Southern California's Bass Outlook

Southern California's Bass Outlook

Will we see the world-class bass that we did a few years ago? Probably not! But there's more than enough 5- to 10-pounders still out there to reward anyone's casting. (February 2009)

Let me give you 10 really good reasons to fish Southern California this year. Ten of the top 11 largest bass of all time were caught here.

Well, technically 10 of the top 10. But there's a tie for the No. 10 spot, and George Perry's world record from Georgia is No. 1.

But who cares? There's ample opportunity to catch a giant here in Southern California, and you should be out there this season, going for it!

With a moderate winter and spring, and the lakes at a decent level, there should be good spawning this year.

At most of the lakes, a lot of brush and cover in the water will provide good cover for bass and their offspring. It also makes for fun fishing for us largemouth chasers.

Radio host and touring pro Stan Vanderburg pulled these two lunkers from Lake Casitas. Photo by Bill Schaefer.

California Game & Fish talked with bass pros, biologists, and guides to bring you a snapshot of what 2009 will look like for bass fishing around Southern California.

Of course, the best way to increase your odds at a big fish -- and catching more fish -- is to get out there and try. The more you're out on your favorite local lake, the more in tune with the bass you'll become. You will learn how to locate them and how to catch them.

Southern California is blessed with so many lakes that have yielded giant record fish.

Retired biologist Larry Botroff, a longtime San Diego lakes expert, said that this year would satisfy a lot of bass anglers who are fine with numbers and take size when it comes.

But it will test the wills of many big-fish hunters. Botroff said his tournament research indicated that the past year was very good for overall fishing, but maybe not for size.

Why is that? Over the years, he said, catch-and-release has gone to an extreme -- and in some ways, that's not good for a fishery.

The lake's food source can only sustain so many fish. You can have a lot of little ones, or a medium amount of smaller fish and some giants. There has to be some culling. Natural die-off will take the larger, older fish.

Have you noticed that no giants have been caught in the last two or three years?

Think of it this way. For a while, when the water was low, you probably didn't catch very many dinks (8- to 10-inchers).

The larger bass ate them. Now, with all the rain of a few years ago, and all the brush that makes for good cover for the spawns, the fish population of many lakes is up.

With all the cover and those good spawns, 12-inch and larger fish are abundant. They'll make for a fun day, but for a few more years, the much larger fish will be fewer and farther between.

Biologist Botroff studies mostly San Diego Lakes, but his knowledge of bass fisheries is beyond compare.

How about the other bass fisheries around Southern California? They've all been through the same weather pattern for the last three years, so they should be very similar in how they fish. Let's look at them individually.

LAKE HODGES
The lake that most likely will break out of the pack this year will be Lake Hodges, located just outside San Diego in Escondido. Botroff said the largemouth population is close to 40,000 fish of 12 inches and larger.

This passes the population of the lake in the "good old days." But remember that overpopulation can hurt a lake because the larger bass will take longer to get that way.

Three factors will make Hodges the place to have fun this year:
'¢ All that brush in the water from the rains over the last several years,
'¢ The 15-inch size limit and
'¢ Good spawns.

With the Olivenhain Water Project now in place, the water level should stay consistent. There shouldn't be any more up-and-down water levels to ruin the spawns.

I hope you took pictures when the water was down. With all the brush in the water, you'll want to do flipping and pitching at this impoundment, using spinnerbaits and soft weedless jerkbaits.

Look to all your old favorite spots to fish. The lake record here is tied for No. 10 on the all-time largemouth list and comes in at 20 pounds, 4 ounces.

DIAMOND VALLEY LAKE
Next on the list of lakes to visit this year is Diamond Valley Lake.

Located near Hemet in Riverside County, it's not too far for anyone in Southern California. If you've never been here, then you must make the trip this spring.

At this lake, the greatest fishing -- and your best bet for a big one -- can be during the spawn and pre-spawn. Last year, a lot of 5- to 10-pound fish were caught, and a few over 10 pounds as well.

The lake boasts a 16.43-pounder that big-bass hunter Mike Long took two years ago.

The lake is still young. It will take a few more years for fish to break into the Top 10. But this lake is being planted with bass taken from Lake Hodges and should produce a giant soon.

This lake already has a healthy baitfish population, as well as planted trout for the largemouth to feed and grow on. It's always been a good water for throwing swimbaits.

Jigs along the face of the dam can also provide great action.

If you like to fish drop-shot rigs, then this is the place. The fish love the deep water here and when they retreat to it, the drop-shot kings score.

Early-morning topwaters and all your other favorites will do well here.

LAKE DIXON
Lake Dixon, in Escondido, was the only lake we know of that definitely had a world-record largemouth in it. Did I say "had"? Yes, as you may have heard, the 25-pound, 1-ounce bass reportedly foul-hooked by Mac Weakley in 2006 was found floating last year. She finally died of old age.

Anglers have been trying to re-catch her for the last two years, hoping to get their names on the record list. This fish had been caught twice before and holds two spots on the list -- at 20 pounds, 12 ounces and later

at 21 pounds, 11 ounces.

But this lake still has the potential to put out big fish.

Rumors of larger fish, photographed and released by regular big-bass hunters, were rampant last year.

Lake Dixon is smaller than most. Anglers have only the options of renting a boat or of fishing from shore.

All the old favorites work well here. Jigs and trout imitations can do well in the spring.

Look for this lake to show up on the news again very soon.

LAKE ISABELLA
Another lake that will probably repeat the good season it had last year is Lake Isabella. Here the pre-spawn and spawn start later, sometimes a month or two after most other lakes are well into theirs.

At this lake, May through June are the prime months, but warm weather can add an extension to both ends of that range.

