Clear Lake Tournaments — How To Win From John Pearl

 John Pearl with 10-pound bass caught on a swumbait

Rarely do you get a seasoned tournament angler to share his inside knowledge as to how he prepares for and fishes tournaments. When I met John Pearl on his home water – Clear Lake, CA, not only was he willing to talk about tournament prep, but he provides hope for any angler wanting to break into the tournament business. Here is a question-and-answer interview.

Q. Why did you choose Clear Lake as your home water?

A. “I love living here near Clear Lake. As a tournament angler there couldn’t be a better place to live. I would guess that there are around 300 tournaments a year if you include club tournaments on this lake so you could fish tournaments literally whenever you wanted. The fishing is great, and once I learned how to fish the lake, things fell into place for me.”

Q. Are you a guide here or how do you make a living?

A. “I’m not a guide and I trim trees for a living. I wanted to be a salmon guide when I was younger but when they took away salmon fishing in California, I picked up a bass rod and bought a bass boat and haven’t looked back.”

Q. That’s fascinating. How long did it take for you to learn this lake?

A. “I’m still learning. This is a very diverse lake with a lot of different kinds of structure and it receives a lot of fishing pressure too. So, it’s not just learning where to fish, it’s more a question of learning how fish behave and where they go and when, and how they position, things like that. Pressured fish act differently than un-pressured fish, so much of how I learned this lake was coming up with ideas as to where the fish move and why they move. It has taken me years to figure things out.”

Q. When you decided to fish tournaments, how long did it take for you to cash a check?

A. “Realistically, it took me about 2 years to begin to finish in the top five in tournaments. But, once I started making the top five it took me just one more year to begin to win. Even now, I don’t win all the time but my competition knows who I am and how I fish. I’ve won over 20 tournaments on Clear Lake.”

Q. How do you fish? What are your favorite presentations?

A. “Of course that depends on the time of year but I am a swimbait guy. And, I don’t mean small swimbaits – I throw huge swimbaits. I’ll throw foot-long swimbaits at times, swimbaits that weigh 8 to 10 ounces.”

Q. How did you learn to throw swimbaits? I don’t have the patience to keep throwing them when the fish aren’t biting.

“For about 10 years, I watched and worked with a guy named Jason Kincannon from Woodland. He taught me a lot about swimbaits. He makes them in his garage. But even before that, as a kid I remember watching 8- and 10-pound bass chasing and eating hitch in Holiday Harbor. It was then that I wanted to figure out a way to catch those fish, and swimbaits was the answer.
Q. So, you are exclusively a swimbait guy? Aren’t there other baits you like?

A. “Sure, I fish with other baits but I really like swimbaits because they win tournaments. I will throw crankbaits, jigs, and I’ll even drop shot. All those presentations work at certain times on Clear Lake. I would have classified me as a jig fisherman until I watched all those big fish chase the hitch. So, I am still pretty versatile but I really like swimbaits.

Q. What colors seem to work for you?

A. “Anything that looks like a hitch or a silver side minnow is going to catch fish. For jigs and drop shots, watermelon red flake is always good somewhere on the lake. But, purple and brown, and other reaction colors also work well. After all, there are crawdads in the lake too.”

Q. How many days a year do you spend on the water?

A. “Between partial and full days, I spend close to 200 days fishing.

Q. Enough background. How do you prepare for tournaments?

A. “Really that depends on the tournament. I fish three or four individual tournaments a year and I would prepare a little differently for them. But, for team tournaments I try and do close to the same thing each time.

“I have several team partners including Tory Mihalenko and for 10 years now, Dan Dwele. When we decide to fish a team tournament we each decide what parts of the lake we are going to fish and then we go separately to that water and fish it. We don’t talk among ourselves, we just go fish.

“Then, we reverse the order the next day. We will go to the water the other guy fished and see what happens. Once again, we don’t talk. Then, once we’ve fished the two areas we get together and see what we did, what baits we threw, and how many fish we caught and what size they were. After that we choose the area, the baits, and we’ll all set.

Q. Wow! That’s the first time I’ve heard such a thing. So you don’t even hint to what you are doing?

A. “No. That’s the key. If we just go fishing and find some great fish on a certain bait, we just hold that information until our partner has fished in the same general area of the lake and uses his own baits and sees how he did. This gives us a lot of choices and we choose the one that suits us for that particular tournament.”

Q. What if neither one of you are on fish? What then?

A. “There are fish biting on Clear Lake at all times, winter, spring, summer, and fall. It’s just a matter of finding them and understanding what they want to eat. It sounds simple and most times it is, once you understand the lake.”

Thanks John for your time and your expertise.

Learning how to fish Clear Lake can be a life-long pursuit. But, by following John Pearl’s advice and spending time on the water observing what the bass do, how they behave, what they eat and when, you can shorten your learning curve and focus in on catching a better quality bass than 99.9 percent of other lakes in the U.S.A.

As for me, I had 10 days to learn the lake and found that with that time considering weather issues and other constraints, I was not able to put five fish for three straight days in my livewell. I did fine for two days but fell short for one day. Did I learn a lot about Clear Lake? Absolutely! Would I go back and fish other tournaments there? Give me 10 minutes to pack.

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