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North State Bass Outlook

North State Bass Outlook

Most experts think Northern California's bass fishing will be good this year, but you shouldn't settle for anything less than great. That's exactly what you can expect at these 14 lakes and reservoirs.

Mike Shaw used one of his own MSSlammers to fool this big Santa Margarita Lake bucketmouth.
Photo by Brian Sak

We're several years into the first decade of the 21st century, and Northern California's black bass fisheries are holding steady. There were plenty of largemouths, smallmouths and spotted bass taken by anglers in 2004, including a fair share of trophies, but can we expect the same in 2005? California Game & Fish posed that very question to DFG biologist Dennis Lee.

Good news! With the exception of a few cases, Lee says things are looking bright. "We've been fortunate with some good water years during the early 2000s," explains Lee, "and I think that's helped." An important point since the majority of last season's rainfall came early, resulting in lower than usual water levels at lakes and reservoirs. "Those wet years," says Lee, "will compensate for (lower water in 2004)."

If there's going to be a problem with our fisheries, it will come in the form of a lack of information to properly manage them. "Due to recent cutbacks," laments Lee, "we've lost reservoir biologists in Regions 3 and 4." Whether you're an angler or lake manager, the last thing you want to see are fishery decisions without data to back them up.

There's nothing we can do to increase the amount of precipitation, but by contacting our elected officials we can influence the future of north state bass waters. In the meantime, there's plenty of great fishing available. You'll make the most of your time on the water by sticking to this list of 2005's best bets.


Regardless of which part of the Golden State you call home, you'll want to visit the Bay Area and points east, where you'll find what many consider two of the best bass fisheries west of the Rocky Mountains.

Lake Berryessa (Napa County): The fishing at Berryessa has been good for a long time, but this Wine Country lake has developed into something special in recent years. Burgeoning populations of spotted bass will keep you busy throughout the day, while there are huge largemouths for anglers preferring quality to quantity. For the ultimate battle, there are big smallies too.


Although you never know what you're going to catch on each cast, the secret to finding what you're after is targeting the right habitat. Try submerged wood and brush for largemouths, island tops and rocky points for smallmouths and everything in between for spots. Productive lures for all three include white crankbaits, baby bass-pattern ripbaits, poppers and wacky-rigged Senkos.

For information, contact the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation at 707-966-2111.

Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta (Contra Costa, Sacramento and San Joaquin counties): What can be said about the Delta that has not been said before? Absolutely nothing! Quite simply, this tidal system tops every other largemouth fishery in terms of the number of quality fish caught in the state. The Delta remains the premier north state destination.

The maze of waterways here is vast, with every levee, tule berm and dock looking like it holds fish. Unfortunately, that's not the case. You'll increase your chances of success by concentrating on proven areas -- try Big Break, Frank's Tract or Mildred Island for starters. Popular patterns include red and black crankbaits, chartreuse spinnerbaits, white frogs and blue on black jigs. One word of caution; boat traffic can make these waterways dangerous.

For information, contact Hook, Line & Sinker at 925-625-2441.


There are two things you can count on at waters in this region of California: scorching summer temperatures and lots of people. You'll avoid both by enjoying the fishing at these lakes either early or late in the day.

Folsom Lake (Folsom, El Dorado, Placer and Sacramento counties): Living only minutes from downtown Sacramento, the bass at Folsom take a pounding and can be tough to catch. These waters are not recommended for anyone new to fishing. If you're up for a challenge, however, there are plenty of largemouths, smallmouths and spots here to test your skills.

This American River impoundment has two main arms; both fish much differently from one another. Largemouth bass dominate the South Fork, where trout-pattern swimbaits may land you a trophy. Stick to the North Fork if you're after smallies, drifting small grubs off steep points. You'll catch spotted bass on 4-inch worms all over the lake.

For information, contact the Folsom State Recreation Area at 916-988-0205.

Lake Oroville (Butte County): Have you ever caught so many fish in one day that your arm ached for hours that evening? That's what happens to anglers at Oroville, where incredible populations of spotted bass make 50- to 100-fish outings common. And if you tire of the non-stop spot action, there are quality largemouths and smallmouths too.

