September 29, 2010
Change your tactics and your Southern California reservoirs to keep catching largemouth bass all summer long. (August 2008)
By Chris Shaffer
When the water-skiers arrive, you don't have to get off the water. Fish the mud lines for good bass action. Here, Marc Mitrany hoists a Castaic largemouth bass.
Photo by Chris Shaffer.
In the summer, bass fishing tends to slow drastically in Southern California, where temperatures make a habit of breaching 100 degrees.
The heat tends to send anglers off to the beaches and pools. Meanwhile, bass retreat to deeper water that's cooler and has more oxygen.
Fortunately, not all of Southern California's bass reservoirs go dormant when school is out of session. In fact, though trophy fish might not be common, a handful of reservoirs offer anglers a chance to catch decent numbers of bass during late summer.
"If you want to catch bass in August in Southern California," said Mike Giusti, California Department of Fish and Game supervising biologist, "you've got to go with the ones that don't allow recreational use like water-skiing, or those that allow only limited use."
Giusti said he'd stay away from Casitas and Cachuma because of the new invasive-species boat restrictions. But he said there are a handful of lakes where the boat traffic doesn't matter -- like Castaic.
Here's a rundown of five waters that are best bets for summer bass fishing.
LOWER OTAY RESERVOIR
Even though Otay's 50-pound-plus blue catfish have been garnering the attention this year, the reservoir's bass population is in excellent shape.
Giusti believes that here, the lack of personal watercraft lends a hand to anglers during the peak of the summer heat season.
"I'm guessing Otay will be the same it's always been," said the fisheries expert. "There's a good number of large fish in there, and a lot of smaller fish that you'll likely catch during the summer months."
Otay's bass grow by eating shad, bluegill and trout and often use the lake's tules for shelter. However, if the water levels keep falling, many of the tules will likely be on dry ground.
This will force bass to find other structure to hide in -- and make it easier for bass anglers with quality electronics to find them.
"I would think the water would be out of the tules, but you get a lot of bass breaking on balls of shad in the summer," said Giusti.
When stumbling upon schools of shad, anglers can cast hair-raiser jigs and silver spoons or topwaters. Otherwise, plan on fishing topwater baits shallow in the morning when a surface bite can be expected.
The topwater bite should be all around the reservoir and continue till about 10 a.m. Then, try fishing plastics 10 to 30 feet deep around drop-offs and rocky points.
After recent fires charred the landscape around the reservoir, many anglers feared that Lake Hodges' fishery was doomed. The media reported that the lake was hit hard and likely wouldn't recover for years.
Giusti tells California Game & Fish that those reports aren't true.
"Nothing happened to the bass after the fires," he said. "There are still fish there, and they're growing like we expected them to."
Giusti said the water might be a little more stained, but that's normal after a big fire. "All it did was add some sediment," he said, "but we didn't lose the whole fishery as people expected."
A few years ago, Hodges suffered from several years of extremely low water levels. Fortunately, though the reservoir isn't full, it's high enough to harbor good populations of largemouths. And the lake fishes well during the heat of summer. Also, no water sports are permitted.
"There are good numbers of fish in there," Giusti said.
"The fishery has come back well in recent years, but there hasn't been much fishing pressure."
That lack isn't any reflection on the fishery. Hodges is a great place to cash in on good numbers of small bass. Finding 1- to 4-pound fish won't be a challenge.
Hodges will likely sport the best frog bite in the region. But jigs, plastics and topwater baits will keep pace. It's tough to beat the action available when flipping jigs in the brush, and buzzbaits through the evening hours are tough to beat.
"I know in August there's a great frog bite," explains Giusti. "Go up toward where the bridges are and fish the trees. That's an all-day thing when it's hot in the summer.
"There are bullfrogs in that area. Anyplace where you have tules and shallow flats, you'll tend to get fish on frogs or mice or something like that."
DIAMOND VALLEY RESERVOIR
Diamond Valley's bass population continues to age -- and improve. The older trophy fish keep getting bigger, and the middle class is evolving.
