Kayak Fishing Clear Lake
BY PAUL LEBOWITZ
WON Staff Writer
In fishing, a day or two either way can make a tremendous difference.We all know that, but it was the farthest thing from my mind when I met kayak anglers Terry Gowan and Sean White for a taste of Clear Lake’s bassing.
I’d heard the stories for years, how this largest of California’s natural lakes (Tahoe is shared with Nevada) is a bass factory to rival any place in the country. With more than 100 miles of shoreline, there’s plenty of elbow room at this inland Northern California destination.
That might account for Clear Lake local Gowan’s assertion that he gets along fine with his powered-up fellow bass chasers. No turf wars—if someone is working your spot, just slide on over to the next one. Kayak anglers are still something of a rarity here, although there’s little reason. This place is an up and coming paddling destination. More on that later.
This soggy spring has been a tough one for anglers and fish. Clear Lake is still at a near-historic high. The unstable weather had the bass up and down. The owner of the waterfront Ferndale Resort, my ideally located Soda Bay home base for this trip, said he’d counted at least three cycles of bass in the shallows chased back by cold fronts.
We paddled out on day two of a long-awaited warming trend, under sunny skies and in shirt sleeves and board shorts. The stubborn water, though, was a chilly 58 degrees.We marked plenty of fish suspended off the points in 14-18 feet of water, but couldn’t get them to go. Even the bass candy White dubs “secret agents”—live shiners—went untroubled.
We retreated to the Richmond Park Bar and Grill to ease the sting with hearty burgers and ice-cold brews, and to give the sun a chance to work on the water. As we polished off a second round of the local nectar, Gowan put the slow day into perspective. He fishes it year round, often with his girlfriend Sara Haworth who is just getting into kayaking, and rarely blanks even in winter. “It’s really fun when they get up in the trees. There’s this one branch I like to work. I can spend a whole trip there, hooking them one after the other,” he said.
The spring fishing is normally so fast-paced that White brings the entire family. It was here his young daughter Paige landed the big bass that won a Western Outdoors photo contest a couple of years back, earning the pair a free trip to Alaska.
Two days later I was back on the water, this time on a bass boat with George Hill of Clear Lake Bassmasters and travel writer Matthew Poole. Hill’s confirmation it had been slow going was born out by a morning with only a couple of half-hearted bites on drop-shotted plastics pitched at tule lines and the bank. Then the sun climbed high in the sky, we started sweating and the water temperature hit the 62-degree mark.
Hill set us up on a broad, shallow flat at the north end of the lake. It didn’t take long to find fish cruising in the warmer water, and then bass setting up on beds. Hill drove his “experienced” boat with no regard to his gel coat, squeezing us into tight spots for a better shot at hard to reach structure. Hill was an excellent host and guide, keeping us in the running in a small tournament. Two days, what a difference!
Poole and I took turns up front. While he worked the 5-pounder that ultimately was the second largest of the half-day contest, I couldn’t help but wish for a ‘yak.Maybe a stand-up model like the Diablo. Freedom of action.
For kayakers, the lake should be at its prime a few weeks past Memorial Day and once again after Labor Day. The mid-summer months can be uncomfortably hot and see the peak of motorized go-fast traffic. Even during the busy times the sloughs and marshes that fringe the lake offer refuge. The other issue is wind, the traditional kayaker’s bane. Early and late are usually better, and it’s usually possible to find a sheltered lee along the lake’s crenelated shore.
Launch sites and services are easily found via the Lake County Visitor Information Center, publisher of the excellent Clear Lake Water Loop guides. The seven paddle trails are well mapped, including popular fishing zones. It’s a fantastic resource, and best of all it’s free online at www.konoctitrails.com. The website also includes an interactive map of public launch sites.
Local kayak angler Gowan recommends Water Loop 5, Soda Bay, for a surplus of rocky structure and vegetated shoreline in Clear Lake State Park, which offers the area’s best tent camping. Long Tule Point is a short way west of the park, the gateway to acres of tule marsh. Rodman Slough at the north end and the Anderson Marsh to the south both also look very promising for kayak fishing.
The next time I go back, I’ll make sure I have enough time that a day or two either way won’t make any difference.
CLEAR LAKE KAYAK BASS – Terry Gowan with an early spring dinger pulled out of this famous bass water. Gowan doesn’t have a lot of company, although there’s no good reason for it. The lake is well suited for kayak fishing, with plenty of sheltered shorelines and the excellent Clear Lake Water Loop series of free paddling guides. PHOTO COURTESY TERRY GOWAN
SARA’S SLUG – Clear Lake’s Sara Haworth with a chunk caught earlier this year. “If I can catch them anyone can,” Haworth joked. She’s selling herself short. PHOTO COURTESY TERRY GOWAN