Isabella is not known for giant fish, but it does put out a lot of 5- to 10-pound fish. The lake-record bass, at a weight of 18 pounds, 15 ounces, is No. 24 on the all-time Top 25 list.

Another highlight of this lake is that the smallmouth population is starting to grow. Let's keep our fingers crossed.

This is a bass fisherman's lake. It has just about every type of structure, and the fish will take just about everything in your tackle box.

"Spinnerbaits are deadly weapons at this lake in the spring," said local guide Jose Santiago.

Post-spawn and into summer, go to drop-shot and Texas-rigged worms.

Topwater lures will follow into the fall.

LAKE OTAY
Lake Otay in southern San Diego County is always a great lake in the spring. It's home to larger fish, and the recent introduction of planted trout helps increase the size of the bass. This past year, Otay put out a number of fish of more than 10 pounds, but no real giants. But the lake record stands at 18.75 pounds!

Go with crankbaits and rattling-spot-type baits. My favorites include a Fat Free Shad in red crawdad or a Cordell Spot in red crawdad. Grind them into the bottom with stop-and-go action to emulate that little crawdad running across the bottom. That tactic really works well here.

Dead-sticking Texas-rigged worms can also be deadly during the spawn. Inch them along, and then let them sit until you can't stand it any more.

LAKE CASTAIC
Lake Castaic stands out over any Southern California lake as a big-fish water. Four of the Top 10 largemouths of all time have come from this impoundment.

The list starts out with a 20.14-pound fish, and that's the smallest one. It continues on with a 21.50-pound bass, a 21.75-pounder, finally up to a giant 22.50-pound largemouth -- the second-place bass on the list!

Locals report that last year was a good one, but the giants have been few and far between. Eight- to 10-pound fish are still common, but this lake is in a down-year cycle. It will simply take some time to bring back more giants.

Meanwhile, it's still a good place to have fun, with a lot of nice chunky bass in the 1- to 3-pound range.

Find the bait at this lake, and you will score. For larger fish year 'round, look to rockpiles -- you just have to find the right ones.

Everything from artificials to live crawdads work well here. Drop-shot worms around those bait balls and you'll score.

LAKE CASITAS
Lake Casitas, near Santa Barbara, is also a great big-fish lake. The lake record weighs in at a whopping 21.20 pounds and holds the fifth position on the all-time bass record list.

This lake is known to put out a lot of fish in the 5- to 10-pound range. Every so often, a super giant comes to the scales, but locals are known to keep quiet about those big fish.

This lake is known for its swimbait fishing. Planted trout are a mainstay of the largemouth here, and those high-dollar trout imitations do take the majority of the giants here.

Follow the bait to help you find big fish.

At times, this lake can have an amazing spinnerbait bite. If the bass are chasing bait, then go to jerkbaits, both hard and soft.

As the sun rises in the sky, move to drop-shot fishing.

LAKE MIRAMAR
Even Lake Miramar -- a farm pond by most fishermen's standards -- holds two spots on the all-time bass list: a 20-pound, 15-ouncer and a 20-pound, 4-ouncer.

This lake is not much visited by the regular bass crowd, but it's sure to turn out a few nice ones each year.

The few who still fish it keep their stories to their close circle of largemouth-chasing friends.

But I can tell you this: Go there and fish in the spring! Last year's fishing was good. Numbers for total catches there should be up, and some more big fish should even start to show.

Most of these lakes are known for their giants, and most hold a spot on the all-time largemouth list.

They have been a bit quiet for the last couple of years. The cycle should come full circle, and maybe this will be the year of the giants once again!

Just enjoy the day and the fishing, and the larger fish will be there for you too.

GET READY
Are your tackle and all your gear ready for the 2009 bass season?

Is your tow vehicle ready? Have you checked the brakes recently?

You need to be just as concerned with the vehicle pulling the trailer as with the boat itself.

Check those wheel bearings and the spare tire. If you have surge breaks, make sure the reservoir is full.

When it comes to your boat, everything should be ready for your trip to the lake. Don't get out there on your first trip of the year and find out that you can't start the motor, or that the batteries on your trolling motor are dead. All these little checks will be worth it in the long run.

One important check is to make sure your meter is working as well. Transducers do need to be cleaned off from time to time, and if your boat has sat for a while, you should do it.

The last thing to get ready is your tackle. Strip all the old line off your reels, lube them u

p, and then reline according to the baits you'll be throwing with them.

I usually write the line size in ink on the front grip cork. This helps keep me from guessing.

Clean up your rods and their guides as well. Some soapy water will do, but make sure the guides are free of all the dried dirt and slime. You don't want to break off the big one!'‚

TOP 10 ALL-TIME-HEAVIEST BLACK BASS
RANKLAKEPOUNDSANGLER DATE
1.MONTGOMERY LAKE, Ga.22.25George PerryJune 2, 1932
2.CASTAIC LAKE, Calif.22.01Bob CrupiMarch 12, 1991
3.CASTAIC LAKE, Calif.21.75Mike ArujoMarch 5, 1991
4.LAKE DIXON, Calif.21.69Jed DickersonMay 31, 2003
5.LAKE CASITAS, Calif.21.20Raymond EaslyMarch 4, 1980
6.CASTAIC LAKE, Calif.21.01Bob CrupiMarch 9, 1990
7.LAKE MIRAMAR, Calif.20.94David ZimmerleeJune 23, 1973
8.CASTAIC LAKE, Calif.20.86Leo TorresFebruary 4, 1990
9.LAKE DIXON, Calif.20.75Mike LongApril 27, 2001
10.(Tie)LAKE HODGES, Calif.20.25Gene DuprasMay 30, 1965
10.(Tie)LAKE MIRAMAR, Calif.20.25Johnny GardunoMarch 25, 1990

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