Bass fans! Stop worrying about drought. Look forward to exceptional fishing this year at these 13 foothill, valley and coastal destinations. (April 2008)
Local bass pro Sig Taylor concentrates his efforts at the shallow end of Clear Lake when he's looking for monster bass.
Photo by Brian Sak.
Over the past several years, bass fishing has been getting better in Northern and Central California.
Anglers are breaking big-bass lake records, while tournament organizations are recording unheard-of creel limits and winning weights.
Our quality fisheries are almost too good to be true. Does that mean that it's time for things to start heading the other way?
"It's a difficult thing to predict," said Bay Area fisheries biologist Peter Banash. "The quality of any fishery depends on a lot of factors -- everything from reproductive success to the amount of food available to the species you're interested in."
Banash credits the excellent fishing that bass anglers have experienced to several consecutive years of average to above-average rain and snowpack. Over the long term, a drought could result in less than ideal conditions for bass fisheries.
"You can't call one bad wet-weather season a drought," said Banash, "but the 2006-07 water year was the fourth-driest on record.
"If we have two or three additional below-average years, we'll likely see poorer bass survival and decreasing growth rates."
He said that anglers would feel the effects several years after that, when these fish have had time to reach catchable size.
But in 2008, California Game & Fish readers can expect outstanding bass fishing, regardless of water conditions. Stop worrying about the possibility of drought. This year, make the most of your time on the water by hitting any of these best bets.
CAN'T-MISS LAKES AND RESERVOIRS
If you're able to make only one or two fishing trips this year, do yourself a favor and head to any of these top-notch destinations.
Picking which alternative of the four you should pick to plan your outing is no easy task, but you really couldn't go wrong with any one. Whether you're looking for big fish or big numbers, these waters provide some of the best bass fishing that the Golden State has to offer.
Looking for a fishing spot where you won't feel crowded -- and that's relatively easy to get to? How about a destination with enough largemouths, smallmouths and spotted bass to keep you busy all day? Head to California's largest lake.
Shasta's four main arms make getting lost in nature a breeze, and with Interstate 5 crossing the main body, access couldn't be better.
With all three species of bass, there's always something biting. But the spots dominate catches. They take small soft-plastic worms, crankbaits and spoons cast to rocky structure all over the lake. And don't overlook bridge pilings.
For largemouths, try pitching jigs and weedless plastics to submerged willows in the Pit River arm.
Smallies are the toughest to locate at Shasta, but you may catch a few by covering lots of water with crawdad-pattern crankbaits worked parallel to steep rocky banks.
For information, call Phil's Propeller at 1-800-462-3917.
There are waters in California that produce bigger bass, but for numbers of fish in the 5- to 10-pound class, no river, lake or reservoir this side of the Rockies could compare with Clear Lake. Recent catch rates indicate that the state's largest natural body of water is as good as it's ever been.
Clear Lake is big! Each end offers different conditions. It's important to call about conditions before you go, because it's rare for the bite to be good at both ends at the same time.
To the northwest, you'll find shallow, weedy conditions where jigs, spinnerbaits, topwater plugs and imitation frogs take most of the bass.
The southeast end is deeper, with lots of rockpiles to concentrate fish. Soft-plastics dominate here.
For information, call Clear Lake Bait & Tackle at (707) 994-4399.
You'll find both largemouths and smallmouths in Oroville, but its sheer number of spots make this a must-fish destination. Anglers who have yet to experience catching 50 to 100 bass in a single outing will want to put this relatively big body of water at the top of their places-to-go list. When it comes to fishing, it's as close to a sure thing as you'll find.
You'll catch spots all over Oroville, but the secret to success here is locating points, ledges or rockpiles with deepwater access on at least one side.
Small ripbaits, crankbaits and topwater poppers generally take fish throughout spring. For the rest of the year, split-shotting or drifting 4-inch soft-plastics on dartheads is the way to go. Note that there is a 12- to 15-inch slot limit here.
For information, call Oroville Outdoors at (530) 533-4990.
