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Spring Bass and Houseboats

By Gary Heffley
03/29/15 -- This combination is better than peanut butter and jelly. Add in the possibilities of also catching panfish, catfish and trout, what could be better? Really, picture the setting, a clear crisp bright dawn morning a fresh hot cup of coffee in hand looking over a flat calm cove, the surface dimpled with life. The smell of bacon reaches out to you from the well-appointed kitchen inside, where a breakfast of bacon eggs and toast is just minutes away.

photo courtesy of Ashley McCracken and Antlers resort and Marina. The inside of an Antlers houseboat
All photos courtesy of Ashley McCracken and Antlers Resort and Marina

The previous night’s sleep was better than your own bed at home. The evening breeze was just enough for a soft cadence of gentle ripples to slap against the pontoons of the houseboat you are calling home for the next five nights lulling you to sleep.

But after the quick breakfast all is ready to climb into the cockpit of your bass boat and begin your quest for bass. Your plans are to run and gun searching out main points and coves where spring runoff enters the lake often attracting bass as well as trout.

photo courtesy of Ashley McCracken and Antlers resort and Marina. Houseboat tied up at dock.

The plan of establishing a successful pattern will allow for a midday return to the houseboat where you can share the successes of the morning events with the others in your group, grab a quick lunch and maybe a quick nap before heading out for the late afternoon bite. Dinner plans are also made amongst the group agreeing to bring back a few small keepers for fish tacos that evening.While enjoying lunch on the back deck you have a strange sensation of being watched. You look at the bank across from you but the deer you saw yesterday when settling into the cove, tying the houseboat into the gently sloping bank for the evening have not come back. But the sensation is still there so you look up into the trees and across the cove not 25 yards away is a beautiful bald eagle that is eyeing your every move.

Outside deck of houseboat. photo courtesy of Ashley McCracken and Antlers resort and Marina.

With a successful afternoon of fishing under your belt you return once again to relax, prepare dinner, have a few drinks, talk about the day, enjoy a game of cribbage or pinochle and retire to repeat the entire scenario for the next five days and nights.

I have had the good fortune to live out that scene many times, enjoying multiple spring houseboat family outings on Shasta Lake. While a few spring trips included some heavy rain storms which just meant more pinochle games, the enjoyment and magic were always the same. Spring just seems to be a wonderful time to be on the water.

For one, as a spring houseboater you have the pick of places to stop and tie up for the night or set the site up as base for the entire trip. The lakes are wide open, as the summer crowds and madness is still months away. In fact any time before Memorial Day is a prime time to go. Many houseboat rental locations offer substantial discounts for off season rentals, some offering Fisherman’s Specials with other incentives and extras included.

Antler houseboat on calm lake water with moon in the background day sky. photo courtesy of Ashley McCracken and Antlers resort and Marina.

The houseboat rental fleets at many lakes offer a great variety of amenities and boat sizes. There are houseboats with satellite TV, hot tubs and even fireplaces. Full-sized refrigerators, microwaves, gas stoves and ovens along with blenders, toasters and coffeemakers make some of the kitchens better than my first apartment. Food, beverages, bedding and personal items are really all that anyone needs to bring along. Boats like these can often accommodate 16 people or more comfortably, but I hope with that many, everyone are real good friends.

photo courtesy of Ashley McCracken and Antlers resort and Marina. The inside of an Antlers houseboat

Some boats are not as lavishly appointed, but all the comforts are cared for. These boats also carry a rental price that a can be handled by a few couples or families. There are boats to meet most any budget. The smaller boats also can serve as a great fishing platform as trolling is often great in the spring for trout as well as bass. Fishing with minnows and bobbers off the back of the houseboat is often effective and great for kids. And by the way, any left over hot dogs make a great chunk bait for catfish after dark.

All houseboats offer full bathrooms with showers as well as heaters and air conditioning for any temperature variance. I’ve had trips where both were needed in the same week.
photo courtesy of Ashley McCracken and Antlers resort and Marina. The inside of an Antlers houseboat

Cruising around the lake in a houseboat is a great way to relax and see the sights and nature around you. One thing the houseboats are not known for is speed, so slow down your own pace, unwind and relax. Keep a pair of binoculars and camera at the ready always as you never know what you may come up upon. I have seen 5 big bucks swimming nose to tail across a lake arm, as well as a bear swimming in the middle of the lake. I once watched a large snake swimming ahead of us on the Mc Cloud Arm of Shasta Lake, where just his head was visible until he slithered onto land at a yet to be opened seasonal campground. With the slowness of the houseboat I just could not get close enough to tell if it was a huge gopher snake or a very large rattler, but I do know it was 6 foot if it was an inch. Of course the shoreline is a constant source for wildlife sightings, deer are often everywhere on lakes, bear, coyotes, turkeys and even cougars are often seen.

Eagle grabbing fish from lake with his talons, photo courtesy of Ashley McCracken and Antlers resort and Marina.
On many lakes eagles are a constant companion and watching eagles and osprey dive for fish just below the surface is always a treat. It can also serve as an indicator of where fish are concentrated. One of my favorite houseboat memories is watching an eagle and an osprey duel in the air over a trout the eagle had just caught. While the two dove and climbed, a pelican joined the fray, only to snatch up the prize as the osprey jostled the trout from the eagle’s talons. As I mentioned you don’t have the summer crowds of other houseboats to deal with, you also won’t have a many other boats and definitely fewer personal watercraft and water skiers to contend with. The other thing that you won’t have in the spring is comfortable water temperatures to swim in. When I was much younger I tried a quick dip in late March and my falsetto is just now giving way to an adult male voice. Many of the lakes do not turn over until around Memorial Day. Cool, oxygenated surface water is great for spring fishing but definitely not for swimming.
Sunning deck of Antlers houseboat, photo courtesy of Ashley McCracken and Antlers resort and Marina.

While the initial scene I wrote of is using the houseboat as a base for use of your own boat, if you do not own another boat to fish from many of the houseboat rental locations also rent fishing boats of various size. With the popularity of kayaking and kayak angling growing houseboats can also provide a great platform for a kayaking adventure. Of course the houseboats can serve as a great fishing platform themselves.

Northern California is blessed to have a number of lakes offering houseboat rental fleets. Lake Shasta has numerous marinas offering a wide variety and sizes of houseboats. Lake Oroville, Trinity Lake, Bullard’s Bar as well as the California Delta offer houseboat rental concessions and there are others in some of the Central California Gold Country lakes as well.

With the very warm early spring we are enjoying and the outstanding bass fishing found on our lakes currently, there is only one question. What are you waiting for?

All photos are courtesy of Antlers Resort and Marina. Please visit their website. or contact them at for rates, floor plans and boat availability.

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