Looking to catch lots of bass? Or does probing the depths for that fish of a lifetime suit your style? Either way, you'll find plenty of opportunities for both in Northern California this year. (April 2006)
Ron Colby made the trip from Arizona to ply the Delta's waters for big largemouths, and he wasn't disappointed. The bass hit a Yamamoto Kreature. Photo by Brian Sak.
Will 2006 see a string of 10 years of outstanding Golden State bass fishing come to an end? Warmwater fishery biologists who have been monitoring the region's conditions for almost 20 years don't think so. We've had too many consecutive years of normal to above-average precipitation for things to head south anytime soon.
"When we look at it from a statewide perspective, the bass fishing is much better than it was 15 to 20 years ago," claims Dennis Lee, senior biologist with the Department of Fish and Game, "and it's just beginning to show the positive effects of the good rain we've been having since 2000."
Northern California's bass fisheries can be divided into three general categories, each providing its own opportunities. Regardless of whether you're looking for someplace to catch lots of bass, quality fish or have a legitimate shot at that trophy you've been dreaming of, the North State has what you want.
"The average fish size drops off in our spotted-bass lakes," adds Lee, "but places like Oroville and McClure, conversely, have high catch rates. We also have waters like New Melones and Almanor where anglers catch fewer but bigger fish. And of course, there are the trophy producers like the Delta and Clear Lake."
With the help of Lee and a review of 2005 fishing reports, California Game & Fish has compiled a list of diverse waters that offer everything from numbers to trophies -- and in some cases, a little of both.
It's difficult to believe that you can find quality bass fishing within minutes of massive metropolitan areas such as San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose, let alone a world-class fishery. That, however, is exactly what you get here in a number of places.
Anderson Lake (Santa Clara County) -- This South Bay reservoir is the largest in a series of county-operated waters, but still relatively small in comparison to other well-known Northern California bass lakes. The quality of the fishing here, however, is far from proportional to its size. Limits of healthy largemouths are common, with fish often averaging 2 to 3 pounds. The key is having enough rain in the spring to keep Anderson full.
Start your search for bass around the rocky points near the dam, casting ripbaits, crankbaits and poppers. When those fish are uncooperative, move to the narrows at the south end of the lake. Try targeting shallower waters with reaction baits first. If that doesn't work, slow down with soft plastics. Casting parallel to wind-formed mud lines is often productive in spring.
For information, call Coyote Bait and Tackle at (408) 463-0711.
Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta (Contra Costa, Sacramento and San Joaquin counties) -- Many of us have read the reports describing dramatic declines of pelagic fish populations in the Delta. Although there is cause for concern long-term, bass anglers have nothing to worry about this year. The tidally influenced rivers, channels, sloughs and lakes that make up this complex system will remain the premier largemouth fishery of the entire West Coast.
Leave your finesse equipment at home. The Delta takes beefy rods and tough reels spooled with heavy line to land fish here. Popular methods include weaving chartreuse spinnerbaits through sparse tules, bouncing red crankbaits along rock levees, slowly working white frogs over weed mats and pitching blue-on-black jigs to submerged vegetation.
For information, call Hook, Line & Sinker at (925) 625-2441.
Fluctuating water levels are a way of life in this arid region. You can expect dropping reservoir levels (watch out for obstructions!) during summer, no matter how much precipitation Mother Nature provides.
Black Butte Lake (Tehama County) -- With healthy populations of largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass, and the lake's proximity to Highway 5, Black Butte receives fair pressure for such a small lake. But even with occasional poundings, it remains one of the region's top destinations. You can expect most fish to average 1 to 1.5 pounds, with the occasional 5- to 6-pound kicker.
Black Butte's larger bass typically stick to the backs of coves, where shad-pattern crankbaits and ripbaits work well when fish are active. Try Texas-rigging a chartreuse grub when the fishing is slow, working your way from shallow to deep until you locate bass. When all else fails, tie on a drop-shot rig and target the submerged trees on the south side of the lake.
For information, call Black Butte Lake at (530) 865-4781.
