Well, it looks to be a great year for bass fishing in Northern California. The farther north you travel in the state the fuller the reservoirs have gotten. El Nino rain and a heavier snowpack helped return many of the lakes to close to normal levels. Remember that the lakes are not always at 100 percent full. They may average about 80 to 90 percent, and that is how you have been used to fishing them over the years. So don’t be down if you read that a lake is still down 20 percent from full, it may rarely get close to full, and this is the norm for your favorite.
I talked with retired fisheries biologist Larry Bottroff, an expert in the bass’ life cycle. Bottroff reminded me that all those bass that were once funneled down into a small pond or what was left of your local lake have now spread out into new waters. This will affect the fishing for now, as you will have to hunt again for where the bass live. It should bode well for future spawns, as there is now various scrub and brush in the water to help the bass’ spawn with new places for the fry to hide. So there may be a lull in some lakes, but the fishing and population of the bass should improve over the next couple years at all lakes affected by the drought.
Now, one of the all-important questions I have for you is did you take advantage of the low water? And I don’t mean fishing bass out of a pond. I mean did you take pictures while your favorite lake’s waters were lower than they should be? At some Army Corp of Engineer lakes this would be almost a waste of time because they cut everything down and clear all the banks. But, even at these lakes there are some natural rock piles. Even shorelines that are heavier gravel than others should be taken note of. Old river channels or old bulldozer cuts can hold bass once the water is back up. Photos can help no matter the level of the lake.
So, let’s talk bass. There are three species that inhabit the various waters of Northern California. The spotted bass, the largemouth bass and the smallmouth bass. All three grow to respectable size. In fact, Northern California holds the world record for spotted bass and has the state record for smallmouth. Although Southern California has most of the giant largemouths, Northern California lakes regularly put out largemouths in the teens. Also, all the species will eat the same baits. So in lakes with all three species, you never know what might grab your lure. Let’s take a look at some of the lakes that should produce well this year.
Trinity Lake has so much potential. Although the water level is still down a bit, it is moving toward its normal range. Trinity holds both largemouth and smallmouth bass and once held the state-record smallmouth at 9.1 pounds. The largemouth record is about 14 pounds. This lake has been designated as a California Department of Fish and Wildlife trophy fishery, and it certainly lives up to its reputation. It won’t take long for this lake to rebound from the low water.
The lake, because of its size, will take a few days to explore. So make a vacation of it. This lake will quickly be on you “return to” list. The lake is full of 1- to 3-pound bass of both species and regularly turns out fish in the 5- to 10-pound range. Spring is a great time of year as bass head to the shallows to spawn. But once the bass start biting at this lake, they bite through the fall. Small worms, jigs, spinnerbaits, and cranks are good options. Summer and fall bring topwater action. Remember, this lake holds giant smallmouths, and many think it has the potential to hold the state record again as well as the world record.
Bullards Bar Reservoir is home to all three species of bass, but its claim to fame is that it holds the California state record for spotted bass, at 11 pounds, 3 ounces. This fish was not weighed on a certified scale, so it remains a state record. IGFA currently lists a 10-pound, 6-ounce fish as the world record, but from this lake as well. The anglers on this lake just keep catching giants that fast, several in a few months, so it’s hard to keep up with them. Many other giant spots have been taken around this record size “unofficially,” but released to fight again. Some big bass hunters don’t want the fame or attention.
The lake is back up to just over 80 percent full and should see great fishing again this year. The different species here will keep you busy, especially in the spring and early summer. Drop-shot baits, various jigs and worms, as well as most plastics, will entice strikes. Late summer and fall will bring the fish to the surface as topwater action improves. The fish also love swimbaits at this lake, and you have great potential to score a giant by slowly retrieving a swimbait across the bottom. You may only get a few bites all day, but they should be quality fish.
New Melones Reservoir is one lake that is still waiting for water, but it is up from last year and should do well as water keeps entering the lake. This lake holds all three species of bass and once held the world record for spotted bass, at 10.48 pounds. With the fish being condensed, fishing should still be good for smaller fish and numbers of fish. And you may just bring the record back here.
Springtime brings fish into the shallows for their spawn, and plastic jigs can do very well here. Crankbaits, spinnerbaits and jerkbaits, both soft and hard, will do well into summer. This time of year, topwater baits will also find numbers for anglers as the fish love to school here. Plastic swimbaits can do well for larger fish as well. Don’t count this lake out ever. It has great potential.
