ANGELS CAMP – Attention record keepers at the International Game Fish Association: the next time you change the entry under “Alabama spotted bass,” the fishery will have a 530, 916 or 209 area code. Not that it would be a major change – the current all-class world record for spots is 10 pounds, 4 ounces, caught in Pine Flat Lake in 2001 (that the 559, for you detail demons).
That fish, caught on a Senko by Bryan Shishido during an American Bass Association tournament, measured a whopping 24 inches, with a 21-inch girth. But if Shasta-based Mother’s Finest pro Jeff Michels, Paycheck Baits’ Bub Tosh and $3 Million Man Gary Dobyns of Dobyns Rods are right, the central California impoundment of the Kings River will surrender its spotted-bass title to one of the following Northern California fisheries within the next few years: Whiskeytown Reservoir, Lake Shasta, New Melones Reservoir, Lake McClure or Bullards Bar.
“I don’t think there’s a world-record spotted bass in Whiskeytown,” insists Michels, “I know there’s a world record fish.”
“Three fish over 9 pounds came out of McClure in one year a few years ago, and I swear, I’ve seen multiple 10-pound spots in New Melones,” counters Tosh.
“Bullards Bar is the best spotted bass fishery in the world,” Dobyns observes.
Let the debate begin.
The perfect storm for record spots
The biology behind growing record-class bass – be they spots, largemouth or smallies – is caveman-simple: provide them plenty of food and let Mother Nature take care of the rest. All five of the fisheries mentioned above have nearly endless buffets of forage ranging from kokanee to crawdads to panfish to baby bass. Growing conditions are, to put it mildly, perfectly racked up for record-fish production.
“A lake like Melones is just stuffed with kokanee and trout, and those things are nothing but meat pills for bass,” says Tosh. “Spotted bass in most of our reservoir have figured out ‘We don’t need to care about shad balls, we don’t need to come to the banks to feed, we can just eat kokanee,’ and that’s what they focus on. They school up like yellowfin tuna. You’ll stumble across a little wolf pack of giant spots and it’ll stop your heart.”
New Melones: Everybody’s No. 1
Poll 20 NorCal bass geeks about world-record spotted bass, and 19 of them will point to New Melones as the likely first choice to produce the next IGFA standart. This massive Mother Lode impoundment of the Mokelumne River has a “perfect storm” of conditions for spots to grow big, bigger, biggest, and relatively quickly.
“Melones is set up perfectly: it has more food than any other lake, less pressure for its size, the water is 350 feet deep, and it’s absolutely loaded with kokanee and trout,” says Tosh, who’s fished the Mother Lode since he was a child. “I swear to you, I’ve seen multiple world records in that lake. The current lake record is an 8-pouder caught by Kyle Rasmussen, but they get bigger every year. I’ve seen several fish around the spawn that just baffle me. I have no idea how big they are.”
Look no further than Melones’ largemouth record – 18.11 pounds – for a hint about the lake’s capabilities as a trophy-fish nursery. Tosh says that the conditions that produce double-digit largies apply to the Melones’ spots, too.
“They don’t have to come shallower most of the year than 60 to 80 feet – they can just sit out there and eat kokanee,” he says. “In the wintertime, you can be out spooning, graphing and catching kokanee, and all of a sudden the graph will go nuts and you’ll catch an 8-pound largemouth.”
Lake McClure: the silent surprise
Maybe it’s its proximity to Melones and Pardee – the two most highly regarded trophy fisheries in the Mother Lode (Pardee for its smallmouth) – that causes McClure to fly just under the radar for most Northern California trophy-bass hunters. Or maybe we give it so much press for its rainbow, kokanee and king-salmon fisheries. Whatever the reason, this It’s not a complete mystery, though: MotherLodeLakes.com calls McClure “one of the best spotted bass fisheries in the Mother Lode.”
Still, most will be a little surprised when Tosh ranks McClure just a shade behind Melones in the race for the world-record spot.
“That lake is coming back so strong, and it’s kicked out huge largemouth as well: the black-bass record there is 17 pounds,” Tosh says. “It grows ‘em big, and I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if it produced a world record. Spotted bass has been in there since I was a little boy. They had a slot limit on McClure for years, and it’s gotten steadily better each spawn.