Lake Oroville (Butte County) -- Spotted bass are king at Oroville, where 50- to 100-fish days are commonplace. The problem is that there are so many fish that they all look like they came out of the same small-bass mold. However, if it's non-stop action that you're after, this is where you want to be. The lake also has largemouths and smallmouths, but they're tougher to find.
Spots will eat 4-inch straight-tail worms rigged on dart heads throughout the year, but the best times are from early March through May. Soft plastics with some blue seem to out-fish worms without. Target shoreline cover with jigs or lizards for largemouths, and deepwater ledges with small grubs for smallies. Oroville has a 12- to 15-inch slot limit.
For information, call Huntington's Sportsman's Store at (530) 534-8000.
The best way to describe this region, especially during summer, is hot, hot, hot! The fishing can be red-hot too, but the key to catching bass is understanding how they relate to less-than-ideal conditions.
New Melones Reservoir (Calaveras and Tuolumne counties) -- The water level at Melones frequently fluctuates, although changes are gradual because of its sheer size. You can catch largemouths here regardless of whether the lake is rising or falling, as long as you base your decision about where to look on which way it's going.
When the reservoir is filling up, you'll find an abundance of bass in newly flooded brush and trees. Coax them out with white-on-white spinnerbaits or trout-pattern ripbaits. When the water level is heading south, use crankbaits o
r drop-shot worms off steep points and along ledges.
For information, call Glory Hole Sports at (209) 736-4333.
Lake Tulloch (Tuolumne County) -- The number of water-skiers and personal watercraft enthusiasts who flock to this relatively narrow reservoir is enough to boggle the mind, but that's no reason for you to stay away. Lake managers have done a good job of setting aside plenty of no-wake areas that provide relatively peaceful fishing.
Tulloch is loaded with smallmouths and largemouths averaging 2 to 4 pounds. Start your search for smallies in the Green Springs arm or upriver, casting spinnerbaits, ripbaits and small crankbaits. The back of Black Creek gets choked with submerged weeds, creating ideal habitat for largemouths; try topwater poppers or soft plastics.
For information, call Fisherman's Warehouse at (209) 239-2248.
Lake McClure (Stanislaus County) -- McClure is home to both largemouth and smallmouth bass, but it's the prolific spotted bass that make this one of the region's best year-round lakes. You shouldn't head here with the hopes of catching a wall-hanger, but if you're looking for fast action, this is a place for it.
The only baits you'll need for McClure's spotted bass are a variety of 4-inch worms and 3-inch grubs -- cast each on dart-heads using light line. If you have your heart set on largemouths, try bulkier plastics or jigs during late spring and summer. For smallies, try downsized crankbaits in early spring. McClure has a 12- to 15-inch slot limit for all bass.
For information, call Lake McClure Marinas at (209) 378-2441.
Waters in the northernmost reaches of the state provide some of the best vistas to be found, but they also afford an unexpected benefit -- outstanding bass fisheries for anglers looking for something different.
Lake Almanor (Plumas County) -- With Almanor's breathtaking views of Mount Lassen, it's difficult to concentrate on fishing. But the equally magnificent smallmouths swimming its clear waters make looking away relatively easy for bass anglers. This is a numbers lake, and although you'll occasionally hook a trophy, most of the smallies weigh about 2 pounds.
Sierra winters can be brutal, so it's best to come here between April and November. You'll find plenty of shoreline structure to target with downsized crawdad-pattern crankbaits and plastics. When fishing is tough, nothing beats live crickets soaked a few feet below a bobber.
For information, call Peninsula Sports at (530) 596-3822.
Big Sage & Dorris Reservoirs (Modoc County) -- Getting to these reservoirs will take some driving for most anglers, but the experience here is worth the effort. Don't expect to catch large numbers of big bass, but be ready for the ultimate in relaxation. Big Sage and Dorris are ideal for fly anglers and for fishing from canoes or float tubes.
Big Sage and Dorris, shallow lakes with murky waters, have an abundance of vegetation. They fish more like ponds than reservoirs. Frogs and buzzbaits work well, especially during summer. Special regulations allow you to keep 10 bass at each reservoir, with no size limit.
For information, call the Modoc National Forest at (530) 233-5811.
