New River Bay, as we called it, was over a mile in diameter but was less than 4 feet deep and even shallower in many parts. What made it so spectacular for winter fishing is it was usually 5 degrees warmer than the rest of the Salton Sea. How it got that way is truly a weird phenomena.
Saltwater is much heavier than freshwater. As the New River flows to the end of the delta and gently empties into the bay through the many culverts along its bank, the lighter freshwater floats on top of the heavier saltwater. The sediment settles through the freshwater and disappears into the saltwater, turning it a dark brownish-orange. What is left is a clear lens of freshwater floating on top of dark brown saltwater. The sun shines through this clear lens of freshwater and heats the saltwater underneath. The longer it goes undisturbed by wind, the warmer the saltwater becomes.
Tilapia cannot stand cold water. As it drops below 60 degrees, they become sluggish and will start to perish as temperatures drop below 55. So if you were a tilapia spending the winter in the Salton Sea, where would you go? That's right, the New River Bay. And if you were a big old corvina looking for an easy meal of lethargic tilapia where would you look? That's right, that same bay.
One of the most memorable days of corvina fishing I remember happened in January as Wacky Jack, Jim and I were fishing in New River Bay. As we slowly moved the boat across the shallow bay using a bow- mounted, electric trolling motor, we noticed gigantic wakes around us as large corvina cruised by slurping up sluggish tilapia. Being as quiet as possible and casting in front of the wakes with bright-colored fluorescent chartreuse or fluorescent orange 4-inch soft plastic lunker shad rigged on light weight 3/8-ounce short shank shad jigs, we caught more large corvina that day than I have seen since. They all weighed over 20 pounds or close to it.
The water was only 2 to 3 feet deep and the big bruisers had nowhere to go once they were hooked. They acted like tarpon hooked in the shallow waters of the Florida flats as they rose out of the water, thrashing, shaking their heads and walking on their tails for 50 feet before crashing down. Then they would rip off 50 yards of line before surfacing to start their majestic top water dance again. Many got the best of us and eventually broke the line or came unhooked during their wild gyrations.
Wacky Jack caught the largest corvina that day, and it weighed in at almost 28 pounds. While it was 9 pounds shy of the Salton Sea record, it was by far the largest corvina I have ever seen.
Jim caught one that day that was only a few pounds lighter than Jack's monster. Jim's fish struck the lure as it landed in the water and Jim quickly worked him close to the boat when all hell broke loose. I had the net ready and as Jim maneuvered him closer the fish made a run at the boat like he was going to jump in but as he reached us he surfaced and then dove straight down. He was going so fast he buried his head in the mud a foot deep right beside us. It was easy to scoop him up as he tried to free himself. His mouth and gills were filled with smelly black mud and only when he was in the boat did he start to fight, coating us all in stinky black mud.
I'm charging the batteries on my boat this week to see if the big ones are still in the bay.
Outdoor Tales columnist Al Kalin may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org