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Back to Bass: Angler Notes Changes After 20-Year Hiatus

Tackling Southern California's unique Lake Barrett brings back bass-fishing memories for outdoors writer.

Back to Bass: Angler Notes Changes After 20-Year Hiatus

Brian La Rue with a bass that hit a Brian Schmidt Baits’ Football Jig/Strike King Rage Craw Trailer combo just before noon, before calling it a day due to the near 100-degree temperatures. (Photo by Brian La Rue)

  • What’s your favorite advancement in the past 20 years of bass fishing? VOTE BELOW

Game & Fish Magazine affords its team of writers, editors and publishers amazing opportunities in which we can combine our love of the outdoors with our desire to share our passion for fishing and hunting with others.

Having been an outdoors writer in the fishing industry for nearly 25 years, but spending the last five on the social side, I recently had the chance to get out of the office for some serious bass fishing. It's something I haven't done with conventional gear for almost 20 years.

Why? What changed? Bear with me and enjoy the day.

I call the Rockies home and I primarily fly fish. However, I cut my teeth fishing for bass and chasing saltwater species, with a little fly fishing mixed in, while growing up in Southern California. But I left the Golden State as soon as I found a wife and she also was open to the idea of moving to the Rockies.

So, bass fishing took a back seat along with my baitcasters, as high-mountain lakes and rivers took over my fishing world. A lot has changed in bass fishing the last 20 years, but some things will never change.

A Visit to Lake Barrett

Our destination was a special fishery inland from San Diego called Lake Barrett. This nearly 1,000-acre lake is only open for a short season, three days a week, and tickets must be bought about a month ahead of time via Ticketmaster (they sell out within minutes each month when they go on sale).

The barbless, catch-and-release fishery rivals all the San Diego city lakes and the limited access makes it one of a kind. I fished this lake a few times 20-plus years ago and yes, some things never change.

Mike Bohn caught this nice 4.5-pound bass on a walking bait within the first hour on the water at Lake Barrett in Southern California. (Photo by Brian La Rue)

Topwater fishing was unbelievable, as always. Flooded brush, sunken trees and grassy inlets offered willing fish for my friend Mike Bohn, my son Barrett and myself. Poppers, frogs and walking baits were immediately hit. If it looked fishy and your cast was somewhere near structure, you were hit within two or three seconds.

The three of us shared a rental boat. For about $90, you get a boat and up to four anglers in it for the day. They might allow maybe 10 rental boats a day and a small number of tubers/kayakers as well.

Barrett La Rue, 15, has only known bass fishing in the Rockies, so fishing in SoCal at Lake Barrett was a special treat. He managed about 20 fish to 3 pounds on poppers and Senkos. (Photos by Brian La Rue)

Mike, a well-known fishing industry representative, agency owner and consultant (Bohn Adventures Outdoor Media) was having a blast walking baits and swimming frogs for bass to 4.5 pounds, while I stuck with poppers with my son. Everybody was catching fish. Doubles, triples — someone had a fish on all the time.

Nature in Action

The bass were on top all morning despite the heat that was already blazing by 10:30 a.m. Why does 10:30 a.m. stand out? Because that's when this desolate area came alive.

No, not the fish, but the hillside about 300 yards away, as we heard a strange call, kind of like an elk calf or deer fawn calling frantically to its mother. That's when five or six deer came running down the slope into a ravine. The "stampede" went on for about a minute. Then one doe came over the edge with two fawns trailing and something else closing fast.

What’s your favorite advancement in the past 20 years of bass fishing?

She managed to skirt the hillside with one fawn, but the other fawn was last seen trying to run to our right, still across the cove and up on this steep hill.

The animal chasing the solo fawn was faster, bigger and ran with a more grappling-like stride on the hill. They went just over the small hill and out of sight. We quickly compared notes. This is an inland, scrub, boulder, hilly area, and is deer, coyote and mountain lion territory. The movements and actions we saw led us to the conclusion we just witnessed a mountain lion busting a herd of deer. The seven circling buzzards over the backside draw of the hill a couple hours later told us the cat must've been successful. Crazy.


Bass Still Love Poppers

Back on the water, the heat was taking its toll on us, but the fishing was still on. We switched up the game to Senkos—a soft-plastic bait that really proved itself in the 1990s. I was familiar with them from back when I owned a dozen baitscasters, a trolling motor and at least a dozen of the cigar baits.

When not throwing poppers, the bass also found Senkos and this Brian Schmidt Baits’ Football Jig with a Strike King Rage Craw trailer to be irresistible. (Photo by Brian La Rue)

The green/brown-with-blue-flake lure was working its magic on Owner offset hooks and some wacky rigs—another idea that has really proven itself in my absence from the bass world. In 1998, if you rigged a worm wacky style you probably would've been laughed at by other anglers. Boy, it has been a long time.

As I planned this trip, I reached out to our editor and found things like under spins, chatterbaits and so many folks using braid with leaders. Back when I faded out of the hardcore bass scene, braid and brands like Fireline were just getting started in the market. Boy, things have changed.

Lake Barrett is an amazing fishery located inland from Sand Diego. If you are headed West, look it up, but plan early as it is a unique, limited access lake requiring tickets purchased at least a month in advance, and they are highly sought after. (Photo by Brian La Rue)

What hasn't changed?

Fish still love poppers, they still love jigs with trailers, they still love a good frog or walking bait, and Lake Barrett is still amazing for those lures.

The top bait on the day was any popper with a lot of white in the belly, like Pop-R or the high-end stuff that's flooded the scene the last 20 years. Also effective were a variety of white-and-green frogs, walking baits like a LuckyCraft Pointer or Swim ‘n Image, and I did turn quite a few heads with a Brian Schmidt Baits Football Jig with a Strike King Rage Craw trailer.

And yes, I did catch about five on a fly rod with a white popper. No, I couldn't totally disconnect.

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