Southern California Bass Fishing: Home of Next World Record?
April 24, 2018
More likely than not, one of these Southern California bass fishing lakes that hold Florida bass will be the home of the next world-record largemouth.
Bass fishing is America's most popular rod-and-reel endeavor — indeed, a national sport. But from a regional standpoint, bass fishing has a number of different faces.
In the Pacific Northwest, fishing for river-bound smallmouth bass reigns supreme. Some waters produce 100 fish days; others kick out "mule-sized" bronzebacks that range heavier than 6 pounds!
Contrast this with the cypress-punctuated dark waters of the Southeast where anglers toss big worms and jumbo shiners into shallow water for potbellied largemouth bass. In the upper Midwest, bass fishermen target Northwoods smallmouths and northern-strain largemouths. Those bass are crazy, so accustomed to cold that anglers catch them through the ice!
And then there are what I call the "desert and arid country urban-bass fisheries."
I'm referring to the powerhouse-charged bass lakes that dot Southern California and southern Nevada. These reservoirs are characterized by gin-clear water, 100-foot plus depths that plunge away quickly just off the shorelines, and big Florida-strain largemouths.
Sure, general-issue spotted bass and smallmouths are on the menu, but it's the big Florida bass that are the stuff of dreams. Apparently robust numbers of bass in excess of 18 pounds swim these waters, and more than a handful of bass larger than 20 pounds have been landed and (mostly) released over the years.
More likely than not, one of the lakes that hold Florida bass will be the home of the next world-record largemouth, that most heralded of angling trophies.
We know this because fish heavier than the current 22-pound-4-ounce world record have been landed in the desert Southwest. They've been handled and weighed and measured, but none of them have been caught according to the rules. They've been snagged by accident and electroshocked by biologist. All you've got to do is get one of these monstrous, rainbow-trout chomping 22-, 23- or 24- pounders to grab the "Rapa-Robo-Swim-Chatter" jig attached to the end of that line and you'll be famous!
Where? When? How? Let's answer those questions as we contemplate the best and brightest Southern California bass destinations for the 2018 season!
If you had to point to a place where Southern California's big largemouth bass mystic was formed, that place would be Lake Casitas. When Raymond Easley landed a huge 21.3-pound Florida bass on March 4, 1980 — the largest bass caught since the standing world-record was caught in 1932 — it all broke loose.
Located near the town of Oak View in the scrub canyons of Ventura County, Lake Casitas boasts more than 250,000-acre feet of water when at capacity. Interestingly, Casitas features the largest island in any California lake; the primary island stands more than 500 feet above the surface of the water at its highest point.
The bass population is robust at Casitas. The months from March through May offer great fishing action. Anglers who visit the reservoir really need to ask themselves, what kind of bass-fishing experience they want? Do they want to catch big numbers of fish and, perhaps, a five-fish tournament-style limit weighing from 20 to 25 pounds? Or do they want to forgo those 2- to 5-pound fish and hunt the double-digit monsters that loiter around the lake's structure?
More spring bass tips
The standard forage items at Lake Casitas are threadfin shad and crawfish. All of the keeper size bass in the lake feed on these species. For the truly large bass a third forage item exists in the form of huge numbers of catchable size rainbow trout stocked into the reservoir for the pleasure of trout anglers. Big bass love nothing better than ambushing a wayward pan-sized rainbow trout.
These facts are the clue to Casitas fishing tactics. For big numbers of fish, work with shad and crawfish imitations. In general terms, you'll want to start out with shad imitating reaction baits, looking for active fish. If that tactics fails, go with more subtle shad imitations before finally breaking out crawfish-imitating jigs and dark-colored worms.
Surface eruptions are common at Casitas when the bass get underneath schools of shad and force them to the top. For this reason, you'll always want to have one rod rigged with a topwater bait and another rod rigged with a subsurface lure, like a jigging spoon or grub-and-darter-head, for when the bass and bait drop down in the water column.
Trophy hunting at the lake once focused on soaking live crawfish around key structure. That all changed with the introduction of highly realistic rainbow-trout imitating swimbaits. If you want to go big at Casitas, it takes a selection of swimbaits and the patience and dedication to make cast after cast to key structure in the form of large sloping points, offshore humps and abrupt drop offs.
Adrian Avena: Big Bass on Big Worms
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If bass fishing were just about big fish, you'd have to conclude that Lake Castaic is the best bass lake in the world. Bob Crupi landed two bass at the lake larger than 21 pounds, Mike Arujo got a 21.12-pounder, Ray Easley landed a 21.03-pounder, and Butch Brown bested a 19.03-pounder back in 2008. When you crunch all the numbers you find that three of the five largest largemouth bass ever landed, and seven of the top-25 bucketmouths of all time, call Castaic "home."
When anglers refer to Lake Castaic, in the mountains at the city of Castaic about 45 miles north of Los Angeles, they are referring to both the large "upper lake" and the much smaller "lower lake." Both of these impoundments produce both numbers of average-sized largemouths and a sprinkling of absolute behemoths. If you had to pick one lake or the other as the scene for chasing a truly massive bass, the lower lake is the wisest choice. It seems to have a dense population of bass heavier than 8 pounds; and since the lake is fairly small, your chances of getting a bait in front of a really big fish are higher than at the upper lake.