According to the DFG, this reservoir has a population of more than 60,000 bass longer than 12 inches.
Of those bass, 40 percent are longer than 15 inches.
Summer isn't prime time here, but anglers can still manage to find banner days, especially if they focus on fishing in and around schools of shad. While crawdads, minnows, trout, panfish and other food sources are available, late summer and fall is when the bass key in on shad.
Shad become the main diet for Diamond Valley bass during the warmest late-summer months. During that time frame in 2007, anglers experienced catch rates of 50 to 100 bass per day when using live shad. The same is expected this season.
On the other hand, only a handful of anglers are experienced enough to cash in on this stellar action.
You can't buy live shad at the marina or in a tackle shop. You'll have to catch them live from the reservoir. And that can be a chore!
Shad move shallow here during late summer and early fall. That means that you can find massive bait balls of live shad in 10
feet of water or less, and tight to the bank. Finding those shad is your first step to success.
Some coves tend to harbor shad more often than others. Many anglers use birds to spot the schools. Birds always find the shad before anglers do. If you see congregations of birds dive-bombing the surface, there's a good chance that the shad are below. Once you spot them, you'll need to use your boat to corral the shad toward the bank.
But use a trolling motor, not your outboard. The main engine will spook the shad to deeper water.
After corralling the shad, use small dip nets to scoop them up. Shad are too small to be caught in normal nets used to contain game fish. Have two anglers with nets work the shad into a corner and then net the fish.
Once the shad are caught, back off the school and pull out a small bait hook rigged on 6-pound-test. Larger hooks are too heavy and can cause the minnows to tire out and die quicker.
It's best to hook the shad in the tail or right above the upper lip. This allows them to stay alive longer -- bass generally won't eat dead shad.
Many bass spend their days shadowing schools of shad. Meanwhile, live shad can be fished anywhere in the reservoir. Bass will eat them whether or not you cast them near schools of shad. Also keep in mind that catfish, trout, panfish and other species will eat the shad, too.
"In August at Diamond Valley, the bass are going to be where the bait is," said Giusti. "It's that simple. The bass aren't going to be right on the bait balls, though. They tend to be right on the edges of the bait balls."
Live shad isn't the only way to target the bait balls. Anglers can heave silver Hopkins and Krocodile spoons into the massive congregations of shad. Casting Pop-Rs and Zara Super Spooks as well as various jerkbaits is also effective. During these times, bass can be apt to grab a lure that's silver and flashy.
For anglers who aren't keen on chasing shad, there's another effective means to catch bass. Fly-lining small worms off points and on structure works all year.
Then again, plastics never seem to let anglers down either.
Diamond Valley's trophy bass aren't known to show late in the summer, but they're available to anglers looking to target them specifically. Historically, the biggest bass have been caught on swimbaits. And there's no reason that will change. The reservoir continues to receive massive allotments of trout -- which trophy largemouths take advantage of, 365 days a year.
Lake Hodges will likely sport the best frog bite in the region. But jigs, plastics and topwater baits will keep pace. It's tough to beat the action available when flipping jigs in the brush, and buzzbaits through the evening hours are tough to beat.
"In the summer, you'll find trophy fish all over," said Giusti. "There's no one consistent spot. The fish are moving too much. Generally, the secondary points are going to have most of your quality fish."
This fall or winter, Diamond Valley could likely kick out its first 20-pound bass. In March last year, Mike Long caught and released a largemouth that weighed 16.43 pounds.
"I still have to believe we have a bass that's around 18 to 20 pounds right now," said Giusti.
Keep in mind that bass do lose some weight in the summer. Normally, the big bass are the large females caught just before they spawn. Once they spawn, they can lose 2 to 4 pounds in egg mass. If you want a massive bass, you've got to catch it at the right time of year.
