Northern California has its redwoods, gold country and amazing scenery, as well as an abundance of wildlife, but the north-state also hosts lakes loaded with bass that get anglers excited at the very thought of fishing any of them. NorCal largemouths approach near-record size. Its smallmouth bass seem to grow closer to world-record size every year. And one or more of its lakes may very well hold another world-record spotted bass.
World records in the world of bass fishing stir intense excitement among California anglers. Several catches have flirted with breaking the long-standing world-record (22 pounds, 4 ounces) for largemouth bass. And it was Nick Dulleck of San Jose who, in 2017, landed the world-record spotted bass of 11 pounds 4 ounces while fishing at New Bullards Bar Reservoir, in the Sierra foothills of Yuba County about 90 miles north of Sacramento.
Many fisheries biologists say anglers seem to catch larger bass in cycles, especially in lakes where water levels periodically fall and rise. After suffering many years of low-water levels at the hands of an extended drought, many Northern California lakes recovered following heavy rainfall/snowfall in the winters of 2016-17 and 2017-18. This spring, those reservoirs have been standing now for almost two years at the so-called “historic levels” where many anglers have fished them. Perhaps, it’s time for catching a lot of big bass across Northern California.
Camanche Reservoir, located in the San Joaquin Valley, is a lake that’s smaller than many across the valley, but it packs a punch in its bass fishing. Within its 7,700-acre spread, it holds largemouths, smallmouths and spotted bass, and has booted out an 18-plus-pound largemouth worthy of a lake record anywhere. In 2018, Camanche gave up a 15-pound-7-ounce largemouth, leaving many to speculate that it’s only a matter of time before the lake record is broken here again. Meanwhile, local anglers continue catching the “usual” 5- to 10-pound largemouths common in the lake.
If fact, springtime fishing in Camanche can be hot for all three species of bass. Drop-shotting or split-shotting crawdad-colored plastics in the back of the many north shore coves will do well in the spring. Smaller jigs in 1/4- to 1/2-ounce in green or brown crawdad patterns will do just as well. Spinnerbaits can be used to cover ground and find fish quickly. Chartreuse-and-white or all-white patterns in 1/2-ounce models should help along the main-lake points.
Camanche is also known for its trout fishing, which is supported with stocked trout, just large enough to make great forage for big bass. Plastic trout swimbaits could reward anglers handsomely. The trout are dumped off south shore launch ramps, so fish those areas thoroughly, as that’s where the bass lay in wait for their next trout meal.
Camanche’s bass gather together and “boil up” on the surface during summer and fall. Look for the bass crashing through schools of baitfish in the river arm area. Just about any like-sized topwater lure should do the trick on these fish, as the bass of all species school up en masse.
One of California’s largest manmade lakes, Lake Berryessa spreads across almost 21,000 acres in Napa County, home of a thousand wineries. Spots, smallmouths and largemouths share the water, where the lake-record largemouth stands at more than 17 pounds, and double-digit largemouths are often caught during spawning time in spring. Anglers catch high numbers of spotted bass year ’round.
Smaller worms and jigs can account for a lot of action in the spring. Markley Cove can bring non-stop action at times. Those bass also favor split-shot or Carolina-rigged creature baits in green- or red-crawdad colors. Jerkbaits, both soft and hard, can entice fish guarding fry right after the spawn.
Late spring and summertime will see the action near the school house island toward many tactics — from drop-shot rigs with soft plastics in shad colors to Senkos, spinnerbaits and crankbaits. Popping-style lures — and Rebel’s Pop-R might top the list — take plenty of fish on top in summer and fall in the Paradise Cove area of the lake. Gliding baits, like a Zara Spook, will also do well at sunset when the water is glassy.
NEW BULLARDS BAR RESERVOIR
Its notoriety for producing the world-record spotted bass shadows its fishing, but, the truth of the matter is, many giant spotted bass have been taken from New Bullards Bar Reservoir, while its overall bass fishing is simply great.
Home to spots, largemouths and smallmouths, the Yuba County lake produces bass best in spring and summer for anglers fishing main-lake points with various soft-plastic lures. Darter-head jigs armed with shad-patterned plastics — or drop-shot plastics in small 31/2 to 41/2- inch shad patterns — will do well around drop-offs.
Late summer and fall bring the bait and the bass to the surface in the backs of the many coves. Look to Mill Creek Cove and Tractor Cove as topwater action improves for good numbers of bass. But Bullards Bar’s biggest bass love swimbaits slowly retrieved near the bottom. The big bass hunters keep a lot to themselves, but rumor has it the big ones come from the points of the Yuba River arm. The tactic sometimes produces just a few bites all day, but those are likely to be quality fish that can set records.
