The gem of northern California is set to shine as anglers do their best to unlock Clear Lake’s treasure during the Costa FLW Series Western Division event powered by Evinrude and hosted by Konocti Vista Casino Resort & Marina. With warm and mostly sunny conditions on tap, we’re expecting a diverse event with all spring phases in play.
As the division’s second event plays out, pros will compete for a top award of up to $50,000 in cash and a new Ranger Z518C boat with a 200-hp Evinrude outboard. Co-anglers will cast for a Ranger Z175 boat with a 90-hp Evinrude outboard and an additional $5,000 if Ranger Cup qualified.
Considered the oldest natural lake in North America, Clear Lake, which covers 68 square miles, is the largest natural lake wholly located within California. Fed by several inflowing creeks, Clear Lake drains through Cache Creek at its lower end.
Comprising a mostly shallow upper end and a lower end branching into two major arms – Red Bud and Rattlesnake – Clear Lake offers a variety of habitat features such as tules, shallow wood, docks, rocky shorelines and scattered islands.
The lake is nestled amid scenic mountains at the lower end of California’s famed wine country. Its dominant landscape feature is the towering Mount Konocti, a dormant volcano overlooking the narrow mid-lake region.
Water level on Clear Lake is measured using the Rumsey Gauge, which zeros at 1,318.26 feet above sea level. Clear lake is full at 7.56 feet, but it’s currently about 5 Rumsey.
This large and diverse fishery located about two hours north of Sacramento has seen significant water fluctuations of late, but its current status is looking favorable for spring patterns. Also promising is a modest, but noticeable return of the hydrilla that disappeared last year. Warming water will help spur this regrowth.
“The grass is not back to normal, but there is more than there was when the Costa FLW Series was here last fall,” says California pro Jimmy Reese, who notched a top 10 in that 2017 tournament. “The grass is not to the surface yet, and it’s probably 30 percent of where it should be; but it’s about 80 percent more than it was last fall.
“You can find water temperatures as high as 70 degrees on the right day, but most of the lake was 64 to 66 on Wednesday. A few more days of 80-plus degrees and that grass will get better and better.”
Reese says the increasing grass growth has helped the clarity situation. Heavy spring rains sent a plume of muddy water stretching from Rodman Slough at the upper end to mid-lake.
“The grass is filtering the water, and the water color, compared to last fall, is night-and-day. It’s way better visibility,” Reese says. “In some areas, it’s only a foot of visibility, but I’d say 90 percent of the lake is 3 to 4 feet of visibility.”
Reese says he’s looking for a mixed bag of prespawn, spawn and postspawn activity, which will afford a range of options from sight-fishing to covering water for bass coming and going. Clear Lake typically sees several waves of spawners. According to Reese, there are enough beds to keep that interest alive, but he’s thinking that more big females will be on their way soon.
Utah pro Sunny Hawk says Clear Lake could see spawners top to bottom. Fish in the upper end spawn in the tules and shallow creek habitat, whereas bass on the lower end will utilize docks.
“Clear Lake has so many crawfish, any type of creature bait is a good choice for bed-fishing,” Hawk says. “For the prespawn/postspawn fish, under-spins and jerkbaits will work.”
Reese adds spinnerbaits, swimbaits and bladed jigs to that mix.
1. Water level – The lower water should bode well for bed-fishing, as bass will spawn in more accessible areas than the heavy cover where they might have otherwise vanished into if the water had stayed high. This will present the classic double-edged sword for sight-fishermen, as bass will be easier to spot, but as water declines wariness rises.
2. Wind – Currently, day one is looking calm, but Friday’s forecast calls for big winds of 20-plus mph. Clear Lake has plenty of wind breaks, but a big blow condenses the playing field.
“That’s going to play havoc on some of the bed-fishermen,” Reese predicts. “It will push a lot of people into the same areas. That won’t be good for two days in a row.”
3. Secondary spawns – Hawk notes that a mix of shad, bluegill, crappie, carp and catfish spawns have been creating mayhem in the shallows. Bass might take advantage of this, but it’s easy to get rabbit-trailed into burning a lot of time, unless you’re on quality fish.
Hawk says all of this shallow activity will offer windows of fierce topwater action.
Reese says that prior to practice, he was estimating a winning weight of 75 pounds, but he’s now pulling that down a bit.
“It could still be at that level, but it’s going to take the right person in the right area with nobody around,” he says. “There are some groups of big fish, and you might see a 30-pound bag, but you’re not going to be able to back it up.
“Right now, I’m thinking the check cut will be 15 to 17 pounds a day. Twenty a day will be huge.”
Hawk’s estimate: “I think it will be around 62 pounds for three days. It could swing higher with fish still moving around.”
Date: May 10-12, 2018
Format: All boaters and co-anglers will compete for two days. The top 10 boaters and co-anglers based on cumulative weight after two days of competition will advance to the third and final round, with the winner in each category determined by the heaviest cumulative three-day weight.
Takeoff time: 6:30 a.m. PT
Takeoff Location: Konocti Vista Casino Resort & Marina, 2755 Mission Rancheria Road, Lakeport, CA 95453
Weigh-in time: 2:30 p.m. PT
Weigh-in location: Konocti Vista Casino Resort & Marina, 2755 Mission Rancheria Road, Lakeport, CA 95453