April 28, 2015
In much of the nation, a 15.38-pound largemouth bass would annihilate the state record. In Texas, however, 15.38 represents a four-way tie for the No. 50 slot on the state's Top 50 largemouth bass list. Of course, the simple fact that Texas maintains such a list reveals much about the state's seriousness concerning trophy bass.
California is another state that continues to produce absurdly big bass, like the famous fish known as "Dottie." This fish would have established a new world record if it had been caught a different way (the fish was accidentally snagged) and shattered the existing state record of 21-12. In-between Texas and California waters, many lakes of various descriptions yield more than their share of giant largemouth bass. Some are large and acclaimed for their bass offerings while others are less well known, at least outside of the immediate area.
We've sorted through all of the opportunities and have selected ten Southwestern waters that offer exceptionally good prospects for giant largemouth bass.
California Delta, California
The California Delta is expansive, complex, and extraordinarily productive. Bass grow big and are famously aggressive in this maze of tidal channels and bays along the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, where anglers must master the game of rising and falling waters and be equipped to wrestle giant largemouths from heavy vegetation. Double-digit-weight bass and 30-pound-plus tournament bags don't surprise anyone at the Delta.
The California Delta is frog central in many anglers' minds, and one of the key places that helped make frog fishing and its explosive strikes famous. With or without a frog rod, most effective casts are toward shore or to shallow vegetation. Given the right tide, getting fish to bite at the Delta typically isn't tough. Primary challenges include finding the fish, with seemingly endless miles of reeds and riprap that all look the same, navigating the Delta, and being in the key areas at the right time.
Canyon Lake, Arizona
Part of a chain of lakes along the Salt River near Phoenix, Canyon Lake is famous for the ridiculously big bass it produces year after year. In fact, Arizona's biggest largemouth, which tipped the scales at an impressive 16 pound 7.68 ounces, came from Canyon Lake. The Canyon name fits, especially through the lake's long riverine section. The lower lake opens more and the terrain is not quite as steep.
Big, trout-imitating swimbaits have traditionally accounted for many of the largest bass caught at Canyon Lake. Senkos, jerkbaits and square-billed crankbaits also produce their share of big fish, especially during the spring. Current and water level, which vary based on discharges through dams at both ends of Canyon Lake, have a major impact on the positioning and behavior of the bass. From late spring through summer, the best time to target a giant bass on this lake is after the sun goes down.
Choke Canyon Reservoir, Texas
Choke Canyon, which impounds the Frio River in south-central Texas, has long been known as one of the state's premier trophy bass destinations. Its fertile waters have yielded 13 Sharelunker bass, which must weigh at least 13 pounds and must be caught between Oct. 1 and April 30 to qualify. The lake record largemouth weighed 15.43 pounds.
It should be acknowledged that Choke Canyon is very low from extended drought and spreads over less than half the acreage it would reach at full pool. The bass can be tough customers with the lake so low and some areas can't be accessed. The big fish still live there, though, and in truth they have fewer places to hide. The lake also has fluctuated substantially through the years, and eventually the water will return.
Choke Canyon offers a good mix of cover and structure, including timber, rock, various kinds of vegetation and offshore humps. The lower lake tends to stay fairly clear. The upper end is often stained. Square bills work well in the brush and over shallow points during the spring. Through the summer, fishing offshore structure, ranging from humps to roadbeds, with big spoons and deep-diving crankbaits produces heavyweight bass.
Clear Lake, California
California's largest natural lake also ranks among its most productive major waterways, with very fertile waters that crank out overgrown largemouths with amazing regularity. West Coast anglers have long known about Clear Lake's giant bass offerings, but word went national in 2007 when Steve Kennedy set a new Bassmaster four-day record when he weighed in at 122-pounds, 14 ounces (20 bass).
Clear Lake went through a bit of dip in the years immediately following that event, cycling as lakes tend to, but for the past couple of years, the lake has been as good as it has ever been, with huge numbers of overgrown bass. Kennedy's giant bag came courtesy of big swimbaits, and that's often the best approach for targeting Clear Lake's biggest largemouths. Various soft-plastic offerings, fished around shoreline cover and offshore, also account for a lot of big bass at this lake.
Falcon Lake, Texas
Falcon Lake, which straddles the U.S. Mexico border, remained little known for many years, and indeed extremely low water levels made the lake's fertile waters inaccessible to most anglers for several years. When the water returned early in this decade, anglers who ventured out found tremendous numbers of thick-bodied, hard-fighting largemouth bass. Word spread quickly around Texas, but it wasn't until the Bassmaster Elite Series visited Falcon a couple of times, including a 2008 event that topped Clear Lake's four-day weight record by another 10 pounds, that most of the nation's bass anglers learned about this angling wonderland.
Early in the year, Falcon bass abound around plentiful visible cover, holding right where it looks like they should be. Through the summer, the fish move to deeper offshore structure, and top local anglers blend finesse and power, using oversized dropshot rigs, big worms and baitcasting gear. No reciprocal agreement exists, so anglers must purchase a separate Mexico license or stay north of the border. That's not a problem, though. The lake is massive, and the U.S. side offers a tremendous amount of fine bass water.