SACRAMENTO-SAN JOAQUIN DELTA
Contra Costa, Sacramento And San Joaquin Counties
For a change of pace, get away from your favorite lake or reservoir. Test your skills on the Delta's tidal waters. This complex system, considered by many as one of the nation's premier largemouth factories, is a structure fisherman's fantasy come true. But one angler's dream can be another's nightmare -- with so many places to cast to, figuring out where the bass are can be a formidable task.
The Delta's sheer size can be overwhelming, so simplify things by concentrating on a small area. Good places to start include the Big Break, Frank's Tract and Discovery Bay areas.
Popular patterns worth trying on the Delta include
€¢ Crankbaits, cast parallel to riprap banks during incoming tides,
€¢ Spinnerbaits, weaved through sparse tules as the tide heads back out, and
€¢ Soft-plastic creature-type baits, pitched to holes in weed mats.
For more information, call
Hook, Line & Sinker at (925) 625-2441.
WATERS WORTH A TRY
These lakes and reservoirs don't always get the publicity they deserve -- but each is worth the time of even the most avid bass angle. There's a lot of variety here. Waters range from being small enough to fish from shore or a float tube to so big that it's difficult to know where to start off.
You'll find largemouths, smallmouths and spotted bass -- and the option to go for numbers, for big fish or both.
A former state-record smallmouth bass -- a 9-pound, 1-ounce bruiser -- came from here, and Trinity remains one of your best options for trophy bronzebacks.
Things happen earlier in the year here, compared to other regional waters. So you'll want to be on the water no later than March.
For those who want to wait a bit for the weather to warm up, there are largemouths in Trinity, too.
Start your search for smallies by casting downsized reaction baits to stumps and ledges. When bass are inactive, switch to soft-plastic grubs in deeper water. When fish develop a case of lockjaw, live crickets are the ticket. For largemouths, try topwater plugs in the morning and jigs or worms during the day.
Note that special regulations here allow only two bass a day between March 31 and May 31.
For more information, call Phil's Propeller at 1-800-462-3917.
Folsom, El Dorado, Placer And Sacramento Counties
You'll find plenty of largemouths, smallmouths and spotted bass swimming just a short drive from our state's capital. This relatively large lake has been known to produce good numbers of bass weighing in the high teens. Trophies are less common today. But for lots of average fish and a legitimate shot at a bass pushing 10 pounds, you can't go wrong with a trip to Folsom.
For largemouths, you'll want to head up the South Fork of the American River, where you may hook into a monster if you have the patience to cast trout-pattern swimbaits.
You'll catch lots of smallies in the North Fork of the American by dart-heading small grubs off steep rocky points. Spots take 4-inch soft-plastic worms all over the lake.
For information, call Fisherman's Warehouse at (916) 362-1200.
Amador is about as close as you can get to a bass angler's paradise. This very small Gold Country lake pumps out incredible numbers of 2- to 3-pound largemouths. Although there seem to be fewer trophies taken here than in past years, Amador still provides its share of bass going greater than 10 pounds, too.
The best thing about this water is that it fishes equally well from a boat or float tube or from shore.
Location isn't a critical factor here, but if you don't know where to start, try the Jackson Creek and Mountain Spring areas. All of your typical bass lures take fish at Amador at one time or another. Small crankbaits, topwater poppers and 6-inch curly-tailed worms are some of the most popular.
When you're after big bass, however, make sure you have a handful of trout look-a-like swimbaits.
For more information, call the Lake Amador Resort and Marina at (209) 274-4739.
DON PEDRO RESERVOIR
Below-average precipitation seems to have a big effect on bass populations at this massive impoundment. But last year's extremely low waters shouldn't have had an impact yet.
Though the fishing at Pedro can be tough over most of the year, regulars agree that spring is the time to go.
Timing is especially important when you're after one of the huge Florida-strain largemouths that dominate here.
Where to start fishing? With 160 miles of shoreline, deciding is a challenge in itself. You'll narrow your search for that bass of a lifetime by sticking to Big, Rodgers and Woods creeks. Go after active largemouths first with crankbaits, ripbaits and spinnerbaits. If fish aren't cooperating, pitch bulky jigs tipped with pork, or 8- to 10-inch soft-plastics.
