The next world record could be swimming around the Golden State.
Southern California is a bass fishing hotspot, and anglers come from all over the world hoping for their chance at breaking the IGFA world record for largemouth bass.
But where are the best bass fishing lakes in southern California? And what lures and baits can you catch them on?
California as a state has a lot to unpack in terms of fishing, partially due to its sheer size. But the reputation that precedes it didn't fall out of the sky, so if you're looking to add to your bass fishing bucket list, it deserves a spot as much as any other state.
However, before you do, make sure you come up with a plan, as there is a lot to consider when fishing the Golden State, particularly in its southern region.
Additionally, planning any trip out of state can get expensive, especially when you're going to a state like California that's already on the expensive side to begin with. There are a number of ways you can cut corners and save money, though, as long as you do your research.
Don't worry, we're here to help. Read on for our full guide to bass fishing southern California.
Fishing licenses and regulations
When it comes to getting a fishing license for California, you have options. Note that some of the freshwater lakes we're going to recommend in this article are private and have special permits from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife that allow them to charge a fee to fish. The good news is that you do NOT need a fishing license for these lakes. We'll mention a few of those later, but it is a solid way to save a little money on your fishing trip.
Your options for fishing licenses in California are as follows:
- Resident Annual: $49.94
- Non-resident Annual: $134.74
- Reduced-Fee Sportfishing License (For U.S. Military servicemen and women): $7.47
- Reduced Fee Sport Fishing License - low income senior: $7.47
- Free licenses for low income, mobility impaired, blind or developmentally disabled/Native American: Free.
- One day sport fishing license: $16.20 (Good for residents and non-residents)
- Two-day sport fishing license: $25.10 (Good for residents and non-residents)
- Ten-day Non-resident sport fishing license: $49.94
That's it as far as licensing is concerned. Now lets get to the fun stuff!
The best bass fishing lakes in southern California
We'll start off with what may be the best fishing hole in the state. Castaic Lake officially holds the state record (according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife) of 21 pounds, 12 ounces. Michael Arujo pulled this lunker out of Lake Castaic in March of 1991. This wasn't the only monster pulled from the waters of this 320,000-acre Los Angeles County reservoir. Bob Crupi caught a 22-pounder there that same month. Crupi caught that fish a little over a year after ALSO landing a 21-pounder AND a 17-pounder there.
Castaic Lake has also produced incredible Dan Kadota 19-pounder in 1989. Castaic Lagoon, located below the reservoir's dam produced a 16 pound, 12-ouncer on a fly for Larry Kurosaki in 2009. It's safe to say, this lake is one hot fishing spot! Castaic Lake is a park owned by Los Angeles and they operate on a strict schedule. If the lake gets too busy, they sometimes limit access. If you want to catch a world record, this is probably one of the best places to start. It's definitely considered by many as the best bass fishing in the Los Angeles area.
Another notable fishing spot to check out is Dixon Lake, which should hold the world record, but because of a technicality, it is a place of California fishing legends now. In the early 2000s, a massive fish, who bass anglers came to call "Dottie" for a black spot on her gill, was caught and released multiple times.
Three anglers, Mac Weakley, Jed Dickerson and Mike Winn fished relentlessly for this fish for over two years in hopes of breaking the IGFA all-tackle world record. It seemed like a reachable goal. Dickerson caught the fish first and it weighed an unbelievable 21.7 pounds. The fish might have broken the record. The only problem was, it took Dickerson and his friends three hours to find a certified scale. There is no doubt she had shed some pounds in that time.
Dickerson released the fish to grow some more. In April of 2006, the trio spotted Dottie again. The bass anglers took turns casting to the big fish until Weakley finally set the hook on her. The group excitedly brought the fish into the boat only to have their hearts sink. Weakley had foul-hooked the giant with his jig. The massive fish weighed 25 pounds, 1-ounce, which would have shattered the world record.
The IGFA however, doesn't accept foul-hooked fish. The record keeping organization did give Weakley the chance to enter the fish later because the foul-hook was an accident. But Weakley declined to pursue it. Two years later, Dottie spawned one final time and then died. When she was found, she weighed 19 pounds.
This San Diego County lake is small. But the nice thing about it is that you don't need a license to fish it. Just pay a daily access fee.
Some other California lakes to consider include Lake Isabella outside of Bakersfield, it once produced a 16-pound, 9-ounce fish. Murray Reservoir in San Diego produced a 17-pounder in 2000 and numerous other double-digit fish since then. It charges an $8 daily access fee. Also look into San Vicente Reservoir, Diamond Valley Lake, Lake Casitas, Lake Perris, and Pyramid Lake. Some of these waters offer great fishing for largemouths, spotted and smallmouth bass all in one amazing soCal package.
What lures to use in southern California
Most of the big bass in California are Florida-strain fish. Combine that with the warm climate and the fish have much more time to grow large than they do other areas of the country. A third factor in creating huge fish is the fact that many of these lakes are periodically stocked with bluegill, crappie, rainbow trout, shad and other baitfish that these black bass love to feast on.
So, two baits you should consider right off the bat are swimbaits and crankbaits in natural colors to resemble these prey items. Especially when fishing deeper water. If you want an exceptionally large fish, step up the size of your bait. It's not unusual for serious California anglers to be throwing swimbaits that are eight or nine inches long. Some people have even been known to try saltwater baits for these monsters.
Drop shot rigs tipped with soft plastic worms or senkos are also a popular way to probe deep water for suspended fish after the spawn. The bass usually spawn around March and at that time of year, sight fishing with jigs is a popular way to target big fish. And of course, spinnerbaits are always a safe bet.
Don't forget to try big, noisy topwater lures in the early morning hours when the bass are feeding in the shallows.
No matter where you're fishing, though, some things remain constant with bass. One of those being the inevitability of some trial and error. If your first tactic isn't working, don't be afraid to move on to the next until you find something that hits. Often times the lure that ends up being the jackpot is the one you'd least expect, so don't be afraid to experiment.
Bass fishing guides southern California
While it is possible for a southern California bass angling adventure to be completely DIY, fishing guides are available who can help put you on the big fish no matter which fishery you choose. Most of these guides offer half and full day trips. A half day is approximately four hours while a full day is eight. Expect to pay anywhere from $300-$400 for a full day trip.
Some guides offer bass fishermen two-day trips for slightly more, $600-$800. It depends on the guide, but most of them will take you on the big fish hotspots we mentioned earlier in this article.
The nice thing about hiring a guide is that most of them provide all the fishing gear. So, if you're just in town on a business trip with some time to kill, you don't have to worry about lugging it with you on a plane. Or, if you're from a northern clime like myself, you might not have the super-heavy gear necessary for those big southern California largemouths!
Land of the giants
If you're looking for a truly giant bass of 12 pounds or more, California is one of your best bets of catching one. The great thing is, because the Golden State is so warm, you can fish it for these monsters at practically any time.
Right now, the world record largemouth bass is still a tie at 22 pounds, 4 ounces. This is a record shared by George Perry and Manubu Kurita. But every spring, we here at Wide Open Spaces are keeping a close eye on the Golden State. Because we expect that sooner or later, someone is going to smash the world record there. Maybe that lucky angler will be you!