Last year was a banner year for bass as a whole. It seems we all adapted to the low water at most of the lakes around Southern California. That falling water over the last couple of years has condensed the fish, and I think we have had the few amazing years of fishing that fisheries biologist Larry Bottroff predicted. But now, where will we be headed? At the time of writing this article, a strong El Nino is predicted for 2016. I sure hope it's pouring rain as you read this!
But, Bottroff also told me of the cycle that most lakes would go through. The competition for food throughout the food chain of the lake plays a big role in that. The giant bass would lose weight, he said, offering the example of an 11 pounder he shocked up in a lake survey that was only 8 pounds on the next shocking survey trip. All the bass will get skinnier and will have to grow larger again. But, if we do get the rains, even if we get a few more feet of water in the lakes, this will be great news for all bass fishermen.
As the lakes rise, and some only need moderate to heavy rain to rise, we will put more vegetation into the water. This gives more hiding area for the spawn of all the food chain to survive and grow larger. Now this will bring bass feeding on bass, so have your bass-colored swimbaits ready. Everything will thrive, from shad to panfish to bass. And, as the feed gets larger, so do the bass feasting on them.
Since some of the water authorities can shift water from one reservoir to another, there are a few lakes where the water level has been fairly constant. San Diego has a few examples of that, with Otay's water being kept up for Olympic training. But, shifting water from one lake or lakes to another only lowers the others in the chain.
Lake Miramar, Lake Murray and Lake Otay are over 75 percent full at the time of this writing. For San Diego County, Lake Poway, Lake Jennings and Lake Dixon are all over 80 percent full. Dixon, Poway, Jennings, Murray, and Miramar all have put out some giant bass.
To the north, lakes like Castaic, Casitas, Perris, Diamond Valley and others are down to below 50 percent total capacity, but they are not that lower than their historical average. Let's take a look at some of the lakes that did well this past year, and I'll give you the outlook for this coming season.
Starting at the southern end of San Diego County, Lake Otay has been a shining star the last couple of years, with many giant largemouths brought to the scales. The game here is numbers, but double-digit fish to 17-plus pounds have been caught. Chances are, if you love to throw the trout imitation baits and are willing to put in the time, then you will score a trophy. The city is keeping the water level up 75 percent of capacity for Olympic training that happens on the closed days. This lake should continue to do well into this year.
Springtime brings prespawn bass to the shore, and fishing at this lake can be great for catching big numbers of fish. Crankbaits and spinnerbaits can do the trick as the fish move up. If the water is into the tules, as it should be, then flipping and pitching can be a blast at this lake. This lake has very clear clean water, and once the spawn starts you will be able to coax those big females by eyesight. Catch and release should be the norm for larger fish.
Later in the year go to all your old favorites, such as drop-shot and split-shot fishing. A dead-sticked Texas rigged worm is deadly here in the spring as well. Toward the end of summer and early fall, look for breaking fish around the lake. Frogs in weedbeds can be fun here. Trout imitation baits attract the attention of the giants. The lake record is a hefty 18.75 pounds.
Heading north into the foothills of San Diego's east county we find El Capitan Reservoir. This lake, although down quite far, is only a little under the level we were used to fishing for years. The upper end of the North Arm can be great shallow bass action, but will need the rain to fill. It won't take much though as this is a vast shallow flat.
When the North Arm does extend back into the trees, the fishing here, with frogs, buzzbaits, and just about any topwater bait you are willing to throw, explodes. The rest of the lake is littered with rocky points as well as brush, giving fishermen many choices of types of structure to fish. And, they all hold bass.
Early spring brings great spinnerbait fishing, but old standards work well too, such as drop-shot fishing some of those rocky points. Bubba rigs or Carolina-rigged creature baits along the old river channel running through the North Arm can do well also. Jerkbaits, both soft and hard, do well in late summer and fall.
Later in the summer and into fall, wolf packs of largemouth roam the lake, attacking the balls of shad for great surface fishing action. This lake doesn't turn out a lot of fish over 10 pounds. It has a lot of midrange 5- to 10-pounders caught. The lake record stands in at 15 pounds, 5 ounces.
The next lake on my list still fishing well, although down a bit, is Lake Cuyamaca, located in the mountains of San Diego's east county. This lake, located at over 4,000 feet, gets snow and seasons, whereas San Diego only has one season for the most part. The spawn here starts a little later than other lakes, and it gets extra points for that since you can fish big females when most of the other lakes are done with their spawn.