Pardee Reservoir carries the weight of the state-record smallmouth on its shoulders, but the 9-pound-13-ounce bass is far from the only heavyweight smallmouth caught in the lake, located about 30 miles east of Stockton. The big bass, caught in 2007 by Harold Hardin of Stockton, leads the way toward many 5- to 8-pound bass given up by the 2,250-acre lake in the Mother Lode.
Pardee’s smallmouths love crawdads, so plan on tossing jigs and creature baits. Drop-shot rigs, armed with soft-plastics in blue and purple colors do best for the locals. The crawdads here do have a purple hue to them. Each of these rigs will score around rocky or gravel shorelines of the northeast shoreline of the south arm and “The Narrows” in spring and summer. The smallmouth at this lake also chase small, stocked trout, easily imitated with a Huddleston 6-inch rainbow-trout swimbait. Summer and fall will bring schooling bass to the surface, where popping or walking surface baits and buzzbaits score good catches.
Local fishing guide Randall Doyle of Randall Doyle’s Guide Service says Pardee’s bass fishermen this year could see some really nice largemouths in their catches, too. With warmer than usual water temperatures, the largemouth seem more active. Doyle has taken most of his bigger largemouth on various trout imitation swimbaits, such as the Savage Gear 7-inch Rainbow Trout. His hint is fishing the shorelines adjacent to the launch ramps, where the trout are planted from.
NEW MELONES LAKE
Bass fishing at New Melones Lake is bouncing back after drought brought extremely low water for a couple years. Producing the world-record spotted bass of 10.48 pounds in 2014, the lake holds great potential for an outstanding year of bass fishing ahead. You may even hook a giant or new personal best here. Don’t ever count this lake out.
Located just south of Angels Camp, 60 miles east of Stockton, New Melones produces good numbers of largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass. Look for the springtime bite in the shallows in the Glory Hole and Carson Creek areas of the lake, where bass can be found on beds. Jigs armed with soft-plastics in reds and greens can do well for smallmouths and spots in the same areas. Once the spawn is over, presentations on the rocky points can do very well. As summer and fall come on, drop-shotting plastics in shad patterns scores regularly.
Crankbaits, spinnerbaits and jerkbaits, in both soft- and hard styles, keeps the action going well into summer when fished in the river area of the lake. Look for the topwater bite to crank up in late summer, offering high numbers of bass when the fish school up at the mouth of the river arm. Trout-patterned, custom-poured, soft-plastic swimbaits can also do well for larger fish in the main lake along the south shoreline.
Look for Folsom Lake, located just 30 minutes east of Sacramento, to surprise California anglers this season. The lake produced great bass fishing before the prolonged drought took its toll. It has the potential to produce some giant largemouth bass. The lake record weighs more than 16 pounds, and some of the largemouths living in it today may, indeed, be heavier than that.
Folsom bass anglers catch a lot of 5- to 10-pound largemouths, usually in the spring, that complement catches of smallmouths and spotted bass. Once owned by the smallmouths, Folsom Lake smallmouth numbers are falling, however, as the lake is slowly taken over by spotted bass.
Springtime fishing for all three species can be fun for numbers when “just fishing” with your favorite lure for whatever will bite. Try drop-shotting or split-shotting soft-plastics in shad colors in the north-arm coves. Cover shoreline quickly with crankbaits, such as a Fat Free Shad in fire-tiger. Jerkbaits, such as a Smithwick Rogue in clown pattern or soft jerkbaits in shad patterns, offer up good action, too. Even topwater popping lures, like a Rebel Pop-R, or gliding baits, like the Lucky Craft Sammy, bring springtime action to the surface if warm weather comes on early in the season.
Rainbow trout are also stocked in Folsom Lake, so think swimbaits, like the 6-inch Huddleston Deluxe Trout Swimbaits, for enticing the largest bass of all species. The main southeast shoreline has been the traditional best area. Jigs — from a simple curly-tailed grub to the classic pig-n-jig combo or creature bait — will also produce in the spring. The south arm’s coves should hold fish all season. Yamamoto spider grubs in greens and reds should do well.
No doubt, Folsom’s smallmouths and spotted bass will school up in summer, bringing good numbers of fish to the surface in the north arm. When you find them, beat that area up — you should catch one after another.
GO GET ‘EM!
While Southern California bass anglers often fight crowded fishing conditions, especially in springtime, on the lakes of the Southland, fishermen who take to the bass lakes of Northern California often discover light traffic on the water — perhaps, even no competing anglers (especially on weekdays) — at many lakes that simply seem to lay off the beaten path.
Whether you live in the north-state or plan a fishing trip get-away from home, any bass fishing trip you take on the lakes of Northern California is made even better with the pastoral scenery that surrounds the lakes in the coastal range and the rugged backdrops of the high-rising Sierras beyond the lakes in the foothills.