Spring fishing is usually best in Oroville's creek arms. Target spotted bass along rocky banks with small worms on dartheads. Drop-shot deep humps on the main lake later in the year. Largemouths are tough to find during summer, but will chase spinnerbaits and ripbaits at other times. Look for smallies suspended off ledges with earth-tone grubs. There is a 12- to 15-inch slot limit here.

For information, contact the Lake Oroville Visitor Center at 530-538-2219.


There used to be an abundance of "gold in them hills," but now the region's riches come in the form of green fishes in them lakes. Whether you prefer non-stop action or the shot at a trophy, these lakes will reward you well.

Lake Pardee (Amador and Calaveras counties): There's no water contact allowed at Pardee, which is open to fishing from the first Friday in February through the last Sunday in October, making it a perfect destination for quiet outings. Traditionally known for producing numbers of bass, this reservoir is just coming into its own as a big-fish factory. John Walton, owner of Walton's Pond in San Leandro, landed a 7.78-pound lake record smallmouth in April 2004.

Catching Pardee's bass comes down to location, and there are two distinct patterns to be aware of. For numbers of fish, target the shallows upriver with small ripbaits, crankbaits and soft plastics. Stick to tapering points on the main body for quality bass, f

ocusing on deep water with jigs and larger plastics. Topwater lures work at either location during warm weather.

For information, contact the Lake Pardee Marina at 209-772-1472.

Pine Flat Reservoir (Fresno County): Some waters are destined to be trophy producers, and this foothill reservoir is a good example. Pine Flat, where California's spotted bass record has been set multiple times, is simply the place to go for monster fish. The 10.27-pound spot taken here in April 2001 still stands as both state and world records, but reports of anglers hooking and losing larger fish keep coming in.

Your best shot at Pine Flat's big spotted bass comes in the spring, prior to the annual drawdown. Concentrate your efforts on steep banks with isolated rock outcroppings, making sure there is deep water nearby. The current record fell for a 9L-187 Senko, but other bulky plastics work equally well; the key is a slow presentation.

For information, contact the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at 559-787-2589.


Some people call this God's country. Some call it trout country. You'll be calling it bass country after plying the waters of the state's best smallmouth fisheries.

Lake Almanor (Plumas County): The fishing here has declined a bit in recent years, but breathtaking views of Mount Lassen and enough 2-pound smallies to keep avid anglers happy make this a worthwhile destination. You'll have to be aware of the wind, however, which can turn Almanor into a dangerous froth. Locals recommend getting off the lake when you hear a breeze in the trees.

Almanor is relatively shallow for a Sierra lake of its size, and there's a surprising amount of structure to target. If you don't know where to start, try the face of the dam. Although downsized crawdad-pattern crankbaits and plastics take their share of bass, it's hard to beat a live cricket below a bobber.

For information, contact the Lassen National Forest district office at 530-258-2141.

Lake Britton (Shasta County): World-class trout streams such as Hat Creek and Fall River tend to overshadow Lake Britton, but when it comes to quality smallmouths this lake is second to none. You may find greater numbers of bass at other destinations, but the average-sized smallie here is better than most.

For a change of pace, Britton also holds some largemouths.

Smallmouth bass move around, so you'll have to cover lots of water to find fish. Work rocky flats in the spring, casting small spinnerbaits or shad-pattern ripbaits. Look for fish on steep rocky banks during the rest of the year; use crawdad-pattern crankbaits until you find bass, then slow down and work the area thoroughly with a jig or plastic grub. Beefed-up versions of the same lures will take largemouths.

For information, contact the PG&E Recreation Line at 916-386-5164.


Cooler weather and shorter growing seasons add up to smaller bass, so this isn't the place to catch a wall-hanger. What you will find, however, is some of the fastest bass action in the state.

Ruth Lake (Trinity County): Some anglers fish for the fishing, while others participate for a wilderness experience. At Ruth you'll enjoy the best of both. The difficult drive along Highway 36 makes getting here a chore, but the effort puts you in the middle of a Thomas Kinkade-like setting. The trip also keeps other anglers away, which results in above-average fishing.

You'll find largemouths and smallmouths all over Ruth, but there are more bass on the west side of the lake. During spring hit the shallows with spinnerbaits, ripbaits and small crankbaits. Fish poppers first thing in the morning once summer rolls around, switching to plastics during the heat of the day. Note that the special regulations that used to be enforced here are no longer in effect.

For information, contact the Ruth Lake Marina at 707-574-6524.