Springtime at this lake is the best time for throwing trout imitation lures. The lake plants trout almost year round, so the big bass really key on them. The lake record is a respectable 14 pounds, and there are rumors of larger fish being caught and released by big bass hunters. This lake also boasts a healthy population of bluegills and crappies.
All of your favorite baits work well here, from drop-shot and split-shot worms to spinnerbaits and crankbaits. Summer can bring a fun topwater bite. Poppers like Pop-Rs or buzzbaits can call those big females up to the surface. The lake is a great camping setting, with designated camping areas and cabins. So spend a weekend or vacation there if you can.
As we head north, I have to mention Lake Miramar. This could be the sleeper of the year. Even though the lake is almost full, this lake is a farm pond by most fishermen's standards. But it holds five spots on the all-time Top 25 Big Bass list, with catches weighing in at nearly 21 pounds. This lake, not visited as much by the regular bass crowd, is sure to turn out a few nice ones each year. The few who still fish it keep the stories to their circle of big bass hunters. This lake plants trout, and the bass grow giant here. I can tell you this, go there and fish in the spring!
Heading north into Riverside County we find Diamond Valley Lake. This lake is the largest in Southern California, and although it is only about half full, is still a large fishery. The issue is getting onto the lake. At this writing, the launch ramp has just closed, but it would only take a steady rain for the launch to be in use. Hopefully, with El Nino, you are already fishing here.
Even if enough rain doesn't come, I have to tell you that you need to get out on this lake somehow. They do have nice rental boats, and kayaks are allowed. There is a lot of shoreline access as well. There are a lot of largemouths roaming this lake. Diamond Valley does have trout in it, so this is a swimbait lake. The lake record for largemouths stands currently at 16.43 pounds.
Springtime on this lake can be a ton of fun for numbers, as thousands of males roam the shoreline, making for catching action on many types of baits. Drop-shot and split-shot worms, crankbaits, spinnerbaits, and jerkbaits all work well this time of year. As the lake gets a little farther along into it's spawn, break out the big swimbaits as the females start to move in. Slow-rolling a trout swimbait in deeper water can really do well in the late spring.
Later into the summer, watch for diving birds to help you locate wolfpacks of bass chasing shad to the surface for topwater action.
I have to mention Lake Skinner as well. Although this lake is down, it's not out. It would only take a good rainfall to bring it back up. Still fishing good last year, the lake put out some giant bass, including a new lake record of 16 pounds, 2 ounces. This lake could be another sleeper to watch out for, as there are a lot of giants that go unreported here.
This lake can be great in the springtime with any plastic bait you want to throw. The Yamamoto Senko has always been a favorite here when dead-sticked in the shallows. Spawntime will also wake up those big females, and swimbaits will take them. You just have to put in the time throwing them. Crankbaits and topwater action are good here, but you will catch a few stripers along the way. Later in the fall, jerkbaits can bring good action.
Moving farther north we come to two of my favorite lakes, Lake Castaic and Lake Casitas. I talked with guide Rich Tauber, and he advised me that Lake Casitas was very good last year. And with rising water from the predicted El Nino, both lakes would just get better.
Lake Castaic is a top-notch fishery. You couldn't have better odds at taking home a serious trophy.
This lake holds giants, with at least one recorded at more than 22 pounds. But for the fisherman who just wants to have a great time with a chance of a wall hanger, this lake boasts some nice football-size fish in the 1- to 3-pound range. Local big fish hunters have been tight lipped this past year, but rumor has a few nice double-digit fish were caught. One of the secrets to finding the bass at this lake is to find the bait.
Lake Casitas, near Santa Barbara, is also a lake known for giant bass. The lake record sits at 21.2 pounds on the all-time largemouth list. Mid- range fish, 5 to 10 pounds, are normal here. The lake is well known for great swimbait fishing. Planted trout are the main diet of the giant largemouths here, and the many imitation trout baits out on the market will do well for you.
Many other baits work well here, from spinnerbaits to the subtle drop-shot rig. There is camping, boat rentals and a nice launch ramp. But, this lake wants to keep the invasive quagga mussel out of their waters, and the launching rules are very strict. Look to the website for the rules www.casitaswater.org.
I know I went on about El Nino, but the experts are really expecting it. It should bring most lakes up quite a bit. Remember, with that, there will be a lot of junk washed into most lakes as well as just plain mud. It may take a month or so for each lake to settle in after the rains, as Tauber mentioned. But if we get any amount of rain you should see some great fishing at all our lakes.