Now is the magic time of the year when trout stocks are overlapping with the first stages of the bass spawning period. Big female bass are fattening up RIGHT NOW, consuming as much protein as possible that’ll allow them to endure the grueling course of spawning in the coming weeks.
February and March has been the golden time for big bass catches the last couple years as anglers capitalize on the natural need for the biggest bass in the lake to feed more aggressively than they do all year. The biggest bass caught last year, a 17 pounder was caught by Justin Hanold a year ago yesterday at Miramar. The second biggest bass of the year, a 16 pounder was caught by Jay Saberon on January 10th of 2014 also at Miramar and the third largest, a 15.5 pounder by Dean Jamieson was caught on February 20th of last year at Lower Otay. 2013’s biggest bass of the year; a 17.7 pounder landed by Mike Gilbert at Lower Otay came on February 16th.
But in 2015, we haven’t seen anything nearly as big as those – despite passing those dates in the calendar already.
Does that mean 2015 is a lost cause in terms of producing trophy bass? No, but the outlook wasn’t great to start with. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife cut back on trout stocks, eliminating El Capitan and Lower Otay and also stocked Murray and Miramar less frequently. It has been those trout stocks that have boosted most of the big bass catches in recent years, as the DFW stocks trout that are easily eaten by large bass.
Many of the county’s other reservoirs have more consistent stocking schedules, using private hatcheries to deliver their loads of rainbows. But those trout are being bought to end up on anglers’ lines. Anglers want bigger trout, not dinks. So those private hatchery stocks don’t get the attention of bass quite the same way that the DFW plants do…the trout are just too big to eat for the most part.
Thus, this year, Miramar and Lower Otay which kicked out those big bass the last two years are definitely not offering the same opportunities for giant bass as last year. Big bass are being caught, I’ve seen several over 10 pounds, but the teen fish aren’t as plentiful or feeding as actively.
SLIDESHOW: PHOTOS OF THE BIGGEST BASS OF 2014
Trophy bass angler Chip Gilbert, who holds the lake record at Lake Skinner doesn’t think this will be Southern California’s year for big bass. “Between water levels fluctuating all year, the lack of trout, weather patterns and fishing pressure, those big bass just won’t hit their true potential of ‘trophy status’ this year. I’m sure that a hand full of ten pounders will be caught [this year]but its very doubtful we’ll see any in the teen range.”
The aforementioned Jay Saberon had a similar dreary outlook, despite already notching a 10 pound bass this year at Murray. He said, “prospects for big bass this year are not looking good for obvious reasons, food being the main issue. You’ll see some big bed fish shortly from anglers that pursue that type of fishing but as far as swimbait fishing…this will be a slow year for San Diego.”
Reservoirs like Dixon, Jennings, Poway, and Wohlford have received steady stocks and have plenty of giant bass – but the swimbait bite just doesn’t materialize there like it had at Lower Otay, Miramar and Murray in recent years. Big bass opportunities at Dixon, Jennings, Poway, and Wohlford will present themselves when the big females plunge into the shallows to lay their eggs.
The prognosis for sight fishing during the spawn is also not as bright as in year’s past. The San Diego County Water Authority is working on the county’s pipeline infrastructure, causing water levels to drop at many of the reservoirs – and even lower water levels are expected. If there is one thing that can disrupt a bass spawn, it’s receding water.
Specifically Saberon has not been seeing as many big bass cruising the shallows at Murray and Miramar, “I haven’t seen the big ones around, especially Miramar and Murray where they’re dropping the water level just when the spawn is starting.”
The weather has played a role this year as well. Water temperatures were creeping into the optimal range to trigger a spawn a couple weeks ago, and spawning started at a lot of lakes, but the recent cold front stalled that progress at the wrong time. The first full moon in this spawning window will take place tomorrow, the 5th of March. But without the optimal water temperature, the full moon won’t pull bass up on the spawning beds like it would have had the last week been filled with sunshine and warm nights instead of clouds and rain.
That’ll delay the major wave of the spawn until the week preceding the next full moon on April 4th – and in turn keep the door open a few more weeks for the swimbait anglers to capitalize on an extended pre spawn cycle overlapped with trout plants.
All things considered, we likely won’t see the giant bass this year that we have in the last couple years. And big bass anglers might be wise to focus their efforts on lakes like Dixon, Poway, and Jennings which have been a little more stable this year.
Justin Hanold, who caught that giant 17 pounder at Miramar last year offered the following outlook; “For swimbaits, I don’t think you will see the numbers of big fish just simply because of the lack of trout stocks. But it looks like we might see a better spawn this year because the water is so clear at a lot of lakes.” And he had a positive outlook for a lake that has been down the last few years, Diamond Valley. “Diamond Valley has more big fish roaming the bank than I have ever seen. The last tournament I fished there we saw two bass together that were each pushing 15 pounds, and countless fish from 8 to 12 pounds. I expect it to break out any day now.”