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By STEVE MERLO, Contributing columnist
The long, warm-weather trend without rain or severe cold has opened the doors for a wide variety of fish species to start moving shallow and heading for the spawning beds. Isabella Lake's famed crappie fishing has finally begun to stir, with some quality fish to 2 pounds coming out of 12-14-feet of water. Jigs and minnows are taking most of the papermouths, with the area around the French Gulch marina providing most of the action.
Striped bass are also beginning their annual run to lay their roe out at the California Aqueduct gates from Lerdo Highway south to the Grapevine. With surface temperatures approaching or surpassing the 60-degree mark, the linesiders are providing non-stop action for fishermen drifting unweighted, cut sardines. Anglers are also doing well tossing fat Gitzits whenever the water is moving. Most of the fish are under the 18-inch keeper mark, but enough bass up to 12-14 pounds are being caught to keep things interesting, and limits of keeper-size stripers are common.
Buena Vista's abundance of catfish have started to bite, and that's good news for whiskerfish anglers. The bite normally starts in late April, but the severe drought has the channel cats moving a month or two early to hit shrimp, clams and chicken livers.
Several friends and I spent three days for a few hours at a time sampling the action and found the cats eager to hit our baits dunked beneath a slip bobber rig in about 8 feet of water. Our three-day catch of only three hours per day went 57, 83 and 75 fish, respectively. One of the best attractants was a chartreuse-and-white, 1/16th-ounce mini-jig tipped with a tiny bit of fresh shrimp fished slowly along the bottom. We used extremely light lines in 4- to 6-pound test to entice most of our strikes.
While most of the catfish ran under a pound, about 40 percent went between 1-3 pounds, with some real lunkers in the aggregate. Each day yielded fish weighing in excess of 8 pounds each, with the largest channel cat sagging scales to more than 11.
We even caught a few bass to 3 pounds and 22 huge crappies while hitting rocks and tule clumps, but most of the crappies were already spawned out or were guarding nests, proving the spawn had already happened at the larger Lake Webb of the twin-lake complex.
The smaller Lake Evans should provide some decent crappie fishing this week when water temperatures increase over the magic 60-degree mark, but until that happens, most anglers will have to settle for the excellent trout fishing on hand. My wife, Candy, and I watched the hatchery truck dump a cool 2,000 pounds of fighting rainbows into the lake last Wednesday, and managed to catch easy limits of really nice-sized trout. She returned each morning for several days and found excellent action tossing small jigs tipped with meal worms.
Other anglers caught plenty of fish by tossing PowerBait rigs or night- crawlers dunked under a bobber, but the light pressure on the lake meant that there were plenty of fish left for others to catch.
Even the local lakes of River Walk, Ming and Hart Park received decent plants this week, so the fish are there for the taking. PowerBait seemed to be the top attractor, but local fly fishing enthusiasts have been killing scores of fish on No. 16 midges.
Sporting clay shoots
It's the time of the year when sportsmen need to give back to their favorite charities and here's just a few of the organizations that need you to come out and support them:
The Taft Sportsmen's Club will hold its 2nd annual fundraiser shoot at Five Dogs Range Saturday. The 100-target, sporting clay event benefits the Taft Junior Pheasant Hunt, Taft College and Taft High School scholarship funds and the JC Chitwood Memorial Scholarship Fund. Good shooting, great food and super raffles for ton of great outdoor-related prizes, including guns, are in store.
The Bakersfield Police Activities League will hold its fourth annual shoot at the Kern County Gun Club on Saturday. Benefitting at-risk youths, the shoot will raise funds to help support their educational, social and sports development at the BPAL Youth Center in Bakersfield.
Sponsors wanting to get in on the National Multiple Sclerosis sporting clay shoot put on by the local "Beating MS Since 09 -- One Step at a Time" team need to get with the program.
The shoot will be March 15 at the Kern County Gun Club and opportunities are winding down to support the event.
Contact Chanel Prince (661) 699-9533 or Darrin Armstrong (661) 565-4041 for more information.