Kistler Ranch Bass Ponds are catch and release only. We use standard barbed flies, but make sure that the points are extra sharp, as bass have very hard mouths and a quick hook set is essential before they tangle and toss your fly in the lake bottom weeds – or you miss the strike. Fishing is done from a float tube, kayak or pontoon boat, but wading along the banks (which many prefer and may be your only option if the wind picks up heavily in the p.m.) can be quite productive – though this tactic requires more stealth (bass have excellent eyesight and sensitivity to vibration) and can offer more difficult casting and landing of fish through the reeds. Most anglers will fish the largest lake in the morning then move to the other two lakes to the left in the afternoon if the wind picks up. Make sure that you fish within sight of a buddy to stay safe and to take a photo of that monster bass that you land (or claim doing so).
Bass are sensitive to water temperature and cover. Fish the warmest areas near shore and around cover. Frogs, injured bluegill and crayfish are their primary food sources in these ponds. If they're not hitting top-water, fish different water levels until you find them. Vary your tactics. Color is less critical than the water displacement, noise and action of the fly. Top-water often picks up under cloud cover or later in the afternoon/early evening when the bass aren't as vulnerable to the osprey that work these ponds.
When the water temperature is between 55°F and 65°F in the spring, largemouth bass will seek out a shallow, protected area for spawning but don't all spawn at the same time. The larger fish usually spawn first. Females are also generally larger than males. Both sexes will stage near areas of cover during the pre-spawn period. Male fish will then move into shallow water and aggressively defend a territory (usually 30 feet or more apart in an open area between areas of cover like reeds) where they'll build a nest to attract the females cruising along the edges in deeper water. Pre-spawn top-top water fishing along the edges of cover and in open slots between areas of cover can be excellent. Spawning won't start until the water hits around 65°F. After spawning, the female leaves and moves to deeper water while the male will stay and defend the eggs against nest raiders like bluegill and frogs. If you see a fish on an obvious redd (a cleared dark or light colored area on the bottom usually seen later in the spring or even early summer) move on and let it be.
Weather patterns affect the bass’s environment, such as water level, water color, temperature, light penetration, current and wave action – some of which can change several times in a day and alter bass movement each time. Overcast or windy days may cause fish to scatter in shallow water, while bright, sunny days can send them to heavy cover in deeper water. If clouds move in while you’re fishing a weed bed and action stops, the bass simply may have moved to the shallow, inside edges of weeds, where they can be more accessible and aggressive. Water conditions can change, too. As a rule of thumb, rising and/or stained water will cause bass to move more shallow, while falling or clearer water may force them deeper.
The more you know about the behavior patterns of Bass, the more successful you'll be. Here's a link to a video with excellent underwater photography of Bass spawning behavior. It's long, but very informative.
Here's a link to an article on Bass behavior and fishing different water layers during the annual se. Although written for gear fishers, these principles still apply to fly fishing.
Kistler Ranch Kistler Ranch is located at 11400 State Highway 108 Jamestown, CA 95327. It is is approximately 18 miles east of Oakdale on Hwy 108 on the way to Jamestown. (GPS – Kistler Ranch Camp – will send you too far east.) Watch your odometer and after you crest a small hill and are approaching the end of the divided highway, and look for a red barn with a white "K arrow" on it on the left hand (north) side of the highway. Slow down and cautiously turn left from the fast lane across the highway to the entrance of the ranch. Be careful, as it comes up quickly, and watch out for cars on your tail. If you miss the left turn (what usually happens), make a U-turn about a quarter mile up the highway where the divided highway comes to an end. Look for the small paved road into the ranch (wrought iron cowboy on horse sculpture by the entrance). Follow the paved road to the right towards the barn. Turn left at the barn gate by the "fishing" sign and follow the dirt road past the outhouse and through another gate down to where you'll see cars parking on the grass between the first and second lakes.
For those who wish to exchange success stories or would like tips or instruction in the evening, we'll meet up around noon by the parked vehicles as we eat lunch. Remember to bring a chair, sun and rain protection, polarized glasses, hat, plenty of water and your lunch. The only toilet is a short drive back up by the barn as you entered the ranch.