Make no mistake this has been tough few months for the bass fishermen on Clear Lake. The bass population appears to have shrunk due to the die-off a few months ago and most of the fishermen are struggling to a put a few fish in the boat. A good example was the Oroville Bass Club team tournament held on Sunday. The tournament drew 19 boats (38 fishermen) and a grand total of only 40 bass were weighed in. The winning weight was 16 pounds and the next best was 9 pounds. Most of the fishermen weighed in less than 8 pounds. May of the fishermen said that this was the poorest fishing they had ever seen on Clear Lake. They also said the water was extremely brown in color throughout the lake.
Bass fishing and tournaments are the hallmark of the fishing and tourist industry at Clear Lake. It’s hard to believe that a single species of fish could have such an impact on a lake. Thirty years ago, the backbone of the fishing on Clear Lake was supplied by the crappie and catfish. Bass took a back seat to these two species of fish.
Bass are not native to California or Clear Lake or even the West Coast. They were first introduced into the state 1874 and in Clear Lake just before the turn of the century. Prior to that time the only native game fish in Clear Lake was the Sacramento Perch.
The first bass brought into the state were the northern largemouth and they soon adapted to the lower elevation waters. Clear Lake, with its warm shallows waters and rich nutrients, offered ideal habitat for bass and they flourished. However, it wasn’t the bass that drew anglers to Clear Lake, but the crappie and catfish. In those days just about all the fishermen kept their fish to eat and crappie and catfish were preferred over the bass because of their delicate flavor. In those days any bass that were caught ended up on the dinner table. Catch and release for bass didn’t become popular until well in the 1970s.
In 1969, the Department of Fish and Game recognized that Clear Lake had the potential to become a trophy bass lake and to improve the fishery they planted 136 adult Florida species of largemouth bass in the lake. This was followed with 242 Floridas in 1970 and another 58 Florida bass in 197.
It was known that Florida bass will cross breed with northern largemouths and the Florida genes would quickly dominate, but it even surprised the biologists on just how fast that would occur. In 1975, just four years after the last Florida bass was stocked in the lake, the scientists took random samples of bass and found the Florida genes in 17 percent of the bass. In 1976 that count went up to 27 percent and by 1978 it was 52 percent. What this meant was that in seven years, 52 percent of all the bass in Clear Lake were either Florida-northern largemouth mix (called intergrades) or pure Florida bass. By the mid 1980s all the largemouth bass in the lake were considered to be carrying the Florida gene.
The result of introducing Florida bass into Clear Lake has been dramatic. The size of the bass continues to increase. A good example were the results of the bass tournaments. Last year, the average size per fish caught in a tournament was nearly 3 pounds. Few lakes in the country can match that. In fact, even in the well publicized lakes of Florida, there are none that can boast a 3-pound average per fish. To win a bass tournament at Clear Lake takes at least a 5-pound average per fish. There are very few major lakes in the country that can come even close to that.
Just about all the experts say the excellent bass fishing will return to the lake. There are still plenty of Florida-strain bass to rejuvenate the fishery and this is just a temporary setback.