After nearly six years of drought our lakes have been having problems filling up, boat ramps have been out of the water on some lakes, and the battle lines have been drawn in the parched soil over who gets first priority for the scant amount of water available. With each new inch of rain that falls we begin to be hopeful that the drought will end, the lakes will fill, wells will once again be running at capacity and everyone can have a fair share of water. But, water officials are being cautiously optimistic of the drought situation.
During the past two years rainfall amounts through January have been fairly normal but by the time March hits someone turns off the spigot, the temperature warms up too early and snow melts before it should. If we hold to the pattern of the last two years we could, once again, be in trouble.
In the foothills of the Sierra, where I am located, more than one prime bass fishing pond has dried up in the last couple of years, some had numerous bass weighing more than 10 pounds – they are gone forever. Many of my neighbors had to spend tens of thousands of dollars to drill new and deeper wells. Lakes were so low that boats couldn’t launch and low oxygen content caused many fish to suffer.
If we stay on the wet side for the rest of the season then we might see some of the best fishing we’ve seen in several years. The dry years can be beneficial for providing more growth on the banks, enhancing hiding spots for fry, increasing oxygen levels and establishing more bedding areas. If an angler has taken the time to use the low-water situation to their advantage by marking likely structure on a map or their GPS system, they may hold the key to increasing both the numbers and size of fish they catch this year.
The real benefit will come over the next couple of years, especially if the water levels stay up. More food, more fry, and more structure, will benefit the bass and therefore the anglers. But, anglers will have to fish smarter because the higher levels give the bass more places to hide. In low-water situations, bass tend to be more congregated.
As the runoff rushes into lakes it brings an onslaught of debris, everything from trash to trees. The debris can be extremely hazardous to boaters, but it can be a blessing to bass anglers. Much of this debris will find its way to the backs of coves, floating just above the creek channels, which can turn into a bass angler’s paradise. Don’t overlook these “junk” piles when you’re out “hawg” hunting. Fishing plastics along their edges or using heavy weights to get lures down through the junk can pay off in a big way. Even if the weather isn’t 100 degrees, don’t put away you Snag Proof Frogs either, it’s amazing how many bass will bust through the light surface of junk to eat a frog. Always keep a spinnerbait tied on to throw along the junk and keep a firm grip on your rod.
With so much water flowing into the lakes, remember to keep the direction of current constantly on your mind. For the most part, the bass will be facing into the current and you want your lure to flow with the current and right into Mr. Bass’ face.
Where the Merced River flows into McClure, there is a sand bar about 10 to 15 feet under the surface, when the current is strong, you can usually bring a worm or crankbait downstream and into their faces. You can catch a few decent fish on that one spot if the current is strong enough. This holds true on any body of water you are fishing.
I remember a couple of years ago when my friend Ron Colby won a tournament on the Delta. It was amazing considering the fact he had never seen the Delta prior to that tournament. I asked him what he did and he told me he just thought about how a trout uses current and then mentally placed the fish by realizing what the current was doing and as the current changed, he changed his position accordingly.
What a disgusting thought, bass doing what trout do … but don’t be surprised; they are not as different as you might think – more on that later.
Another thing I would like to advise anglers of; with the weather being cold, windy and wet, you should consider having a swim ladder installed on your boat. The water is cold and too many anglers have already been lost because of hypothermia. When you are wearing thick clothes and then fall in accidentally, the clothes become very heavy, coupled with the effects of hypothermia, it doesn’t take long for an angler to themselves in a position where they could lose their lives. A swim ladder can be a life saver.
Keep your fingers crossed that the rain keeps falling and snow piles up – we need every drop of water we can get right now. Even with some above average years of rain, experts are claiming that is may several years to truly reestablish our water system
Hopefully, with a little luck and some help from Mother Nature, we will be enjoying some of the best angling in years.