Clear Lake in Lake County, the largest natural lake found entirely within California, is known as the “Bass Capital of the West,” but the crappie explosion at the lake over the past three years could earn it the name of “Crappie Capital” at least of California, also.
Since February, anglers have been catching lots of black crappie from docks and the shoreline throughout the lake. Although fish over 3 pounds have been reported, fish in the 11 to 12 inch class have been more common.
Paul Myer, former Fish Sniffer business consultant, and I experienced outstanding crappie action on a recent trip to the lake, catching one fish after another.
“The good bite is early so I suggest you get there about 7:30 am,” Myer told me in an email the night before. “We can catch a bunch of crappie and then we can go to lunch? Let me know if that works for you.”
I responded, “That sounds great,” and then headed up to the lake that morning. I drove along Highway 20 through Clear Lake Oaks and was excited to see the shoreline and the hills surrounding the lake a verdant green with wildflowers blooming at lots of locations.
The lake was full; at one point earlier this year the Lake County Board of Supervisors had closed the lake to motorized boating briefly because of the potential danger to shoreline homes and trailers caused by boat wakes on the flooded lake. However, the water level has receded now.
When I arrived at the private docks where he has been fishing, we began casting out our lures. “All I’ve been using is 1/16 ounce Mini Jigs with no extra weight,” Myer said. “Your best bet is to cast out and slowly retrieve the lure.”
Myer soon hooked a crappie and lost it. “Some days they slam the jigs and other days it the bite is a little slower,” he tipped.
Three years ago, there was very successful crappie spawn around the lake. Those fish began showing up as 3 to 5 inches the next year, up to 10 inches last year and up to 14 inches this year. Of course, since there are different year classes swimming in the lake, your next fish could be a 3 to 4 lb. trophy.
I tossed out the same jig that Myer was using and begin hooking one fish after another, most in the 10 to 12 inch range, with some smaller and a few larger fish mixed in. It was an absolute blast and called to mind the “good old days” of crappie fishing at Lake Berryessa with the late Claude Davis, who honed his crappie and bass fishing skills at Clear Lake.
Neither of us intended to keep any fish, so we quickly released the fish back into the water. If you’re a “hook-up junkie,” it’s hard to beat crappie fishing in the spring! The crappie were all in spawning mode, with some of the males a dark black color while the females were white, silvery and fat with eggs.
“This crappie fishing is as good as it gets,” noted Myer as he hoisted yet another fat slabside out of the water. I agreed.
After 1-1/2 hours of excellent fishing during which we lost count of the fish we caught, the bite all of a sudden slowed down as the sun rose higher in the sky.
“Let’s try the dock over there,” he said, where another angler had been catching crappie and went over there. Crappie gravitate towards shade and the fish had indeed moved to those docks. We caught and released a bunch more crappie along with some bluegill around the shaded docks.
Finally, Myer said, “let’s go get breakfast!” and we went to one of the local coffee shops and had a big mid-morning brunch. It was a great morning of fishing with a former Fish Sniffer staffer that I hadn’t fished with for over a decade!
After lunch I headed back to Sacramento in my Toyota Tacoma on Highway 20. As I drove through Clear Lake Oaks, I decided to take photos at Island Park and the public boat ramp. A few anglers were fishing from the shoreline for bass, but nobody was crappie fishing.
I decided to catch one crappie “for the road,” fishing off the pier next to the boat ramp. The sun was now high over the water, the worst time of day to fish for crappie, so I targeted the shade next to the dock. I tossed out a Berkley Atomic Teaser in grasshopper and had a couple of tentative bites.
Suddenly, my rod doubled over as a big fish took the lure. I first thought I had hooked a bass, but when I got the fish to the top of the water, it turned into a big crappie over 1-1/2 pounds, my largest of the day.
Since I fished the lake with Myer, he said the crappie are still biting, although it has been off and on depending on the day.
“On Friday, an overcast day, the fish were really biting,” Myer said. “Today, it hasn’t been as good. The best action is still in the mornings and afternoons; it’s been slow during the day.”
Myer expected the solid crappie action to continue until early June. Then the fish move into deeper water where theyy’re harder to find.
Dave Brabec of Clear Lake Outdoors confirmed the top-notch crappie action at Clear Lake.
