September 29, 2010
Most of the best places in Northern California to catch really large bass are right in the San Francisco Bay Area. Fish the Delta or the three lakes described below to find the monsters. (May 2010)
By Ray Rychnovsky
If you want to find a place to catch really huge largemouth bass, you need look no farther than the eastern part of the San Francisco Bay Area. Only a few places in the world can lay claim to an 18 pound or larger black bass, but San Pablo Reservoir, Lake Del Valle and Shadow Cliffs Reservoir in the East Bay Area and the Sacramento San Joaquin Delta have each produced monster bass this size and larger. That's right, all four locations have produced bass over 18 pounds!
Galen Jensen fishes on the California Delta near where he landed the new record bass for the Delta.
Photo courtesy of Ray Rychnovsky.
Don't think it is easy to catch large bass in any of these waters. For every 10-pound bass caught there are several hundred smaller ones landed. A few anglers that catch the larger ones are lucky, but most are highly skilled and use special techniques to catch the really large ones. Here is where to catch them and how to go after these overgrown fish.
These gargantuan bass are Florida strain bass that are not native to California. They are here thanks to plants by the State Department of Fish and Game and by the vendors of these lakes.
Big Bass Waters, When and Where
San Pablo Reservoir is on San Pablo Dam Road east of Berkeley north of Lafayette. It, like he other lakes mentioned, has heavy plants of hatchery-reared trout that make easy meals for savvy resident bass. This reservoir is a wildfowl sanctuary and prohibits people activities from mid November to mid February, but it is in full operation when the largest egg laden bass are caught in the late winter and early spring. It has a large rental boat facility at its northern entrance and a multi-lane boat launch at its southern gate.
The Delta consists of more than 1,000 miles of waterways in a triangle formed by Sacramento, Tracy and Martinez. It is one of the most productive bass fishing locations for all sizes of bass in the world. The Delta is an excellent bass fishing area, but is noted more for the number of bass caught rather than super-large fish. The Delta food for bass is all natural -- crawfish, threadfin shad, panfish and other bass. There are no planted trout here that plump up the bass. Launch facilities and tackle shops are found throughout the Delta.
Lake Del Valle is a large artificial reservoir five miles south of Livermore off Mines Road, and Shadow Cliffs is a large depleted gravel pit converted to a park south of Stanley Boulevard between Pleasanton and Livermore. Both have boat ramps and rental boats. Del Valle has a large four-lane boat ramp for all sizes of boats and rents a variety of gasoline engine powered craft. It also has a well-stocked bait shop. Shadow Cliffs has more limited facilities with one small boat ramp that is open all year, and only electric motors may be used. It rents small boats with electric motors during the summer, but closes its shop and suspends rentals the rest of the year.
Knowing where to catch big bass is only part of the equation. You also need to know how to hook that linker.
Deep Water for Big Bass
"Big bass are in deeper water, so I usually fish the deeper water a little outside the weed line," Galen Jensen who caught the large Delta bass said. He caught his record bass pitching a black six-inch long 9L-05-021 Yamamoto Senko lure with large blue flakes.
Heavy Tackle for Big Bass
Big Bass are often found in heavy cover which requires heavy tackle to pull them out of their lairs. "I use heavy rods, heavy line -- 40 pound or heavier spectra line -- and a conventional revolving spool reel with the drag set tight and a heavy Owner hook and I don't lose many fish," Jensen said.
"I rarely feel the bite but detect most of my strikes by seeing the line move. I only fish with line I can see like white or yellow line but I use a permanent ink marker and color the last couple feet of my line black so it is almost invisible in the stained water of the Delta."
"I spool up with 50 pound test Power Pro Spectra line," says frog-fishing expert and tournament angler Bobby Barrack who has won nine bass boats fishing frog baits. "I'll break off large bass on the hook set if I drop down to lighter line. The stretch of monofilament line won't allow me to get the required solid hook set and is not acceptable."
Some large fish are caught on surface lures, but most are hooked in deep water. Big soft plastic lures like worms, lizards, snakes or Gitzits, big jigs with big trailers, big spinners, buzz baits and crank baits with large lips that run 10 to 15 feet deep are favorite attractors. Fish these lures slowly in the early part of the season when the water is still cold and the largest fish are caught.
Jensen uses large 10 to 12 inch plastic worms or lizards or any large plastic bait. He likes blue plastics in winter and black ones the rest of the year but spends time fishing surface lures in the warmer months. "When I am looking for a big kicker bass for a tournament, I'll use one of my most reliable big bass lures, a big Heddon Zara Super Spook," Jensen says.
Trout imitations are good bass lures in these East Bay lakes. Lethargic, pen reared trout planted in these lakes every week during the cool months make a frequent and easy meal for bass. Imitations like a jointed plastic Castaic Lure that looks like a 10 inch planted trout fool these bass. Make long casts and retrieve it at a moderate speed to match the relaxed attitude of these trout as they only halfheartedly flee from predator fish.
"Frogs, baby ducks, rodents, and even snakes on the surface are easy meals for big bass," Barrack said. His innovative modification of the Snag Proof Frog imitation is very effective and now that company markets his adaptation as Bobby's Perfect Frog. "One of the advantages of frog lures is that they are weedless lures and can be fished in extremely heavy cover. Pitch it into weeds, overhanging branches, behind downed trees; walk it along the edge of hydrilla; pitch it under docks or into tulles and be ready for an explosion."
Don't overlook open water where frogs, large Zara Spooks or a variety of surface lures will entice these fish. Learn to swim both these baits back and forth as you retrieve and you have very effective baits.
Pitching is a particularly good technique with all these lures because the lure should land on the water with a minimum amount of surface disturbance and the low swinging cast of pitching drops the lure gently on the water. Pro Angler Don Payne
says a 15-yard cast will cover the majority of the spots you want to fish and a 20- to 30-yard cast covers almost every situation.
Jensen says the same techniques that work in the Delta are effective in lakes. The same lures, the same method of fishing and the same strategy of fishing a little deeper works in lakes as well as in the Delta.
For that gigantic bass of a lifetime, look no farther than San Francisco's East Bay Area.