For fans of the great outdoors angling for a great day of fishing, the cure for the winter blues lies on the lakes of California wine country. Spring has already sprung in the northern wine country region of Lake County, where Clear Lake, the Bass Capital of the West, has water temperatures warming quickly and the fish biting like crazy.
We spoke with California Outdoors Hall of Fame nominee Terry Knight, writer for the Lake County Record-Bee and contributor to Western Outdoor News, Bay Nature, Wilderness Unlimited and other publications, about what makes Clear Lake one of the top spots in the entire United States for fishing.
With more fish per square acre than any other lake in the country, Clear Lake is ranked by Bassmaster as the second-best lake in America for bass fishing.
“This lake produces the largest weight per fish of any place in the western United States,” Knight said. “It’s a popular place to come for tournament fishermen. They really enjoy it because they can catch a lot of fish. And big fish.”
Tournament fishermen should take note that several high-profile tournaments are scheduled on Clear Lake in the weeks and months to come. The 29th Annual Clear Lake Team Bass Tournament hosted by the Lake County Chamber of Commerce is coming up March 19-20, with registration already open. Then there’s the Clearlake Oaks-Glenhaven Catfish Derby—known as the “biggest catfish tournament west of the Mississippi River”—scheduled for May 13-15 on Clear Lake. After that, the California Team Championships for the Wild West Bass Trail Tournament arrive on Clear Lake June 11-12.
Plenty of other fishing tournaments on Clear Lake are scheduled throughout the months to come.
Clear Lake is a tournament-circuit favorite because of its unique geological qualities that keep the fish populations high and well fed. The lake has nearly 44,000 surface acres, but its shallow depths allow for plenty of weed and tule leaf coverage and burgeoning numbers of food-source fish like threadfin shad, minnows and young bluegill and crappie.
“All the normal game fish are in this lake,” Knight said, referring to catfish, crappie, bluegill and, of course, largemouth bass. “The bass themselves, they’ve just got a virtual smorgasbord anywhere they go around the lake.”
The giant fish population attracts a giant bird population, making Clear Lake a destination for birders from around the world to watch the eagles, osprey and pelicans. “It’s phenomenal for people who just want to fish and look at birdlife,” Knight said.
And the recent California droughts have not affected Clear Lake as much as other California lakes. “The water level right now (versus last year) is well over 2 feet higher,” Knight told us. The shifting bottom of Clear Lake allows water levels to drop by only 6 or 7 feet during the dry months, compared to normal California lake water level dropoffs of 40 to 50 feet.
That means big fish are always biting.
Knight recalled the tale of the largest bass ever caught at Clear Lake. In 1990, an angler caught a 27-inch-long, 17.52-pound bass but nearly botched the catch. “When he caught that fish, it was on for less than a minute,” Knight remembered. “It just passed by the boat and his partner scooped it up in the net. As they were swinging it aboard, the hook fell out.”
Fortunately, the fish was already netted. “That’s the luck of the draw, I guess,” Knight laughed.
Big catches are waiting for you at Clear Lake, where the 11 public boating ramps are all available for free use. Boat rental services are available all around Clear Lake, and you can book an excellent guide through the Lake County Chamber of Commerce. Fishing licences are required, just as anywhere in California, and mussel inspection stickers are mandatory to keep the lake free of invasive species.
Check out our fishing guide for Clear Lake, and make plans to go fishing in Lake County for a “reel” good time.