Blake Warren – ON THE HOOK

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Wednesday, January 04, 2017
Creek Dreams – A short story
Friday, April 21, 2017
Rallying around the cause, 'en base'

(Back) On down to San Antone

Lake San Antonio back on Central Coast menu:

‘Soft reopening’ of South Shore set for April 14 on weekends-only basis; return of popular lake a perfect storm for area anglers, as stable water level, lots of newly flooded cover and healthy populations of striped, largemouth and smallmouth bass await Easter weekend...

After months of swirling rumors along with a hardy helping of uncertainty and speculation, Central Coasters finally received some long-awaited resolution regarding one of the area’s more treasured and highly popular fisheries. Lake San Antonio is now set to reopen to public recreation on Friday, April 14 for the first time since its most recent, albeit brief, open stint late last summer (Aug. 5 to Sept. 11).


WHAT WAS ONCE AN AFTERTHOUGHT just as recently as a few months ago, Lake San Antonio’s South Shore is indeed officially set to reopen to recreation on a weekends-only schedule starting at 7 a.m on Friday, April 14. This aerial shot of the long drought-battered watershed (up until very recently) paints a much different picture of the lake as it stands currently, now sitting at 52 percent of capacity after dropping under a meager 5 percent just a year ago. PHOTO BY AL BERGET

The lake had not been open since July of 2015 prior to early last August, essentially removing San Antone from the region’s recreational rotation altogether for the better part of the past two years. Aside from the obvious loss of a first-class bass fishery and one of the entire region’s most popular recreational boating venues, the lake closures also ensured that fewer dollars were spread throughout the area’s economy, with fewer local jobs — the ultimate “lose-lose” scenario for south Monterey County residents amid the drought years.

The reservoir’s “soft reopening” offers some much-welcomed good news to area anglers and boaters alike, who’ve endured some of the most impactful and woeful effects anywhere in the state due to California’s years-long drought.

South Monterey County Super­visor and Parks Committee co-chair Simon Salinas made the official announcement of the reopening at the South Monterey County Rural Coalition Town Hall meeting this past Friday (March 24) after months of discussion regarding numerous issues that were under consderation, most of which related first and foremost to “resources” — aka dollar bills — and a combination of mechanical and potential safety hazards that mandated being addressed before a decision was reached.

Lake San Antonio’s South Shore will reopen to the public at 7 a.m. on Friday, April 14 on a limited-use basis, operating on a weekends-only schedule until 8 p.m. on Sunday, May 14.

Come Friday, May 19, the South Shore lake and park will open on a full-time, seven-days-a-week schedule, in which the Lynch Launch Ramp, Lynch Campgrounds will open in addition to the facilities that are to open with the commencement of the soft reopening.

The North Shore of Lake San Antonio is set to reopen to boating and camping on Friday, June 9 — inlcuding the always popular lakeside camping area. At this point in time, all of the lake’s launch ramps are expected to be open for business, something few in the area likely saw happening just as recently as this past Thanksgiving.

Among the entire Golden State’s hardest-hit lakes during the drought, San Antonio had steeped as low as just 3-plus percent of total capacity at its lowest point during the ongoing dry spell. However, the lake was sitting at a healthy 52 percent as of this past Friday after a prolonged string of winter storms dumped ample rainfall throughout the region to provide some desperately needed drought relief.

LAKE SAN ANTONIO’S STRIPED BASS seem to be bigger than those found in the southern half of the state, on average.

The lake’s impending reopening is just the latest in a string of positive developments for the region’s freshwater anglers in particular, who now enter the meat of the 2017 season with a number of suddenly water-laden lakes that are boasting a whole lot of healthy, new cover to work, water and lake conditions starting to round into fine form, and the area’s top bass waters kicking into full gear heading into April.

Just as a quick rundown, nearby Lake Nacimiento is churning out some very excellent days on the water amidst what has been a hot and heavy spotted bass bite in recent weeks, while Lopez Lake and Santa Margarita are just starting to see their springtime bites ramp up considerably with quality, chunky bass making more and more frequent appearances. For Central Coast bass hunters, everything seems to finally be poised for that primo, “it’s our turn” bass action that’s been beyond a long time coming, with the addition of bass-centric San Antonio firmly planting itself on the local menu in just a couple of weeks to sweeten the whole deal.

As far just as how San Antonio’s bass species are currently holding up, or exactly how they will respond to the lake’s first taste of fishing pressure in over a half-year’s time is anybody’s guess — but there certainly seem to be quite a few arrows pointing upward from nearly all vantage points. Despite the heavy toll levied by the drought and San Antonio’s over-exposed shorelines that appeared very naked and afraid for the majority of the last half decade, the deathly thirsty banks’ most resilient flora nearest the water’s edge (and on shoreline yet even higher still) managed to survive and sustain itself, making for tons of new vegetation and cover the likes of which the watershed hasn’t offered in years. Couple all that new cover with the optimism that San Antonio’s abundant amount of forage managed to survive the region’s latest low-water years sufficiently enough, and the coming warm-weather months ahead could just have some phenomenal fishing in store at San Antone.

