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The bass are bigger, the weather's cooler at Lake Isabella northeast of Bakersfield.

The bass are bigger, the weather's cooler at Lake Isabella northeast of Bakersfield

Trophy-size bass could be your reward for a fall trip to Lake Isabella, about 100 miles southeast of Visalia. A year ago, a catch weighing some 16 1/2 pounds broke the lake record by 3 pounds and prompted news of Isabella's comeback after a lean decade. The current record, set last spring, is just under 19 pounds.

One reason for the comeback: a strain of big, hard-to-catch largemouth bass from Florida, planted in 1972 by the California Department of Fish and Game, has crossbred with the lake's smaller bass, resulting in a new, weightier strain.

Weather is another reason. In dry years of the 1970s, Isabella's water level was drawn down early in the season when San Joaquin Valley farmers needed water for irrigation; this hurt spawning and killed bank vegetation. But recent rainy winters kept water at good spawning levels and spurred bank vegetation to a verdant tangle before the lake reached capacity. Well into fall, fish had lots of bankside hiding places to help them survive and grow.

During 1983, water poured over Isabella's spillway for five straight weeks. Fish and Game biologists believe that this long period of high water allowed the bass an unusual second spawning. Threadfin shad, prime food for bass, also thrived. Last winter's runoff reverted to normal, but even so, experts predict bass fishing will remain superb for two to three years. Another factor in favor of the fish: unlike most other bass lakes in the area, wind forces most fishermen off Isabella by early afternoon, reducing the time that fish are under angling pressure.

Good fishing ahead. Summer's sweltering dog days have given way to comfortable fall weather--and the fishing conditions favored by many bassmen. October is a time of relatively uniform water temperatures, caused by top layers of warm water sinking and mixing with cooler waters below. (Spring spawning takes place during the reverse mixing, making that another prime time to fish.)

Stable water temperatures mean you'll find fish distributed all over the lake. The water mixing also stirs up food: plankton that feeds the insects and bait fish that feed the bass. Also, fish appetites are keen: they know winter is coming.

Experienced bass hunters use 6- to 14-pound test line with 3/8-ounce brown jigs, or cut bait such as anchovy or sardine, or live night crawlers on a 2/0 hook. Some of the biggest catches come on the "jig and pig' rig pictured at left. Daily limit is five; fishermen 16 and older must have a California fishing license.

Boat rentals, launch ramps. Three marinas have bait shops and boat rentals. French Gulch Marina is off State 155, on the lake's western shore just north of the main dam. It rents boats with 6- to 15-hp motors for $27 to $36 a day; a "bass boat' with 35-hp motor and auxiliary trolling motor costs $50. Call (619) 379-8774 to reserve.

About 3 miles farther north, near Tillie Creek Campground, Isabella Marina (also known as the North Fork marina) charges $24 for a 6-hp boat, $30 for a 10-hp boat. Call 376-3404.

Kern Valley Marina (also called the South Fork marina) is off State 178, on the south shore 2 miles from the dam. Its 10-hp boats rent for $35, 15-hp boats for $40. Call 379-8154.

The Army Corps of Engineers maintains five free launch ramps around the lake: three off State 155 and two off State 178. They are labeled on a free map you can pick up at Kern County Parks and Recreation headquarters just north of French Gulch Marina. You'll also need to get a boat permit here ($15 per year).

To reach the lake from State 99 at Delano, head east on State 155 to the lake.

Photo: Six 2-pounders make a fine morning's catch of bass, but the odds of netting bigger ones are good. Isabella's morning-calm waters turn wind-whipped by midafternoon

Photo: "Jig and pig' rig, responsible for biggest catches, is a bass lure with pork-rind cutout resembling frog's hindquarters
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Copyright 1984 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Sunset
Date:Oct 1, 1984
Words:682
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