By David A. Brown
Special to BassFan
It’s no secret that California’s been cranking out some monster spotted bass in recent years. It’s not really anything new – tight-lipped Golden State anglers have been wise to the bounty for some time now. But, like all fishing trends, this one’s lore has reached far beyond its geographic boundaries.
It’s a fair argument to note the existence of big spots in Eastern fisheries like Lake Hartwell where Bassmaster Classic champ Casey Ashley once tempted a 6-pounder with a Zoom Super Fluke. No doubt, any spotted bass lake with a large forage base might hold a handful of footballs.
But there’s a reason why a few Western reservoirs keep punching out spotted studs like the five beasts that gave FLW Tour pro Cody Meyer an astounding tournament sack that broke 40 pounds last year. In a word: food. Well, let’s use several words: Lots of fat-packing food.
All the usual panfish and schooling baitfish are fair game, but these California spots are reaching maximum density thanks to the presence of rainbow trout (stocked and native), along with land-locked sockeye salmon known as kokanee. Meyer calls them “protein bars;” the spots just call them breakfast, lunch and dinner.
By any name, these dietary staples provide spotted bass easy access to hefty meals, which allows them to pack on weight with minimal exertion.
“These (forage species) are really high in protein and they just create the ultimate monster,” Meyer said of California’s well-fed spots. “Everyone knows how aggressive spots are and how much they eat. Well, they’re just eating (this big forage) constantly; it’s just the recipe for giant spots.”
Still somewhat of an underground fishery, the top-shelf tactics and super-sweet, blind-fold-your-buddy honey holes of legitimate giant potential remain well-guarded. No surprise there, but folks still want to know a little about this impressive fishery that remains the Bali H’ai of bass fishing.
So, for the whopper spots of Bullards Bar, Whiskeytown, New Melones, Shasta, Folsom and those that no one talks about, we coaxed a few tips from a couple of West Coast standouts: Matt Allen and Matt Newman.
An Easy Life
Allen, a guide and trophy-bass expert, said that habitat greatly impacts big-spot potential. Essentially, when spotted bass can roam where they want to, eat as much as they want to and enjoy high visibility, you’re gonna see some chunks.
“The key elements to giant spotted bass (fisheries) are ample food, clean water and low competition (though they love to pack hunt),” Allen said. “They want an environment that allows for ambush-driven predation.
“The giant spots tend to take the most likely parts of the lake, though these spots may not look the same as largemouth spots. Keying on areas where baitfish collect is key. Creek mouths, humps, points, even deep water humps that don't come near the surface will still support suspending spotted bass.”
“The beauty of spotted bass is that they have small mouths and generally target small meals,” Allen observed. “That means that yes, you can catch them on swimbaits, but you can also catch them on dropshots, tubes, shaky-heads, spoons, Spooks, etc.”
Allen’s typical spot arsenal includes a wacky- or nail-weighted Senko, a tube and a walking topwater bait and he points to time on the water as the key to knowing when to go with which. Depth and time of day are two of the critical criteria, as most fish are more likely to hit surface baits early and late, while those holding 20-plus feet deep need something delivered to their doorstep.
Matt Newman says that catching massive spotted bass often requires extreme patience.
Newman, the president of iRod, said he’ll often use a swimbait – for direct engagement, as well as recon duties.
“Traditionally, big spots like to eat in foul weather,” Newman said. “Throwing a swimbait on those days can result in some huge limits, but we don't always get that weather when we want.
“I will still throw a swimbait even on the nicest days. I very rarely catch them on days like that but they will follow and show themselves. Then I know where the big ones are living.”
As Allen said, giant spotted bass often group in lower numbers – two to 10 fish instead of larger masses. That means initially locating a school and finding one that slips away is no easy task.
“The key to summer is staying with the fish,” Allen said. “They're headed offshore with the bait so once you lose them, they're tough to relocate.
“That being said, checking long points, humps, or offshore breaks periodically will give you a shot at intercepting them again. Once you do, stick with that school as long as you can.”
As Newman points out, just locating big spots on a certain point, bridge piling, piece of cover, etc. is only half the battle. Actually catching them may take some strategy.
“I like to slowly cruise over the spot with my trolling motor and find exactly where they're sitting, using my graph,” Newman said. “I will then vertically drop down a nail-weighted Senko or dropshot to them. If that doesn't work right away I'll open the spool and slide off, keeping the bait in the exact same spot.”
It's nice when the fish respond right away, but this can become the ultimate waiting game; with impatience your biggest enemy. Noting that he has dead-sticked a bait up to 10 minutes before getting a bite, Newman said it’s all about outlasting stubborn fish.
“Don't move the bait and keep it on a slack line,” he said. “If you miss the bite, they will usually hang on to it and you will feel the load. The key is knowing the fish are there so you have the confidence to be as patient as possible.”
Remember, big spots get big primarily by being gluttonous. Nevertheless, a good bit of savvy and a strong sense of self-preservation serve the fish well. Expect a challenge and you’ll be ready for this heart-thumping game.