Southern CA Freshwater

Pre-spawn is on at San Diego lakes, 'go time' just around corner

BY BLAKE WARREN/WON Staff WriterPublished: Mar 05, 2019

Next full moon likely to draw lots more bass into shallows and get spring party officially started

CHULA VISTA — As is the case each year, springtime arrives significantly sooner on the calendar for San Diego-area anglers — at least in the bass fishing world — and that is just the case at the moment in these early days of March. As the Southland’s lowest-elevation lakes which are generally quicker to warm from the winter chill, San Diego’s reservoirs are perennially the first in SoCal to slip into full-blown spawn mode, a point in which we’re rapidly reaching the brink of heading into the meat of the month and show season.

In just a couple weeks with the next approaching full moon set for March 20, look for things to kick into full swing across the Golden State’s southernmost county by mid-month.

“Oh yeah, this next full moon is definitely going to be interesting for sure,” said SoCal guide Rusty Brown as he prepped for this week’s Long Beach Fred Hall Show, where he’ll be a seminar speaker at the 805/Okuma Bass Tank. “As long as we don’t have too jacked up weather, I’d say it’s going to be ‘on’ at Otay, Hodges and El Cap, with San V to follow shortly.”

The current bite at Otay remains fairly steady in a pre-spawn pattern, with Brown saying that each passing day is seeing more bass gradually sliding up the water column. Top tactic of the week at Otay has been tossing bigger 5- and 6-inch Senkos, rigged either wacky or Texas-style, with top color choices being green pumpkin and watermelon/black flake. Drop-shotting 6-inch Robos in Aaron’s Magic has also been producing well, while green pumpkin and chartreuse/white chatterbaits continue to attract more attention from pre-spawners early and late in the day.


sundayfunday2SUNDAY FUN DAY for 13-year-old Drew Merrifield at Lake Hodges, who decked this 6 and 7 pounder on drop-shot plastics.

ESCONDIDO — Up in North County, Lake Hodges remains awfully muddy with minimal visibility at just about 6 inches in most parts of the lake. There’s been a little bit of a reaction bite going early and late with spinnerbaits worked along the banks from the Narrows to the power lines, along with a few bites coming on shad-pattern squarebill cranks, but for now most of the grabs are coming on worms.

“Right now it’s still mostly all about the drop-shot at Hodges,” Brown said, “with worms in darker colors doing best and the drop-shot getting I’d say 80 or 90 percent of the bites right now, along with some occasional solid jig fish too. There are quite a few fish up shallow in 2 to 5 feet, but I’d say most of the bigger fish and bigger females are still down in that 10- to 12-foot zone.”


SAN VICENTE IS kicking out some nice quality largemouth of late, like these two chunks caught by Don Mintz and buddy Steve of Clearlake, who made the trek down from NorCal to fish with area guide Jim Hallauer recently.

LAKESIDE — It’s a tale of two reservoirs when turning to Lakeside’s two staple bass fisheries, San Vicente and El Capitan. According to Brown, San V gets his nod as the “hottest lake in the county” at the moment, while El Cap has slowed some and gotten a little more challenging over the past week or so.

“I’d say San V is fishing the best right now, followed by Otay in second and Hodges just behind in third if I had to rank ’em,” he said. “San V is kind of fishing like Diamond Valley right now, and the water’s clearer there than at the other lakes. Guys aren’t exactly killing ’em but they’re getting pretty good quality and solid numbers. The drop-shot’s still really good there right now in mostly 15 to 35 feet of water, and guys are also getting some good ones on jigs rigged with Flappin’ Hogs.” Good jig and trailer colors have been green pumpkin and black/blue, Brown noted.

El Cap has been a slightly different story, however, with the bass bite having slowed down coupled with some shifting conditions. While much of the water is still pretty muddied up, the lake level has come up quite a bit recently, somewhere between 10 and 15 feet or so.

“It’s gotten a little trickier lately,” Brown said. “With the level coming up, which has been quite a bit for El Cap, and the water still pretty muddy, finding patches of cleaner water has been key to finding biters. The best action has been near the launch ramp and in the Narrows, and by all indications these fish are feeding on bluegill and crawdads right now. The good news is that there’s now a lot of good growth now under water in the north end, and when that water clears up there I think it’s going to get really good.”

Most recent catches at El Capitan are coming on margarita mutilator Roboworms on the drop-shot with a slight uptick in action also coming on green pumpkin chatterbaits. Brush Hogs rigged Carolina-style have also been getting more attention, and with the dirtier water, local anglers are adding a bit of chartreuse to their baits to bump up the number of bites they’re getting.

For now until the bedding begins at S.D. County lakes, it’s all about targeting pre-spawners in a pick-your-poison type of situation: shoot for better numbers and more bites from what are mostly males moving up, or grind away a little deeper looking for bigger, pre-spawn females. WON asked Brown where and how he’d attack these lakes in targeting those often-skittish, meatier pre-spawn fish in the week-plus ahead.

“I’d probably look to San V first right now, then a close second between Otay and Hodges,” he responded in regard to location. “San Vicente is already producing that quality even though the fish are deeper there than at the other lakes. Hodges has big fish but you’re usually going to have fewer bites, while at Otay you’re going to have to weed through more smaller fish to get a few big ones.

“If I’m targeting those bigger pre-spawners, I’m going to go with a bait with a bigger profile right now,” Brown continued. “A black and blue or green pumpkin jig with a meatier trailer, full-size Brush Hogs, bigger salamanders or lizards, full-bodied craw imitations… just anything real bulky. A big Power Worm or 8- or 9-inch Robo too. This is the time I’ll also definitely be going with heavier line for those fish, especially with newer cover with the levels coming up. I had been going with a lot of 5- and 6-pound set-ups on my drop-shots that I’d probably bump up to 8-pound, and be throwing jigs and creatures on 12- or 15-pound. It’s heavier line and baitcaster time. As the Texas boys like to say, “It’s time to put away the ‘fairy wands.’”

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