For information, call Fisherman's Warehouse at (209) 239-2248.
Anglers who tire of targeting the same species will find Nacimiento's variety a pleasant change of pace. At "Naci," you'll often catch largemouths, smallmouths and spotted bass from the same piece of structure simply by changing depths. Or if you're interested in a specific species, you can increase your odds by going at the right time of year:
€¢ Largemouths in spring,
€¢ Spots in summer, and
€¢ Smallmouths from fall through winter.
Big reaction baits and bulky jigs tipped with pork take most largemouths here. Cast to wood or brush in the shallows.
For spotted bass, drift downsized soft-plastics, rigged on dartheads, parallel to rock walls, steep points and deep ledges. Smallies eagerly take anything that resembles a crawdad. Look for the real thing scurrying around on the bottom, and try to match it both in size and color.
For information, call Tackle Warehouse at 1-800-300-4916.
These are the waters that local anglers don't like to share. They'll go to extra lengths to keep them secret, but they're the first places they head to when nobody else is looking.
You shouldn't expect to find lines of fancy bass boats at these lakes, but you can look forward to outstanding fishing. If you're in the mood for an experience to tell friends about, these locations should satisfy your desires.
This destination is ideal for anglers who want a true wilderness experience. Along the challenging Highway 36 drive, you'll need all the patience you can muster. But the largemouth and smallmouth bass waiting for you in Ruth's crystal waters make the trip worth the effort.
As a bonus, you'll run across fewer people here than at any other lake or reservoir covered in this report.
You'll find bass all over Ruth, but more fish on the west side of the lake. As waters begin to warm during spring, cast ripbaits, small crankbaits and spinnerbaits. Once the dog days arrive, topwater offerings work well both early and late in the day, but you'll have to switch to soft-plastics when the sun is overhead.
Speed things up again in the fall when waters begin to cool.
For information, call the Ruth Lake Marina at (707) 574-6524.
LAKE DEL VALLE
First, the good news: You won't find personal watercraft or water-skiers here, thanks to a lakewide 10 mph speed limit.
The bad news is it'll take you a while to reach the best fishing spots. But the quality fishing at Del Valle makes that time well spent.
With miles of shoreline access, this is also a great destination for anyone with no way to get out on the water.
Largemouths and smallmouths are available at Del Valle, with April through June the most productive months. Boaters should target major points and steep rocky banks, from the narrows down to the dam.
Shore-bound anglers have the best luck casting to the backs of coves, from the ramp to Swallow Bay. Search for fish with spinnerbaits and crankbaits, then work small plastics in the areas where you hook up.
For information, call the Del Valle Regional Park Marina at (925) 449-5201.
Thanks to its reputation for monster stripers and the prominence of nearby Clear Lake, Mendocino gets very little pressure. The lack of anglers may also be a function of an abundance of water-skiers. Get out early to find more plump largemouths and smallmouths to 5 pounds.
Mendocino is a great place to put seasonal patterns to the test. In the spring, look for active bass by covering lots of water with spinnerbaits. In the summer, slowing things down is a must. Try casting topwater poppers to any cover that you can find.
When autumn arrives, crankbaits work well, while crawling soft-plastics along steep rocky points pays off between winter storms.
For information, call the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at (707) 462-7581.
Old-timers know this place as Crane Valley Reservoir, but its name was changed after a small lumber company accidentally killed all the fish here.
In hindsight, the mishap was a boon to bass anglers because when the offenders were ordered to restock the reservoir, they used (you guessed it!) black bass. Today's Bass Lake boasts healthy populations of largemouths, smallmouths and spots.
There is little shore access at this mountain getaway, where private property and resorts virtually surround the lake. But those with a way to get on the water will find the southeastern side a good place to start.
For largemouths, pitch bulky jigs and soft-plastics to docks or submerged willow trees. Try downsized versions of the same for smallies and spotted bass.
Call the Mariposa Ranger District at (559) 877-2218.