BassWestUSA - Spring, 2012, Page 89

poor spawns, cold winters and a shad die-off had a major impact on the bass fishery. Other factors, though, may have played a part as well. One is that almost any body of water will go through normal cycles in terms of fishing productivity. Ross Eng- land has been fishing Clear Lake for almost thirty years. “I’ve seen it go from an exceptional numbers lake in the early 80s to a real tough time in the late 80s through the early 90s, where a limit of fish was a big deal. In the late 90s, it really started to turn around and we started see- ing big numbers, leading up to five and six years ago when people were having hundred-fish days during the summer. Now it’s taken another downturn.” Weeds and algae are also common whipping boys at Clear Lake. It’s a place notorious for summer algae blooms. According to Terry Knight, although algae can sometimes be unpleasant, it doesn’t hurt the fishing. “Overall, the fishermen don’t complain about the algae,” Knight states. “We haven’t seen a die-off to amount to anything.” Additionally, Knight maintains that the much-maligned weed spraying is a bit of a myth. The truth is that spraying for weeds is expensive. As a result, Lake County contracted with a private company to control weeds primarily through me-

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tion of threadfin shad. The whole fishery kind of peaked with an abundant food source.” England believes weather was the main culprit in changing the game. “Following Ken- nedy, we had two cold winters in a row where water temperature got below 43 F and stayed there for a couple of months. For the thread- fin shad, the very low end of their survivability is 43 F. So the bulk of the threadfin shad died. You pulled that food source away, a lot of those bass starved to death. The whole fishery crashed because of it. “Threadfin shad are a boom and bust food source,” concludes England. “When they’re going well, everything is superb. When they crash, everything crashes with them.” According to Terry Knight, a lesser- known factor may have been poor spawns several years ago. “They’re getting very few 1- to 2-pound bass and that tells biologists there was a poor recruitment or a poor spawn in 2007 or 2008.” Cold win- ters also took their toll. “Young of the year fish, if they don’t go into the winter with a lot of body fat, have a very high mortality rate. If juvenile bass don’t eat for 3 to 5 days, they’ll starve to death.” A perfect storm of sorts had hit Clear Lake, and the combi- nation of

When did the off-the-hoo k fishing at Clear Lake begin? You can’t pin an exact date on it, but its run to stardom m ay have begun in April 2000, when Byron Velv ick set a BASS 3-day re cord on its waters with a catch of 83 lbs 5 ounc es. Sieg Taylor turned heads in March 2005 with 94 lbs 11 ounces in an FLW Everstar t tour nament (that was for 16 fish, not 20). And, of course, Steve Kennedy’s massive win in 2007 sealed the deal. In 2008, though, things began to change. Califor nia’s Depar tment of Fish & Game maintai ns tournament statistics, and its count of total bass weighed-in at Clea r Lake from 2008 – 2010 tells quite a tale: What you’re seeing in a span of just two years is a 40% drop in the number of bass brought to the scales. Tournamen t numbers, however, can be misleading, sinc e they hinge so much on how many contests are held and how many anglers are fishing them . Although the lake saw plenty of tournamen ts throughout this perio d, the recession had a huge impact on the nu mber of folks competin g in them. Naturally, fewer contestants mean fewer bass weighed-in. Fortunately, there are ot her sources of statistic s on Clear Lake bass fishing. One is gu ide Bob Myskey (fishclea Bob has been fishing the lake ha rd for 13 years and guid ing for the last 9. He’s also a sedulous record-k eeper, tracking the num bers of fish he and his clients catch and their weights. Here is his re cap of his bass fishing results from 2005 throug h 2010: It doesn’t take a statis tics wizard to see that fishing productiv- ity declined dramatical ly after 2007. A look inside those numbers, though, reveals a surpris ing trend. Although ther e was a distinct drop in numbers of bass caug ht, most were fish of less than three pounds. By 2010, Myskey and hi s clients had experienced in terms of smaller bass a 70% decline from the 2007 peak. Pa radoxically, though, his catch of bass from 3 – 6 pounds actually incr eased: This, of course, correspo nds to what many angler s have experienced at Clear La ke over the last few ye ars. The bass aren’t there in the numbers they were a few years ago, bu t when you get bit, it’s a good one.