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12/17/2017 @ 11:35 AM

Clear Lake Yellow Bass Bonanza


By Lowell Washburn
Iowa Department of Natural Resources

Clear Lake is the undisputed yellow bass capitol of Iowa.

When conditions are favorable, this explosive scrapper becomes the lake's most sought after and most frequently harvested fish species. Renowned for their superb flavor, yellow bass taste as good as they fight. Many enthusiasts go so far as to claim that they meet or exceed the table quality of all other freshwater species -- including the famed walleye.

But even at Clear Lake, the yellow bass fishery is as unpredictable as it is dynamic. Here, as elsewhere, this prolific panfish operates on extreme boom or bust cycles. When they're hot, they're red hot. And when they're not, they're not.

Clear Lake is currently enjoying one of those incredible booms. For over a month now, the fishing has been hot -- red hot. Bass fishing has been so good, in fact, that DNR fisheries biologists are predicting a potential record harvest for the 2003 season. It's not over yet, and anglers marvel as huge concentrations of adult bass continue to prowl the shorelines.

It's no secret that local residents take special pride in this unique North Iowa fishery, and they've made no attempt to keep the current yellow bass bonanza under wraps. It doesn't seem to matter which local cafe, gas station, or bait shop you happen to drop in on these days, the topic of yellow bass fishing is sure to come up and will likely dominate the conversation.

Here are some recent examples of what's been happening. Last Saturday morning, 72-year-old Edna Brown found herself smack in the middle of yellow bass feeding frenzy. After two hours of fishing, she left a south shore public dock dragging a hefty stringer containing 95 keepers. A nearby wader fisherman left the water a half hour later, taking over 150 fish with him.

At the McIntosh Woods State Park boat ramp, a pair of grinning anglers claimed to have just over 200 yellows corralled into four five gallon plastic buckets. That same afternoon, the park's public fish cleaning station shut down after the disposal grinders and sewer line couldn't keep up. DNR conservation officers finally used police ribbon to seal the area and prevent a near constant procession of fishermen from further clogging the system.
"I guess it would be an understatement to say that yellow bass fishing has been creating a lot of excitement around Clear Lake this spring," said DNR fisheries biologist, Jim Wahl.

"It's already been quite a season. Our creel survey tallied an angler harvest of around twenty thousand yellow bass during late April, and the numbers have just skyrocketed from there. Catch rates have remained excellent during May and early June, and I think that this year will easily rank as one of our best harvests ever. One of our biggest seasons came in 1995 when anglers took over 160,000 yellow bass from Clear Lake. I don't know if we'll beat that harvest, but I'm sure that we'll at least come very close."

In spite of continued heavy [angler] pressure, Clear Lake's yellow bass remain relatively easy to find. Look for spawning fish in shallow water containing and abundance of rock. Top locations include Dodge's Point, Methodist Camp shoreline, and the Island. Good numbers of fish are also being found along shallow stretches of gravel or clean sand.

For best success, anglers need to think small, think slow, and think shallow. Although yellow bass are highly aggressive feeders, they can also be finicky. Hair or tinsel jigs and crappie-type plastic lures in the 1/64 oz. class produce the best results. Many anglers prefer ultra light tackle combined with slow or erratic retrieves. Although schools will move to deeper water later this month, most adults are continuing to frequent water depths ranging from16 to 30 inches.

If the early morning bite is a bit on the slow side, don't despair. The action typically heats up as water temperatures rise. When temps reach the high 50s, be prepared for nonstop action.

Yellow bass love company and individual schools may contain hundreds of fish. Competition is keen, making the bass highly mobile. To stay in the game, anglers should be prepared to move with the fish.

Exactly how long this year's bass frenzy will continue is anyone's guess. But Wahl predicts that anglers are currently enjoying the home stretch of this season's best action.

"During a normal year, the [Clear Lake] yellow bass spawn will peak around Memorial Day week-end when water temperatures hit the low to mid-60s," said Wahl. "After that, things can tail off fast as fish vacate the shallows."

But this year, things have been a little different, says Wahl. Cooler water temps have stretched the window a bit, and anglers are getting bonus days from this year's run.

"During the past few weeks, we've enjoyed several peaks where there have been very large numbers of fish concentrated into extremely shallow habitats. It's been a very positive combination that has made the resource readily available to a wide range of anglers," said Wahl.

"Fish have essentially been accessible to anyone who wants to go after them. People fishing from boats, wading the shorelines, or just sitting on a dock all have an equal chance. It's really a unique situation where everyone has an opportunity to enjoy the resource," he added.

"Right now, a lot of people asking how long this kind of fishing is going to last. All I can say is that it won't last forever, especially at this intensity. I'm just telling everybody to get out there right now while the fish are still going strong."

When it comes to yellow bass, biologists urge anglers to forget catch and release, and concentrate on "catch to eat".

"This is definitely one fish species that people do not have to feel bad about taking home. The facts are that we want anglers to harvest as many adult yellows as they possibly can," said Wahl.

"Yellow bass are prolific and short lived. One way or the other, the older year classes are going to disappear, and they might as well be utilized. There's no such thing as taking too many."

For more information, contact Lowell Washburn at 641-425-1023.

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