Fantastic fishing awaits Northern and Central California's bass anglers this year. (April 2010)
Manny Da Costa fishes the Delta's maze of waterways on a regular basis. He catches plenty of of quality bass like this 4-pound largemouth.
Photo by Brian Sak.
Last year was outstanding for bass anglers throughout Northern and Central California despite another relatively dry wet-weather season. Guides, tackle shop managers and tournament circuit directors routinely turned in exceptional fishing reports. Catches were up, or at minimum the same, at most destinations in terms of both the numbers of bass being caught and the quality of the fish.
"There's nothing we can do to change the amount of rain or snow the state gets," admits Bay Area biologist Peter Banash, "but we can manage our reservoirs and their fisheries in a way that ensures quality fishing for years to come. And with very few exceptions, that's exactly what water and fishery managers have tried to do."
Banash adds that there is no reason to believe that bass fishing conditions will take a downturn any time soon.
Here are California Game & Fish's top picks for 2010, arranged by water body size.
The state's largest waters offer what many consider the best largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass fishing opportunities west of the Rocky Mountains. Because these lakes and reservoirs are so big, it's essential that you come equipped with a boat capable of getting you to the bass.
Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta (Contra Costa, Sacramento and San Joaquin Counties)This complex maze of twisting rivers, dead-end sloughs and flooded islands remains one of the best largemouth fisheries not only in California, but also in the nation. The problem is that every inch of it looks like it should hold bass. But the fact is, there are specific places and times that you need to be if you want to constantly catch fish on this tidal system.
Learn the Delta by concentrating your efforts on areas that consistently produce until you understand what's going on. Try Big Break, Frank's Tract or Mildred Island for starters. Reliable patterns include red crankbaits cast to riprap levees, chartreuse spinnerbaits worked through sparse tules and creature-type plastics pitched to holes in submerged vegetation. Target shallow cover on incoming tides and deeper areas when waters are going out.
For more information, contact Hook, Line & Sinker at (925) 625-2441.
Clear Lake (Lake County)
California's largest natural lake, covering 43,000 acres, has all the ingredients necessary to make it the most dependable trophy bass producer in the state. Department of Fish and Game creel statistics report that anglers catch more fish over 5 pounds here than at any other destination. Simply put, this massive body of water remains the place to go if you want to catch big largemouths.
Different parts of Clear Lake turn on at different times, so find out where the bite is before going. And because this place is so expansive, it's advisable to launch near where you want to fish. To the north, target docks, tule-lined banks and shallow weedbeds with spinnerbaits and frog-imitations. Use cigar-shaped topwater baits and oversized plastics to concentrate on rockpiles and ledges at the south end of the lake.
For more information, contact Lakeshore Bait & Tackle at (707) 994-3474.
Shasta Lake (Shasta County)
The fishing at Shasta appears to have slowed with consecutive years of below-average precipitation. But by definition, slow is relative, and this 30,000-acre impoundment remains the place to be in terms of numbers. There's still not much effort involved in catching dozens of the lake's 2-pound spotted bass, especially when hitting the water between October and January. There are also good numbers of largemouths and smallies to be had.
Spotted bass typically dominate catches and take downsized soft plastics, crankbaits and spinnerbaits fished around rocky structure all over the lake. Head for the Pit River arm if you want to target largemouths, and cast topwater poppers or jig-n-pigs to submerged wood and willows. Smallmouths are the toughest species to find at Shasta, but you may take a few by concentrating on steep, rocky banks.
For more information, contact Phil's Propeller at (800) 462-3917.
Lake Oroville (Butte County)
Although there are few guarantees when it comes to fishing, catching bass at Oroville is pretty close to a sure thing. Sheer numbers of fish are the name of the game at this 15,800 surface acre reservoir, where spots are king. And it really doesn't matter when you go or what part of the lake you target. The only thing you have to be aware of here are fluctuating water levels and the availability of ramps.
The key to success at Lake Oroville is locating an isolated rockpile, ledge or point with deep-water access on at least one side. Then try different depths until you locate a school of hungry spotted bass. Topwater plugs and ripbaits take fish throughout spring, while dart-heading and drop-shotting 4-inch straight-tail worms in shades of blue work the rest of the year. Note that there is a 12- to 15-inch slot limit here.
For more information, contact Oroville Outdoors at (530) 533-4990.
Northern and Central California are dotted with an incredible number medium-sized lakes and reservoirs, with most offering outstanding bass-fishing opportunities. Although portions of some of these waters are fishable from shore, or accessible to anglers with non-powered craft, you'll often do better using a boat and motor to cover more areas.
Camanche Lake (Amador, Calaveras and San Joaquin Counties)
Camanche, at 7,700 surface acres, is the largest of our intermediate-sized waters, making it a popular destination for personal watercraft and water skiing enthusiasts. It's therefore often necessary to fish around the crowds. But that doesn't mean chasing bass only early and late in the day because a huge portion of the reservoir restricts boats to 20 mph.
The best way to fish Camanche is to target spotted bass on the main body during the morning, moving into and upstream of the narrows for smallies and largemouths later in the day. You'll find spots holding on submerged island tops eager to eat shad-pattern crankbaits, topwater plugs or soft plastics. Largemouth and smallmouth bass will take spinnerbaits, topwater lures and jigs tipped with pork.