Lake Fork, Texas
Thirty-three of Texas' top 50 largemouths, including the six at the top of the list and 12 of the top 15, came from the legendary waters of Lake Fork. If that doesn't tell you enough, Fork also has produced 257 Sharelunker fish, which is more than 10 times the number produced by any other Texas lake. And while Fork's very finest days may have passed, its waters have produced seven Sharelunker fish in the past two years alone.
In a way, Lake Fork is like a giant farm pond, with fertile water, plentiful timber and many kinds of vegetation. Initial stockings were conducted before the lake was ever flooded, with big Florida strain largemouths being stocked into ponds that would be inundated when the lake was filled. The blend of fine habitat, high fertility, the right amount of Florida fish in the genetics and excellent management with restrictive regulations seemingly created perfect big-bass conditions at Lake Fork.
Because of the structure they provide, the original stock ponds remain some of Fork's best fishing areas. Timber stands, bridge crossings, points and grassy areas also produce extremely well at times.
Lake of the Arbuckles, Oklahoma
Lake of the Arbuckles is a fairly small lake (2,300 acres) in south-central Oklahoma, yet it produces seriously big bass. Local anglers have known that for some time, but word spread further a few years ago when a couple of local tournaments produced 40-pound plus winning bags, with parades of 8-pound-plus fish brought to the scales.
Lake of the Arbuckles gets stocked with Florida-strain largemouths, and its waters offer a nice mix of shallow vegetation and deep-water habitat, allowing many fish to escape harvest much of the year and allowing some to grow seriously large. While double-digit weight largemouths attract the bulk of the attention, the same waters also produce some overgrown smallmouth bass.
Fishing pressure on this lake is high, if considered on a per-acre basis, so the big bass can be tough customers. However, when the bite gets right in early spring, and when an angler figures out just the right thing any time of the year, trophy bass potential is huge.
Lake Havasu, Arizona
Slicing a desert landscape for 25 miles along the Arizona/California border, Lake Havasu provides a definite oasis for bass fishermen. Smallmouths rival largemouths for interest in this 19,300-acre impoundment of the Colorado River, and both species grow big. Anglers who know the lake's moods and who target largemouths when the bite is right know that any fish that takes a bait could turn out to be a double-digit weight bass.
Ultra-clear water creates the biggest challenge for anglers targeting trophy bass at Lake Havasu. Beyond making the fish fussier overall, the super-clear water often requires using smaller baits and therefore smaller hooks and spooling up lighter line, both of which create challenges for landing overgrown bass. Havasu veterans look for any hint of stain caused by wind or run-off and focus efforts on any off-colored water they can find. Lacking stain, a sometimes-productive alternative to downsizing is to fish reaction lures such as spinnerbaits and crankbaits at high speeds, giving the bass no opportunity to study baits.
Lake Powell, Utah
Moving up the Colorado River to just upriver of the Grand Canyon, Lake Powell has exactly the sort of scenery you'd expect from such a location, with high canyon walls, sandstone domes, pillars, arches and other rock formations rising from ultra-clear waters. As spectacular as the scenery is, Lake Powell isn't just another pretty face. It clear waters grow bass to big sizes. In fact, Lake Powell holds claim to the Utah state record largemouth bass with a 10-pound, 2-ounce fish.
Because of the super-steep terrain around virtually all of the lake, largemouth habitat is mostly confined to banks, often in the backs of canyon arms or well up the rivers, with rocks and tumbleweeds providing important cover. Like on Havasu, the water in most of the lake stays quite clear, so finding even a hint of stain can be beneficial. Smallmouth bass often dominate the bass catch at Lake Powell, but largemouths typically dominate the biggest bags that anglers bring to tournament scales.
California's Southern Lakes
You likely know about Dottie, the freakish largemouth from Southern California's Dixon Lake that weighed 21-11 the first time she was caught and 25-1 three years later. At that time, however, she was hooked outside the mouth and therefore was released after photos, with no attempt made to claim the record. And then there's the 21-pound, 12-ounce state record fish that came from Lake Castaic.
Both fish were special, but neither was a fluke. The truth is that numerous small Southern California lakes regularly yield mammoth-sized largemouths and boast lake records in the mid- to upper teens. Most have the common denominators of Florida bass populations and stocked trout as part of the forage base for big bass. Names like Castaic, Diamond Valley and Casitas are legendary, and the hottest lakes vary from season to season. Any of several has legitimate potential to produce the next world-record largemouth. Collectively, they stand as one of the nation's elite trophy bass destinations.
Many of the very biggest bass get caught early in the spring with sight-fishing strategies. However, this is also the land of giant trout-imitating swimbaits, both hard and soft, and these account for big numbers of super-sized largemouths.
Bonus Pick—El Salto, Mexico
Finally, we can't discuss giant bass in the Southwest without dipping South of the Border once. Several lakes in Mexico have had peaks of big bass productivity and enjoyed reigns as top destinations, but El Salto has been regularly kicking out giants for a couple of decades now. If you have buddies who travel to premier places to fish for bass, ask where they caught their biggest ever. Chances are good that the name El Salto will come up at least a few times.
El Salto offers deep and shallow habitat, plentiful timber and vegetation, a forage base of shad, tilapia and crawfish and a year-round growing season. Folks catch big El Salto bass on a little bit of everything, but consistent top producers include Fat Free Shad crankbaits, 10- and 12-inch Power Worms, soft swimbaits, Senkos and Super Spooks.
To learn more, visit anglersinn.com.