By Kevin Hofer
Known to many as the “Bass Capital of the West” there is a lot more to this special place than bass. Clear Lake is the oldest lake in North America at an astonishing 480,000 years, and is also the largest natural freshwater lake in California. Don’t let the size of the lake or the amount of bass boats on it any given day intimidate you, since there are ample opportunities for kayak anglers of all experience levels to be found here.
With roads circling almost the entire lake and public launch sites scattered throughout the shoreline, you can pretty much get a kayak on the water wherever you would like to fish. The majority of anglers may target bass, but many overlook the amazing catfish fishery that the lake has.
It wasn’t until I entered a year-long tournament with NorCal Kayak Anglers and I needed to catch a catfish, that I started targeting them at clear lake. I knew there were big ones in the lake but where to find them? After looking over some maps of the lake, I chose a few spots to try where there was some deep water close by. In the Rattlesnake Island and Redbud area I began to get these bottom dwellers dialed in and found a passion for targeting catfish.
Anchoring my kayak in the shallows and casting out onto the drop-offs has seemed to be the best method for me, no matter what location I choose. Over the years now of chasing Clear Lake cats and trying many different areas, I’ve had the best success along the south and east shores. Rodman slough on the northwest side of lake can be a beautiful and productive place to fish as well though.
The tough part is choosing what bait to offer up to the whiskerfish. I’ve tried so many different things, ranging from commercially made stink baits to the old standard of chicken livers or a night crawler. On most of my cat trips I keep it pretty simple, a pack of hotdogs and maybe a bag of mackerel or shad.
On my latest trip I tried a new-to-me technique… dragging live minnows along the bottom. It produced some nice fish for sure!!! All the baits catch fish, some days one will work better than another, but unless you want to bring an ice chest full of bait just choose a couple and go for it. Over time you will find your confidence bait and not be constantly thinking “should I put something else on” or “should I move to different spot”?
With channel cats in the lake getting up in the 30 lb. range kayakers can have a lot of fun battling with these beasts. A quick release on the anchor allows you to fight the fish away from your anchor line and lets the fish tow you around. They actually put up a decent fight and things can get a bit nerve racking when you feel the cat rolling like an alligator in your line. My preferred method of landing is a net or just a pair of fish grips, clamp down on that bottom lip then I usually take to shore if possible to get accurate measurements.
Once your skills are all honed in, or if your just feeling lucky there is a chance to put these fishing skills to the test. Annually for the past 30 or so years Clearlake Oaks has hosted the biggest catfish derby west of the Mississippi.
For a shot at $10,000 all you have to do is catch a heavier catfish than the other sometimes up to 1000 anglers. Whether you want to just go out have a good time fighting fat fish or your trying to win big money, Clear Lakes catfish will provide the opportunity!