2018 Barrett Lake Preview: Media Report

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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.

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  • After boating 275 bass between the two of us for last year’s pre-opener trip, my longtime fishing partner Garrett Mercer and I returned with much anticipation. Our expectations were tempered a bit when the reports started coming out from Monday’s group of media contingent who all reported much tougher fishing than last year.

    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.

    Photo of foggy steam at Lake Barrett

    The cold 32° air created a thick fog on the surface where it met the warmer water

    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.

    Photo of algae at Lake Barrett

    Algae was thick in cuts, but the fresh green tules like this held bass no matter how much algae was around

    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.

    Photo of Barrett Lake

    A big school of bait breezed down this bank and across this rock outcropping, where a couple bass ambushed it as it flickered on the surface

    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.

    Photo of a bass caught by Garrett Mercer at Lake Barrett

    One of Garrett’s first fish of the morning on the Evergreen Jack Hammer 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.

    Top: 3/8 oz Zman Chatterbait with a Yamamoto Swimmin' Senko trailer, Bottom: 1/2 oz Chatterbait with Yamamoto Zako Shad trailer

    Top: 3/8 oz Zman Chatterbait with a Yamamoto Swimmin’ Senko trailer, Bottom: 1/2 oz Chatterbait with Yamamoto Zako Swimbait trailer

    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.

    Photo of a bass caught at Lake Barrett by Kellen Ellis

    A 3+ pounder was not uncommon on this day, though we didn’t run into anything much bigger than this

    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.

    Photo of two bass caught at Lake Barrett

    Double-hookups weren’t as common on this day as previous years, but Barrett always kicks out a few

    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!

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    Kellen Ellis

    The owner, editor and administrator of sdfish.com.

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