“There’s a lot of big bass in this lake, Chief,” says guide, TV personality and FLW tournament pro Big Fred Contaoi of the Orange County Choppers fishing team after I set yet another fat largemouth free. “A lot of bass and not many people – a good combination in my book.”
Mine too. And that’s really the story with Clear Lake in the winter. It’s bustling with activity in the warmer months but the place is a virtual ghost town in the winter – except when there’s a tournament going on. On this particular winter day, there’s a grand total of two trailers in the parking lot when we launch and we never run into another basser the entire day.
We have the lake to ourselves and, judging by the fishing we experience, I can’t figure out why people stay away. Sure, it can be cold at Clear Lake this time of year, but the action is usually more than worth the trip.
After putting in at Clear Lake Oaks, Big Fred fires up his aircraft carrier-sized Ranger and we blast across the lake at Mach 11. I immediately notice an amazing amount of bird life on the water – it seems as if every variety of fish-eating critter with wings is there – tons of gulls, grebes, cormorants, herons and even a few osprey are all buzzing around in a feeding frenzy.
“The birds are all here because the shad schools are thick right now,” says Big Fred and then he turns on his meter and shows me some truly impressive balls of bait 10 feet below the surface. “This place is alive with fish!”
There’s nothing like seeing a bunch of birds working to get you in the mood and we are soon casting to a juicy-looking shoreline near Rattlesnake Island with Lucky Craft Pointer jerkbaits.
Big Fred says he is usually able to find a big fish or two in the spot we are fishing – and he is right on. Ten minutes into the day, he gets a solid slam and boats a beautiful 4-pound largemouth. Not long thereafter, I set the hooks into a bucketmouth that probably goes 6 ½ pounds – my biggest bass in quit some time. What’s amazing to me is the quality of the fish. They’re all in prime shape and extremely fat. In fact, mine is so well fed that it looks like it had recently swallowed a cantaloupe.
After working that area over well, we head for some tule banks up north near Nice. We work those over pretty good but the water on that end of the lake is still murky from the rains. At that point, Big Fred suggests we try sampling some of Clear Lake’s famous winter live minnow fishing. Sounds good to me!
We rig up a couple light rods with 10-pound test and 1/8-ounce sinkers and lip-hook a pair of minnows. With the baits gliding just off the bottom in 10 feet of water, we slowly drift along a dropoff near the state park. It isn’t long before the first bass comes calling — and then we’re off to the races.
The largemouth are on our baits pretty much the rest of the day and we have a ball “mooching” off the ends of piers, along tule edges and rock piles. Most of the fish we land are taken in 10 to 12 feet of water, though we catch a few as shallow as 5 feet.
Every last fish is a chunky specimen and average a solid 2 to 3 pounds. We don’t nail any monsters fishing with the minnows – maybe 4 pounds at best – but there aren’t any dinks, either. Our smallest fish would have been considered a quality tournament bass a lot of other lakes. And don’t even ask me about the beast I lost…
We catch largemouth all day long – to the point that we quit before the fish do. On the way back home, we stop a couple times along the east shore to investigate the crappie scene. Fred says that he’s been drilling the slabs – some as large as 3 pounds – for several weeks. We’ve been fishing all day and are ready to get a bite to eat, so we don’t spend any time messing around with the panfish – even though I think crappie are a hoot to catch.
At Indian Beach, I get a glimpse at how good the winter crappie bite can be at the lake. The guys fishing off the docks are getting them on just about every cast – nice 2 pounders, too. As we watch, Fred flips on his big color Lowrance graph and we see dense crappie schools passing under the boat. But it’s getting late and we decide to call it a day.
On his crappie and bass combo trips, it’s not uncommon to catch a 100 fish a day with Big Fred and there’s a strong possibility you’ll catch the biggest bass of your life as well. The guy is great to spend a day on the water with and, for all you do-it-yourselfers, you’ll learn more in a day with a pro that you would in a year’s worth of weekends. Be sure to watch for him on the TLC’s American Chopper.