Black Creek's submerged vegetation

when the smallie bite shuts down.

For information, call Fisherman's Warehouse at (209) 239-2248.

* * *

BIG-BASS WATERS

Serious about catching a bass worthy of making headlines? Sometimes it's necessary to sacrifice fast action. Diligently working every piece of likely trophy-holding structure, waiting for that one big bite takes patience, nerve and dedication. Concentrate your efforts on any of the waters listed below, and you'll increase the odds of your perseverance paying off.

CLEAR LAKE

Lake County

Despite an astonishing amount of fishing pressure, the Golden State's biggest natural lake remains the place to go for trophy largemouths. There's some evidence that the overall number of huge bass is declining. But enough lunkers heavier than 10 pounds remain to make Clear Lake a can't-miss destination.

The first step is to leave your finesse gear at home. This is a structure-fisherman's fantasy, where stout equipment is essential. Bulky jigs tipped with pork are ideal for pitching to rockpiles early in the year.

As waters warm, you'll want to move to the tules, and speed things up with spinnerbaits and ripbaits. When summer arrives, try targeting weed mats with frogs and cranking the edges of docks during fall.

For information, call Clear Lake Bait & Tackle at (707) 994-4399.

COLLINS LAKE

Yuba County

Overshadowed by nearby Lake Oroville's bass factory, Collins is one of those sleepers that local anglers like to keep mum about.

This relatively small body of water, with just over 12 miles of shoreline, can hold its own when it comes to quality fish. Target the right areas and you have a real chance of a 6- or 7-pound spot eating your offering.

During summer and fall, Collins experiences more than its share of boat traffic making spring and winter the times to head here. The secret to coaxing big spots into biting, even under ideal conditions, is to avoid areas where most other anglers fish. That means pulling away from the bank to target deep-water structure. Dark-colored plastics with big undulating tails are always worth a try.

For information, call Collins Lake Recreation Area at 1-800-286-0576.

DON PEDRO RESERVOIR

Tuolumne County

The Florida-strain largemouths, first introduced into Don Pedro in 1982, needed several years to take hold here. Their big-bass genes are now responsible for this lake's trophy fishery status, but Pedro's big fish don't come easy. The secret to catching one is being on the water during the spawn.

Once water temperatures begin to climb, you should head straight to one of several creek arms and cover as much water as you can.

Reaction lures, including ripbaits, spinnerbaits and lipless crankbaits, are all you'll need. To probe Pedro's depths for a trophy during the rest of the year, you'll have to slow down with oversized plastics.

For information, call Fisherman's Warehouse at (209) 239-2248.

SAN PABLO RESERVOIR

Contra Costa County

The operators of San Pablo satisfy visitors with a healthy supply of hatchery-reared rainbows. The steady stream of pan-sized trout keep this reservoir's big bass population well fed too. During most years, bruiser largemouths are caught, sometimes tipping the scales in the high teens, though it takes patience and persistence to bag one.

San Pablo is open from mid-February through mid-November. Many of the trophy largemouths fall for tiny pieces of dough baits soaked by trout anglers, but you'll be better off using something more substantial. Casting or trolling 9- to 12-inch swimbaits, designed to look like rainbows, is a favorite tactic here. Popular locations include the main recreation area and the boat ramp.

For information, call Walton's Pond at (510) 352-3932.

QUANTITY AND QUALITY

Catching bass throughout the day is as much as most anglers would ever ask for. But the chance at a wall-hanger takes the sport to the next level. The key to fishing for both numbers and huge bass, however, is thinking big. By using lures designed to take quality fish on any of the waters listed below, you'll catch plenty of bass, while maintaining that chance at fooling a monster.

LAKE ALMANOR

Plumas County

Located in the Eastern Sierra, with spectacular views of volcanic Mount Lassen, Almanor offers one of the best smallmouth fisheries in the state. Most of the bass caught at this alpine lake are in the 2-pound class, but larger fish are taken regularly.

A 5- or 6-pound smallie is considered a trophy here by most, but some speculate that Almanor's food base should support a fish that eclipses Trinity's state record.

