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NoCal Bass Fishing Outlook 2018

NoCal bass fishing
Large smallmouth bass are plentiful in Northern California lakes. (Photo by Ron Sinfelt)

These record-producing NoCal bass fishing hotspots are among the top picks for the months to come.

Well, we had another great winter if you are into rainy days. But, it was critical when it comes to the lakes up and down all of California. Lake levels are rising. We are, for the most part, out of the drought, at least for now.

Hopefully your local lake is back to the level you are used to seeing it at. This should get a lot of anglers motivated to go fishing this spring and season.

I wanted to mention, again, a conversation I had with retired fisheries biologist and largemouth expert Larry Bottroff about the lakes all coming back up to their normal state.

When the water was down, fish populations were concentrated. And there were some real giants coming into the scales in 2015 and 2016.

But, as waters rose in 2017, the big fish catching slowed in numbers. Bottroff told me that, with all the new brush in the water and new areas to hide, it would take a little more effort to find the giants.

He went on to say when a lake's water level comes up, it brings so many fish into the shallows that lakes will produce more numbers than size.

With water levels rebounding after so long, this will challenge a lot of anglers. But hopefully all the smaller fish in the shallows will also keep them interested as they chase their new personal record.

After all, admit it or not, that is what drives most of you to fish. The thought of a record- or near-record bass.

The Big 3 Bass

One thing that is exciting about Northern California is that most of the lakes hold three different species of bass: smallmouth, largemouth and spotted.

This gives fishermen a real chance at different records and personal bests. It seems like the spotted bass record has been being broken almost every month by someone lately.

It is hard to keep track. But, don't worry, there are giant smallmouth and largemouth to be had as well.

There are so many great lakes in Northern California that road trips for anglers don't need to be that long. 

All the different species of bass all eat similar baits, so you will not need to spend a lot of money, except for gas and a campground or hotel room.

Let's look at the lakes of Northern California, and I'll try to break down the best, as well as the ones to make a point of visiting this year.

Loaded with Bass

I want to start off with two sister lakes located in Monterey County, California — San Antonio Lake and Lake Nacimiento. These two lakes are both great camping lakes and a peaceful place to get away with family or friends. Don't forget that part of taking a road trip is relaxing, too.

Both lakes are loaded with bass — spotted, smallmouth and largemouth — as well as other species.

They are more of a place to catch numbers of fish as opposed to giants, but can be so much fun. You can pull up on a point and catch one after another without moving all morning. It can be that good at either of these lakes.

Nacimiento has a record spotted bass of 5 pounds, 3 ounces, a smallmouth of 4 pounds, 10 ounces, and a largemouth of 9 pounds, 14 ounces. But, Nacimiento also has an unofficial record largemouth of 11 pounds, 14 ounces, they just didn't weigh it in properly.

San Antonio has a larger smallmouth and largemouth population, with their records at 3 pounds, 14 ounces and 9 pounds, 4 ounces, respectively.

Springtime brings a lot of fish to the banks looking for nesting areas, and this can be a really fun time numbers wise. Plastics, such as Yamamoto Senkos and Ikas, can do well along with drop-shot or split-shot plastics in shad type patterns.

Crankbaits and spinnerbaits can do well through spring as well. Heading into summer and fall, topwater will take over and can be a lot of fun at these two lakes. Pop-R type baits, buzzbaits and jerkbaits should score well here.

Also Loaded with Bass

As we head north into Fresno County we find another set of lakes that are known for numbers, but also record bass.

Pine Flat Lake and Millerton Lake are also two great getaway destinations for camping and fishing. They hold largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass. They both can be good for numbers of fish.

NoCal bass fishing
Summer and fall will bring topwater action, and gliding baits, such as a Spook, will attract the bites. (Shutterstock image)

Millerton holds a record of 7.59 pounds for largemouth bass, but the bass most chase here are the smallmouth. At Pine Flat Lake, the attraction here is the spotted bass. Pine Flat once held the record spotted bass at 10 pounds, 4 ounces. 

Early spring will bring spotted and smallmouth bass to run the shallows. Plastics of almost any kind and setup will score bass for you.

The smallmouth and spots both love to eat crawdads, so a variety of jigs will work here this time of year.

Spinnerbaits can do well as you head into summer, along with crankbaits. Summer and fall will bring topwater action, and gliding baits, such as a Spook, will attract the bites.

If you need more commotion to call them up, switch to buzzbaits or popping baits.

California Record Smallie

Still heading north, we come to Pardee Reservoir, located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada about 30 miles northeast of Stockton, California. This lake is definitely a great getaway destination for camping and fishing.

This reservoir never had Florida largemouth introduced to it, so there are only northern strain largemouth roaming this lake. The lake also is home to a very healthy smallmouth population, which gave up the California record of 9 pounds, 13 ounces. 

