Clearlake: The Last Cast

Over the past 5 years I have made a lot of friends within the bass fishing ranks and have learned the value of sharing what I have learned with those who have the same love for the sport as I do. The friendliness and camaraderie displayed by the guys that participate in the NCBF forum has motivated me into sharing one of my most prized patterns on fishing Clearlake. During my visits, I have noticed varying levels of skill from the guys at NCBF and regardless of your level, this information may be helpful. I'm not much of a writer but I'll do my best...

February 1998....

I remember thinking to myself, dang only 25 minutes left to go in the tournament and only 4 fish soaking in the livewell. My focus began to skew as my mind became overrun with all sorts of wasteful thoughts. Past tournament experience has taught me that I know better then to let this control me so I got myself collected and continued on with my plan. I flipped in the craw against the dense tulle burm and....THUNK....I stuck a 5.33-pound sow with only 10 minutes left, and won my 6th consecutive BassUnlimited Clearlake tournament in 3 years with a 2 day total of 33 pounds.

One of the most important things I have learned when fishing a tournament is that when things are not going as planned, the pressure can really get to you. Even if you do have 4 good fish in the tub and you really need that 5th fish, don't let anxiety take you out of the hunt. Depending on what's at stake, it can almost grow to the point of panic. The one thing you need to do is to stay composed and focus. Remember it's never over until your idling into your weigh-in site.

Everyone has his or her own way of coping with the stress at those moments. I control mine by stopping and lighting up a cigarette. After taking a few drags I think about what I need to do during the balance of the tournament that might offer the highest percentage of success for filling my limit. As some of you can probably relate to, there are some days where nothing goes right and that whole concept of fishing and catching fish seems like an oxymoron. Fishing Clearlake poses a certain amount of difficulty for many people, just as fishing the Delta does to me. However over the years I have figured out a multi plan strategy of attacking this lake which has lead to quite a lot of success for me and friends. I guess everyone has there own interpretation of success and mine is being able to go out, fish a body of water and pull out a bag of fish as heavy as anyone else could that day. At Clearlake, I have established a set of successful patterns that have paid off for me 9 out of 10 times.

Late Winter/Early Spring:

Firstly, keep in mind that I am a spinnerbait junky! I will toss a blade before any other bait known to man....lessen it's not working of course. Har..

Lake County can get real cold during the winter. The impact on the ecosystem can be sever and varied throughout lake. All the plush vegetation where we were hammering the bass last fall is no where to be found! The bait fish have moved deep and are sitting in big balls waiting for the water temp to reach 52 degrees .... the bass are usually not far away. To me that 52 degree number is magic. That means that there has been enough sunshine to warm things up and to start the new growth of plankton. It also increases the percentage of the saturated oxygen at the shallower level, allowing to bait to elevate into a more comfortable location....and where do the bass go? They follow!

From what I have learned over the past 5 years (that's years of awareness during fishing, not total number of years fishing ) is that once this transition occurs, the bass move to the first structure closest to this new baitfish activity. Depending on what ever the predominate weather trend has been in the local area, it will dictate how and where I fish for them. I toss a big tandem willow blade spinnerbait. I use a # 3 in front of a # 5 and both are gold. I use a trailer hook and a pearl white trailer. The color is what I call a zebra shad which is a mixed white and clear shirt that has small thin black vertical stripes.
I always start my search in the old dead tulle line where the decayed ends are sticking up about 6 inches along the perimeter of the old tulle patch or around the boat docks, where the old weed line once was. A long cast and slow roll back works bestIf I don't get bit, I'll fish the deeper water ( 5 - 8 ft ) adjacent to the structure. If you look at the contour of the bank, the break or slope of the deeper water will follow that same contour but just a little further out. Use your graph to locate this edge. The best areas seem to be those that create a depression along a straight lined tulle burm. Remember that Clearlake doesn't always have a definite edge, sometimes it's just a difference in depth. With my boat positioned in the shallower water I cast my blade diagonally out into the deeper water. I allow the bait to sink to the bottom and then slow roll it back, trying to keep the bait ticking the deeper weeds during the retrieve. . Every so many cranks on the handle, lift the rod tip up and then lower it fast, this will trigger a strike . As a general rule in regards to the strike you should expect in this colder water is that the fish just swim up behind it and mouth it. You'll only feel the resistance as the rod loads up, lesson she hits it as your lifting or lowering the rod, in which case she'll smash it! ( strong southern drawl ) .....then SWING !!!!

A couple of clues for locating the fish depends on if and what direction the winds has been coming from over the past 2 or 3 days....This does make a huge difference.

If the wind has been blowing hard for a couple of days, you'll want to start fishing the back side of the tulle points or the opposite side from the direction of the wind along the boat docks. If the wind has not been blowing then fish the front side of the structure. If the wind hasn't been blowing for a few days but starts to pick up, get inside of the old tulles and cast into the wind, swimming the blade back into the tulles. The fish will stack up on this edge and slam those blades as they come through the edge of the tulles!


During summer and fall, I use the same pattern and search for the fish with the blade. The only difference is that if they are off the bank, I'll kill them with a rattle trap. If a cold front passes and the blade bite shuts down, then I flip a Rainbow craw in brown and junebug. There are two types of tulle areas. The first is the sparse type, which are usually the new tulles to grow in an area. Behind them are the dense tulles and they actually create an almost solid wall. I'll concentrate on the base of the dense stuff and pitch the craw against the wall...THUNK...swing!!!

When applying this pattern, I have been fortunate in having a 28 lbs. Two 24 lbs, several 21 lbs. days (all five fish limits) and have won 6 BassUnlimited tournaments. In that 3 year period, I have won 4 of them in the last 10 minutes of the day. My best finish in a real money tournament was 3rd where I stuck a 4 pounder to finish with 21 lbs. in the final minute of a 1997 Redman tournament. Never give up while at Clearlake because that "last cast" can hook a toad and make the difference between winning and just competing.