Knowing spotted bass are one of the hardest fighting fish, Brent Ehrler was surprised when he easily landed a fat-bellied brute last week.
“It just came right to the net,” said the Bassmaster Elite Series angler, who took Mark Zona’s invitation to film a Zona’s Awesome Fishing Show at New Bullards Bar Reservoir in northern California.
While Ehrler had a great trip, he didn’t receive a great pull on his personal best spotted bass.
“I referred to them as being like Jabba the Hutt,” he said. “I believe the fish are so fat, they literally can’t move.
“These fish, they’re not right. Proportionally, they look fake. We’ve all caught 3-pound spotted bass, and it’s a giant battle. They are the hardest pulling fish. I just envisioned what the fight would be if I caught one of the big ones, a 7-, 8-, 10-pounder.”
While he was disappointed in that battle, both anglers caught their personal best spots, and each might have had a world record on the line momentarily. Spotted bass from Bullards Bar, which Zona calls the “biggest secret, non-secret lake in the world,” have broken the IGFA world record several times in the past two years.
On Dec. 27, angler Wes Roberson caught an 11-pound spotted bass, weighed it and released the fish alive. The IGFA is considering his record submission, and if certified it would overtake the current 10-6 record.
A month earlier, pro angler Paul Bailey caught an 11-4 but couldn’t certify it. At the time, he said he thought the record wouldn’t stand long.
Zona and Ehrler said the fishing was actually a grind. They caught either 10-inchers or fish over 5 pounds, but the big ones were few and far between.
“It’s a very tough lake … low numbers … but unicorns and leprechauns do exist, I’ve learned,” Zona said, adding that when a big one decided to bite, you had better be ready.
“We tied into a few that I have no idea how big they were,” Zona said. “Brent knows what a big one feels like, and I know what a big one feels like. We had some of the most memorable fish catches I’ve seen in my life, and losses that I will never, ever forget.
“Losses, we just went silent. We both looked at each other – ‘Wonder what that was.’ But we knew they were big ’uns.”
Ehrler, who drove nine hours from Redlands, Calif., said the reason behind the spots’ super growth in Bullards Bar is similar to the Southern California lakes near him that produce giant largemouth, like famed Dottie in Dixon Lake.
“The spots are the predominate predator in the lake. The recipe for world record fish is that and having the right forage,” he said, noting Kokanee salmon is that magic baitfish. “A big Kokanee is 12 inches long. It’s like a shiner, just a soft-finned fish that has tons and tons of nutrients. It’s protein rich, fatty, so they feed off them and get nothing but fat and grow fast.”
Zona left amazed with the lake. He said the show, besides showing the big fish catches and big misses, will take viewers there to see the local environment, which most say is breathtaking.
“What I learned there is with the perfect environment, and with the perfect forage, things in bass fishing can exist that none of us ever fathomed,” he said. “There are no limits in bass fishing.”
Both are concerned that something will happen to the lake to ruin a good thing. Anglers have tried to keep it secret, but that cat has long been out of the bag. Everyone who’s been there hopes that anyone going there will be super conscious about fish care.
“There is going to be another world record caught there shortly,” Ehrler said. “The thing is, how long is it going to last?
“The used to catch 20 or 30 5-plus pound fish a day. As the fish get bigger, there’s fewer and fewer of the big fish in there. You catch 10-inchers, or 6- to 10-pounders. They are fewer number-wise. My fear is that before too long it’s not going to be that good of a fishery.”