I began bass fishing at Lake Los Carneros in 1983 and quickly fell in love with the lake. For the next 10 years I kept a diary of every trip and every fish. For me it was much more than just catching fish... more than finding that perfect spot, picking the right lure, making that perfect cast and convincing a fish that the lure I picked is food. I wanted to know more... How big do they get? How fast do they grow? How many are there? Which ones are males and which ones are females? Do some move around more than others? If so, why? How soon will they eat again after being caught and released? How much weight does a female gain and lose during spawning season? These are just a handful of the many questions I have about the fish and this beautiful little lake they live in.
My curiosity lead to a short lived research project in the late 90s but it wasn't the right time for me to give a study the dedication it needed. Over the next decade or so I would fish the lake occasionally but it wasn't until the Fall of 2010, when my kids and I started fishing it again on a regular basis, that the time was right for a study that would help answer some of my questions.
The Winter of 2010-2011 brought over 30 inches of rain to the Goleta Valley (average is ~18"). In 2011 the lake was full and healthy. On June 10th while fishing from shore with my kids near the spillway I hooked two bass on the same lure. The kids watched the whole thing. The first fish was on while the second fish was trying to steal the lure out of it's mouth... which lead to the second fish getting hooked as well. Eventually the second fish came off and I landed the first one. Shortly after I released it my daughter Sara asks me, "Daddy, have you ever caught the same fish twice in one day?". Her question inspired me to start another research project at Lake Los Carneros. A project that would eventually become my most extensive to date.
Unfortunately the Winter of 2011-2012 only brought about 13½ inches of rain (~4½ inches below average) and like many times before during years of below average rainfall the lake suffered a large fish kill in the Fall of 2012. At the time we had caught and released 138 twelve inch or larger (12"+) bass out of an estimated population of ~800. These 138 bass were caught and released 178 times between June 12, 2011 and October 26, 2012. Sara, my friend Bryan and I examined the fish kill. We found approximately 143 dead 12"+ bass, at least 100 smaller bass, even more bluegill and one bullhead (catfish).
As I have with each of the fish kills I have seen over the years I couldn't help but wonder... "Did all the fish die?" Thankfully as future data would show only about half of the 12"+ bass were killed during the 2012 fish kill. Five days after we examined the fish kill I walked over to the North Point and caught a 12" bass. Three days later I did it again... same lure, same area. Both fish were caught and released multiple times over the next year and a half and based on their growth rates both fish were females.
A couple of weeks later during Thanksgiving a group of us walked over to the lake. Fishing from shore I caught one of the bass we had caught prior to the fish kill. Knowing at least one of the bass we had caught and released prior to the 2012 fish kill was still alive inspired me to take our current "Have you ever caught the same fish in the same day?" research project to the next level... a detailed 20 month study of 274 bass (12"+) caught and released 743 times.
Below are some of my favorite fish caught during the study and what we learned from them.
Fish #279 - How soon will a bass eat again after it has been caught and released?
The fish that answered Sara's original question a year and seven months after she asked it. Bryan and I caught a unique shaped 20" bass (3.4 lbs.) three times on February 24, 2013. The first two catches were 12 minutes apart. The fish was caught an additional four times between March and July 2013 making it the first fish we had caught and released seven times. Eight months later while fishing with my nephew Ryan I caught the fish again (April 12, 2014). As soon as I pulled it out of the water and saw it's unique shape I said to Ryan, "This looks like number 279"... and it was. It had gained about a half an inch and about a pound. It looked very healthy except for a quite severe wound on it's lower jaw. I believe this fish was the longest bass in the lake during the study.
Growth & Size:
Example 1 - male vs. female
and female growth rate:
Example 2 - female growth
Example 3 - female growth
Example 4 - female growth
Example 5 - female growth
Heaviest bass in the lake
during the study:
Surviving the catch -
probability over 97%:
Fish #235 (mentioned above in the introduction) was the first fish caught after the 2012 fish kill that we had caught and released at least once prior to the fish kill. This particular fish was one that at the time of the first catch (July 28, 2012) I questioned whether it would survive or not. It was hooked in the gill and bleeding quite badly. But, we released it anyway and about a month later it was caught again. On November 25, 2012 it was caught a third time and became the first "known survivor" of the 2012 fish kill and a testament to how tough bass can be. #235 was caught and released twice more in 2013.
Fish #333 was an example of how the bass can heal after a severe injury. Originally caught August 25, 2013, then again on January 11, 2014. A typical 12.5" fish. On February 10, 2014 it was caught again but this time it had a very severe, deep, wound on it's back right behind the dorsal fin most likely caused by a bird trying to eat it. It was caught again 5 days later - wound looked the same. A little under 3 months later it was caught again and the wound was completely healed.
Fish #443 was caught for the first time on January 11, 2014. It had a small hook lodged in it's throat which I removed. No blood or noticeable damage. The fish was caught and released 5 more times before I found it dead after the fish kill on July 20, 2014.
My friend Fred caught and released fish #439 three times between January and March of 2014. The second time it was caught an old hook was removed from it's throat.
behavior as the full moon approaches:
Fish #400 was first caught on December 15, 2013 "offshore" in the North section of the lake. She was caught four more times in the Spring between January 13, 2014 and April 11, 2014. She is one of several examples of a large female positioned offshore in the late Fall, then moving South-East over to The Ledge to spawn. She lost most of her weight between March 10 and April 11 indicating that she spawned sometime between those two catches.
weight loss after spawning:
weight loss after spawning:
Fish #518 was a male sitting on a spawning bed caught on March 11, 2014 from shore during a quick stop on my way to work. Noticed the wound just above his anal fin. I remembered that Fred had sent me a picture of an un-tagged fish that had a wound from where he removed a leech. Sure enough it was the same fish. Tagged and release him and he immediately went back to sitting on his bed. About 10 minutes later there were three females in his bed with him. Two of them left relatively quickly but one was still there with him when I left. Took Pierce back to the lake after school. The females were gone but he was still on the bed. Both Pierce and I caught him again. Making him the second fish we caught three times in one day during the study.
2014 Fish Kills:
Unfortunately, after two more Winters of below average rainfall the lake suffered a severe series of fish kills starting in June which put an end to the study: June 13 - July 11 - July 20 - August 4 - August 26