Ed Everhart was hoping to catch his first 10-pound largemouth when he put away his drop shot and began slowly swimming a Huddleston swimbait across a rocky flat of Collins Lake this past April 27, but when his son Cole netted a 9-pound, 8 1/2-ounce spotted bass for him, he admits he could not have been more excited.
The fish, which measured 23 1/2 inches in length and had a girth of 21 1/4 inches, not only established a new Collins Lake record for the species (breaking the previous mark of 8 pounds, 4 ounces), but also missed setting a world record by only 12 ounces.
"I was fishing the swimbait about three inches under the surface and the bass were coming up from about eight feet to hit it," explained Everhart, who tries to fish at least one day per week, "and I'd lost several fish before I was able to hook this one. The spawn had just started on the lake, and I'd seen several big fish on beds the day before.
"I have never caught a bass weighing more than 10 pounds, and my previous best spotted bass weighed five pounds, so when this fish hit and started pulling, I really thought I had a 10-pounder.
"I was surprised, and of course, delighted, to catch a spotted bass that large."
Collins Lake, near Marysville, north of Sacramento and only about 60 acres in size, receives heavy rainbow trout stocking throughout the year and is known locally for producing largemouths topping 10 pounds. The reservoir has a mixture of rock and weedy structure, as well as deep points and shallow flats. River-fed, the lake is used primarily for irrigation.
Despite producing record-class fish, California's spotted bass history dates only to January 1974, when 94 fish, caught by anglers from Lewis Smith Lake in Alabama, were introduced into Lake Perris, a 2,000-acre impoundment southeast of San Bernardino. Smith Lake fish were chosen because the lake had produced five consecutive world records. In 1974, the record stood at 8 pounds, 15 ounces, and was held by Philip Terry Jr., of Decatur, Ala.
These were the Alabama subspecies of spotted bass, which apparently grow faster than the other two subspecies, Northern and Wichita. California had actually introduced the Northern species from Ohio in 1933, but many questioned the genetic purity of the fish, believing they had hybridized with smallmouth, and so brood stocks were not maintained.
In Lake Perris, reproduction of the transplanted fish was confirmed just seven months after their introduction, and by January 1976, spotted bass weighing more than five pounds were being caught. On Feb. 8, 1977, Jim Tatum set a new California state record for the species with a 7-2 spot from Perris, one of the original spotted bass from Alabama.
California biologists were surprised at the rapid growth rate, which exceeded spotted bass growth rates in Alabama. On Feb. 5, 1984, Jeff Mathews caught a new world record spot from Perris weighing 9 pounds, .96 ounces.
The Perris fishery has since declined, but some of the original Smith Lake fish were also put into Central Valleys Hatchery in Sacramento County where a strong stocking program was eventually established for other lakes. Lakes receiving spotted bass included Pine Flat Reservoir, where Brian Shishido caught the current world record of 10 pounds, four ounces on May 3, 2001, and, of course, Collins Lake where Everhart caught his monster.
For the record, Everhart, who lives in Graff Valley and has fished the lake for 15 years, was using a 7-foot, 2-inch fast action Okuma Guide Select rod, Shimano Cardiff reel and Yo-Zuri 25-pound Hybrid line.