Ish Monroe has been on a good run lately.
The Bassmaster Elite Angler is No. 20 in the Bassmaster standings and ranked No. 48 in the world. He has knocked down Top 10 finishes in several major tournaments over the past year, capped by a wire-to-wire victory at the 2011 Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Northern Open last September at Lake Oneida, near Syracuse, New York.
I caught up with the affable pro recently for an interview and learned that no matter how good you are and where you fish, there’s no place quite like northern California for bassin’ action.
While the tournament circuit takes him a long way from his home in the Modesto area, Monroe makes no bones about why he continues to live in the Central Valley of California.
“Northern California bass fishing is phenomenal,” said Monroe. “We have all three species — largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass — and I can catch them 12 months of the year. There are about 20 lakes within a three-hour radius of my home where, on any given day, I can catch a 20-pound limit or have a chance at a state record.
“The diversity of bass fishing here is incredible. There’s the shallow water of Clear Lake and the Delta or you can go deep at Shasta, McClure, Don Pedro or Oroville. Turbid water, clear water; it’s all available, and I truly believe that all the time I spend fishing in California makes me a better angler. In other parts of the country you may have one type of fishing. Alabama bass fishing is Alabama bass fishing. The beauty of northern California is that we have it all right here, so close.”
Monroe expects 2012 to offer incredible fishing in most of the region’s bass waters due to back-to-back high water years in 2010 and 2011.
“When we get these kinds of water years — when Clear Lake floods and the reservoirs fill up — we always get good spawns. It puts nutrients in the water and the baitfish populations explode, and that produces lots of fish, and some really big fish. There were 25-pound limits of spotted bass coming out of Shasta last year, which is just amazing.”
Monroe’s read on the whole chain of ecological events is well-supported by bass biology and California water facts.
A series of wet years following a prolonged drought creates the perfect storm for super-charged productivity in the reservoirs of northern California — and that is exactly what happened.
According to the California Department of Water Resources, Lake Shasta was at 61 percent of its capacity on June 1, 2008 and then was at 99 percent and 98 percent capacity, respectively, the last two years on that same date. The drought produced rings of vegetation along the shoreline that have been submerged and transformed into excellent habitat for bass, kicking into gear what seasoned anglers refer to as the turning over of a reservoir.
It is shaping up to be a great year for NorCal anglers. Here’s what to expect in some of the most promising waters, ranging from world-renowned lakes to small-water sleepers. This rundown devotes particular attention to the granddaddy of northern California bass waters — Clear Lake — due to the extraordinary size of fish it is currently producing. Don’t miss it in 2012!
SACRAMENTO VALLEY REGION
Clear Lake may be the best big-fish bass lake in the country right now. The 2011 tournaments produced staggering results: It typically took 45 pounds (for 10 fish) to get in the real money and numerous tournament anglers produced a four-pound average and went home without a check! While that might be a bit frustrating for the ardent tournament angler, it makes for a wonderful place for a parent to take their children on a sunny spring or summer morning. The odds of a kid hooking a 4- to 6-pound largemouth may never be better than at Clear Lake from now through September.
According to local fishing expert Terry Knight, Clear Lake hosts about 45-50 major bass tournaments each year. Knight closely examines the results of each tournament. The average fish weighed in over the last year is about 3.4 pounds, a remarkable average for any lake that receives much fishing pressure. The ecological changes taking place at Clear Lake following the last two years of high water should spur that trend further upward in 2012.
“The character of Clear Lake has changed the last couple of years with tremendous aquatic vegetation growth,” said Knight, long-time outdoor columnist for the Record Bee newspaper in Lakeport, avid angler, and acute observer of the trends in Clear Lake as a bass fishery. “We had great spawns the last two years and there are lots of small bass, but the real draw is the number of 4- to 6-pound fish we had last year. They’ll be even bigger this year. We were missing that age class of 8- to 10-pound fish but may have it again pretty soon.”
Knight explains that while the overall population size is still down a bit from years past when a recreational angler could easily catch 25-plus fish in a day, anglers with a reasonable understanding of the lake should be able to catch 15-20 fish a day this year.