Blake Warren – ON THE HOOK

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Thursday, June 22, 2017
By George

Big bass fishing’s Valhalla
With 19 of the world’s largest 25 officially recorded black bass hailing from the Golden State’s waters, California IS the Valhalla of big bass fishing

When it comes to the sport of bass fishing on the whole, the state of California has always somewhat been and likely will always remain an outlier of sorts. Sure, without question, it is undoubtedly widely recognized and acknowledged for its tremen­dous diversity of fisheries, close-to-ideal, bass-friendly climates, frequent stocks of fish-fattening Vitamin-T and its undeniable prowess for kicking out world-class trophy bass. But on the national scene, it’s still often viewed as the Pac-12 conference of bassin’, faced with a heavy and consistent East Coast bias, always seemingly and somehow being overshadowed by bass fishing’s SEC powerhouse conglomerate: the rich history and origins of Florida bassin’ with classic Sunshine State fisheries like Okeechobee, the oft Bassmasters-frequented waters of the Ozark region, and them anything-goes, good ol’ boys in Texas — and that’s not to mention those massive, smallmouth-laden waters that dominate the country’s North­eastern territories.

BOB CRUPI’S Castaic Lake monster caught on March 12, 1991 is one of just three black bass to have ever officially cleared the 22-pound mark at 22.063. Crupi’s world-class largemouth still holds the No. 3 spot on the all-time top 25 — Castaic has 6 fish on the list hailing from its waters, all caught between 1989 and 1991.

But unquestionably, it shouldn’t be. And the lone reason it often is stems from the sheer nature of California’s uniquely circumstantial geography, butted up against the far-reaching Pacific, wayyy out West and one hell of a long cast from the commonly-fished waters of the Elite Series east of the Rocky Mountains and the Continental Divide. However, that same particular geography that often seems to segregate the Golden State from the guts of the national bass fishing scene is the very same reason California bassin’ is so revered and cherished by those of us who make the vast majority of our casts out on the West Coast. Never, or at least incredibly rarely, ever spending more than a second or two at most thinking twice — or really even ever giving a damn — about working a cluster of tree stumps with a spinnerbait in the backwaters of Roland Martin’s Okeechobee.

The fact of the matter and the absolute, undeniable truth of it is, California IS indeed the Valhalla of bass fishing, and the numbers simply do not lie. Here at the tail end of the 2017 springtime spawning season, it’s going to take one hell of a largemouth to sneak your way onto the list of the top-25 bass that have ever been officially recorded. If that’s a particular goal of yours, be prepared to start logging some serious overtime hours with no guaranteed additional compensation, because it’s going to take an awfully healthy 19.04 pounds worth of bucketmouth to get you into that exclusive, bragging-rights-for-a-lifetime, VIP club.

However, if you’re going to manage to achieve it, you’re highly likely going to be pulling off the eye-catching feat right here — smack dab in the heart of the Golden State. Of the world’s largest 25 officially recognized bass, 19 of those donkeys are California homegrowns, ranging from the final member hanging on to the prestigious list (the 19.04), to the No. 3 largemouth in recorded history (22.06 pounds) — both fish ironically coming out of Castaic Lake in 1989 and 1991, respectively.

Just in peering over the top-25 list, it clearly jumps out that there have been a few different stretches of time that have been the golden years for behemoth bass, none moreso than the mid ’80s through the early ’90s.

First and foremost when talking historically big fish, there is Castaic Lake, which has produced more trophy fish to make the list (6) than any other watershed, barely edging out Miramar’s five (5) 19-and-overs. And when were those half dozen Castaic monsters caught? You guessed it — they were hooked and landed during a stretch between January of 1989 and March of 1991, a span of just 26 months, which produced a half dozen fish between 19.04 and 22.06 pounds. In fact, the bass sitting at No. 3 and No. 4 on the all-time list were both caught at Castaic... exactly one week apart in March of ’91!

So Castaic and Miramar together on their own have contributed nearly half (11 fish, or 44 percent) of the biggest 25 officially recognized bass, all of which were posted between 1988 and 1998 except for one (Miramar’s 20.938 in 1973, No. 8 on the all-time list). Glory days, indeed. The only other fish to make the list during those 10 years was No. 23 — a 19.1 pounder from Lake Baccarac in Mexico in 1993.

If you add just a pair of other SoCal lakes — North County San Diego’s small, gin-clear Dixon Lake and Ventura’s Lake Casitas, and there’s another 5 bass going over 19 pounds. And in a bit of an eerie similarity to Castaic, two of Dixon’s three fish in the top 25 came just 11 days apart in May of 2003 (No. 18 at 19.438 pounds and No. 5 at 21.688) — the other bass from Dixon in ’01 (No. 10, 20.75). Casitas has a pair on the roster: No. 6 at 21.2 (1980) and No. 15 at 19.5 (2002). So that’s just four Southland lakes, all within a 250-mile-or-so radius: a total of 16 world-class fish in just 23 years’ time, with the exception being Miramar’s No. 8 caught in ’73. Yeah, there’s definitely something to it. There’s clearly a pattern here.

But it isn’t lost on hardly a soul in the world of hardcore big bassin’ that the most recent fish to make its way onto the Holy Grail roster of trophies was in 2009 — a 22.31-pound football tuna of a largemouth coming out of Japan’s ancient Lake Biwa, some 5,000-plus miles from C Point at Castaic Lake (the fish is officially tied for the current world record). And beyond that huge fish from the Orient, only a half dozen other bass have made the list since the turn of the century.

However, while the recent lack of world-class catches may cause varying degrees of doubt and dismay, there’s no doubt among California’s most dedicated big bass anglers that world-record fish ARE indeed out there — looming and waiting for that one passing, big, easy meal, hanging tight to docks or lying deep, way back in the tules, having made the most of their time throughout the state’s recent dry years hanging back, settled in their most familiar drought-centric haunts consisting of creek channels and backwater nooks and crannies.

Regardless, California re­mains the world’s geo­graphical Valhalla of big bass. That fact won’t be changing any time soon. And although just two largemouth have made the list in the past 15 years, will the state’s changing landscape with replenished lakes and reservoirs from this last wet season’s rain turn that around and give up a 19-plus here or there? It seems something to at least ponder. Hmmm…

Reader Comments
Hi Blake. reading the article "big bass fishing's Valhalla". One thing that should be mentioned is the Gen Dupras bass caught from Hodges. This 20lb. + bass was one that should be in the record books for one very important reason. It was caught from a lake that did not have trout stocking. To me, this bass is the real record holder in the SO CAL region. This fish was caught by the best "big Bass" fisherman ever to launch a boat in so cal waters. More so than Bill Murphy for one reason, Mr. Dupras caught bigger bass than Mr. Murphy. Thank you, Troy Kuenne
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