EL CAPITAN RESERVOIR
"El Cap" is one of the few spots in San Diego County where water sports are allowed. Anglers who find ways to keep bass interested despite the extensive boat traffic can still do well. This includes focusing on sections that restrict water-skiers and jet-skiers. Even though you can feel boat wakes hundreds of yards away, staying away from congested areas is a must.
"Other than having to fight the crowds, there can be some great fishing on some of the submerged humps," Giusti said.
El Cap isn't likely to kick out many trophy bass. But for the angler simply looking to hook up on smaller bass, it can accommodate. El Cap's population of 2- to 5-pound largemouths remains stable. And it's no secret that the early-morning bite is when most success comes. Considering that boat traffic normally doesn't escalate until 9 a.m., from when the gates open until that time can be the best fishing of the day.
An array of methods can be effective, yet a great bite with topwaters, spinnerbaits and jerkbaits is in store for anglers targeting submerged island tops, points and shallower coves.
"But the mainstay is going to be drop-shotting," said Giusti. "You'll be able to catch fish that way all day long, even when there's boat traffic."
Expect smaller fish here, but a lot of action. A 4- or 5-pounder is considered large.
During the summer, Castaic Lake is a virtual highway. So many boats flock here that often they hold boats outside the parking area and allow them to enter only when others leave for the day.
Traffic like this is devastating to bass fishing on most reservoirs, but doesn't seem to kill the bite here.
According to bass pro Randy McAbee, the boat traffic doesn't hurt the fishery as much as it bothers the average guy forced to contend with the other boats and their wakes.
"As a bass angler, you aren't comfortable having to deal with all the waves all the time," said McAbee, who was the 2007 FLW Western Angler of the Year.
McAbee said he actually likes the traffic: "The fish still feed, and the boat wakes create mud lines. Those mud lines stir up the bottom and bring food to the surface, which is great for bass fishing."
At Castaic, there's a good morning bite in August. Super Spooks and weightless flukes can be pitched along the entire shoreline, but are most effective in areas where bass are busting the surface chasing bait.
This will happen in the first two hours of fishing, before boaters push bait and bass down.
"If you see fish busting the surface," said McAbee, "sometimes they are going to be stripers and sometimes bass. They aren't going to be huge fish, but they'll be 2- to 3-pounders and chasing balls of bait -- which makes them easy to fool."
As boat traffic increases, Wave-Runners get launched off trailers, and wakeboards push wakes. Shoreline anglers must alter t
heir tactics to do well. Drop-shot rigs work throughout the day on any point and in coves.
However, McAbee opts to capitalize on other techniques.
"When the traffic starts to increase, I'm going to fish the same areas," he said. "But I may have to go with a drop-shot or a darter head."
That drop-shot or darter head doesn't carry McAbee throughout the day. They're simply methods he employs while battling the heat of the day and waiting for the afternoon bite to develop. By early afternoon, constant wave action beats against the shoreline, forcing mud and dirt into the reservoir and staining the water. This creates a mud line, which bass and smaller baitfish use as a form of shelter. It also provides feed.
"Late in the afternoon, I'm going to look for the specific mud lines that go out about 15 to 30 feet into the lake. I'm going to go to a reaction bait or a jerkbait and fish the mud lines," said the pro. "The mud lines are shady, and the fish are right underneath them. They usually draw baitfish because they are feeding on the plankton in the mud line."
"The fish still feed, and the boat wakes create mud lines," said Randy McAbee, 2007 FLW Western Angler of the Year. "Those mud lines stir up the bottom and bring food to the surface, which is great for bass fishing."
Oddly enough, even though the mud lines can yield high catch rates, few anglers spend time targeting them. At Castaic, the lines can be long and thick, and most of them should harbor bass throughout the summer and early fall.
"The mud line is just up on the surface, and it goes only a few feet deep," said McAbee. "It's just making a canopy." He often throws spinnerbaits, crankbaits and jerkbaits because he's targeting the top five feet of water.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Chris Shaffer is the author of The Definitive Guide to Fishing in Southern California and other fishing books. You can purchase them at fishingcalifornia.net .