Top Places for Bass Fishing in Southern California
April 04, 2014
Well, anglers, I predicted the year of the big fish, and none of the lakes let us down. In fact, a lot of lakes I didn't even touch on were leaders on the list of what impoundment could put out the most big largemouth. As I have said before, it comes in cycles and this past year was definitely on an upswing. I think it will continue this season as well. No matter the lake, this year should be another great time for big bass.
Here's what to expect for bass fishing in SoCal in 2014.
All the lakes had high numbers of legal fish to keep the days on the lake interesting and fun. But, from the weekend warriors to the tournament anglers, everyone posted a ton of midrange 4- to 8-pound fish and many in the 8- to 10-pound range. Some tournaments had double-digit fish, with big-bass hunters scoring 'teen fish all around southern California. There were tournaments that took 25- to 30-pound 5-fish limits to win. I hope I have you excited now, because you should be able to head out this year for some hot action.
Last season was also amazing in that big fish were caught all year long and at so many lakes. Usually, springtime is when the big female bass are in the shallows spawning and it's your best bet at that trophy fish wall-hanger. The big-bass hunters caught a lot of giants every month in 2013 and this should show you that if you put in the time, you should be scoring as well. Let's look at the lakes that stood out this year.
Starting out in Riverside county, let's take a look at Diamond Valley Lake. The bass in this lake grow large as the stocked bass came from Lake Hodges in San Diego and these bass grow big naturally, without the help of trout. Diamond Valley has trout and the largemouth here should get giant over the years to come. The lake record is already 16.43 pounds and should only grow larger as anglers figure out the big girls better.
Springtime can bring on great fishing for largemouth and smallmouth in the 1- to 3-pound range. Once the spawn goes off, the larger females in the 5- to 10-pound range show up. Some larger fish will be taken on trout swimbaits during this time. Summer can bring a great topwater bite and all the way into fall. Watch for the birds on balls of shad in this lake; it usually means crashing largemouth and this fishing can be wide open.
Also in Riverside County is Lake Perris. In 2012 this lake put out its new lake record of 18.80 on a topwater bait. Anglers are starting to take more notice of this lake with the rise in 8- to 10-pound fish being caught. Also a few 'teen fish have been taken recently. Not all fish are reported, but the lake staff keep pretty good records on those anglers they check.
Springtime can bring a great worm bite here with any setup from drop-shot to Carolina rig working well. Cranks and spinnerbaits also produce in the spring, along with trout-imitating swimbaits, if you put in the time throwing them. Summer and fall will make way to a great topwater bite and fall can return to the swimbait bite and plastics bite again. There are giant stripers in this lake and sometimes those swimbaits will score a 20-pound-plus giant for a bonus!
The last stop in Riverside County is Lake Skinner. This lake is more known for its giant stripers than largemouth, but locals have seen this lake building over the last few years and starting to turn out a lot of largemouth in the 5- to 10-pound range. The lake record is over 13 pounds and there are rumors of larger "unofficial" bass being taken. The lake doesn't get to much pressure, since Diamond Valley and Perris are in the neighborhood.
Springtime can bring a good plastics bite as on most lakes, with Senkos and dead-sticked worms working well. Cranks can also be good, but you may catch a striper or two. In the summer, the topwater bite can be exciting as well, but you will accidently throw on to the boiling stripers, which isn't all bad; in fact is can be a lot of fun. Later in the fall the jerkbait bite can be great on both hard and soft baits.
As we head south into San Diego County, I want to go immediately to the most amazing lake there, El Capitan. This lake continues to be out of this world for fishing year-round. The lake boasts a record largemouth of 15.31 pounds and I think it's about time that record is broken. Every year larger and larger bass come out of this impoundment. The lake management and the increase in the size limit to 15 inches have just made this lake a gem of a fishery. Even though the lake is dropping slowly, higher water levels over the years hves produced both great shad and bass spawns for fun fishing.
In the late winter, if warmer, this lake can just take right off into a great spinnerbait bite. Plastics and jigs are also hot right into the spring and spawn time. The fish can also school up and start chasing shad right off the bat in the spring, so crankbaits, jerkbaits, and swimbaits can also produce well. The bass will continue to chase the shad all summer long and into the fall. This is a lake where all your favorite baits will work and give you renewed confidence in them. Later in the fall, thick shoreline weeds can lead to a fun topwater and frog bite. I got to sample this a few times with my Booyah Popping Pad Crasher working best for me.
Also located in San Diego's east county is the pay-to-play lake, Lake Barrett. This lake may cost a bit to fish, but you can have the experience of a lifetime here. Most lakes average about 5 to 7 fish, on a good day, per angler checked. This lake has been averaging over 50 fish a day per angler for the last several years. These bass are northern strain and roam the lake in wolfpacks, feeding on everything in their paths, including your lures. It's not hard at all to find some fish here. Just go fishing.
