SACRAMENTO – Everybody loves a good under-the-radar bass fishery that’s not really under the radar. You know, that “hidden” gem that exists right under everybody’s nose, but doesn’t get the attention or pressure of, say, a Clear Lake or Lake Casitas.
Those places exist from one end of the state to the other, and truth be told, some of them are already well known as top-shelf producers of other fish (trout, salmon, catfish, etc.). Some are even well known as great bass fisheries, but for different species and at very specific times of the year.
We tapped into a handful of California pros for a short list of obvious-but-not fisheries to target this fall. Here’s what they came up with:
KENT BROWN, Ultimate Bass Radio
The little-known trophy spotted bass options
Two issues ago (California Sportsman, August, 2012), I threw the cloak off of five fisheries that spotted bass anglers should put on their world-record-watch list (Whiskeytown Reservoir, New Melones, Lake McClure, Bullards Barr Reservoir, Shasta Lake). Those seemed like pretty obvious choices, because all five fisheries have produced 8-plus-pound fish in the recent past.
Oh, but there are other spotted-bass lake that go largely unnoticed, despite the fact that they’re capable of 7-pounders.
Kent Brown would like to present to you his home lake, Folsom Lake, and yet another Mother Lode multi-species fishery, Lake Camache.
“I’m a firm believer that Folsom could have a record fish in it,” says Brown, who’s fished this Sacramento Foothills impoundment of the Feather River for well over 20 years. “We’re already catching them up to 7 pounds. And Camanche, because it’s such a well-stocked lake (for trout and kokanee), it absolutely has the potential to produce a monster. Camanche is definitely a sleeper.”
Brown refers to Camanche as “your training course for fishing offshore structure.”
“There are a lot of humps, ledges, breaks and creek channels that you have to be able to read on your electronics,” he says. “You have to learn how to read a map, learn to read what your electronics are telling you, learn all the little subtle things that go into being a good offshore fisherman.”
Those same skills will serve you well at Folsom as autumn drawdowns pull the fish offshore and focuses them around island tops, rockpiles, isolated bushes and such. Spots will feed heavily in groups this time of year, so if you whack one 4-pounder, stick around: there’ll likely be several more like him in the immediate area.
“This time of year, you really key on boulder piles, rock piles, really any structure with deep water nearby,” Brown suggests. “Those fish will move up and down, up and down, up and down. They’ll move up into the shallows to feed in big packs, and they’ll push baitfish up onto the rocks. They beat the living hell out of whatever bait they can find, whether it’s trout, kokanee, threadfin or smelt. And the big spots aren’t chasing shad: They’re after trout and kokanee.”
Brown’s preferred bait in September is topwater (he calls it “the sleeper topwater month”). That means Ricos, Pop-Rs, Pencil Poppers, Zara Spooks and the like.
Bonus bite: One thing to keep in the back of your head at both Camanche and Folsom: there are other bass to be had, too, and big ones.
“Both of those fisheries have the capability of giving up a double-digit largemouth,” Brown says. “You might hook a 4-pound spot, but it could also be a 10-pound largemouth or even a big ol’ 4-pound smallmouth.”
JARED LINTNER, BASS Elite Series pro
The under-the-radar Northern-strain haunt
While the general bassin’ population around San Luis Obispo and thereabouts floods Lake Nacimiemto in the fall, Jackall Elite Series pro Jared Lintner quietly sneaks over to a lake that he’s fished as a kid, to catch 3- to 6-pound Northern-strain largemouth: Lopez Lake.
“Lopez I a cool little lake,” Lintner says. “Everybody goes to Nacimiento and catches 100 spotted bass a day in the fall, but, man, I’d rather catch a bunch of 3- to 6-pound Northern strain largemouth. The amount of fish in that lake is unbelievable: you can catch 100 a day on a good day. I’m not saying you’ll catch that many fish every day, but you can easily catch 40 or 50. You’d think it was a spotted-bass lake, there are so many fish in it.”
Lopez is a canyon lake, with quickly plunging shoals that put you in 25 to 30 feet of water within 10 feet of the bank in places. As water-skier traffic dies down and water temperatures fade into the low 60s, the place becomes a haven for anglers throwing big, jangly buzzbaits and square-billed crankbaits for shallow or suspending fish.
“I like the big Omega Alpha Shad buzzbait because it has a big profile,” Lintner suggests. “I’ll put on an 8-inch black lizard and throw that thing out there, and they’ll just destroy it. Once those water temperatures drop a little and they go into feeding mode, it’s like a light switch: they’re all over a bait like that, or maybe an Alabama-rig.”
Lintner will throw a Jackall Aska in red craw when the water is stained, or copper shad if there’s a lighter tint. If the bite is a little tougher, he’ll run a ¾-ounce Omega football-head jig with brown or purple trailer.
“You can clean house on a jig throwing if off secondary points,” he says.
BUB TOSH, Paycheck Baits
A tasty trio of largemouth options
Leave it to obtuse thinker Bub Tosh of Paycheck baits to pull the following out of his bag of tricks: Los Banos Creek Reservoir near Gustine. Part of the three-reservoir Los Banos Creek Recreation Area – the more well-known San Luis Reservoir and O’Neill Forebay being the other two – this fishery is stuffed to the banks with stocked trout and bluegill, and kicks out more than a few 12- to 15-pound largemouth every fall.
“It’s an unbelievable lake,” Tosh says. “The record there is 18 pounds, and it gives up more than its share of 10-pounders. I’ve been snapped off by a fish there fishing 65-pound braid – they get big. And there’s about a million ways to catch them there. There’s a lot of wood, a lot of grass and tules, and some descent offshore stuff. It fishes like a huge lake because there’s just so much there to choose from.”
Ditto for Lake Amador, which Shasta-based pro Jeff Michels also chose as a favorite in a recent issue. Tosh tabs Amador as being “not so obvious even though it’s obvious” because the lake is managed for a quality recreational experience, and because it requires a fee to fish ($24 total per angler). It’s a feel well worth paying.
“There are some incredible fish in that lake,” he says. “It’s just a freak show of a lake: you have guys trolling for 20-pound rainbows and guys fishing the grass for 15-pound largemouth. It has every kind of structure you’d ever want, too. Grass, brush piles, tules, rocky rip-rap along the dam. In the early fall, it looks like the whole lake is exploding because of the bass feeding on the shad. You name it, you can fish it here: topwater, swimbaits, drop-shots, crankbaits, everything works.”
Lake Tulloch is similarly blessed with an abundance of structure, and, like Amador, water levels are usually kept a smidge higher than surrounding reservoirs because there are so many floating docks, houses and houseboats on thelake. Tosh’s biggest selling point here is the natural population of smallmouth – not spotted-bass hybrids, but pure, evil bronzebacks that get bigger and gnarlier because there’s always some current flowing through Tulloch.
“You have stable water conditions, and some big smallmouth,” Tosh says. “I’ve caught 5- and 6-pound smallies and several 15-pound largemouth out of there.”
Tulloch is an excellent night fishery, too, and should maybe be on your short list of after-dark options in the Mother Lode.