At a time when most bass fishermen have winterized their boats and are holding out for the first hint of spring some time in February, Clear Lake is producing some amazing big fish action.
We all know that when water temperatures drop into the 40’s during the months of December and January, bass become inactive and fishing can be extremely tough. Well, somebody forgot to tell the largemouth bass at Clear Lake that they aren’t supposed to be eating right now because they are attacking baits like it’s mid spring.
There’s a secret to catching these Clear Lake largemouth, however, and it might be especially difficult for the hard core tournament fisherman to swallow. The key to success is using live bait, jumbo minnows specifically. Sure, you can catch fish on conventional baits like crankbaits, rip baits or jigs, but you might pound the water all day for a couple of fish. Anglers fishing live minnows, on the other hand, are reporting red hot action with catches of 10 to 20 fish in a matter of two or three hours.
My latest trip to Clear Lake was a good example of how tough the bite can be for those not using live bait. Along with Jody Jordan of Vacaville, we spent nearly four hours fishing crankbaits and jigs at night without a single bite between the two of us. The following day we were on the water at daybreak and didn’t hit our first fish until nearly 2:00 pm. In a matter of 10 minutes we took three nice fish weighing 3.2, 6.1 and 7.2 pounds, all on Bill Norman crankbaits.
Unfortunately, the bite vanished as quickly as it appeared and we never got another touch. This is typical of winter bass fishing; short windows of opportunities that produce a couple of quality fish.
The following day, I had several reports from some of the local bait shops of anglers catching big numbers of quality fish running 3 to 8 pounds and a couple fish in the double digit class. How can this be? Come to find out they were all fishing jumbo minnows. “A couple of the local guides and several other anglers reported catching fish up to 11 pounds yesterday,” said Bob Higgins of Limit Out Bait and Tackle. “If you want to catch fish right now, you better bring some minnows.”
I told Jordan about the reports I had received and he decided to give it a try. On Saturday, January 8, he and Dave Kistle from Vacaville headed back up to Clear Lake and quickly discovered the reports were true. “We fished one of our favorite areas on the south end with jigs and crankbaits for close to an hour and couldn’t buy a bite,” explained Kistle. “I finally decided to throw out one of the minnows 8 feet under a sliding bobber and was bit within a couple minutes.”
Kistle and Jordan spent the next two hours catching a number of quality fish including two fish in the 5-1/2 pound class and one even larger weighing 7 pounds, 5 ounces. “All but one of our fish weighed over three pounds and we caught and released at least a dozen fish,” added Kistle. “Our only problem was we only bought 18 minnows. We could have caught a lot more fish if we had bought more.”
Jordan made another trip on Monday, January 10 and found similar results. “I fished with my wife Monica yesterday and we caught and released a total of 17 fish up to 7 pounds, 2 ounces,” he explained. “I caught 12 fish and Monica caught 5 fish. Her largest weighed 6 pounds, 4 ounces. Several areas produced very fast action, but all of the fish were in the three pound class. We kept moving most of the afternoon trying to locate larger fish.”
Most of the fish Jordan caught were in 6 to 14 feet of water. “Our better fish came off breaks out in deeper water,” he explained. “We caught several nice fish on a ledge that went from 10 to 14 feet deep near Jago Bay. The rest came from docks and rockpiles all over the south end.”
Anglers should be reminded that most people are practicing catch and release on these big bass. It wouldn’t take long to decimate the population of trophy sized bass if everyone kept their fish, so try and leave some for the next guy.