By Joel Shangle
Social media followers of MLF Bass Pro Tour pro Cody Meyer, prepare yourselves: the annual “parade of giant spotted bass” is about to begin.
The Northern California pro posted a photo of an oversized spot on his Instagram feed (@codymeyerangler) on Oct. 8, one of several 6-plus-pound giants that he’s decorated his social feeds within recent years. That fish – while impressive – is just a preview of things to come as the December bite begins to heat up.
“From about Thanksgiving on is when the fishing gets really good,” Meyer says. “The water cools down and they start biting. They’ll bite good from December until they spawn, which is usually sometime in May. They’re just especially active this time of year. They’re gathered up around bait, and if you know how to find them, this is a great time of year to catch some big ones.
And by “big ones”, Meyer means REALLY big ones. Meyer has caught, in his estimation, “hundreds of fish over 6 pounds”, including one morning where he caught 15 fish over 7 pounds before noon. His single biggest day – the day when he broke the IGFA all-tackle record with a 10.80-pounder on Bullards Bar Reservoir in Yuba County – sounds like a fairy tale: a 10.8, two 8-pounders, a 7.47 and a 6.6.
That’s over 42 pounds of spotted bass, an 8-plus-pound average.
“I know, these numbers sound ridiculous: In most spotted-bass fisheries, a 3-pounder is a big fish,” Meyer admits. “I’ve fished spotted-bass lakes from California to Georgia and everywhere in between, and there’s just nothing like these Northern California fisheries anywhere else in the world. An 8-pound average is just insane. It’s unheard of to catch 40 pounds of spots. I mean, it’s hard to catch 40 pounds of largemouth!”
Find the kokanee, find the trophy spots
Meyer’s California spotted-bass playground is the result of stockings of spots from Smith Lake, Alabama by the California Department of Fish & Game in the early 1970s. Fisheries like Whiskeytown Lake, Lake Berryessa, Lake Shasta and several others (formerly largemouth and smallmouth fisheries) gradually evolved into solid spotted-bass destinations.
And some – especially those with big populations of stocked kokanee salmon – turned into factories for trophy-sized spots.
“If you do a little research and connect the dots between spotted bass populations and kokanee stocking, you’ll figure out where the potential giants live,” Meyer advises. “It takes a spotted bass a long time to get to the size where they can eat a kokanee, but once they get to that size, they grow about a pound a year.”
Prime time is just beginning
The wintertime proliferation of bigger spots is directly related to the seasonal movement of kokanee in most fisheries. These landlocked sockeye live in deep waters for the majority of the year, but as waters cool down in December, kokanee migrate into shallower depths. And spotted bass follow.
“Kokanee and spots both live literally out in the middle of the lake, so they’re pretty tough to find most of the year,” Meyer says. “The winter is when those kokanee come up shallower, and spots move up to ambush kokanee. It’s about the only time of the year where they’re a little predictable.”
Meyer’s approach is straightforward: meter the lake with your electronics to locate suspended kokanee schools, and drop a simple swimbait or Strike King Ocho down on them. There’s no structure to hold fish on, so spotted bass can be prolific in one area one day, and completely absent from that area the next.
“It’s super, super simple fishing, but it can be totally frustrating, too,” Meyer says. “If you find the right area, though, you can catch them like crazy.”