Once known primarily as a trout and kokanee salmon fishery, Bullards Bar has become legendary for the world record class spotted bass that lurk in its clear waters.
Paul Bailey, a Kelseyville bass fishing guide, caught a potential new world and state record spotted bass weighing 11.4 pounds, but he opted to release the fish rather than kill it on November 29, the Sunday after Thanksgiving.
“It weighed 11.4 pounds on one digital scale, 11.5 on another and 11.7 pounds on another,” he said “We tried to get ahold of a CDFW biologist to examine it, but only one person was working on Thanksgiving weekend.”
“We could have transported the fish 75 miles to the nearest town, Oroville and weighed it on a certified scale,” he said. “However, the bass wouldn’t have survived in the live well during the trip to and from Oroville.”
Tim Little of Kelseyville set a new world and California state record for spotted bass when he landed a 10.38 lb. fish at Bullards Bar this January.
Then Louis Ferrante shattered Little’s record by catching an 11 lb. 3 oz spotted bass on February 21, 2015. The fish measured 31 inches long and 20.5 inches in girth, according to the CDFW.
What is truly amazing is that Shea McIntee was filming the story for Stoked on Fishing, a Fox Sports West TV show, on the day the fish was caught.
“Matt Newman of the iRod company and I had been fishing deep water all day and we didn’t have a fish yet in the boat, so we decided to try fishing shallow,” he said. “I hooked the fish while fishing in a cut with a ½ ounce Picasso Shakedown Shaky Head with a 6-inch Roboworm Fat Straightail Worm in Martens Magic in 14 to 20 feet of water.”
“The line just felt funny. I believe that if it feels funny, just lay into it. Matt had just caught an 8 lb. spotted bass that hit the bait the same way,” he disclosed.
Bailey caught his huge bass on a 12 lb. test Damiki fluorocarbon leader tied to 10 lb. test braid on an iRod Genesis II 712,. a 7-foot, 1-inch medium spinning rod teamed up with a Shimano spinning reel.
Since he didn’t have a CDFW biologist examine the fish and it wasn’t weighed on a certified scale, he is not eligible for a state spotted bass record.
“Matt captured me on video weighing the fish on the three scales,” said Bailey, who owns Big Bait Bailey Guide Service. “I’m content knowing that my fish is the world record spotted bass, even if my name doesn’t go down in the record books.”
Located in Yuba County between Nevada City and Downieville at an elevation of 1927 feet, this 16-mile long lake is a beautiful place to target spotted bass, with 56 miles of forested shoreline with pine, fir, oak, madrone and dogwood trees.
The reservoir is situated on the North Fork of the Yuba River behind Bullards Bar Dam, the second tallest dam in California and the fifth tallest in the United States. The reservoir also receives a portion of the flows from the Middle Fork of the Yuba that is diverted to the lake via tunnels.
Over a decade ago bass anglers stayed away from Bullards Bar, since the lake’s spotted, largemouth and smallmouth bass had a reputation for being small and scrawny. Then a dramatic change occurred in the lake’s ecosystem – the once abundant kokanee population began to dwindle and the Alabama spotted bass became larger and more abundant.
Why the fish are so big in Bullards Bar is somewhat of a mystery, according to Matt Allen, a fishing guide who has caught many huge spotted bass at the lake.
“The only thing I can figure is that is that the same thing is happening here that happened at Lake Pardee, when the lake was kicking out giant smallmouths, including a new lake record, for several years (between 2006 and 2010). I believe that the fish grew big feeding on the stunted kokanee,” said Allen.
Likewise, the bass in Bullards Bar have plenty of small, stunted kokanee to feed on. “You can see kokanee in the 3 to 5 inch range rising on Bullards Bar at times,” he stated.
“I started fishing the lake 7 years ago” he said. “The fishing has changed a lot since then. When the fishery began to get good, the fish were in the 2 to 3 pound range. A 4 pounder was a big one. It was nothing to catch 60 to 80 fish in a day.”
“But as the size increased, the numbers declined. Now it’s a good trip when a couple of guys get 6 to 8 keeper fish in a day. The next fish you catch may be a 15 incher or over 6 pounds,” he noted.
He has the honor of catching the biggest documented limit of spotted bass caught and released from any body of water in the world, five fish weighing 44.1 pounds last fall. “My limit included two high 8s, two 9 pounders and one 10 pound kicker,” he said.
He caught those fish while finesse fishing with tubes in green pumpkin and mud brown patterns.
“I guide on Clear Lake, Berryessa, and the Delta and that limit was bigger than any limit of largemouths I’ve caught anywhere else,” said Allen, who owns Matt Allen’s Bassin’ Guide Service.
He noted that with the low water level, it can be difficult launching at the lake now. “You have to monitor the storms while you’re fishing or you may get stuck in the mud trying to put your boat back on the trailer,” he said.
The population of bass is almost exclusively spotted bass now, which is strange for California lakes. “I haven’t caught or seen a largemouth landed in the many times I’ve fished the lake. And the only smallmouths I’ve seen were two fish caught in the river inlet that apparently came down the river,” he noted.
The CDFW annually planted 50,000 kokanee fingerlings in the lake for years, but increased the number stocked 100,000 fingerlings starting in 2010. The Department stocked 81,018 kokanee in 2013, 99,537 in 2014 and 80,063 in 2015. This has resulted in more forage for the bass to feed on – as well as more kokanee for trollers to catch
Besides trout and salmon, the bass also feed on the lake’s abundant crayfish population.
The dominance of spotted bass over smallmouth and largemouth bass in Bullards is due to three major factors.
First, spotted bass spawn deeper in the water column than largemouths and smallmouths. They are less subject to the fluctuations in water levels common in California reservoirs during the spring spawning season.
Second, the “spots” frequent open water to feed on kokanee and trout, rather than just holding close to structure.
Third, “spots” are very opportunistic feeders, continuing to feed when water temperatures cool down during the winter.
The Alabama spotted bass is a relatively recent introduction to the state’s fisheries, with the CDFW introducing the fish to the state in 1974.
Full services, including houseboat rentals, bait and tackle and groceries, are available at the lake’s south end at Emerald Cove Marina. For more information, contact: Emerald Cove Marina, 12571 Marysville Road, P.O. Box 480, Dobbins, CA 95935, Phone: 877-692-3201, www.bullardsbar.com.