Plastics are a good bet at Barrett, with the Senko and Ika from Gary Yamamoto leading the way. Almost anything in your tackle box will work here so regain confidence in that lure you just don't throw as much anymore. The lake has all types of structure and everything from spinnerbaits to cranbaits to jerkbaits to swimbaits, to jigs will attract these bass. As summer wears on, the shoreline weeds will grow in thick, but don't be discouraged from attacking them. Go to popping frogs or buzzbaits to call the bass up out of the weeds.
Lake Otay in southern San Diego County is next on my list. With a lake record of 18.75 pounds, this lake just seems to get better every year for larger fish. I talked to local big-fish hunter Dean Jamieson and he feels the lake is fishing different than it did say five years ago. Dean tells me, "there seems to be more vegetation, of different kinds, in the lake now. It may be lending help to both shad and bass spawns." Whatever the reason, the lake can be a great fishery year- round.
Springtime here can be just out of this world, as Otay plants trout now, and if you put the time in you can be rewarded with a giant. Jamieson tells me that a lot of anglers get discouraged throwing the larger trout baits and may want to scale back for some of the time on the water. You don't have to throw the largest one in your box. Get some bites and build confidence in the swimbaits.
Springtime can also be a great time for a lot of plastics rigged your favorite way, jigs, crankbaits and spinnerbaits as the males cruise the banks in search of nesting spots. The lost art of flipping can be put to work at this lake as the tules are in the water most of the time and the fish really relate to them. As summer comes on, so do those weeds and they can get thick. You can go to topwater baits, flukes as well as other weedless baits around the weeds and the frog has been quite popular as well lately.
Heading out east towards the mountains of San Diego, located in the foothills near the gold rush town of Julian, is Lake Cuyamaca. This lake is a little different from all the other lakes I'm talking about here as this one has true seasons going on. It can be hot, cold, even snowy, and it's located at a higher elevation than the other lakes. It boasts a lake record of over 14 pounds and the spawn here usually doesn't even start until May or June.
The staff here want you to ask them where to fish. They will tell you all the hot spots. Late spring or early summer is the time for a giant here as the big females move to the shallows. This lake is also famous for its crappie fishing, so you can always fall back on that if the bass fishing is slow. But, this also means that the bass feed on the crappie as well as the trout planted almost year-round. So break out your favorite swimbaits, because you will need them to get that wall-hanger.
Summer can bring topwater action, with buzzbaits calling up the larger fish from the shallow areas of the lake. Plastics can do well all year with cranks and spinnerbaits fished along the outsides of the weedline. It's a great place to get away camping and turn it into a bass fishing vacation. You just may score that giant.
Also located to the east is Lake Morena, holding a lake record of 19.3 pounds. This lake has been known more for its numbers than size, but last year it was a sleeper until big-bass hunters started posting pictures of giant bass on Facebook. Look to this lake to turn out more giants this year. There is also a campground here, so again, you can make it a vacation of fishing.
The lake plants trout, so bring those swimbaits. It is also, as I said, a numbers lake. You can catch 1- to 2-pounders all day in the spring and into the summer. Drop-shot rig is the key here and will produce well. As summer rolls around, there can be a really fun topwater bite in the morning. Twitching a small Pop-R popper or a Rebel minnow can be a blast. Or go to the Spook or buzzbait to entice a big one!
Finally, Lake Hodges can be a great lake to fish. Although there have been issues with water level and the ability to launch, you need to fish this lake even if you have to borrow a car-topper to get on. It has a lake record of 20.25 pounds and has supplied the broodstock for lakes all over California. Also, as you can tell by the lake record, the fish grow gigantic here without the help of planted trout. But, don't be discouraged by swimbait nation; the fish here still eat all types of other fish you can imitate, such as bluegill, crappie and even their own spawn. The last couple years, the swimbait bite has been off the hook! Retired San Diego City Lakes Biologist Larry Botroff feels that Hodges is back to a fully populated lake and the fishing should be top-notch for the next several years.
In the spring, the swimbait bite is hot for males roaming the banks, but larger females will fall for the thumping tail as well. Plastics, jigs, crankbaits and spinnerbaits will also do well right into the summer when the bass school up and chase shad. Topwater in the morning and plastics as the sun comes up.
I know I have only mentioned a small number of the lakes in southern California, but there are so many more that went off this past year. The more you fish them and the more fishermen that experiment on their home waters, the better. I have seen some real changes and anglers using swimbaits at lakes that normally would never take them even get them out of their tackle box.
With budget cuts, reports on creel counts aren't always accurate. I still suggest that you "friend" some of the big-fish hunters and professionals who have Facebook pages. You will learn a ton about what's going on in Southern California this year. Read, read, read, whether in print, like our magazine, or on the web; knowledge is the key to success. Good luck this season!
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