Assigned the date of April 10th by the city of San Diego, I was joined by my longtime fishing partner Garrett Mercer of Frank Toyota, a proud supporter of SDFish.com. We were on the water about 6:15 am with the air temp in the upper 50s, the water temp a few degrees warmer than that, between 64-65°. The lake is noticeably higher than previous recent seasons, up about 12 vertical feet from the opener last year (133 this year compared to 121.5 last year) so there is a lot more room on the lake, lots of freshly flooded cover and generally clean and good looking water. The water had its typical visibility – as in not much with its copper hued stain.
We motored toward Hauser, looking for signs of bait and actively feeding bass. Without much wind, the bait was breezing down the banks and bass were ambushing it in the freshly flooded tree tops as it moved down the bank. Garrett went right to work with a 1/2 oz Chatterbait while I tried to replicate the amazing Fluke bite we had 2 years ago. Things were slow at the start as we covered a hundred yards of shoreline or so without a bite – we clearly whiffed on the first spot selection despite there being plenty of bait and bass. Garrett eventually started scratching up fish on the Chatterbait, while I cycled through reaction baits (and even a Senko) trying to find the golden ticket.
45 minutes into the morning I’m still searching for my first while Garrett had racked up a half-dozen. I had missed a couple on the spinnerbait, triggering bites near the tree tops when I surged the bait along the surface forcing the blades to breach the surface and emulate flickering shad. That kind of pattern, while effective was tough to replicate repeatedly and the gap between Garrett and I was getting wider and wider. I picked up a Chatterbait of my own and within a few minutes was on the board. Garrett though was racking up 3 fish to every 1 of mine, and another hour into the morning I was down 19 to 5. A subtle difference in our baits was making a huge difference. Garrett was using a 1/2 oz white/chartreuse Chatterbait with a “Sight Flash” colored Yamamoto Zako Swimbait trailer while I started with the same 3/8 oz white/chartreuse Chatterbait with a white/chart. Yamamoto Swimming Senko trailer I had been successful with last year at Barrett. Considering the difference in the drag of the two trailers, both our baits were likely running in similar depths and so either the action of the trailers or the colors of them were responsible for the discrepancy in catch rate.
At 8 am, with the sun shining on most of the lake, our bite started to pick up and Garrett boated the first photo-worthy fish of the day, a healthy 4+ pounder. Closer to 9 he put the biggest fish of the day in the boat, a 6 pounder that also ate the Chatterbait. A definitive theme had emerged – this was by far the best grade of fish we had seen at Barrett in the last 3 seasons. A product of fishing during the spawning cycle, but also due to 3 years of stable or rising water where the fish were able to grow and feed on an equally healthy and reliably abundant shad population. The increased water volume comes at a cost, and that is the fish are far more spread out. So while the quality of the fish is much better in high water years – the catch numbers will be down across the board. Still, its Barrett – and these northern strain bass are as aggressive as ever when you get the right conditions.
At about 9 am we started to explore the lake a little more, first going back toward the back of Hauser (a mistake we’ve made 3 years in a row, but I can’t resist seeing what’s back there each year). We then left Hauser altogether and ventured into Pine, which looked really good compared to the last two years. No sign of algae or stale water, lots of bird life, fewer trees, more rocks and foxtails. I think Pine is better suited for crank baits, jigs, plastics, and senkos in particular – but the Chatterbaits are still effective around the flooded trees, despite being more sparse.
By this time I had made an adjustment to my Chatterbait, swapping out the white/chartreuse trailer for a Blue Pearl Silver Flake colored Swimming Senko – which is a more natural shad color. My rate of catch immediately matched Garrett’s from that point, affirming the change.
We ventured out of Pine and into the main lake, and began to hit the major points which by this point had wind blowing into and across them – dream conditions for reaction baits. These circumstances resulted in our best bite of the day by far, as we started boating bass every other, or every 3rd cast as we fan casted across each of those points. I mounted a comeback with the Chatterbait and a 5″ green pumpkin Senko and eventually drew even to Garrett as we both eclipsed 30 fish for the day in the afternoon.
The wind died down at about 2 pm, and the bite dipped again, so we sought out cuts and coves which were directly “fed” by the wind and found small pockets of active fish which were still holding balls of bait in the cuts that the wind had pushed in. Garrett capitalized on this bite better than I did, as I again couldn’t resist trying to resurrect that Fluke bite and he never relinquished his lead and was rewarded for not putting the Chatterbait down the entire day. He totaled 40 bass to hand to my 33. We landed at 73, 2 short of the 75 last year, and 202 short of the epic 2017.
The lake fished very similarly to last year, despite all of the new water. We never really landed on a motherlode of fish but the bite was steady all day, minus maybe that first 45 minutes or so when we either completely whiffed on the spot or the lake hadn’t “woken up” yet before the sun hit the surface of the water. The wind was definitely the key to our best bites.
And the most jarring take away from this year – the bass are huge (relatively)! I expect a lot of 6+ pound fish caught this year. We had easily a dozen fish over 4 pounds, 3 or 4 over 5 pounds, and a handful of others that would’ve been closer to 5 than 4. To put it in terms of tournament weight – we’re talking a 23+ pound limit of 5 fish for Barrett! When we caught 275 bass in a single day 2 years ago I don’t think our best 5 would’ve even gone 21 then, and that included a 5.75 also.
Anglers fishing the opener will likely find even more favorable conditions than we had for this prefish day. Our day landed right on top of the spawn, and though that awards chunkier fish, I’d very much prefer to fish Barrett in post-spawn when the bass are more actively feeding on the shad vs. hunkered down spawning. And while I got exactly 0 bites on the Zoom Super Fluke, I’d definitely have one tied on come May at Barrett.
If you haven’t yet bought tickets for Barrett – you’re probably out of luck for the first month unless you can find someone who will sell you a spot on theirs for May. Tickets for June go on sale on Tuesday, May 14th via Ticketmaster at 7:00 PM.