From largemouths to spots, Shasta to New Melones, here are 13 quality black bass destinations for near guaranteed success this year. (April 2009)
To help Northern California bass-fishers make the most of their time on the water in 2009, California Game & Fish reviewed dozens of fishing reports, talked to fisheries biologists, guides and tackle shop owners to put together a list of waters you can count on this year.
The cooler climate to the north means a shorter growing season for warm-water fish, like largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass. But that doesn't mean the fishing isn't good. For numbers, and the occasional trophy, this part of the state is tough to beat.
World-class trout streams dominate headlines in the Burney area, leaving Britton to a handful of regulars who would like to keep it that way. Although largemouths are taken on occasion here, it's the scrappy smallies that keep these bass fans coming back.
Crawdad- and shad-pattern crankbaits or black-on-blue jigs and earth-tone grubs take the majority of the bronzebacks at Britton. Cast to rocky banks and steep points. If you go this month, you'll also find spawning fish on flats with wood.
If you have your heart set on largemouths, try twitching ripbaits or working spinnerbaits around isolated cover.
For information, call Vaughn's Sport & Fly Shop at (530) 335-2381.
Shasta is huge compared with most Golden State waters. It has 365 miles of fishable shoreline. That makes it an ideal destination if you don't like crowds. You can always find a quiet cove to wet your line -- even during peak recreational seasons.
There is suitable structure and cover for spotted bass, largemouths and smallmouths throughout Shasta, but spots tend to dominate catches. For consistent action, you'll want to tailor your approach to the species you're after.
You'll take spotted bass all over the lake as long as there's rock and deep water nearby. The key is paying attention to what the water is doing. Use reaction-type lures when the lake is rising. When it's dropping, fish vertical with spoons and soft plastics.
Most consider the Pit River arm the best for largemouths. Cast spinnerbaits, ripbaits, and bulky soft plastics to submerged willows and wood.
Try working downsized pork-tipped jigs, crankbaits and grubs along the steepest rocky banks for smallies. This is the toughest species to find, so cover lots of water.
For information, call Phil's Propeller at (800) 462-3917.
Most bass anglers pass up this jewel on their way to nearby Shasta Lake. That leaves plenty of unmolested fish for those willing to give Whiskeytown a try. The majority of the boats you see will be targeting kokanee, even though spotted bass are almost always willing to bite.
You're not likely to hook into a trophy at Whiskeytown, but the action can be nonstop if you hit it just right. The waters here are crystal clear, so stay back from your targets. Cast small topwater poppers over submerged island tops and tapering points.
For information, call the Whiskeytown Visitor's Center at (530) 246-1225.
BAY AREA AND VICINITY
Don't be fooled into thinking that coastal freshwaters are the least suited to black bass. Here you'll find what many consider two of the finest bass factories in the nation, along with other quality fisheries worth visiting.
Does the sound of catching lots of giant largemouth bass sound good to you? Then plan a trip to what many consider the best lunker lake west of the Rockies. There may be bigger bass elsewhere, but this is the place to be for that five-fish limit of a lifetime.
Clear Lake is California's largest natural body of water, and the bite is often best at one end or the other. There are numerous public ramps available, and it's advisable to launch near the spot you want to fish.
Popular lures, all in over-sized versions, include black-and-red frog imitations, hitch-pattern swimbaits, and crankbaits, ripbaits and topwater plugs that resemble shad. Bulky jigs and soft plastics also take their share of fish. Cast to any cover that looks good.
For information, call Lakeshore Bait & Tackle at (707) 994-3474.
Look for largemouth bass around submerged wood. You'll often find forests of it at Sonoma, where most of the trees were left standing when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built and filled the lake.
The secret to a successful trip here is to bring plenty of gear because you'll definitely lose it in the branches.
When you locate a group of trees, work the outer branches first with reaction-type lures with protected hooks -- spinnerbaits, buzzbaits and diving crankbaits are ideal. Then move to the heart of the stand with weedless spoons, jigs and soft plastics.
For information, call the Outdoor Pro Shop at (707) 588-8033.
Because of its healthy populations of largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass, and Berryessa's close proximity to the Bay Area, this lake gets its share of pressure. But even with the pounding it takes, it remains a top destination.
For trophy fish, you'll want to target largemouths during both spring and fall. Heaving big trout-pattern swimbaits to shallow brush and wood is your best bet for a wallhanger -- long casts will avoid spooking fish.
You'll catch plenty of quality bronzebacks working Texas-rigged soft plastics over and around submerged islands and humps.
Spots can be found throughout the year wherever there's rock with deep water nearby. Drop-shotting and cranking takes most of these voracious feeders here.
