January 18, 2018
If you're looking for the best places for Southern California bass, don't overlook these spots in 2018.
It was a wet winter again this year. The lakes of Southern California loved it, along with the bass, and of course, the fishermen. Launch ramps are in the water, and you can easily access all your favorite lakes.
Some lakes are still down a tad, but you have to remember that most water authorities don't let lakes fill to their limit. All the lakes are at their normal kept level, or a little above, for the most part. The water this past year came up a lot in most lakes, bringing a good spawn for both bait fish and bass.
With all that sunken brush in the water the bass will be a little harder to find. Last year saw numbers, but not the giants of two years ago. That is fairly normal when a lake comes up. Those wary and wise giant largemouth have a lot more cover to hide in.
Last year was more of a numbers year, with 5- to 10-pounders mixed in. I spoke with retired biologist and largemouth expert Larry Bottroff about this subject, and he felt that the more the lake spreads out the fewer giants you see and the numbers of bass get stronger over the following year with their spawns.
But, a lake must also be culled of smaller bass so the larger survive and grow into those mid-range fish and giants we all want to catch. There needs to be a balance between large and small fish.
So, don't be afraid to keep a few smaller fish this year. Most lakes have a 15-inch limit now, so it won't hurt to keep a few and cull the lake. It will help. Now, all that brush also means you might have to try some new techniques at your favorite lake.
But that's the fun of bass fishing. Let's look at how the lakes are doing and how this year should pan out for largemouth anglers in Southern California.
Let us start with Lake Otay, located in southern San Diego County. Right now, it's probably one of the fullest lakes in Southern California, with it being only a foot or two from spill.
The launch conditions are excellent. With the water up so high, there are back ponds behind the normal water level's tule line. A little aggressive tule stomping — as long as you don't mind a dirty boat — and you have some virgin water to fish behind the tules.
Last season, Otay had the most consistent creel counts and numbers of fish per angler ratio. That adds up to great fishing. Springtime brought a great spawn with all the brush in the water for the fry to hide in and should lead to some great fishing over the next few years. This season should be about the same as last year, with a lot of bass in the 5- to 10-pound range.
As I mentioned, the water is way up here, and there is some great fishing to be had this season. There are back ponds behind the tules, and the first fishermen on the lake and back into them will have a blast. There has been frog fishing, topwater action on various baits and flipping. Southern California fishermen need to dust off their flipping sticks this year. Some are already ahead of the game after last year.
Spring will bring a ton of males running the banks and larger females to the shallows. This lake has been planting trout in the past, so the bass are already tuned into them. You may be rewarded with a giant if you spend the time throwing the trout imitation bait.
Summer and into fall will bring topwater fishing. Usually, in the far back end of Harvey Arm is the best area for this action. Popping, gliding, or even buzzbaits will call the fish up. Later in fall, as the shallow water weeds get thicker, Yamamoto Senkos in the holes are a good bet, as well as drop-shot plastics on the various deep rockpiles.
Heading north and east, we find Lake Barrett, San Diego's famous pay-to-play lake. A lot of people thought this lake's life was over when it shrunk to a puddle of its original size, but rains have brought it back up to its more normal range, about 30 feet below spill, when it was almost 90 feet below last year.
The bass at Barrett love the brush, and there is a ton of it in the water now. So you have to be ready to attack it if you want to catch fish.
The lake opens in May, and the season lasts until September. Tickets go on sale the month before the month you fish through Ticketmaster, so check out the San Diego City Lakes website in March for sales in April to fish May.
When this lake first opens, after being closed for about six months, the fishing is out of this world. Springtime will bring fish to the banks for the spawn, although they love the brush at this lake and hang out there most of the time anyway. Buzzbaits will call the bass out here, as they are aggressive and will attack almost anything you throw. Senkos are also a favorite at this lake thrown weightless into the brush.
If there is a lure you don't throw in other lakes and need confidence in, this is the place to throw it. Jigs, creature baits, swimbaits, jerkbaits and crankbaits all will score around the lake. The structure is anything from shallow flats covered with brush to various size rockpiles.
