A lot of us who regularly fish for stripers at San Luis Reservoir were very excited last year when the rain started falling, expecting an epic year. But the early bite didn’t live up to expectations, and all our sonar evidence told us something wasn’t normal on many levels. I didn’t like what I was seeing!
What the heck was going on? Digging deep, we began to think we stumbled onto some of the reasons the fish and the lake were acting differently than we predicted.
First, the lake had been way down for several years, almost 175 feet from the top at its lowest point The fish had lived in a much smaller pool of water for a long time, one that rarely exceeded 50 percent capacity. They had settled into that living space and were pretty predictable as the water went up and down within those low level tolerances.
In addition, the deepest part was near the dam and the main body of water centered around this structure as the water fell. They had gotten used to living in this part, and during the summer it also became a deeper refuge from hotter water that a lake at low level can generate. This went on for close to five seasons. In effect, they had lived in a small house and knew where the cooler, refrigerator, couch and TV were all located!
Fast forward into the new year as the water rose an unbelievable 175 vertical feet, covering areas that hadn’t seen water for half a decade. The total shoreline exploded, and the volume of water went from a low of less than 300,000 to 2.1 million acre-feet – a massive change. Can you imagine making your home almost eight times bigger in a very short time?
The additional water not only caused the lake to go way up, but also way out, spreading into areas now miles from the prior shoreline, such as Portuguese Cove. With so much change, it seemed early on that the fish were staying where they felt comfortable, and we noticed they were spreading out very slowly. Some distant areas had very few … hmm!
A piece of the puzzle fell into place when we heard of issues at other big lakes that had been low for awhile. Anglers there also found fishing in newly covered upper lake areas, miles from the dam, was terrible. Seems most of the fish had stayed in the main lake till spreading out much later in the season. Sounded familiar!
In addition, I had never considered another dynamic: the bait. Not only were the fish confused , but the different kinds of bait in the lake also had to reposition and get comfortable. With the lake changing so much in a short time, the bait had the same kind of problem the fish had. How do you find a new area that might be literally miles away, and then settle into a good area that gives you all the protection and conditions you need to thrive and reproduce? You know, they don’t have any roadmaps underwater, so it might take awhile to get where they need to be – no matter how favorable it might look to us! .
There were also huge new areas of growth that had sprung up while the lake was low, but finding the right depths and other adjustments would take time for all the lake critters. Funny, now we are seeing what we consider to be regular patterns of bait and fish on our sonar; it just took longer. The huge changes had created issues we had not seen.
The whole thing was counterintuitive for me. Having expected it to be fairly normal, I underestimated the degree of change. I continue to learn that you have to pay attention and follow the facts. Assuming is a killer! Yes, I’m sure I’m still missing something … always do! LOL Never give up!
Roger George is The Bee’s fishing expert. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org,