Pardee Reservoir is doing well at above 90 percent capacity. Pardee holds largemouth and smallmouth bass and currently holds the California state-record smallmouth at 9 pounds, 13 ounces. This is a beautiful area, and camping should be an option for you and the family. There is every type of amenity you could want here, from roughing it to pure comfort.
There are almost no shad-type bait fish in this lake, so the fish here tend to key on crawdads for their nutrition. Various jigs can be the hot ticket at this lake. Smallmouths have always loved the jig or anything that looks like a crawdad, so that is the way to go when targeting the giant smallmouths. But, if you need to cover ground, a crawdad crank will help you find the fish. Remember the only smaller fish here are the largemouths and smallmouths as well as other fish’s fry, so swimbaits in these patterns will do well in the spring and fall.
Lake Oroville has rebounded as well and stands at about 84 percent capacity right now. This lake holds the distinction of being held back by the tallest dam in the United States, at 770 feet. Being full once again, or at least at a level where most anglers are used to fishing it, this lake holds smallmouth, largemouth and spotted bass. All the bass grow big, and the record for smallmouth is 6 pounds, 2 ounces, with the spotted bass record a respectable 8 pounds, 2 ounces. But the largemouth record is a giant. It weighed in at 14 pounds, 15 ounces! You do have a chance here at catching your new personal best.
The lake used to have a slot limit on its bass, and this really helped the population. This bodes well for anglers, as the lake holds a lot of 1- to 3-pound fish to keep the day fun while waiting for the big one. The bass love the plastics here, and you really can’t go wrong with anything you throw. In the spring work your baits slowly for a nest guarding reaction bite or work cranks down the shoreline scoring bass after bass. It can be that good. Later in the summer and into fall, topwater action will take over. Buzzbaits can do well here and are a favorite of mine.
One of California’s oldest and largest natural lakes is Clear Lake, located just north of Napa Valley. This is a numbers lake but also puts out some giant bass in the ‘teens. The lake-record largemouth stands at a whopping 17.52 pounds, and this lake has the potential for a larger record, maybe even world record. This is a lake where tournament bags of five fish weigh in at over 40 pounds in an event. The bass here grow fast and large, and even the smaller fish are little tanks and will test your tackle. This is definitely a getaway vacation spot for anglers and wine lovers.
There is a giant population of various shad in this lake making for easy meals for the largemouths, adding to their weight every day. As mentioned, this lake is a numbers lake, but you will not be catching foot-longs, you will be catching 1.5- to 2-pound little footballs that fight extra hard. Swimbaits and crankbaits always do well here year round. In the spring, the giants move into shallow areas of the lake, and this is your chance to score a lunker. Plastics do well, along with jigs. Summer and fall will bring topwater action.
Fall is also a time for giant bass as the fish school, and if you find a school of larger fish it can be out of this world fishing. The lake also has a lot of docks and pier pilings that hold fish. A Senko tossed into the pilings can do well. This is a lake it’s hard to not catch fish on, and it has every type of structure an angler could want.
Finally, a visit to the California Delta is a bass fisherman’s dream. This giant waterway holds thousands of miles of channels and backwaters for you to explore and fish. That being said, you really shouldn’t explore this area without a map, but a mapping unit GPS would be best. You could get lost in the maze of small rivers. The fishing here for largemouths and smallmouths can be great, and it will take you years to explore it all.
One important thing to remember about these waters is that they are the very back waters of San Francisco Bay. They are delta and tidal waters, so they can play a part in when you are fishing and being successful. Basically, when the tides are moving it improves the catching. The entire food chain is active. When the tide is slack, not so much action. A tide calendar really is a helpful tool here.
One great thing about the delta and its waterways is that this place holds every type of structure you can imagine. And that bodes well for you as an angler because you can try your hand at a lot of baits you may not throw on your home waters. You can toss plastics everywhere, but you have to break out your buzzbaits here. Toss them along the rocks of the man-made dikes and you should get some hits. Spinnerbaits in the tules can lead to some great action and larger fish as well. Flipping the endless rows of tules with creature baits is often productive. And, of course, try frogs on matted weeds in back waters.
All these lakes should be on your list of places to target, and you have to make an effort to visit some of them this year. Bring the entire family, or hook up with a few of your friends. You won’t be disappointed.