Gone are the 10-fish days. But, in the spring, two good anglers can come close. As the year progresses, the fish tend to school up into wolf packs, roaming the lake and chasing shad. Topwater baits will do well in the morning and spinnerbaits work all day here. As I mentioned, buzzbaits always catch fish here and can attract larger bass. This is a lake that is headed back to its glory days. This could be the breakout year.
SAN VICENTE RESERVOIR
Heading back to the northwest is San Vicente Reservoir. When the lake first opened, it held about 90,000 acre feet of water storage, but as the Southern California drought continued, plans were made to finally increase the height of the dam. It was finally decided to raise the dam by 117 feet, and with the increase in height, the lake grew to more than twice its original size. This formed a new lake for all to explore.
For years, fishermen speculated on how fishing would be when the lake reopened. Rumors spread from the handful of poachers sneaking into the lake that it was out of this world fishing. Finally, the announcement came that it was indeed going to open in September 2016.
Well, how was the fishing? It was indeed out of this world. You could almost throw a bare hook at the water and catch something. Anglers on the very first day talked of 100- to 200-fish days for a couple of guys in a boat.
Wide open topwater in the morning, to a later bite on almost anything in their tackle boxes, was the norm. And, it was almost at every location on this lake. You have to remember, these fish went unmolested for eight years.
So, after a little over a year, the fishing has been great. This lake puts out way more fish than any other lake in the area. And, you can catch a lot of numbers in the 2- to 3-pound range, but also in the 4- to 6-pound range. Springtime will bring the bass to the shallows, but remember this lake just flooded and there is a ton of brush in the water all the way out to about 100 feet deep.
The bass do eat everything here, and you will be able to throw the same baits most of the year. For worms, the bass love a Texas-rigged worm that is larger in size, at least 8 inches. Also, with all that brush, a weightless Senko can get results. If you want to call the bass up to you, Alabama rigs, jerkbaits and crankbaits do well. There is some frog fishing around that brush as well as buzzbaits. Late summer and fall will bring topwater action as well as jerkbait action as the bass school up and chase shad.
After the lake had been open a while I spoke with California Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Russell Black about San Vicente and the future of this semi-new fishery.
Black told me that before the lake opened they did several surveys of the lake, shocking up just over 6,000 largemouth bass. In all those surveys, the largest bass they found was 9.5 pounds. Now, this doesn't mean there aren't larger fish in the lake. But when there is a competition for food sometimes the fish are a little smaller than usual.
The surveyed bass averaged about 3 pounds and were very healthy fish. Over last season, the lake turned out some nice bass consistently. This year should be a replay of last.
DIAMOND VALLEY LAKE
Heading north still is Diamond Valley Lake. For about a year the launch was closed at this lake and the water level was down to about 30 percent. But winter rains have brought it back, and this is my pick for this year's "sleeper" lake.
Now that the lake has bounced back to about 90 percent full and the fish have had a rest, the fishing here for bass should explode this season. The water level is fairly stable, and the fish should charge the banks again this spring for the spawn.
Being such a large lake, this translates to thousands of male bass running the banks waiting to spawn and to also eat your lures. Small swimbaits, drop-shot plastics, split-shot or Carolina-rigged plastics, crankbaits and jerkbaits will always entice the bass here.
Larger bass have a habit of hanging on the riprap boulders of the dam, and pitching jigs along this structure will do well any time of year.
Because trout are planted here, trout imitation baits can score giant largemouths and maybe the occasional big striper in the spring, fall and winter months. Summer and fall will bring topwater action, plus the bass school up and chase shad.
This year should be a very productive one for Diamond Valley, so if you have never been here, it's time to visit this lake. Boats do need to be inspected at this lake to prevent quagga mussels, so make sure you dry out your bilge of any water before heading out to the lake. The launch ramp here is excellent, and lines go down fast.
I spoke with Southern California fishing guide Rich Tauber, of RichTauberFishing.com, about other lakes around Southern California. He felt that Pyramid Lake and Castaic Lake, two old favorites of Southern California anglers, need mentioning.
He advised: "These two lakes are back! They are full, and the bass fishing is great right now." Many lakes are coming back with the rain and higher water, so explore your local lake or get out and find a new favorite this year.