“The crappie action has been good since February,” he noted. “The reason why we’ve seen so many crappie the last couple of years was because of the good spawn three years ago. The fishing now is almost like it was in the 1960s”.
“The fish are now just about done spawning,” he said. “After they are done spawning, they go into deeper water and anglers have a tough time finding them. They are still out there; it’s just finding them that’s the problem.”
Usually in October and November when the water cools down, the crappie again move into docks and coves around the lake to feed on silversides minnows, noted Brabec.
While the crappie bag limit is now 25 in possession, Brabec personally thinks the limit should be reduced to 10 fish total to keep the population robust and healthy.
“There was pretty good crappie fishing in 2006-2007 and then people fished them out,” he observed.
Myer emphasized that there is lots of public access for anglers around Clear Lake with the abundance of docks, boat ramps and parks. However, anglers need to move from spot to spot until they find fish, since the crappie move frequently.
Good areas to fish for crappie (for a fee) include the Indian Beach Resort and the Clear Lake State Park, advised Bob Higgins of Limit Out Bait and Tackle. Other areas include the county park, Lucerne Harbor or Lakeport Docks; these spots have free access.
Every time you fish Clear Lake, you may catch a potential state record crappie. Carol Carlton of Lakeport set the state white crappie record at Clear Lake on April 26, 1971. Wilma Honey of Lodi set the state black crappie record of 4 pounds, 1 ounce at New Hogan Lake in March of 1975.
There have been reports of bigger crappie landed at Clear Lake in recent years, but none of the anglers have gone through the record certification process. “Last year two anglers called me and told me that they each let crappie over 5 pounds go,” said Brabec.
In addition to crappie, the lake hosts a world-class largemouth bass fishery and huge channel, white and brown bullhead catfish for anglers to pursue.
Clear Lake Facts
Clear Lake is a natural freshwater lake in Lake County fed by runoff flowing into many streams as well as springs in Soda Bay. Its sole outlet is Cache Creek. In 1914, Cache Creek Dam was constructed at this point in order to increase the lake’s capacity and to regulate its outflow.
Clear Lake is 19 mi by 8 mi (at its widest point, with surface area of 43,785 acres and a 1,155,000 acre·ft capacity. The average depth is 27 ft maximum is 60 ft. The lake elevation is 1,329 ft (405 m), average water temp is 40 °F in winter and 76 °F in summer.
Clear Lake is believed to be one of the oldest lakes in North America, due to a geological fluke. The lake sits on a huge block of stone that slowly tilts in the northern direction at the same rate as the lake fills in with sediment, thus keeping the water at roughly the same depth. Core samples of the lake’s sediments, taken by U.S. Geological Survey geologists in 1973 and 1980, indicate that the lake is at least 480,000 years.
Clear Lake Outdoors, Lakeport, 707) 262-5852, http://clearlakeoutdoors.com/
Limit Out Bait and Tackle, Clear Lake Oaks, (707) 998-1006,
Indian Beach Resort, Clear Lake Oaks, (707) 998-3760,
Boat Launching Facilities
5th Street Lakeport – 5th St, Lakeport, CA 95453: The ramp is large with several docks nearby. Lakeport can get busy during peak months, but is an easy to use ramp with decent parking.
Clearlake Redbud Park – Redbud Park, Clearlake, CA 95422: A big boat launching facility in the south of the lake. There is a very large parking area with an adjacent park.
Lucerne Harbor County Park – 6225 Hwy 20, Lucerne, CA 95458: A nice small ramp with limited parking right in Lucerne.
Lakeside County Park – 1985 Park Dr, Kelseyville, CA 95453: Is in between Clear Lake State Park and Konocti Vista Casino. Is small ramp with a small park area.
Konocti Vista Casino and Hotel – 2755 Mission Rancheria Rd, Lakeport, CA 95453: There is a huge section of docks available to park your boat with power for battery recharging.
Clear Lake State Park – Clear Lake State Park, 5300 Soda Bay Rd, Kelseyville, CA 95451-8217: Is a very large state park with tons of camp sites, making it the best place to stay on the lake if you are planning on camping in a tent or RV.
Clearlake Oaks Boat Launch – 12684 Island Dr, Clearlake Oaks, CA 95423: Is a smaller ramp with limited parking, but it is located right in Clear Lake Oaks at the Keys, a large network of sloughs with houses.