Hunting Fishing

Remember when: Hensley Lake in the late 1970s had unique rules and lots of largemouth

Hensley Lake in eastern Madera County is run by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Hensley Lake in eastern Madera County is run by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Fresno Bee file

It’s always exciting to find a special unknown fishing spot that’s a jewel. I had a chance to get in on one way back in the late 1970s that created some great memories.

A track buddy at Fresno State told me that one of his relatives worked for the DFG as a biologist and that he knew about some new good fishing spots. I got to talk to the relative and he told me that there was a hot new unknown lake that had a big population of bass.

It was the first time I heard about Hensley Lake – no wonder because you could only fish it with non-gas engines and there were no regular launch ramps.

The new lake run by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers looked like a perfect bass lake at first glance – lots of shore structure and coves and not too big to cover. A buddy and I carried a canoe about 600 yards through high grass to the water and launched. The lake looked pristine and we fished the afternoon with little luck. But it was early spring and the water was still a little cool for the bass that were holding deeper.

A month later my dad and I took out a 12-foot aluminum boat and fished the lake using oars. The bass were going crazy in the shallows and hitting topwater baits every cast. Most of the bass ranged 1½ up to over 3 pounds. We released close to 100 largemouth.

I remember working along gently sloping banks with high grasses growing along the shore and throwing a topwater bait into any small opening I could find. You would suddenly see the grasses along the bank parting as a nice bass worked through the stalks right before it hit the lure. Wow! I had never seen this before and it’s still the picture I have of the awesome fishing we had at Hensley.

A perfect little lake almost no one knew about, hungry bass around every bush and constant action made it an almost addicting type of fishing experience. The only problem with Hensley were the huge numbers of big kingsnakes and rattlesnakes. Whenever I was on shore, I always kept to the clear shoreline. More than once I walked up to a rock where a rattlesnake would be sitting coiled up!

Hauling a boat down to the water and oaring around the lake got old so my dad came up with an ingenious solution: for propulsion, we brought out an electric motor. For launching, we found that one of the parking lots on the east side was about 60 feet above the water and a good 90 yards away but had a clear pathway over grass and sand to the shoreline.

My father hooked up a pulley to one of the big rocks near the edge of the parking lot and with a 300-foot cable hooked one end to the pickup hitch and the other end to the front of a 13-foot aluminum boat that had wheels attached to its stern. We would put a couple big batteries, a manual electric motor and all our fishing stuff in the boat and slowly let it slide down the slope. We just reversed the scenario when we pulled the boat out. We were abiding by all the rules, but we were just more creative than the other anglers.

Awesome fishing, a wonderful little lake, unusual tactics and lots of snakes made it a memorable and special fishing adventure I feel I was lucky to get in on it from the start.

Never give up!

Roger George is The Bee’s fishing expert:, Rogergeorgeguideservice on Facebook and @StriperWars