The sleeping giant is awake: Clear Lake back on world-class level for largemouth
By Joel Shangle / CS Editor
LAKEPORT-You have to get a little perspective when G-Loomis/Shimano pro Jared Lintner of Arroyo Grande makes the following statement: “Dude, I wish I was at Clear Lake right now.”
Lintner utters those words while driving to dinner in Zapata, Texas, where he’s spending the week pre-fishing Lake Falcon for an upcoming BASS Elite Series tournament. Yes, that Lake Falcon, the impoundment of the Rio Grande River which has been widely hailed in the last five years as the greatest largemouth bass fishery in the country.
Lintner, though, would just as soon be camping out in Lake County this month, a box full of 9-inch Osprey swimbaits under one arm and a Bubba-shot rig with a Magnum 6.8 FlickShake Worm under the other.
“I’ve been pretty lucky to fish some of the best lakes in the country, and right now, there’s nothing like Clear Lake,” says Lintner, who is routinely a top five Fantasy Fishing choice anytime the Elite Series comes to Lakeport. “We’ve had really good spawns the past few years and the grass has really come back. We had the major fish kill (in 2010) where there the bank was lined with dead fish in Lakeport, but the forage is really good now.
“I’ve never seen as much hitch in the lake as I did last fall – there were billions of them, so many it was stupid. That type of environment will grow fish quick. Those 2- and 4-pounders from a couple of years ago are 5- to 8-pounders now, and there are a bunch of them.”
Recent tournament results bear Lintner out. The Konocti Vista Casino (konocti-vista-casino.com) Bass Classic produced 9.54- and 10.04-pound big fish and saw 15 teams finish with a 5-plus-pound average per fish (including a mind-boggling 6.8-pound average for tourney winners Paul Bailey and Jackson Juarez). Compare that to three years ago, when a 22- or 23-pound bag was a tournament winner and a Joe Average angler had to work like hell to scratch out a fish over 5 pounds.
“That lake is as good as it’s ever been,” Lintner says.
And the timing is perfect this month to catch both sheer numbers and monster fish as the lake’s largemouth phase through the various states of the spawn.
Lots of fish, or big ones?: Ask yourself that question when you push off from the ramp in the morning, because it’ll dictate the baits you’ll tie on for the rest of the day.
“If a guy wants to catch however many fish you can stand to catch in a day and maybe hook a big one, he can throw a Bubba-shot and literally catch 4- and -pound fish until his arms fall off,” Lintner says. “If I wanted to go out there and catch nothing but big fish, I’d tie on the 9-inch Osprey or a frog. It just depends on what you’re in the mood for, I guess.”
Bubba-shotting: The Bubba-shot has become a Clear Lake favorite in the past two years, and is nothing more than a drop shot on steroids: 10- to 14-pound line instead of 6- to 8-pound, throw in casting gear instead of light spinning gear. It doesn’t require a bump in weight (Lintner starts with a ¼-ounce Pro Tungsten drop-shot weight and upsizes only slightly if fishing deeper than 12 feet), but is better suited to bigger fish if you upsize the bait.
My favorite Bubba rig is a Magnum 6.8 FlickShake Worm, which I’ll rig wacky style – they can’t stand that big ol’ thing wiggling out in front of their faces,” Lintner says. “You can catch them on just about any 6-inch straight or ribbon-tail worm you want, but I try to throw the biggest thing I can for whatever technique I’m using to increase my percentage to get the big ones to bite. That Magnum 6.8 is just a bigger bait, so I feel like I’m finding bigger fish with it.”
The swimbait option: Various versions of paddletail swimbaits have proliferated in tackle shops around Lake County in recent years, but Lintner swears by an older standby – an Osprey 9-inch bait in hitch pattern – as his favorite big-fish bait on this fishery.
“Generally, six out of the 10 bites I’ll get on the Osprey are big, big fish,” he says. “Not a lot of guys throw that bait because it requires the right kind of gear to do it right. You can’t just tie it into your flipping stick and crank it out there. I’ll run a G-Loomis heavy swimbait rod and a Calcutta 300D – it’s serious gear, but that’s a serious bait.”
Smaller baits like a Basstrix or Optimum Diamond Tail are good alternates, though, especially if you’re fishing behind somebody who’s carpet bombing the flats with the big-boomer swimbait.
“If I see a guy in front of me throwing an Osprey, I’ll run the smaller bait behind him,” Lintner says. “Generally it’ll be in the lighter hitch color, but if everybody else is fishing that color, I’ll switch it up and throw a chub pattern. No matter what you or the rest of the guys around you are throwing, there’s always another option.”
Frogging it up: With the water level up like it is now at Clear Lake, a frog comes into play more frequently for Lintner. This despite the fact that most anglers will stow this bait until grass and weeds are more emergent and they can actually visualize the strikes and identify where they’re casting.
“There are so many big fish spawning up deep in the reeds and willow trees, you’re never going to see most of them,” Lintner points out. “The frog isn’t really on the radar for most (anglers) yet, but I’ve caught some giant fish in April on a frog, in situations where I’m throwing it as far back as I can into the reed banks. You can’t even see your bait, you’re just listening for the explosion. You just hear it, and your line goes crazy, and you have no idea if it’s a 3-pounder or a 10-pounder. It’s pretty freakin cool! For sure I’m tying on a frog in April.”
Additional options: Also add the following to the April bait list: Senkos, spinnerbaits and topwater. Actually, while you’re at it, just throw your entire tackle array out there. It’ll all work.
“That lake is so, so, so good in April, if you wanted to catch them on a jig, you could,” Lintner says. “If you wanted to throw a crankbait, you could catch them on that, too. I’ve had some exceptional days working a Zara Spook really slow, where you’re calling fish up off those beds, setting the bait right on top of their heads. You can really throw just about anything and get bit – a spinnerbait, a chatterbait, you name it – but for me it’s really about getting the most big bites.”
Finding your fish in April: State Park, Rodman are tops
Regardless of where you fish on Clear Lake this month – be it upper lake around Lakeport or lower lake below the Narrows – you’re looking for dead-end canals, feeder creeks or dock systems where fish can spawn. Lintner points to the roughly mile-wide radius around Clear Lake State Park in Lakeport as a can’t miss.
“The state park is traditionally one of the better areas in the spring because there are two major creeks that feed that whole area,” he says. “It’s real clear water with lots of nutrients. It’s like a magnet. A huge percentage of fish swim to the mouths of those creeks from February to May. It’s a big area, but somewhere around the state park, you’re going to find the Mother Lode.”
Rodman Slough is set up slightly differently, but it’s the site of the perfect storm of spawning conditions in April.
“The hitch are going there to spawn, but so are the (largemouth),” Lintner says. “It works out perfectly. The fish follow the hitch to the spawning grounds, but it’s where they (the fish) want to be anyway for their spawn. If you’re around any kind of dead-end canal or feeder creek in Rodman, you’re in the right place. If you’re not catching them, you need to change. They’re there.”