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Is there a key to unlocking Berryessa bite?

Updated: Dec 14, 2023

Outshad the shad.

"Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication" - Leonardo da Vinci.

Ever feel like you're stuck in a fishing game on "hard" mode at Lake Berryessa? Fish are everywhere on sonar, but your lures are just a sad, shiny buffet distraction. The shad schools are so abundant that all predators in the lake are gorging themselves in the all-you-can-eat buffet.

Big Nate with Big Nate's Guide Service has been the only one I know of who is stellar at figuring them out and willing to share his knowledge. But Big Nate is in the big leagues. He can sense them, tune in his setups, and take advantage of a very short bite window and limit out in minutes. His skills and knowledge are on a completely different level. But what about the rest of us?

Marlin, with Crappie Closet Lures, and I went on the mission-impossible trip yesterday to figure out Berryessa. Our target: crappie, but the lake had other plans. We ended up with a near hat-trick of 30+ catches once we cracked the code.

I think the formula for successful fishing is pretty straightforward: Find fish, imitate what they are feeding on, and make it irresistible for them. 

Step one is to find them. This didn't seem like a problem at all. My Garmin sonar lit up with fish in every creek mouth, marina, bridge, and most coves we scouted. 

Crappie, bass, catfish, and trout were all over the giant bait balls everywhere. We found the largest concentrations of active fish in around 60 feet of water. The fish were streaking in and out, actively feeding all day, mostly focused on a 40-60 ft column.

So after a fruitless hour of throwing soft plastic jigs in a variety of colors and actions, we switched to live minnows to secure and inspect at least one catch. Another couple of hours went by, and we boated a small largemouth bass, a 15-pound catfish, and a nice-sized smallmouth bass. 

All these catches had shad literally falling out of their mouths. This confirmed that the big balls of bait below us, and frankly everywhere in Berryessa, were indeed 1.5-2 inch shad. 

Most of us who fish Berryessa already knew that, but I felt I needed proof.

Now that we knew for sure the bait balls were shad, the next logical step was to attempt not only to imitate shad but also to make it irresistible.

How do you outshad the shad?

Jigging a silver 1 oz P-Line Lazer Minnow at a specific depth guided by what you see on your sonar.

You see, the way predators fish on bait schools is to dart in and out of the school in an attempt to injure or stun their prey. The stunned shad starts falling through the water column, allowing the predator to chomp it down without much effort. When falling, the shad elicits a specific action that P-Line Lazer Minnows are designed to imitate.

Once I got the lure down to fish, typically 40-60ft, I had a fish on within the first few pumps. This pattern continued on virtually every cast. 

I was ecstatic by this success rate! Alas, the elation lasted all but 10 minutes when I caught the lure on a bottom tree and lost it. Still, I caught and released 7 fish in 10 minutes!

Unfortunately, it was the only P-Line Minnow in my tackle box. I tried to imitate the same action with Cast Master, and I did score a few catches over the next 30 minutes, but it wasn't the same.

All this said, here is the key that we used to unlock Berryessa's bite yesterday.

Step 1: Find fish on your sonar. This is easy, as they are almost everywhere.

Step 2: Anchor up, spot lock, or drift right above them.

Step 3: Toss directly tied 1 oz P-Line Lazer Minnow a few feet from the boat. Let it dive to the bottom (or the depth the fish is holding) and start jigging up and letting the lure fall naturally.

Catch lots of fish!

We'd love to hear if you find this technique successful.

P.S. Given the wild success rate of this lure at Berryessa, I've ordered a bunch of P-Line Laser Minnows and we expect to receive them next week. Meanwhile, we have some in stock ready for you to pick up and fish today!

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