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Bass May Be Worth Its Weight in Gold

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The fight lasted only a minute, but the fallout continues for Jed Dickerson.

The casino management worker from Carlsbad caught what he initially thought was a 16- or 17-pound largemouth bass Saturday. But the scale at Escondido’s Dixon Lake “just kept going up and up,” he said.

It topped out at 21 pounds 11 ounces, making it the fourth-largest bass ever recorded, nine ounces shy of the all-tackle world record.

Considering that the record was set in 1932, when George Perry pulled from Georgia’s Montgomery Lake a 22-pound 4-ounce beast, and that fishermen have been gunning to beat that record ever since, just coming close has turned Dickerson into a star among his passionate circle of peers.

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“I can’t believe all the attention I’ve been getting,” he said, adding that he has had calls from industry insiders wanting to talk about potential sponsorship offers.

Surely, the name of his lure deserves mention. It was an eight-inch trout-pattern swimbait called a Mission Fish. His gear included a Calcutta 400 reel spooled with 20-pound P-line, attached to a G-Loomis Muskie Light Bucktail rod.

With this equipment, Dickerson, 30, enticed, hooked and landed the third-largest bass in California and the largest in San Diego County. The potential line-class world record is also a Dixon Lake record, replacing the 20-pound 12-ounce bass caught in April 2001 by Poway’s Mike Long.

Adding an interesting twist to this story, Long claims it’s the same fish, based largely on a distinctive black mark on its cheek.

If so, maybe Long, a renowned bass fanatic, will be the next one to catch it, perhaps at record size, because Dickerson also turned it loose.

As for fanatics, there are plenty at Dixon these days. The 60-acre lake has for years been a lunker hole for serious bass anglers, particularly in early spring when the female bass move into the shallows to stage and spawn, at which time they’re at their heaviest and most vulnerable.

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For some reason this year, the spawning season has been delayed at Dixon and sight fishing for big bass remains in full swing.

“Normally March is the big time for us, but with all the oscillations in the weather, something has happened to postpone the spawning season,” says Adam Stackhouse, operations manager at the lake. “Normally, come April, it’s 90 degrees at the lake. We had a warm January, a cold February and half-and-half weather ever since and it’s had an effect on the fish.”

The fish Dickerson caught had been seen on several occasions, staging near a rock beyond Boat Dock Cove. Dickerson, Mac Weakley and Mike Winn, his friends and fellow lake regulars, had taken turns trying to catch it, to no avail. (Weakley two weeks ago caught a fish that weighed 19 pounds 7 ounces, ranking 13th in the world.)

Finally, when Dickerson returned to the spot alone early Saturday morning, he decided to try to drift over the spot instead of setting up by dropping anchor, which he guessed had been spooking the fish. The breeze worked in his favor. “I got lucky because there was only a slight breeze and it was blowing at an angle that took me right over the hole.”

It was on his “fourth or sixth drift” that the fish struck. It charged immediately into the weeds, but with some coaxing it turned and ran for deep water. Dickerson pumped and reeled and soon had the catch of a lifetime in his net, one that measured 28 1/2 inches long and 26 3/4 inches around.

“I was pretty much in shock,” the angler said. “I had always wanted to catch a big bass, and I knew this was a big bass, but I didn’t realize how big, or the magnitude of what I had done.”

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Best of the Rest

Ranking between Perry’s and Dickerson’s bass are two caught at Los Angeles County’s Castaic Lake: a 22-pound largemouth by Bob Crupi on March 12, 1991, and a 21-pound 12-ounce fish by Mike Arujo on March 5, 1991.

Rounding out the top five is a 21-pound 3-ounce bass caught by Ray Easley on March 4, 1980 at Ventura County’s Lake Casitas.

High-Water Mark

Members of the Southern California Bass Council are rejoicing after the settlement last week of a nine-year-old lawsuit stemming from a Department of Water Resources construction project that involved the near-draining of Lake Silverwood and its impact on the fishery.

The lawsuit charged that the DWR had not complied with the California Environmental Quality Act when, in 1994, it lowered the lake to construct a new intake tower. Pressure maintained by environmental lawyer Patrick J. Marley resulted in some fishery-improvement mitigation measures over the years at the San Bernardino County reservoir.

They included the building of rock piles for habitat, planting of trees and brush, the stocking of thousands of bass and the removal of thousands of carp, a heartier species that had overrun the lake after a bass die-off.

The SCBC kept up the court battle, however, saying the measures weren’t enough. Finally, a settlement was reached in San Bernardino Superior Court.

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Under its terms, the DWR must pay for the construction and placement of additional habitat modules over a three-year period, finance a more expansive carp-removal program, pay the Department of Fish and Game $20,000 a year for three years for a monitoring project involving largemouth bass, and keep the lake level stable during the spawning period from April 1 to June 30 each year.

Tuna Time?

Royal Star skipper Tim Ekstrom stepped ashore Wednesday morning after 1 1/2 days at sea and, with 80 albacore being unloaded, proclaimed the albacore season to have officially begun, although it’s still “in its fledgling stages.”

That’s a good thing. The Southland’s most popular saltwater game fish is acting in all the right ways, at just the right time. The longfin tuna are well scattered, as they should be at this time of year, traveling in small schools that are being encountered from about 100 miles southwest of San Diego down to about 250 miles in the same direction.

Over the next few weeks, if this is going to be a typical season, they’ll group into larger schools and follow the currents north.

That can’t happen soon enough for some of the skippers. This is tease time for the overnight “day-boat” skippers, who are able to scare up only a few fish per outing while the main schools remain just out of range.

A day before Ekstrom pulled in, Captain Bill Cavanaugh of the Pacific Queen arrived with 62 albacore for 15 anglers and said that while the fish “were off the bite,” conditions seemed prime to ignite a full-scale feeding frenzy.

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“I think it’s going to be a good year, a banner year actually,” he said, before heading back out Wednesday night. Cavanaugh is on a 1 1/2-day schedule through June.

Still Waiting

June gloom has double meaning for local landing operators. Yellowtail and white seabass, though some have been caught at San Clemente and Santa Catalina islands, haven’t cooperated as they typically do each spring. And the result has been an overwhelming lack of interest among the angling public.

“We’re all looking over the horizon for the albacore, to see if they get any closer,” said Don Ashley, owner of Pierpoint Landing in Long Beach.

On the bright side, he added, a new wave of barracuda appeared Wednesday off Huntington Beach and they were bigger than in previous weeks, averaging about five pounds but some pushing 10. Most fishermen had little trouble bagging their 10-fish limits.

Slip-Sliding Away

Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, the only remaining open area in the West, has announced June 15 as closing day.

Until then, Mammoth will have three lifts open -- Broadway Express, Facelift and the Upper Panorama Gondola -- on a base depth of three to five feet. The resort’s Bike Park and Adventure Center are scheduled to open June 27.

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