I had the opportunity to fish Barrett Lake on Wednesday, April 18th – invited as part of the media covering local fishing in San Diego to provide our readers with a glimpse into what this season will offer when it opens for the public on Wednesday, May 2nd.
And tougher it was, though last year’s spectacular numbers would be tough to replicate even with great fishing. In short, we caught 200 fewer bass than last year, calling it a day after grinding our way to an even 75 combined. But there is some serious cause for optimism despite the relatively tough fishing.
The most obvious positive distinction was the condition of the bass that we did catch. Of those 75, less than 5 of them were under 1.25 pounds. The bulk of the fish were actually between 1.5 and 2.5 pounds, and we boated enough 3+ pound fish not to give those a second thought. Our top end fish was down this year, as Garrett boated a nice 5.75 pounder last year and nothing we got our hands on this year eclipsed 4 pounds. Barbless hooks played a role, and we lost around 20 fish between us – including the only fish I hooked all day that pulled any drag.
We arrived at the lake shortly before 6 am, greeted at the gate by Laurie and a chilly 32° air temperature. The water level looked to be about 1-2 feet below where it was this time last year, and a few feet higher than where it was when the lake closed last Fall. The submerged trees that were freshly flooded last year and still green and bearing leaves are now well dead and provide far less advantageous cover to bass.
The cold snap undoubtedly played a role in our day, not only were the motors hard to start, which delayed us getting on the water until about 6:30 – but it also no doubt dropped the water temp and slowed the morning bite to a crawl.
Our first couple hours were very slow, in fact I didn’t boat my first bass for at least an hour. We had started in Hauser, as that had been the hottest location the previous year. Immediately we noticed an algae bloom with Hauser mostly green, and some wind blown cuts especially thick and resembling Pea Soup.
The submerged trees are dead and completely barren, but there is an emergent growth of tules sparsely populating the banks. It was obvious from the get-go that those tules with enough water in them to provide cover were holding bass. If you could present a bait in those pockets in the tules, it was almost an automatic bite.
While last year’s early season featured a bait-centric bass bite, the bass so far haven’t keyed in on the bait. A few bass would blow up as the bait breezed past ambush points (rocky outcroppings and those deeper tules) but the bass would not follow the bait down the bank. That might change as the water warms and the bass transition beyond the spawning cycle. So be ready to fish the bait, but don’t count on it for the opener.
Garrett jumped out to an early lead in our head to head competition by throwing an Evergreen Jack Hammer (an upgraded chatterbait) while I stubbornly tried to replicate last year’s bite on the flukes. I tried to even the score by going to the senko early, pitching it into the pockets in the tules – but it was challenging to keep up with Garrett’s catch rate on the chatterbait.
If you can’t beat em, join em…so I started throwing an original chatterbait (with a Yamamoto Zako Swimbait or Yamamoto Swimmin’ Senko trailer) in white/chartreuse to prevent Garrett from putting me away early.
As the sun came out the bite started to improve. We moved around a bit, hitting both shorelines in Hauser, out to Pine and then eventually to several areas of the main lake. At 4 pm when we called it a day I had completed the comeback and landed on 41 bass to the hand while Garrett put his hands on 34. Our biggest bass was a shade under 4 pounds with several 3.5 pounders.
Unlike last year, where Hauser was so good, no area of the lake this year stood out vs. the others. We caught fish in all areas of the lake. Spots that held a mix of submerged trees, fresh (and deep) tules, and rocky outcroppings were best as all 3 of those forms of cover held fish. Cuts that were lined with tules, mixed with rocks, and had trees submerged in the middle of the cut were the best of all.
The algae bloom didn’t seem to have any effect on the fishing, though it seemed to be thickest in Hauser. The best looking water was Pine, though it had a green tint still and some cuts were pretty thick with algae.
The water temperature was 60-62° in the afternoon, and should be a few degrees warmer by the opener. I expect the fishing conditions to be much better for the public than they were for us, and the opener should be fantastic.
The higher, and stable water level the last year and a half has really benefitted the bass population. They’re as thick and healthy as I’ve ever seen them. I wouldn’t be surprised to see several 8+ pound bass reported the opening week, and maybe a 10-12 pounder landed.
This may be one of the better years for Barrett in recent memory, but enjoy it while it lasts. Unless we have a wet winter, the unchecked (catch-and-release) bass population is going to catch right back up to the water capacity and eat through the available bait and they’ll thin right back out.
Have fun out there, and don’t forget to post a report of your own in our Barrett Reports Forum!