For information, call Fisherman's Warehouse at (916) 362-1200.
Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta
The Delta's maze of twisting waterways and flooded tracts continues to produce largemouths that earn the reputation as one of the best bass fisheries in the nation. Not only in terms of the number of quality fish it pumps out, but the size of its trophies, too.
These tidal waters are suited to anyone who enjoys fishing structure with s
tout gear. And although every inch of the systems looks like it holds bass, that's certainly not the case -- move around often until you locate fish.
Work crawdad-imitating crankbaits along riprap levees, weave chartreuse and orange spinnerbaits through sparse tules, and pitch creature-style plastics to holes in submerged vegetation.
For information, call Hook, Line & Sinker at (925) 625-2441.
Hot and dry is the best way to describe this part of the state -- a perfect environment for growing black bass during good-water years. Unfortunately, the fisheries in this region are also the first to suffer from a drought. Call about conditions before you go.
Anglers who have fished Oroville for years will tell you that it used to be plagued by too many stunted smallmouths and Northern-strain spots. But thanks to plants of Alabama spotted bass, and a 12- to 15-inch slot limit, this lake is now considered one of the best.
The draw here has always been numbers, with 50- to 100-bass days possible at any time of the year.
You'll enjoy nonstop action by fishing deep rockpiles near running water. Use worms on dartheads during late winter and spring. Move closer to the main lake as the year progresses with the same offering.
For information, call Oroville Outdoors at (530) 533-4990.
Located only minutes from downtown Sacramento, this is another lake that produces quality bass despite intense pressure. The key to an enjoyable outing here is to fish before or after the skiers are on the water. The off-season is also a good option.
Folsom has strong populations of largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass.
Pick your species, and then fish the right location. For largemouths, including the shot at a trophy, stick to the South Fork of the American River. You'll be fishing for just one or two bites a day when casting big trout-pattern swimbaits, but it's your best shot at a monster. If you don't have the patience, stick to more traditional offerings for average-sized bass.
Smallies will take small plastic worms and grubs in the North Fork of the American, while spots will chase just about anything all over the lake.
For information, call Fisherman's Warehouse at (916) 362-1200.
There's no water contact allowed at this drinking-water reservoir. It opens on the first Friday in February and closes on the last Sunday in October. That makes it the ultimate destination for quiet outings.
Traditionally known for producing numbers of bass, Pardee is now recognized as the place to be for huge smallmouths. Included in a long list of trophies is a state record, a 9-pound, 13-ouncer.
There are two popular patterns to be aware of when fishing Pardee. For numbers of fish, concentrate on the shallows upriver with small ripbaits and soft plastics. If you're looking for larger fish, use jigs and larger plastics along tapering points on the main lake.
For information, call the Lake Pardee Marina at (209) 772-1472.
New Melones Reservoir
Although the water level at this big lake fluctuates a lot, you can still find great fishing when your timing is right. Don't expect to hook into a trophy at New Melones, but be ready to put a solid limit in the boat.
If you're lucky enough to be there when the water level is rising, cast to submerged brush in coves with white spinnerbaits.
During summer and fall, you'll find bass suspending below schools of baitfish in deeper water -- you'll need good electronics to target them with crankbaits, topwater lures and soft plastics.
For information, call Glory Hole Sports at (209) 736-4333.
Los Banos Creek Reservoir
This small body of water sits in the shadow of San Luis Reservoir and O'Neill Forebay, getting virtually no attention from bass anglers. Kept quiet by the small number of visitors that fish it with regularity, Los Banos can be considered this report's sleeper.
The waters here tend to be extremely clear, and the largemouths that average 2-3 pounds very wary. It's important to stay back and make long casts.
Shad-pattern ripbaits, crankbaits and spinnerbaits work best during spring and fall. Begin with topwater offerings early. Work them from shallow to deep. Try fishing frog-imitations over submerged vegetation midday.
For information, call Mitchell's Outpost at (209) 826-5559.
Lake San Antonio
Known primarily for its 15- to 20-pound stripers, San Antonio is another lake that tends to be overlooked by black bass fanatics. And that's a mistake. There are more than enough 1- to 3-pound largemouths to keep the most dedicated of bass anglers happy.
Begin your search for fish here on the shallow flats at the west end of the lake. If that doesn't produce, head in the opposite direction and target steep walls, dropoffs and long, tapering points.
When the largemouths are active here, you can't go wrong with anything that imitates shad, including spinnerbaits, crankbaits and spoons. Switch to dark plastics and jigs when the fishing slows.
For information, call Tackle Warehouse at (800) 300-4916.