Daily Limit: Jabba the spotted bass

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.”

Mark Zona and Brent Ehrler show off a pair of giant spotted bass.

Both were certainly glad to have experienced the lake in its world record days. Zona said it quickly jumped among his most memorable.

“To my last day on earth, I will never forget that trip with the crew and Ehrler,” he said. “I can look at Brett Ehrler 30 years from now and that will be such a common bond for the rest of my life. To me, that’s worth more than anything on earth, to share that experience with somebody.”

That feeling is shared by Ehrler, who presented another provoking thought. He said what he caught was the equivalent of catching a 19- or 20-pound largemouth.

“If you put it in that kind of perspective, it’s strange,” he said. “It’s a big fish. I can’t imagine a 19-, 20-pound largemouth. It was a trip of a lifetime to me to go experience it. I hope that the lake stays healthy.”

The Ehrler Rule

Speaking of Ehrler, B.A.S.S. is changing its criteria for Rookie of the Year. Ehrler, who came over after a successful career on the FLW tour, accepted the award last year, but he admitted he was no rookie and said the award should go to Jordan Lee.

Sorry it’s a year late, Jordan, but no other guys who’ve won $1 million over in FLW can be considered a rookie. Check out the official criteria and see the list of this year’s true rookies who will vie for the award.

Let’s go fishing, folks

Boogity, boogity, boogity, let’s go fishing.

The 2016 Bassmaster schedule gets under way this week with the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Open on the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes.

If they left early enough, anglers in the path could have avoided being hit by the blizzard. Marty Robinson was among them. He reported he left a couple days early so he could stay ahead of the storm.

Of course, once in Florida anglers were saying it’s rather chilly, but that is expected to change this week before Day 1 on Thursday. Forecasts call for temps in the 70s and upper 60s during the event … but there could be rain.

Floridian Shaw Grigsby gave a scouting report of the conditions, and he said things could shape up for a slugfest. Also, Bassmaster.com published a list of all the competitors in the opens.

Dean Rojas’ record day

It’s a long read that will take some time, but if you want the complete lowdown on the largest bag of fish ever caught in a B.A.S.S. tournament, BassFan editor Todd Ceisner wrote a perspective piece on Dean Rojas for the 15th anniversary of his 45-2 day.

The record catch came on Jan. 17, 2001, on Lake Toho. Hmmm. Could the conditions be similar this week for the Open anglers? Check out Rojas’ record here.

Clunn clarifies

Rick Clunn went to Facebook to clarify a flurry of internet articles on anglers seeking and using pre-tournament information.

Several of his sentences should strike at the hearts of most anglers. It’s how he and all those who fished before technology did it, and how it should be done today. Clunn responded specifically to an article that asked the best way to teach youth.

“My original reaction and still my initial approach would teach them the science of locating fish on your own,” Clunn wrote. “That is the ultimate source of self confidence and produces the greatest personal rewards.”



Justin Lucas took some steam out of the getting help discussions. He writes that many of the Elite venues this season will be shallow water events that won’t depend on special waypoints. Check out “Tired of sharing info?”

James Overstreet doesn’t just shoot photos of fish. Here is his chilling take on a road lined with pecan trees in Scott, Ark. JO has driven it on many times over the years and “always thought it would make a cool photo with snow on the road.” Yes, yes it does. With much of the country digging out from a blizzard, it also seems quite appropriate.