Feature Article: Central Coast Bass Tips

Dialing it in: Quick-hitter Central Coast bass tips from an area guide

BY BLAKE WARREN/WON Staff WriterPublished: Jul 19, 2019

Who couldn’t use a little extra know-how and a little insider info when heading out to the lake in search of biting bass, especially so if it might not be your home lake or one of the watersheds in your regular rotation? Well, for this particular Central Coast-themed issue of Western Outdoor News, WON reached out to area guide Darren Graham with Atomic Custom Baits & Guide Services to glean a little insight into a few of the region’s most popular bass fisheries and hopefully help anglers put a few more fish in the boat in the coming months ahead.

guidedarrenGUIDE DARREN GRAHAM of Atomic Custom Baits & Guide Services with a Lake Nacimiento spotted bass. Graham guides on the Central Coast Lakes listed above along with lakes Kaweah, Success and Isabella.

Lake San Antonio: There are lots of different ways to effectively target San Antone’s largemouth and smallies, but with the grass coming in and summer now underway, for Graham it’s going to be a topwater-heavy game plan most times he hits the lake in the warmer months.

“When it’s on for topwater, it can be one of the best lakes along the coast in my opinion,” he said. “I feel like walking baits generally outfish the popper there most of the time, and buzzbaits come more into play when you get up near the river.” Speaking of the river, Graham said that up in the north end where the river flows into the lake is a great area to work the surface baits around isolated flooded brush, particularly your walking baits and buzzers. He also added that flipping the stickups and rock piles in the same area can be another very productive approach, and said that there can also be a very good reaction bait bite at times down by the dirt dam on a mix of crankbaits, jerkbaits and spinnerbaits.

Lake Nacimiento: Unique in that Nacimiento is one of the rare lakes to hold big, robust populations of both spotted and white bass, big time daily numbers are always a legitimate possibility when launching a boat here. As long as it doesn’t get blown out with heavy rains or winds, Naci can produce very good outings year-round. In fact, Graham says his favorite time of year to fish Naci is in the winter, when the quality of bass tends to be better and there are few, if any, recreational boaters to contend with as there are in troves during the peak season.

“What I really like to fish at Naci is a ½-ounce blade bait and a ¼-ounce micro spinnerbait,” Graham said. “In the colder months you can just cast ’em out and let ‘em hit the bottom, then just slow walk it back along the bottom like a Texas rig, or you can reel it, pause and let hit bottom again, then bring it back in again — they can’t stand it. They also work well during the warmer months on a more standard retrieve.”

With Nacimiento’s unique geography with tons of arms and fingers and micro coves, Graham said there are often a lot of places that are left untouched that can give up some very good fishing. Namely, boat docks. “Spotted bass like boat docks, and there are a lot of private boat docks at Naci that hold good fish that I think a lot of people miss out on,” he said. “Boat ramps too. Working jigs and cranks on those ramps can be really good.” He also noted that drop-shotting and split-shotting worms is a tried and true technique essentially year-round at Nacimiento.

Lopez Lake: Not far from the town of Arroyo Grande, Lopez Lake's coastal influence makes it a great summertime spot to try and beat the heat and find some fun bassin'. If it's smallmouth you're after this would be the region's Mecca for them, as the lake boasts some really healthy, good quality smallies along with a rock solid largemouth population, always making big, mixed-bag limits a possibility here.

“One thing that I'm really a believer in at Lopez is using baits in transparent, or phantom colors, and that goes for jerkbaits, crankbaits and topwater,” Graham said. “They just seem to get bit really well there. Lopez can be a really good crankbait lake with shad and craw patterns, especially if you can get in close and parallel to the rock walls and cast in there as tight as you can get it.”

Making his own baits, Graham added that one of his more effective Lopez-specific offerings is a ½-ounce brown and copper spinnerbait with a big #7 copper willow blade that he likes to throw along the rock walls just like the cranks. “They just really seem to like it there.” Topwater can also be pretty good at Lopez during the summer and fall months, especially so on your more calm days. “But once the wind kicks up, you're usually best to switch to worms,” Graham said.

Lopez is also a very good jig lake, and that's one particular weapon that anglers will want to have tied on year-round to find quality biters with a healthy population of crawdads in the lake. The bass bite can – and usually does – get considerably tougher by mid-fall and into the winter like at many lakes, but there are always quality fish to be had at Lopez regardless. “It can still be pretty good as far as finding some good fish, the key is just really slowing things down in the winter. I like to lean on jigs, spoons and blades in the colder months there,” said Graham.

Santa Margarita Lake: It's all about the largemouth down the road at Santa Margarita Lake. Big ones too. In fact, Graham says it's your best bet in the region for a shot at getting a hook into a double-digit trophy bass. “The spring can be excellent and the size there can be awesome,” he said. The summertime can also produce plenty of good days on the water, with lots of grass usually coming in by late spring / early summer to open up the playbook to a handful of different approaches.

“I always take the time to flip and drop-shot the edges of those grass lines, and also throw topwater right over the top of them,” Graham said of the summer bite. “There's a lot of fish that tend to congregate there this time of year. Santa Margarita is a really good worm lake, especially with your earth tone colors – your crawdad colors, browns and greens seem to play really well there. One thing I also really like to do there that's kind of become a thing of the past is split-shotting worms and working the bluff walls and rock piles. The split-shot just really seems to get 'em pretty good there.”

As far as topwater goes, Graham says that poppers are usually a best bet over other surface baits and that a little breeze on the water generally tends to enhance the topwater bite at the lake. And when there is some wind chop present, jerkbaits have also been a long-time favorite at Santa Margarita for enticing some quality reaction bites.

If you are a bass hound who happens to like variety and options, you'd be hard pressed to find a more diverse, opportunity-rich region in the state than the Central Coast. From trophy largemouth and bruiser bronzebacks, to aggressive spots and kamakaze white bass, there is truly a bit of everything here for bass anglers, and no shortage of spectacular scenery to do it in. If you've yet to experience the region first-hand and get a taste of this unique bass scene, it is highly recommended here that it be put on the future agenda at some point, and it's highly likely you'll be very happy you did.

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Darren Graham at Atomic Custom Baits & Guide Services offers bass fishing guide trips at a number of lakes in the region, including San Antonio and Nacimiento, Lopez and Santa Margarita, along with lakes Success, Kaweah and Isabella. Graham also offers a line of custom-made bass baits. For more information, call Graham at (559) 359-1969 or visit

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