Late spring will bring the spawn here, depending on weather and water temperatures.

NoCal bass fishing
The California smallmouth bass record of 9 pounds, 13 ounces was caught in Pardee Reservoir. (Shutterstock image)

Northern bass tend to run in packs, so once you find the fish, you should have a good time here. Small drop-shot plastics, cranks and spinnerbaits should do well.

The bass here love to eat crawdads, so jigs and creature baits should do well. Later on, heading into summer, topwater action will be the choice of most, with action heating up into the fall.

Since the shad population is almost nonexistent, jigs and craw type baits, including craw type crankbaits will do well year-round.

Great Getaway Option

Next on our list is Millerton Lake. This lake is also known for numbers of fish and a great fishing getaway. The lake holds largemouth up to about 8 pounds, smallmouth, and spotted bass. Spotted bass can be fun here as they seem to average above some other lakes.

Fish are regularly caught in the 2- to 3-pound range. There are nearby camping grounds and hotels if you want to make a trip of it.

Since the main part of the lake can get a little crazy with personal watercraft and skiers early, most fishermen will head to the San Joaquin River. Hard shoreline and rocky points will hold all three species.

But usually, once you find smallmouth or spotted bass, they will provide the most action. Drop-shot plastics or split-shot plastics in shad colors do well here. Also, for larger fish instead of numbers of fish, go to various jigs. These bass love crawdads and will attack any combination that looks like the crawfish.

Later in the summer, topwater action can be had early in the morning on traditional popper baits like a Pop-R or even fly-fishing a popper.

These aggressive bass will also hit the buzzbait when conditions are right. The topwater action should continue through into the fall and last until the first few cold fronts pass through.

Giant Largemouth

NoCal bass fishing
Giant largemouth bass inhabit Clear Lake. (Photo by Scott Bernarde)

Another favorite on my list is Clear Lake. Located just north of the vacation area of Napa Valley, it is also a great destination for the entire family.

Spring and fall are the best time to score the giant largemouth. The lake boasts a record largemouth of 17.52 pounds, a giant in anybody's livewell. 

The lake's shad population is the secret to the healthy and giant bass here. With a couple different species of shad and one that grows to the size of a small trout, it keeps the bass growing quickly.

Even the smaller fish will make you think you have a giant when hooked. Of course, swimbaits will score for you, as well as other crankbaits and spinnerbaits. 

In the spring the big bass will move into the shallows as thousands of males roam the banks. Piers and docks litter the shoreline and nesting bass can be found all around them and also throughout the year.

Worms, drop-shot or Texas-rigged around the dock, can do well, but remember to go with heavy line as the fish are smart and will run through the pilings.

In the fall, the fish tend to school up. It is not uncommon to catch several giants off the same area. Many different variations of jigs do well in the fall on deeper structure for the big girls. 

Last on my list is Bullards Bar Reservoir. The lake has a healthy spotted bass population, and giants can be the norm. Along with that, there are rumors of smallmouth and largemouth.

But the spots have all but taken over. The bass most prized here are the giant spotted bass, and the lake just keeps putting out new records as anglers catch one giant after another.

It is a bit crazy as over a few months in the spring a number of fish from 10 pounds to 11.4 pounds were caught this past season. When the dust settled, Nick Dulleck led the pack with a new California and IGFA world record at 11.4 pounds!

I talked with Daiwa tournament pro Cody Meyer, who grew up in the area of Bullards Bar and has fished it since he was young and just starting out.

Meyer told me that the fish just seem to get larger every year.

He felt that, as the spotted bass got larger overall, they began to feed on the landlocked kokanee that also call this lake home.

The kokanee are about 1 to 2 pounds and are a favorite of the larger spots, helping them grow to enormous size. Meyer held the world record for about three months for a 10.8-pounder he caught last spring. He told me that the big fish average 7 to 10 pounds.

The water here is gin-clear, and you can go down the bank and catch smaller bass. But you have to fish a little deeper on main lake points to find the larger spots and the giants.

Even though the giants eat the salmon, they can be had on everything from finesse baits to swimbaits. They are smart and have survived for years, so usually the finesse baits are your best chance.

Because there are no shad in this lake the bass feed a lot on the fry of the other species. So, smaller baits seem to be the ticket to keeping your day interesting. One thing for sure, we may see new records this season as well.

So, I have covered my favorite Northern California lakes for you and their outlook for 2018. I think, overall, 2018 should be a good numbers year for fishing.

A few lakes will still put up good numbers as well as the occasional giant for anglers. Hopefully, if you explore and travel a little, you will find a new favorite lake to add to your list.

Get Your Fish On.

Plan your next fishing and boating adventure here.

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