San Vicente: world record expectations?

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  • Southern California fishermen have been waiting for San Vicente to reopen since September 2nd, 2008 – the day it closed for the dam raise project. Since that day, we’ve been speculating and anticipating what it’ll be like when it reopens. A lot of anglers have dreamed of a trophy bass factory that’ll produce the next world record bass.

    With less than a week to go until the opener on September 22nd, we’re about to find out. But what are we likely to encounter on Thursday? What are the reasonable expectations?

    I talked to as many sources as possible who have seen the lake since it closed (staff, CDFW biologists, even poachers) to get a sense of what’s in store and leveraged that against what we already know about the lake prior to it closing.

    Could San Vicente produce a world record bass now?

    As far as largemouth bass go, San Vicente has long been San Diego’s jewel bass fishery. But it was never known as a big bass lake. For whatever reason, the environment of San Vicente didn’t lend itself to world record size largemouth bass like many other of the local lakes. Don’t get me wrong, San Vee kicks out quality fish – perhaps better than any other lake in San Diego County, but it just doesn’t have the upper ceiling of a couple of the other lakes in town which have produced bass that flirted with the record books.

    The lake record is 18.75 pounds, caught in February of 1981, right in the middle of the golden years of trophy bass fishing in San Diego – the 70s and 80s. In my lifetime, which began a few years after that catch, I can’t specifically remember any bass caught at San Vicente that would’ve made James Sturgeon, the record holder, nervous. I fished San Vicente perhaps more than any other lake in my life, even still, and I never saw a bass in the relatively clear water there that looked anywhere close to that record.

    So, in the last 8 years, is there any logical reason to believe that could’ve changed? 

    No. Simply no. A largemouth bass’ individual ability to reach its full potential in weight relies on both its genes and its environment. And regardless of its genes, the environment at San Vicente the last 8 years wouldn’t allow a bass to reach that true freakish top end weight it’d need to be a world record.

    The lake hasn’t had enough “free space” for a long enough period of time to allow that rapid growth. Remember how El Capitan was really high a few years ago? That’s because San Vicente was drawn down. Drawing down the lake means less space for the bass to grow. So for years, the population was compacted. Only in the last couple years has the lake risen, creating optimal conditions for bass growth. The future is bright for San Vicente if the water continues to rise, or at least consistent. But this is too early.

    On top of that, there hasn’t been enough culling by anglers (because fishing has been limited to a small number of poachers with ultra limited accessibility). A higher rate of harvest (keeping bass) actually leads to larger bass.

    And the other important variable to producing world record quality bass is trout, or another equally abundant and protein-rich food source. In San Diego, its simply trout. And while San Vicente was sprinkled with a couple trout stocks this last winter courtesy of the CDFW, it won’t be enough to do a whole lot. If the CDFW continues to support San Vicente in that manner, there is potential here for this lake to kick out a monster at some point down the road, but it won’t be next week.

    So now that a world record bass is out of the question, what IS a reasonable expectation?

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  • The largest population of healthy (hard fighting, young, energetic) 3-6 pound Florida strain largemouth bass in southern California. Both poachers are CDFW biologists agree on one thing; there are a TON of 13-18 inch bass – and they’re fat.

    The CDFW shocked and tagged 3,000 bass at San Vicente this year and didn’t see a single one over 6 pounds. Almost all of them surveyed were between 13-18 inches.

    Of the poachers I talked to, none reported bass over 8 pounds. But almost all indicated the largest they had seen were either 7 or 8 pounds. So there are a lot of quality fish, but trophies are scarce.

    I’m positive there are more than a few double digit bass in the lake right now, and I won’t be at all surprised to see more than 1 fish over 10 pound caught the opening week. But I would be pleasantly surprised if I’ll need more than 1 hand to count the number of 10+ pounders reported the first week.

    But San Vicente does have a couple record quality fisheries

    San Vicente is home to the current California state record blue catfish; a 113 lb 5 oz monster caught just about a month before the lake closed on July 24th, 2008. While I admitted above that I had never laid eyes on a truly giant largemouth bass at San Vicente, I’ve seen more than a couple blue catfish sunning in the shallows that would be tough to squeeze into a coffin.

    The world record blue catfish is 143 pounds, caught in Virginia. I wouldn’t bet my life savings that San Vicente has one that big in it, but it has the potential. And it certainly could produce another blue catfish that’d break its own state record.

    Perhaps San Vicente’s best chance for a world record will come from its redear sunfish fishery. Prior to closing, San Vicente was known for its giant dinner plate sized redear sunfish. The lake record is 3.7 pounds, caught in 2002. The world record was caught in 2014 at Lake Havasu, and is 5.75 pounds!

    I think San Vicente could top it! And that might sound like a giant leap to make, going from 3.7 pounds to 5.75 pounds – and it is, if not for one giant, thumbnail sized factor – the quagga mussel.

    San Vicente has been invaded by quagga mussels since it closed – and quaggas are an excellent food source for redear sunfish, which are also aptly known as shellcrackers. Quaggas are to redear sunfish as rainbow trout are to largemouth bass as protein powder is to bodybuilders. San V’s redear population has been gorging themselves on an unlimited supply of quaggas the last 8 years, without any anglers to get in their way.

    Lake Havasu’s redear sunfish record has been topped many times since quaggas were first found there.

    San Vicente was out producing Havasu before the introduction of the quagga factor…and I think it will give the Havasu world record a run immediately.

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    Kellen Ellis

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