American Fly Fishing

By Bob Gaines

Located 40 miles north of San Diego, 70-acre Dixon Lake is the centerpiece of a beautiful city park nestled in the rolling, oak-covered hills on the outskirts of Escondido.
   The first thing you’ll notice about Dixon is the large population of some of the fattest squirrels on the planet; they’ve established residences in the slope between the boat dock and picnic area, and are obese from daily handouts from picnickers. The lake’s Florida-strain largemouth bass have grown fat here, too, well fed on a diet of rainbow trout (27,000 pounds of trout were stocked in the 2014/2015 season).
   The next thing you’ll notice about Dixon is the ultra-clear water, rare for a California reservoir, allowing sight-fishing for bass in 10 to 20 feet of water.
   In the 1990s, the late Dennis Ditmars set three International Game Fish Association fly-fishing world records at Dixon by prowling the south bank with the sun at his back, sight-casting to large females and using big, white Woolly Buggers. The white fly allowed Ditmars to see it in relation to the fish, and, more importantly, see the fish’s reaction to it. But it was a single fish that placed Dixon in the annals of bass fishing history.
   In 2001, conventional bass master Mike Long caught and released a female largemouth weighing 20 pounds, 12 ounces. He nicknamed her “Dottie” because of an unusual and distinctive black spot on her chin; he took a scale sample. When local angler Jed Dickerson caught Dottie again in June 2003, she weighed 21 pounds, 11 ounces, just 9 ounces shy of the world record. She was estimated to be 13 years old by scale sample analysis.
   Dottie was caught again in 2006 by Jed’s fishing buddy, Mac Weakley, but she was foul-hooked. This time she weighed 25 pounds, 1 ounce on an uncertified scale. If this weight is accurate, it shattered the world record for largemouth bass. Mac released the fish in hopes of catching her another day, fair and square, for an undisputed world record.
   But that chance never came. In May of 2008, Dottie was found floating dead. Past her prime, she weighed less than 20 pounds and the saga ended. 
   Besides trophy largemouth fishing, Dixon is well known by locals for rainbow trout fishing, with biweekly stockings from November through April. A size 10 to 14 beadhead Woolly Bugger strip-retrieved or trolled deep on a sinking line down along the shoreline drop-offs is a sure way to fool these hatchery trout, with some real whoppers in the mix—the lake record is
15.6 pounds.
   Private boats and float tubes are not allowed on Dixon, although rental boats with electric motors are available. Weekdays are far less crowded than weekends, and the electric motors make for a tranquil setting on the small lake. No California fishing license is required, although the daily fishing permit is $7. Parking is $5 on holidays and weekends, but free during the week.
   The last time I fished Dixon Lake, I grew tired of casting and not catching the well-educated bass. My eyes ached from staring through the glare into the depths of the clear water. But when I spotted a Dottie-size bass cruising near the surface, my heart raced and my fingers trembled. I didn’t feel tired anymore. I cast a streamer several feet in front of the fish and began a series of short, erratic strips. The fish turned and tracked the fly for about 10 feet until it was an inch away from the fly, then veered off.
   Seeing Dixon’s lunker bass is one thing; getting them to bite, well, that’s
another story.


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