San Vicente – Then, Now and the Future

Target For Lunker Hunters by Chuck Garrison. Spring 1977 issue of Western Bass magazine.

Target For Lunker Hunters by Chuck Garrison page one. Spring 1977 issue of Western Bass magazine.

If you’ve followed the southern California bass scene since the 70s, there’s no doubt you’ve heard of Lake San Vicente – simply called San V by locals. Recently I was reading a 1977 issue of Western Bass magazine and came across an old article penned by the late Chuck Garrison about the famed lake. It brought back memories, but it also brought to mind what could be brewing in the near future. I’ve included the article in full here for all to read in order to give you an idea of what a lake it was in its early days. It’s possible that we could see a resurrection of sorts as this old lake gets a face lift. You’ll see why as you read more.

While San Diego lakes such as Miramar and Lower Otay made national headlines in the early ‘70s, it was San V that stole the limelight in the mid to late ‘70s with an onslaught of teeners caught by lunker hunters such as “Lunker” Bill Murphy and Bobby Sandberg.

One of the reasons San V didn’t rise to world-record status as fast as the other lakes in the region was because San V was one of the last San Diego lakes to receive Florida bass during the first wave of California stockings in the 60s. In fact, Miramar and Otay received their initial plants in the early ‘60s as opposed to San V’s first stocking in 1969.

Target For Lunker Hunters by Chuck Garrison page two. Spring 1977 issue of Western Bass magazine.

Target For Lunker Hunters by Chuck Garrison page two. Spring 1977 issue of Western Bass magazine.

Behind the curve San V was with respect to time but the fact that the lake was much better suited for producing trophy sized bass is how it made up for lost time. The lake at the dam was nearly 200-feet deep with steep-slopping shorelines. Couple this with mild summers and winters and ample seasonal trout stocking, the lake was prime for becoming southern California’s next possible world-record producer.

Compared with Miramar and the other San Diego lakes, San V just offered more. Deeper water, better cover and more structure all played a part where the other lakes were relatively shallow and devoid of cover and structure.

Then as with all lakes, the cycle of life took over. Droughts hit the southland, bait fish went through their dry cycles and the fishing went up and down as happens at most lakes.

San V still produced great strings of fish through the 2000s but we didn’t see the high-end teeners we saw in the late 70s and early 80s.

Target For Lunker Hunters by Chuck Garrison page three. Spring 1977 issue of Western Bass magazine.

Target For Lunker Hunters by Chuck Garrison page three. Spring 1977 issue of Western Bass magazine.

The last time I fished the lake was around 2007. That day three of us had over 50 fish with our best five going a little over 25 pounds. A good day by any standards.

At the time I was living in Idaho and made it a point to fish the lake because rumor had it the lake was to be closed for dam reconstruction and wouldn’t reopen until the 2015 timeframe. Well, that time is fast approaching.

The lake has been closed since 2009 to all fishing and recreation. The dam was taken from a height of 220 feet to 337 feet – the tallest dam raise in the U.S. and the tallest of its type in the world – and an increase in capacity from 90,000 acre-feet to 242,000 acre-feet.

The reason I mention any of this is I see a sleeping giant on the horizon. San Vicente Reservoir has been dormant for five years. The dam was finished in early this year and water is currently being fed to the reservoir. Three years from now is the scheduled reopening. Imagine a lake with the pedigree of San Vicente, not bothered in nearly a decade, with over three times the water volume. Trout plants will probably resume months prior to the opening – allowing the bass to gorge to abnormal proportions.

If history repeats itself, as it usually does, we could be in for another possible world-record chase.