At both upper and lower Castaic shad and crawfish are the primary forage. Imitating these species with worms, jigs, crankbaits and spinnerbaits is a good way to hook-up day in and day out and follow the fish up and down the water column as they move both daily and seasonally. In the spring the largemouths will be shallow, making both tube-baits and Senko worms deadly offerings for both bedded and pre-spawn fish.
When folks hit the waters of Castaic, big fish are often front and center in their minds. Hunting trophy bass is like hunting trophy big-game animals: You've got to be patient and you've got to ignore average-sized quarry to score a true monster.
Most Castaic trophies eat either a rainbow-trout imitating swimbait or live crawfish. The best time to work your swimbaits is on a day when the CA DFW stocks the lake with trout. Typically, you've got about a 24-hour period before the planters disperse. This is when massive, 10-pound-plus largemouths and some epic striped bass concentrate to gobble down as much protein as quickly as they can. Put a soft-plastic swimbait in front of these fish, and you might just hook the biggest largemouth of your life.
If the rainbow trout bite isn't on, it's time to explore the structure with 2- to 3-inch live crawfish. Some anglers like to drift with their 'craws, but the best bait-fishermen anchor offshore of the structure and methodically work every available inch of the bottom ever so slowly using a soak, retrieve and soak-some-more approach. When doing this you'll snag often, going through a bunch of live baits and terminal tackle. But because the rewards can be so great, anglers are willing to shelve their frustration and invest much time and tackle to hook up.
They say dynamite comes in small packages. You can apply that line of thought, in terms of bass fishing, to diminutive Lake Miramar in terms of bass fishing. Located just east of Interstate 15 near the city of Mira Mesa, the lake boasts only 162 surface acres of water when at full capacity, yet it is one of the world's epic destinations in terms of big largemouth bass. The local bass record is 20.15 pounds, which ranks as the No. 8 heaviest largemouth ever officially weighed. Overall, Miramar has booted out five of the top-25 largemouths ever recorded.
While there are solid numbers of bass in the lake, in both normal and extra jumbo sizes, catching them is always a chore due to the lake's ultra-clear water. You'll be dealing with 20-plus feet of visibility most days, and that makes for skittish bass and tough fishing.
Since the lake is stocked with trout in the winter, tossing swimbaits is a viable option that does produce trophies. Still, the best way to catch a true monster is sight-fishing during the spring. This is the one time of the year when the clarity of the lake works against the bass. Tube-baits, plastic worms and jigs will certainly draw strikes from bedded fish, but if you have the good fortune of locating a heavyweight, they will often turn a blind eye to the traditional "bed baits." When that happens anglers in the know will rig up with a slow-sinking trout pattern or bluegill-imitating swimbait and make cast after cast until they line things up just right and the bait freefalls into the nest. When done deftly, such a presentation will almost always draw a strike.
Pro Tip: Bass in the Grass
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If you'd like to hit Miramar for a simple fun day of fishing, your bait and presentation options open up quite a bit. Since the water is clear, finesse tactics and light lines are the key to success. Overall, the dropshot-rig is king, but split-shotting and tossing various kinds of soft-plastic jig bodies teamed with darter heads work well.
"I've had exceptional fishing the past two years at Miramar while working a Ned Rig," says Miramar regular Mike Buschman. "I think the rig does a great job of imitating a small crawfish and I can work it on light fluorocarbon line."
LAS VEGAS OR BUST!
Okay, I'm not actually advocating a trip to Las Vegas, but close. I think any discussion of SoCal bass fishing would be remiss without a mention of southern Nevada's Lake Mead. Mead is a world-class bass factory, and it's within perfect striking distance of a SoCal basser looking to take a destination fishing trip.
Lake Mead, just 20 miles east of Vegas, is massive. It stretches across 247 square miles and marks a maximum depth of more than 500 feet. The lake features a long list of species, including stripers and channel cats, and everything seems to grow large in Mead's rich waters. For bass anglers largemouth bass are the target. Largemouths up to 10 pounds are common. On the smaller end, 50 fish a day can wear you out, with a bunch of those bass ranging up to 3 pounds not being out of the ordinary.
During the spring, plastic worms, spinnerbaits and crawfish-imitating soft-plastic jigs will put plenty of fish in the boat for anglers working steeply dropping banks. Sure, that rock face might seem to drop directly into 150 feet of water, but bass will often find tiny shelves and other projections on the rocky faces and spawn on them, just like birds build nests on the face of cliffs. The bass spawn early at this desert impoundment, and once the spawn raps up, tossing tubes and Senkos up against the walls and dead-sticking them down into the depths is a good way to locate fish when the sun is on the water.
Early and late in the day, topwater fishing can be very good along the steep drops. Bass often come up to the top to bust schools of shad, too. When that "boil bite" is on, things can get really exciting, especially when some stripers get caught up in the frenzy!