It figures. I’m in California fishing for monster bass, hoping to catch a hawg big enough for next spring’s cover of Outdoor Life, and as it always seems to play out, my timing is off just tad.

A week-and-a-half ago the bigmouth bass with the potato-sack bellies of California’s well-known lake Casitas (years back home of the No.2 bass) were staging at ledge edges, off points, atop ridges—all with deepwater access, prepping for yet another spawn. In normal years there are waves of spawning bass here and elsewhere in southern Cal’s mega largemouth waters. Fish move in and out with cold fronts, and some pull off successful bedding. And then another wave pushes in while the fish that succeeded in the mating game slide out to recuperate and while doing so tend to “pack up.” That’s literally on food, but also refers to gang-like behavior amongst the fish. Think the Crips and the Bloods. Yeah, these fish move from the banks and take up ambush points and attack baits en masse. I mean you throw something in the right spot and if you miss the first bang, there’ll be a second and a third until you hook up.

So we missed all that by a week. This year was abnormally warm and most fish accomplished a major spawn without being pushed off by cold fronts. Those that hadn’t fed like crazy just before I arrived and then began easing up to fan nests. Not to worry. Friends Todd and Rod Thigpin who make Stocker swimbaits in sizes from 7 to 12 inches (the name obviously comes from the favorite noshing fare of California bigmouths, and their buddy the Hawg Doctor (a.k.a. Doc Holiday) understood that hard fishing with the big lures at the right places would scratch out some fish that either were going up to spawn or that finished their post-spawn feeding binges and were playing cute. It was tough fishing.

Think 13 hour days hurling heavy baits on the new two-handed Swimbait rods G. Loomis ( just introduced for the purpose. Think blanks that will handle a lot of saltwater assignments just fine. At day’s end we were feeling like we’d been worked over with a baseball bat. Yes but we pulled out a few nice fish—a 9 pounder and a 10-plus-pound fish–and we sure missed a few, too. My last missed bite happened about 7:15pm just before pulling out. The bass that hit gave me a scare and upon examining the bait, the fish must have balled the 10-inch lure. There were teeth marks at the head and at the very tail end. I would love to have seen that mamma.