LAKEPORT, Calif. — If Clear Lake has proven one thing this week during the Golden State Shootout, it's this: This 43,000-acre big-bass factory situated in northern California is absolutely stuffed with 3- and 4-pound largemouth.
"I've never seen a lake with so many fish in it," marveled Ohio pro Bill Lowen, who sits in third place with 45 pounds, 7 ounces, right on the heels of Byron Velvick (51-0) and Randy Howell (46-10). "Every bush you pull up on has a 4- or 5-pounder sticking his head out, sunning himself.
It's the next size class of Florida-strain fish, though, that the 47 remaining pros on the second stop of the 2010 Elite Series are searching for today.
Through the first three days of the Shootout, the Elite pros' bags have been composed mainly of fish between 3 and 5 pounds, with the occasional monster — Velvick's 10-11 on Day One and Bobby Lane's tournament-biggest 11-10 on Day Two — thrown in to wow the weigh-in crowd at Library Park.
Coaxing a 7- to 9-pound bite, though, has been next to impossible.
"I need to get one of those giant bites," Howell said just prior to blast off. "So far my biggest fish has been 5 pounds, and I'm catching plenty of fish. I just can't find anything bigger."
But they're out there. Guy Eaker, Shaw Grigsby and Jared Lintner, to name just a handful, have reported either seeing fish in the 8-plus-pound range up shallow, or hooking toads in practice. Lintner, as a matter of fact, had a handful of enormous bites on Day Two, but couldn't connect solidly with any of those fish.
"It's so frustrating, I can't even tell you," Lintner said. "I mean, these are BIG fish, but this bite is driving me crazy. They're crushing that swimbait, but I couldn't get them to stick (Friday). I had one where that thing hit and just hammered my rod down, and my marshal went "Whooooooaaaa!" But just like that, boom, it was off."
Lintner and the field will likely see more of that over the final two days of competition. Water temperatures have progressively continued to climb throughout the week, bringing Clear Lake's pre-spawn largemouth up into the shallows adjacent to their beds, and the bigger class of females will begin to show themselves more and more over the next 48 hours.
Eaker, who left the launch this morning in fourth place with 44-4, has seen a continuous push of new fish into the shallows on the north end, and anticipates that trend to continue.
"The area I'm fishing is a staging area, so they're up around the docks and points, getting ready to move up," Eaker said. "They're not far away, especially with the way this weather is shaping up. Most of my fish are big, fat, chunky fish, and more of them keep coming in every day."
The Clear Lake traffic report
The residents of Lakeport have been waiting for a 70-degree weekend day since November. Today, with a 75-degree midday forecast drawing out the recreational boaters and anglers in droves, the remaining 47 pros fishing the Golden State Shootout will be sharing their water.
"We kinda tend to draw a crowd whenever we go somewhere," Greg Hackney observed.
So far, the interaction between the Elite Series pros and recreational anglers has been hit-and-miss, and almost completely dependent upon the specific area each angler is fishing.
Over on the open flats of the southwest shoreline where Velvick, Jared Lintner and Bobby Lane have been bombing away with swimbaits — an area nicknamed "Swimbait Corner" — the traffic is heavier, but more spread out.
Same for Howell's general area, which has seen a lot of transient traffic, but not on the specific spot he's fishing.
"There's been a lot of boats around that area, but I think my fish are a little deeper," Howell said. "I don't think they'll be as affected by the traffic as those shallow fish the other guys are fishing on."
Up in McGraw Slough and the shallow, constricted channels of the north and northeast ends of the lake where Guy Eaker and Bill Lowen have been working all week, there's less angler traffic, but every additional boat reduces the amount of fishable water.
"It's not like we're crammed in there, but there's one area where I caught two 5-pounders the first day and haven't been able to fish it since," Lowen said. "There are guys flipping the bushes, and their boats are right on top of where I want to fish."