Clear Lake’s Big Cats

Clear Lake deserves its reputation as big bass water. No other lake in California offers so much cover and such superb management. For the fish in Clear Lake come from the local merchants and others concerned about Northern California's most prolific fishery. Crappie fishing is a winner here too. However, when Annette sends me to Clear Lake she always says, "don't forget to bring home some catfish!

For catfish are the monsters of Clear Lake. Last trip with Ron Sneed we won the Outdoor Writers fishing contest with an 18 1/2 pound whiskerfish that inhaled a purple plastic worm. That, on light tackle, is a very large fish indeed!

While you can take four to seven pound catfish on many trips most of the blue catfish in Clear Lake run two to two and a half pounds. Yellow catfish some call bullheads run a pound or two. Ron uses live or newly dead minnows and smelt 4 1/2 feet deep under bobbers.

He concentrates on rocky shore areas and drop-offs. That's not a bad pattern anywhere early in the summer. By fall fish move into deeper holes you can locate with a depth finder.

Most experts agree that the best bait in the lake is the silverside smelt the pros net at dawn. Minnows -- I like the small ones best, most folks use medium -- work well under bobbers. The advantage of smaller live minnows is the larger number of crappie you can expect.

Some catfish specialists use worms, others tout clams, sardines and a host of stink baits are also popular. A size 2 to 4 hook works well. Ten to twenty pound test on a stout spinning or casting rod handles the situation from bank or boat. A bobber does help keep minnows up where Mr. Whiskers can nibble them!

The real problem at Clear Lake is the choices you face. Vast areas of shallows with cover, reed and weed beds and more rocky ledges than a score of old-time prisons make choice difficult. The size of this largest natural lake entirely in California adds to the problem.

So you need to check your boat ramp carefully to cut your running time. Fortunately, Clear Lake has nine free boat ramps.

By late summer we concenrate on three areas that I fish in conjunction with bass. Most of the time we put in at Clearlake Oaks, just 35 miles on Highway 20 from Williams and Interstate 5. This lets us fish the canals in the area spring and early summer for catfish and bass.

Then we move to the fine rocky spots around the island outside the canals in late summer and fall. This area is especially recommended on days when wind is expected. Try the motel with the statue of John Wayne in front. They even have a boat ramp.

Donald S. Cochran

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