Colder weather and a relatively shorter growing season often means sub-par warmwater fisheries, but that's not the case for the largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass in this far-north region of the state.
Shasta Lake (Shasta County) -- Shasta is one of only four destinations that have made California Game & Fish's list of places to cast a lure for bass for 10 consecutive years. Although some smallmouths swim these waters, the honor can be attributed to incredible populations of largemouth and spotted bass. For both numbers of fish and average quality, Shasta provides a rare must-fish opportunity.
Largemouths begin to show in angler's creels when this massive reservoir's waters begin to warm in late spring. The Pit River arm tends to be best, where reaction baits take fish from submerged wood and willows. Spotted bass can be caught all year, but the best fishing is from October through January. Try casting small soft plastics or jigging spoons off any steep bank with chunk-type rock.
For information, call Phil's Propellers at (530) 275-4939.
Coastal lakes, which do not rely on snowpack to replenish their waters, are affected by drought more than inland or mountain reservoirs. They also benefit the most from wet years.
Clear Lake (Lake County) -- California's largest natural lake is touted as one of the best largemouth factories west of the Rockies, but to anglers it's much more than that. It's home to more trophy bass in the 8- to 10-pound class than any other body of water in the state. And its cover-laden shoreline provides Westerners with something not available at the region's many man-made reservoirs -- the opportunity to power-fish 365 days of the year.
Just about every bass lure known has taken fish from Clear Lake at one time or another, but a handful of patterns out-produce the rest. Casting swimbaits parallel to long tule stands is popular among trophy hunters, while bulky jigs pitched to holes in submerged vegetation work well too. Also try working frog imitations over weed mats and Rat-L-Traps burned through offshore grass beds.
For information, call Tackle It at (707) 262-1233.
Lake Pillsbury (Lake County) -- Pillsbury is doomed to a life of obscurity, thanks to the fame of nearby Clear Lake and several other popular Nor Cal bass fisheries, and to its relatively windy access road. "Doomed" may not be the best way to describe its clear waters, however. The lack of anglers willing to make the trip into the Mendocino National Forest helps keep the fishing here good.
The shallow north end of Pillsbury gets most of the attention from locals, who throw a variety of crankbaits, topwater poppers and soft plastics. Start your search for bass in and around the abundance of aquatic vegetation that grows here. When that doesn't produce, move to the steep points and ledges to the south.
For information, call Lake Pillsbury at (707) 743-9935.
Lake Sonoma (Sonoma County) -- Bass anglers should be grateful that the Army Corps of Engineers left most of the timber intact when building and filling Sonoma. That wood remains fishable today.
You'll find largemouth-holding trees sticking out of the water toward the backs of coves and creeks' arms. Be sure to probe the outer limbs with a spinnerbait before moving in close, and then systematically work your way through the stand, pitching soft plastics to individual trees. Finish up by vertically jigging single-hook s
poons. One word of caution: Be prepared to lose lots of tackle.
For information, call the Outdoor Pro Shop at (707) 588-8033.
Waters at the southern edge of North State bass fishing reports don't get talked about much, but one lake deserves more credit than it gets.
Lake Nacimiento (Monterey County) -- Although "Naci" gets a lot of pressure from Southern Californians, it covers enough acreage to provide northern anglers plenty of quiet areas to wet a line. And with largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass present, there's always something willing to bite. In fact, it's common for anglers to catch all three species from the same area by simply changing depths.
Brown or black jigs pitched to shallow cover, especially in the backs of coves, produce most of the largemouths. For smallies, try drifting soft plastic grubs through deep water along steep rocky banks. You'll catch spots all over the lake with downsized ripbaits, spoons or 4-inch worms on drop-shot rigs.
For information, call Tackle Warehouse at (800) 300-4916.
FOR YOUR INFORMATION
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 live bait and artificial lures. You're permitted to keep all species of black bass, but there's a minimum size limit of 12 inches unless otherwise noted. Anglers may never possess more than five bass, unless otherwise noted at a specific lake.
For more information, contact the Department of Fish and Game at (916) 653-7664, or check online at http://www.dfg.ca.gov