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Steve Merlo

It may seem that I'm spending an inordinate amount of column each week on Isabella Lake, but for those in the know, the lake has been absolutely red-hot for many different species, albeit at different times. First it was the crappie bite that thrilled many anglers with daily 25-fish limits, then the unbelievable channel and white catfish bite that continues, and now it's the bass that lead the overall angling scene.

Right now, gasoline stands as the most expensive part of any fishing trip, and lots of people simply cannot afford to run over to the coastal lakes or spend 3 or 4 hours high-tailing up I-5 to the Delta's great fishing. From my house in Southwest Bakersfield, I can run up to Isabella in about 70 minutes and enjoy some of the best fishing in decades for a variety of species. The round-trip fuel bill costs run about $40, or $20 each for two people or even less for three.

Isabella Lake is not dry as so many know-it-all people continue to insist. Nor are the fish dying off during the heat wave that has smothered the valley. I know, because I make the run whenever I can and have nothing bad to say about a lake that boots out 6- to 10-pound bass like they're going out of style.

Case in point: My longtime friend Don Crabtree and I went up Wednesday morning and found some of the best bass fishing we've ever experienced at the lake. Now, coming from the two of us who have fished some of the best big bass lakes in the U.S., that statement might raise an eyebrow or two, but when was the last time you caught 20 fish in four hours weighing between 3-9 pounds, including a dozen fish between 4 and 5 pounds each?

Or, better yet, when was the last time you caught a five-fish, 32-pound bag of giant largemouth like we did? We're no strangers to bass fishing, but it certainly didn't take a Rhodes Scholar to catch them, believe me.

So what's happening with the lake? Why are so many fish being caught at a variety of locations around the reservoir?

My personal thoughts are that the falling-water conditions existing there now have concentrated the fish and their feed. Low water conditions have also caused the lake to stratify, with most of the oxygenated thermocline lying above the 15-foot mark, thus the presence of so many quality fish in relatively shallow water.

Huge balls of shad are present around the lake, with many large fish slashing through them and driving the forage towards the shore where they are being massacred. Another case I point: On our trip, we saw several "teen" fish, i.e. those larger than 12 pounds, in water only a foot or two deep. Unfortunately, we could not get them to bite and had to settle for what a lot of fishermen are calling a mediocre day, one I'll take any time, anywhere. Wouldn't you?

By the way, the catfish are sucking food up on the surface each morning, mixed in with a million carp, feeding on some kind of insect.

Golden Empire Bass Club

Saturday's Golden Empire Bass Club tournament at Lake Isabella merely proved that the so-called low-water conditions at the Kern River Valley impoundment have not negatively impacted the bass fishing.

With every team entered in the competition weighing in a decent limit, the six-hour tourney showed just how good the fishing is despite high temperatures and dirty green waters.

With less than an hour left in the day, the team of Michael Merlo and Duane Dalke managed to score the tournament's big fish of 10.92 pounds and cap an amazing 27.18-pound, five-fish limit to win the event by nearly 3 pounds. Culling 4-pound-plus fish for most of the day, the duo finally hit pay dirt and went home with $690.

Roy and Justin Neal also had a good day on the water, weighing in a 24.66-pound limit to take second and $230. Most of their fish sagged the scale to almost 5 pounds each, indicating the lake, known for kicking out big bass, has once again come alive. Bob Branch and Dave Reed brought in 22.97-pounds for a third-place finish, including a 5.01-pound fish, while Erik Loyd and Kyle King managed fourth, including a 7.11 second big fish. Rounding out the top five with 14.99-pounds, Noah Chess and Craig Carrier also had a nice 6.09-pound beauty in their sack.

The GEBC's next event will be July 21, and the public is invited to compete. Contact Richard Carrier (661) 742-3643 for more information on joining the club and fishing with a great bunch of people.