May 16, 2019 Â by David A. Brown
One of the gems of California bass fishing might have its luster muted by the weekâ€™s weather, but Clear Lake will likely still provide plenty of opportunity for anglers competing in this weekâ€™s Costa FLW Series Western Division event, which is presented by Ranger Boats and hosted by Konocti Vista Casino Resort & Marina.Â
Topographically, Clear Lake seems to comprise two very different water bodies, linked by a tapered central section known as the Narrows. The shallow, bowl-like upper end holds a greater presence of vegetation such as tules, pads, bank grass and various brush, while the deeper lower end presents more of a rocky complexion with islands, riprap and docks spread across its two major arms, Red Bud and Rattlesnake.Â
Set amid the mountainous grandeur of Californiaâ€™s wine country, Clear Lake is situated below a dormant volcano known as Mount Konocti, which dominates the mid-lake regionâ€™s landscape.
With 68 square miles of surface area, Clear Lake boasts the title of largest natural lake located wholly within California. Itâ€™s also known as the oldest natural lake in North America, with several natural inflows, including Rodman Slough at the upper end. Cache Creek in the back of Red Bud is the major outflow.
While most lakes are measured by elevation above sea level, Clear Lakeâ€™s water height is measured by the Rumsey Gauge. A 7.56 feet reading means Clear Lake is full. This week, with big spring rains and snowmelt sending heavy flows, itâ€™s been around 7.45.
Several weeks of warm, stable weather had Clear Lake showing off exactly why folks make the drive. However, a big storm system that blew across the area Wednesday brought significant rain and knocked daytime air temperatures back from the mid-70s and 80s into the low 50s.
â€śThat was really a nail in the tire for what has been going on,â€ť says Utah pro Sunny Hawk. â€śI donâ€™t think this is going to hinder the fishing, but I think the weights might be down a little bit because you donâ€™t see the 8- to 10-pounders on the beds. I think those fish are still going to be catchable. You just wonâ€™t see as many.â€ť
Hawk believes thatâ€™s because the storm exacerbated an issue already in play: reduced water clarity.Â
â€śI know there are a lot of fish on beds, but I have been having a tough time seeing them,â€ť he says. â€śIn past years, Iâ€™ve found them in 6 to 7 feet when you could barely see the bottom. Now, I canâ€™t see that deep because the water is stained.
â€śSo you might actually be bypassing them and you donâ€™t even know it. Crashing through the tules, you might be going right over their heads.â€ť
Noting that he expects Clear Lake to present opportunities to catch fish in all three stages of the spawn, Hawk says the current level is the highest heâ€™s seen in several years.
â€śThis is really good because it creates a lot of cover for baitfish and the bass,â€ť he adds.Â
Itâ€™s likely that the cold front will push some of the spawners out of the shallows and put those approaching on standby. That said, anglers should stay plenty busy with prespawn and postspawn bass.
Hawk thinks the shallow flipping bite should remain steady throughout the event. Anglers might find occasional sight-fishing opportunities, and with windy conditions on tap, a variety of reaction baits â€“ bladed jigs, spinnerbaits, shallow crankbaits and swimbaits â€“ should fare well.
â€śGuys are going to catch them out deep too, on drop-shots and jigs and probably some swimbaits,â€ť says Western stick Tim Klinger, who won the divisionâ€™s opener at Lake Mead in February. â€śI think there are a lot of postspawn fish out deep, because during practice, I had seen a lot of fry.â€ť
The Florida angle â€“Â Clear Lake owes its legendary reputation for giant bass to the stocking of Florida-strain largemouths. But this is a two-edged sword, as the fish grow big, but they retain a frustrating trait common to their Sunshine State kin â€“ they donâ€™t handle change well. Cold fronts, in particular, typically send these fish into full-on pouty face mode. While this weekâ€™s front is relatively mild, in terms of temperature decline, anglers might find those â€śFloridasâ€ť in a less-than-eager mood â€“ at least, in the early goings.Â
Grass â€“Â For the past couple of years, Clear Lake anglers have lamented the lack of grass, after local authorities applied herbicides to kill the hydrilla. Hawk says thereâ€™s still nowhere near the volume of grass the lake once had, but heâ€™s found isolated patches where itâ€™s trying to come back.
Kickers â€“Â â€śThe key is going to be catching a 7- to 8-pounder every day,â€ť Klinger says. â€śIn my opinion, the guy that wins the tournament is going to have a 6- to 10-pounder every day.â€ť
Hawk says he had a solid practice, but couldnâ€™t manage anything over 5 pounds. Heâ€™s not using that as a benchmark, because regardless of the weather woes, this is still Clear Lake.Â
â€śThe winning total is hard to guess, because someone could blow it out of the park with a huge bag,â€ť Hawk says. â€śBut I think 20 to 30 pounds will make the top 10.â€ť
Klinger says he was catching good ones right through Wednesdayâ€™s practice. Heâ€™s hopeful the cold front wonâ€™t have a profound impact and Clear Lake has the chance to flex is muscles.
â€śThe whole lakeâ€™s fishing really good, from one end to the other,â€ť Klinger says. â€śAs long as the water temperature doesnâ€™t drop much, I think the guys are going to smash â€™em.â€ť
He estimates that an angler who catches 18 to 20 pounds a day will position himself well for the victory.
Dates: May 16-18, 2018
Format: All boaters and co-anglers will compete for two days. The top 10 boaters and co-anglers based on cumulative weight after two days of competition will advance to the third and final round, with the winner in each category determined by the heaviest cumulative three-day weight.
Takeoff Time: 6:30Â a.m.Â PT
Takeoff Location: Konocti Vista Casino Resort & Marina, 2755 Mission Rancheria Road, Lakeport, CA
Weigh-In Time: 2:30 p.m. PT
Weigh-In Location: Konocti Vista Casino Resort & MarinaÂ