There's a variety of structure to target at Almanor, but for smallmouths, it's tough to beat the lake's rocky areas. Crawdad-pattern crankbaits and earth-toned soft-plastics work well when fish are active, regardless of the time of year. But when bass become finicky, your best option is soaking a live cricket a foot or two below a bobber.

For information, call Peninsula Sports at (530) 596-3822.

LAKE BERRYESSA

Napa County

Only an hour from the Bay Area, Berryessa gets its share of fishing pressure. But with largemouths, smallmouths and an expanding population of spotted bass, this large lake can handle the strain.

When conditions are just right, it's possible to catch all three species on the same day by simply shifting to different habitats.

For numbers of fish, target Berryessa's spots by casting shad-pattern crankbaits to rocky banks in the Narrows. Largemouths offer the best opportunity for a trophy. They'll take topwater plugs early and late in the backs of coves or, when the sun is on the water, jigs pitched tight to cover.

You'll be treated to both numbers and size if you're on the water during the smallmouth spawn. Look for beds on the flats, pitching weightless soft-plastics to those that you find.

For information, call Fisherman's Warehouse at (916) 362-1200.

CAMANCHE LAKE

Amador, Calaveras And San Joaquin Counties

There are three things you can count on at this Sierra foothill reservoir, especially when the weather is nice: lots of people, fanta

stic fishing and lots of people!

But don't let the crowds scare you away from the largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass swimming in Camanche's waters. Huge portions of this reservoir remain relatively quiet, thanks to 20-mph speed restrictions.

A good way to fish here is to go after numbers of bass, in the form of spots, by targeting main-lake structure with crankbaits and topwater poppers first thing in the morning.

Then, when the water begins to get crowded, move upriver in search of trophy largemouths and smallmouths. Spinnerbaits, jigs tipped with pork and soft-plastics will take both. Cast to boulders in the narrows or submerged willows further upstream.

For information, call Fisherman's Warehouse at (209) 239-2248.

SACRAMENTO-

SAN JOAQUIN DELTA

Contra Costa, Sacramento

And San Joaquin Counties

Including the California Delta in North State bass fishing forecasts is like playing a broken record — over and over, the system is referred to as the best of the best. Well, this year is no different. When evaluating the region's top fisheries in terms of both numbers and quality, this maze of waterways finishes far above the competition.

The Delta's tidal waters are productive 12 months of the year and provide an endless variety of targets to cast to. But here, you're better off using traditional Southeastern techniques, as opposed to typical Western tactics. Popular patterns include flipping black and blue jigs to holes in submerged vegetation, cranking magnum-sized crawdad-imitating plugs parallel to levee walls and burning chartreuse spinnerbaits through sparse tules.

For information, call Hook, Line & Sinker at (925) 625-2441.

SANTA MARGARITA LAKE

San Luis Obispo County

A sleeper that's often overlooked by anglers heading to Lake Nacimiento, this relatively small drinking-water reservoir has a lot to offer. Water-contact recreation is prohibited, ensuring a relaxing setting. And with seven miles of accessible shoreline, Santa Margarita is appropriate for boaters and bank-bound anglers alike.

What about the fishing? Simply put, it's tough to beat.

You'll find largemouths averaging 2 to 3 pounds all over the lake. They'll take spinnerbaits, jigs and soft-plastics throughout the year. When Santa Margarita is stocked with rainbows during spring, bass in the teens can be caught with trout-pattern swimbaits fished at the surface or just below it. Frog imitations worked slowly over weedbeds in the summer can also be productive.

For information, call Santa Margarita Marina at (805) 438-1522.

FOR YOUR INFORMATION

Bass angling is open year 'round to anyone with a valid California fishing license; children younger than 16 are exempt.

General regulations allow the use of both live bait and artificial lures. You're permitted to keep all species of black bass, but there's a minimum size limit of 12 inches, unless otherwise noted. An angler may never possess more than five bass in any combination, except as a contestant in a permitted tournament. In such cases, catching a sixth fish while attempting to cull is acceptable.

For more information, contact the Department of Fish and Game at (916) 653-7664. Or you can go online to dfg.ca.gov.

Find more about California

fishing and hunting at:

CaliforniaGameandFish.com

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top Game & Fish stories delivered right to your inbox every week.