Shasta Lake (Shasta County): With Mount Shasta's snow-covered peak towering in the background, it's tough to concentrate on fishing. Most of the time that's not a problem thanks to aggressive spotted bass that practically hook themselves. You will, however, have to pay attention to what's going on when targeting the smallmouths and largemouths here.

This lake is huge, with four major rivers uniting to create 365 miles of shoreline. The importance of knowing where to fish can't be stressed enough. You'll catch spots all over the lake as long as there's rock and deep water, with the better fish coming from the main body. Most consider the Pit River arm, where fish congregate around submerged wood and willows, best for largemouths. Smallies are more difficult to find, but with effort can be taken along steep rocky banks.

For information, contact the Shasta Lake Ranger district office at 530-275-1587.


The relationship between cover and largemouths is pretty straight forward -- where you find lots of one you find lots of the other. Head to either of these lakes and you'll find plenty of each.

Clear Lake (Lake County): Looking for a place to catch that bass of a lifetime? You'll increase your odds at California's biggest natural lake, where 8- to 12-pound largemouths are almost as common as a sunny summer day. There are no guarantees when fishing, however, and hooking one of Clear Lake's giants will take time on the water.

It's rare for bass to be active throughout the lake at any one time, making it important to find out where the bite is before you go. And with an almost endless array of structure to target, including docks, tules and ledges to name just a few, you'll want to ask what fish are using too. Leave your finesse gear at home when traveling to Clear Lake, where big spinnerbaits, hitch-pattern ripbaits, frogs, bulky jigs and oversized plastics take most of the fish.

For information, contact the Lake County Visitor Information Center at 800-525-3743.

Indian Valley Reservoir (Lake County): Most bass anglers cruise past the turnoff for Indian Valley on Highway 20 on their way to Clear Lake. They don't know what they're missing.

You'll avoid the same mistake by driving the twisting dirt road to this isolated reservoir, where taking advantage of reduced pressure often affords great fishing.

Both smallmouths and largemouths swim Indian Valley's waters, but it's the Florida-strain bass that attract attention. The key to locating active fish is covering lots of territory with trout-pattern ripbaits and crankbaits. Expect the topwater action to heat up as the weather warms, but be ready to flip or pitch plastics when the sun is high.

For information, contact Indian Valley District Park at 530-662-0607.


This region's topography and climate combine to limit the number of fishable freshwaters, but that's not a problem with two lakes that offer more than their share of catchable-sized bass.

Lake Nacimiento (Monterey County): Known to the locals as Naci, this lake gets lots of attention from water enthusiasts trying to get away from Southern California. Does this mean you should avoid it? Probably so during holiday weekends, but with good populations of largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass, and plenty of quiet coves to hide in, it would be a mistake any other time.

Seasonality plays a role in fishing success at Naci, so coordinate your trips with what you're trying to catch. Target largemouths on isolated structure during spring with jigs and ripbaits. Spots may be the only fish willing to bite throughout summer. Try split-shotting small worms along deep ledges. Use crawdad-pattern crankbaits and plastic grubs for autumn smallies.

For information, contact the Nacimiento Ranger Station at 805-238-2376.

Santa Margarita Lake (San Luis Obispo County): You'll avoid hordes of people at this coastal drinking water reservoir, thanks to a rule that forbids any type of water contact. Santa Margarita resources are, in fact, underutilized. That's hard to believe considering there are seven miles of accessible shoreline, making this lake suited to bank-bound anglers as well as boaters.

Largemouths are the draw here, although the possibility of hooking into a remnant striped bass, in what used to be a premier striper fishery, keeps things interesting. With Fish and Game planting rainbows in Santa Margarita through spring, trout-pattern swimbaits are the lure of choice for trophy bass. Try casting frogs or buzzbaits over grass beds when the weather warms, switching to worms when the reaction bite shuts down.

For information, contact San Luis Obispo County Parks at 805-788-2397.


Except where mentioned above, bass angling is open year-round to anyone with a valid California fishing license; children younger than 16 are exempt. General regulations allow the use of both live bait and artificial lures. You're permitted to keep all species of black bass, but you can't have more than five fish, in any combination, in your possession. There's a minimum size limit of 12 inches.

For more information, contact the Department of Fish and Game at 916-653-7664, or check

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