“The lake’s looking to be in really good shape,” said area outdoor writer and local angler Rich Lingor, who has had his casting thumb on the pulse of the recent goings-on regarding Lake San Antonio’s status in the months leading up to last week’s announcement.

“When I fished the lake the number of times I did last year for those few weeks it was open, the fishing was good and all the fish I was catching were really healthy,” he said. “Now there’s going to be all that brush and weeds down at least as deep as 90 feet, and that’s a lot of new cover for these fish. And it’s just not all a bunch of weeds either — there’s a lot of growth up in the river and there are also a lot of cottonwood trees, willows — things that are actually going to last for a while. So I’m assuming the fishing’s going to be pretty good, starting right away this year.”

And while San Antonio’s predatory bass populations are heavily reliant on threadfin shad as their primary forage, the new lake conditions could bode pretty well to perhaps take a tad of the pressure off the shad as the lone, highly over-stressed food source. All of that new brush and vegetation now underwater is bound to help bolster and grow the lake’s baitfish and panfish populations, too.

“Along with all the shad, there are some Mississippi silversides in there, and years ago — maybe not all that long ago — the lake used to have a whole lot of bluegill in it, but I think that the stripers just ended up doing a pretty good number on ‘em. But I could definitely see those bluegill rebounding pretty good here in the next year or two with all that newly inundated brush.”

One of the things Lake San Antonio is perhaps best known for is its robust striped bass fishery, which has consistently yielded both steady numbers and a considerably-above-average percentage of linesides in your healthier, meatier varieties than most lakes in the southern half of the state. “A lot of these stripers at San Antonio run in that 7- to 12-pound range,” Lingor said, “and there are some big ones in there too – a few 30 pounders for sure.”

As far as how to go about targeting the jailbirds come mid-April and beyond, Lingor depicted the South Monterey County lake’s striped bass as being highly keyed on shad schools year-round, or at least whenever the bait is even remotely available to them. And given the fact that the reservoir doesn’t receive regular trout plants like many others, heavily loading up your “for San Antonio only” bait box with shad imitations is likely imperative to future striper success. Topwater lures, Flukes, spoons, shallow-running cranks, suspending jerkbaits, swimbaits... it all works equally well at various times so long as it remotely mimics a threadfin, and especially so when the shad spawn gets dialed up — which generally goes down sometime in May.

But not to be overlooked is San Antonio’s green bass scene, which has its own respectable populations of both largemouth and smallmouth bass. While Lingor described the current health of both San Antonio bass species as “pretty good” by all accounts last fall, he also made a point to note the reservoir’s penchant for being sneakily good for the bronzebacks in particular, which seem to be both more plentiful and a little more ripe on the quality side of things as a fishery on the whole than their largemouth brethren. Smallies in the 2-pound range are relatively common at San Antonio, with smallmouth going 3 pounds or better not being all that rare either, he said. The lake can also keep you on your toes for some legitimately oddball surprises at times too, as Lingor cited a number of different occasions when he wound up with 8- to 10-catfish days as active whiskerfish willingly hammered his bass baits, whether they were soft plastics or deep-diving crankbaits.

So if the closing of El Niño has indeed directly (or even indirectly) contributed to the subsequent reopening of San Antonio in April, well, that’s a now-lopsided trade of two Spanish nouns that Central Coast bassers are overwhelming glad to have made surging into the spring...


‘Soft reopening’ of Lake San Antonio

When: 7:00 a.m., Friday, April 14 — 8:00 p.m. Sunday, May 14.

Where: South Shore park and lake.

Operating Hours (Harris Creek Launch Ramp): Fridays – 7:00 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.; Saturdays – 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.; Sundays – 6:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

Available facilities / services: Harris Creek Launch Ramp: Campgrounds at Harris Creek, Loops A through D; and Redonda Vista, Loops A through D (camping reservations will not be taken during the soft opening and sites will be issued on a first-come, first-serve basis). Loop E of Redonda Vista will be available to group camping only (minimum of 5 paid sites per group to reserve). Lodging units of various sizes will be available at Lynch along with the General Store (land-based fuel only). There will be NO lifeguards at any beaches and both swimming and boating will be “at your own risk.”

What’s next?: The South Shore lake and park will reopen full-time on a seven-days-a-week schedule starting on Friday, May 19 for the remainder of the summer season (the Lynch Launch Ramp and Lynch Campgrounds will also open at this time). On Friday, June 9, San Antonio’s North Shore park will reopen for boating and camping.

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