The lake-record spot here is 9.8 pounds, and, as Tosh points out: “That’s really close to the world record.” Anglers Choice tournaments have kicked out spots between 7 ½ and 8 ½ pounds, and Tosh himself caught a pair that ran over pounds last spring. With continued good growing conditions, a 10-plus can’t be far off.
Whiskeytown: No longer the darkhorse
A passing conversation with Dobyns in early summer turned up this observation about Whiskeytown: “If I tell you too much about that fishery, people will lynch me. There are some huuuuge spots in there, and it’s still a little bit off the radar.”
Michels, though – a Shasta local – acknowledges the same.
“(Whiskeytown) has been the best-kept secret for 10 or 12 years; it’s been world class for awhile,” he admits.
The reservoir is much different than Melones, though, in that both the kokanee and spotted bass populations won’t spend a great deal of time in deep water. Because water managers pump so much water in and out of this impoundment of Whiskey Creek, the thermocline tends to stay static: kokanee stay shallow throughout the year, and the lake’s spotted bass hunker down on its well-defined weed band and feed on kokes like they’re bobbing for apples.
“Spots here don’t have to chase kokanee in 100 feet of water,” Michels says. “The lake has a great grass crop in it, and it’s always there, in 10 to 15 feet of water. It’s one of the only lakes in Northern California that has that condition. There’s rock, mud and clay points, and then a giant band of grass that runs throughout the entire lake at 10 to 15 feet. That’s also loaded with bluegill, crawdads, baby bass, crappie, all kinds of stuff. There’s always something for those spotted bass to eat.”
Whiskeytown’s late-summer and early-fall topwater bite can be epic as kokanee start running up into Whiskey and Brandy creeks to spawn.
“There are just giant spots up those creek arms chasing kokanee,” Michels says. “I like to fish it in the spring with a big swimbait, but the topwater thing can be incredible.”
Shasta: So prolific it’s forgotten
At the end of the conversation, Michels halts the premature hang-up with “Hey, don’t forget about Shasta!”
You’d think that it’d be hard to forget about the state’s largest reservoir, and the site of many, many high-visibility FLW, BASS, ABA, etc. events. But even though Northern California anglers are well aware of Shasta’s overall productivity for 4-plus-pound spots, it’s not often included in the conversation for potential record-breakers.
“There aren’t as many giant spots in Shasta as there are in Whiskeytow, but I’ve seen some pushing 10 pounds in the McCloud, Squaw and Sacramento river arms,” Michels says. “That’s a fishery where you could catch a monster throwing swimbaits on the big flats and long, tapering points.”
Bullards Bar: Trending recently
If you haven’t heard the scuttlebutt about Bullards Bar Reservoir in the past five years, you may have been living under a rock. This Yuba County impoundment of North Yuba Creek quietly crept onto the record-fish watch a handful of years ago, and has become a destination for both individual spotted-bass hunters and tournament organizations who favor a fishery that produces 22- to 25-pound five-fish limits.
“Bullards Bar has had the snot beat out of it recently,” Dobyns says. “You win a tournament with 27 pounds of spotted bass and word travels fast, but I’m not kidding when I say that it might be the best spot fishery in the world. Everytime I’ve been there, I’ve caught better than a 22-pound limit, and I’m just fun fishing. I don’t know of a 9-pounder yet personally, but these fish grow so darn fast it’s crazy. They’re deformed: I caught a fish that was 15 inches long that I swear was 4 pounds. They don’t look like any spotted bass in the world.”
According to Dobyns, Bullards is “An easy lake to fish.” It’s filled with stumps from timber cut down to form the reservoir, there’s a lot of rock, and it’s productive for anglers throwing everything from Zara Super Spooks to swimbaits to jigs.
“I love that lake as a fun fishery – I go up there and do nothing but throw a Senko 99 percent of the time,” admits Dobyns, who’s perhaps the West Coast’s most aggressive power fisherman and notoriously reticent to fish plastics.