California is the place to be for bass fishing


Mar 11, 2001
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California is the place to be for bass fishing

Tom Stienstra    Sunday, May 13, 2001


It was midafternoon at Lake Oroville, a 90-degree, blue-sky day in the foothills of the Central Valley, the sun directly overhead, right when bass fishing is supposed to be at its worst.

And that's when we caught seven bass in 11 casts, with five going 15-18 inches, a 10-minute snapshot from a day in which the fantastic seemed within reach of every cast.

But that's how it is right now at Oroville and several other lakes in California: The best bass fishing in America.

My fishing partner, Bob Simms, and I decided to take a relaxed approach to the day. We didn't even get on the lake until about noon, which is something that would send many anglers into a frenzy over missing the morning bite. What,

me worry?

After launching at Bidwell Canyon, we motored our boat up the South Fork Arm of the lake, where high canyon walls become prominent. Then we turned off the engine, the boat positioned so a light breeze would push it along a wall, about 60 feet offshore. An osprey circled us, then flew off, while the bright scent of acres of blooming lupine onshore carried across the water. We opened a couple of ice-cold beers and all seemed perfect.

That's because it was. We rigged up plastic worms, then started casting along the canyon wall, letting the worm sink slowly about 10-15 feet. Then we'd tighten the line slowly, let it sink again, always watching where the line entered the water.

"I'm getting a pickup," Simms announced, excited as he watched his line tighten a few feet. As he reeled down to the fish, his eyes looked like they might pop out of his head, and when he sensed the fish, he set the hook hard, really ramming it home. After that treatment, that poor bass is going to need a chiropractor for whiplash.

Well, it was a good tussle with a few power dives, and the bass was eventually brought to the boat, a 17-incher, and Simms released it with a grin.

"There are tons of them out here," he said, that wonderful deranged look on his face.

You know, bass are like $100 bills. That is, the supply never seems to equal the demand, and once you get a few, the desire for more is insatiable, the most addictive sport in all of fishing.

There is no better time or place than now in California to satisfy it, noted Simms, best known for his pre-eminent fishing show on KFBK radio in Sacramento.

The bass fishery is one of the DFG's biggest successes, Simms noted. By planting Florida bass in lakes with warm climates, there is now a chance at 15- to-20-pounders at several lakes.

Two weeks ago, a 20-pound, 12-ounce bass was caught at Lake Dixon near Escondido (San Diego County), the No. 8 bass of all-time. In the Bay Area, the biggest bass in NorCal history was caught at San Pablo Reservoir, 18 pounds, 11 ounces. At Clear Lake this spring, if you fish three straight days, you have a 50-50 chance of getting a 7-pounder or better, probably the best odds of a big bass anywhere in the country.

At reservoirs in the foothills, the DFG planted spotted bass, which solved a 50-year problem of lake drawdowns leaving the spawns of largemouth bass high and dry. That is because spotted bass spawn deep, so reproduction is very high.

That is why Oroville, Berryessa, Camanche, Folsom, Shasta and many others are now loaded with bass.

The DFG has advanced this success at Oroville by creating a slot limit, that is, that all bass 12-15 inches must be released. That is why there are more big spotted bass at Oroville than any other lake in Northern California.

When you arrive at Oroville, the first thing you notice is how low the lake is, only 60 percent full, the lowest of the 25 largest reservoirs in the state.

Once on the water, though, the exposed shore, now filled with rafts of violet lupine, isn't much of a concern. Most fishermen are heading well up one of the three lake arms anyway, where the bass are feeding on pond smelt along the canyon walls, 15 feet down.

Simms, who has fished here for 25 years, advises using a size 2/0 or 3/0 Gamakatsu offset hook, rigged with a Magic Worm colored morning dawn (pinkish- red), with a split-shot clamped on for weight 18 inches above the hook. For a chance at the big fish, use a dark-colored Senko worm with a chartreuse tail, or a Brush Hog, with a dart head for weight. If you're new to the game, a trip with a local guide, either Cash Colby or Larry Hemphill, can provide excellent instruction and get you started catching fish right away; 30-fish days per rod have been common lately.

At one point with Simms, we had doubleheaders on back-to-back casts, and he turned with that crazy eye-popping look, and asked, "Do you realize how many bass must be down there! Thousands, I tell you, thousands!"

You see, bass have a way of turning logical, upstanding gentlemen into wild- eyed maniacs appearing to be afflicted from some rare form of mental aberration. Guess that's why he's such a good friend. Just like me.

-- INFORMATION: Lake Oroville Visitor Center (open weekends), (530) 538- 2219; Lake Oroville State Recreation Area, (530) 538-2200; Oroville Chamber of Commerce, (800) 655-4653.

-- FISHING GUIDES: Cash Colby, (530) 533-1510; Larry Hemphill, (530) 674- 0276.

-- CAMPING: Floating campsites, boat-in campsites and drive-to campsites (Bidwell Canyon and Loafer Creek) are available by reservation at (800) 444-- 7275 or

-- BED & BREAKFAST: Jean's Riverside Bed & Breakfast, set along nearby Feather River, (530) 533-1413.

-- DIRECTIONS: From the Bay Area, drive east on I-80 to Sacramento and the split with Highway 50. Bear north on I-80 and continue a few miles to I-5. Turn north on I-5 and continue a few more miles to the junction with Highway 99/70. Turn north on Highway 99/70 and continue on Highway 70 into Oroville to Highway 162. Turn east and drive 8 miles to Kelly Ridge Road. Turn north (left) and drive 1.5 miles to Arroyo Drive. Turn right and drive to the state park entrance.

E-mail Tom Stienstra at

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