For information, contact the Camanche Recreation Area at (209) 763-5121.
Lake McClure (Stanislaus County)
With an abundance of largemouths, smallmouths and spotted bass spread over its 7,100 surface acres, this is one of the best year-round intermediate-sized lakes to be found. The problem here is there are too many fish, which keeps the average size rather small. But even though you shouldn't expect to catch a wallhanger at McClure, you can count on double-digit fish days.
Head to McClure early in the spring if you're looking for smallmouth action -- you'll find them getting ready to spawn on rocky points. Look for largemouths from early spring through early summer in the backs of coves and along grassy shorelines. You'll catch spots just about anyplace at any time. Top offerings here include downsized crankbaits, spinnerbaits and 4-inch worms rigged on dart-heads. Note that there's a 12- to 15-inch slot limit for all three species here.
For more information, contact McClure Point Recreation Area at (209) 378-2521.
Black Butte Lake (Tehama County)
With healthy populations of largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass, and the lake's nearness to Interstate 5, Black Butte receives its fair share of fishing pressure for a 4,460-acre body of water. But even with the poundings it takes, Black Butte remains one of the region's premier destinations. You can expect most fish to weigh in at less than 2 pounds, with the sporadic 5- to 6-pound surprise.
Black Butte's larger fish typically reside toward the backs of coves, where shad-pattern ripbaits and crankbaits work well. But if you're there on a day when bass are inactive, try Texas-rigging a chartreuse grub and working your way from shallow to deep until you find them. When all else fails, tie on a drop-shot rig and target fish holding in submerged trees on the south side of the lake.
For more information, contact Black Butte Lake at (530) 865-4781.
Camp Far West Reservoir (Nevada, Placer and Yuba Counties)
At only 2,000 surface acres, Camp Far West doesn't get much publicity. That's great news for anyone looking for a peaceful outing because it means that this destination doesn't see an overwhelming number of visitors. Rest assured, however, that the bass fishing here is as good as it gets in the Sacramento Valley, with largemouths, smallies and spots all available.
Start your search for bass in any of three major coves on the north side of the Rock Creek arm. Additional parts of the lake to try include the Bear River arm and the rocky area north of the dam. Twitch soft jerkbaits or burn spinnerbaits to search for fish holding in the shallows first. Work your way progressively deeper if that doesn't produce, casting crankbaits, pork-tipped jigs or soft plastics.
For more information, contact Camp Far West Reservoir at (916) 645-0484.
Perfect for anyone that doesn't fish from a boat with a big motor, these relatively small lakes and reservoirs provide many opportunities for anglers wanting to chase bass.
Lake Tulloch (Tuolumne County)
Covering 1,300 surface-acres, Tulloch is the largest reservoir falling within the small waters category. But with extensive no-wake zones, this place fishes more like a small body of water than the many larger reservoirs in the region. Also, unlike the area's bigger waters is the thriving population of smallmouth bass, averaging 2 to 4 pounds, which Tulloch offers.
When the smallies are feeding, they're easy to catch with ripbaits and small plastics in either of two major creek arms or upriver. But they can be difficult to find when they stop eating. That's when you'll want to target largemouths holding under docks or around fallen trees. Regardless of which species you're after, the key to success is finding schools of shad and throwing a matching pattern.
For more information, contact the Lake Tulloch Campground at (209) 881-0107.
Santa Margarita Lake (San Luis Obispo County)
Water contact recreation is prohibited (no swimmers, skiers and personal watercraft allowed) at this 1,150-acre drinking water reservoir, a benefit to anglers looking for a tranquil setting in which to wet a line from a small vessel. Extensive shoreline access also makes Santa Margarita one of the better destinations for bank-bound anglers.
Although largemouths averaging 2 to 3 pounds are the draw here, fish in the low teens are not rare. Spinnerbaits, topwater offerings and soft plastics fished around the Narrows and in Jackass Bay take most of the bass at Santa Margarita. Trophy hunters should try trout-pattern swimbaits soon after a load of hatchery rainbows are dumped in the lake or frog imitations over weedbeds during the heat of summer.
For more information, contact San Luis Obispo County Parks at (805) 788-2397.
Big Sage & Dorris Reservoirs (Modoc County)
Getting to these relatively small reservoirs will take some driving for most anglers, but what you'll find when you arrive makes the effort worthwhile. This isn't the place to go if you're looking for a trophy, but for steady action and the ultimate in relaxation, this place is tough to beat. At 750 and 1,100 acres, respectively, Big Sage and Dorris are ideal for fly-anglers and for fishing from canoes or float tubes.
These are shallow lakes with murky waters and lots of vegetation, making them a challenge for bass anglers used to fishing California's steep-banked reservoirs. Frog imitations and buzzbaits work well, especially during summer. Texas-rigged worms are also worth a try. Note that the special regulations allowing you to keep 10 bass with no size limit throughout Modoc County do not apply at Big Sage and Dorris.
For information, contact the Modoc National Forest at (530) 233-5811.