What are the best fishing lakes in California? Well, let’s just take a look…
My extremely unscientific formula to come up with these rankings took species diversity, average fish size, aesthetic value, length of season, proximity to other attractions and available facilities into account. I also employed the very technical and complex system of Rock, Paper, Scissors when there was a tie. So, without further adieu, here’s my list of California’s 5 Best Fishing Lakes (feel free to chime in, complain or add your favorite in the comments section below).
5: Clear Lake
It can be hot and miserable here and the water can look like split pea soup in the summer (a great time to fish topwater frogs, by the way. Learn how here). But when the hills green up and the water cools, there are precious few other places in the state to be if you’re into warm water species. Of course, the largemouth bass fishery is what has made Clear Lake a household name – and for good reason. Sure, the lake has its up and down cycles but when it’s on, it’s really on! Five-bass limits weighing 40 pounds and more are possible.
Clear Lake also supports a world class crappie fishery that typically turns on in mid-winter and there are some absolutely huge catfish out there to boot. You can catch fish here all year long, though the spring and fall are the peak seasons. If you get tired of hauling in huge bass day in and day out, try your hand at trout fishing at nearby Blue Lakes.
4: Lake Almanor
Another beautiful lake with lots of cool fishing diversity! Into landlocked kings? Almanor is your place. How about chunky rainbows and braggin’ sized brown trout? Lake Almanor’s got plenty of those, too (learn the guides’ secret method for catching big fish at Almanor). As a sweet little bonus cherry on top, the lake also plays host to a very nice population of smallmouth bass.
Generally speaking, the trout fishing is best in the spring, winter and fall, though the action also heats up in early summer when the Hex hatch comes off. Speaking of that, fly anglers have been finding that the dry fly smallie fishing is also very good at that time. The scenery here is also a big plus and there are lots of amenities in nearby Chester — not to mention plenty of cool things to do in the surrounding area. A great spot for a family vacation!
For more info: Big Daddy’s Guide Service
3: Lake Tahoe
What can I say? The surrounding scenery here is unmatched (duh!). Snowy peaks on all sides and that oh-so-blue water. Certainly, a trip on Lake Tahoe is well worth the price of admission without ever wetting a line — but it does kick out some amazingly good fishing, too. The mackinaw bite all year long here and can reach some impressive sizes – the lake record is 37 pounds! Trolling and jigging are the main methods of take. Check out our Mackinaw Jigging 101 article for tips.
Big rainbows to over 10 pounds and jumbo browns are also an option for topline trollers who work the rocky shorelines in the spring and fall. And then there’s the kokanee fishing which can be off the charts some seasons. In recent years, the koke fishery seems to be in a big upswing…and the fish have been on the large size. get fish spring through fall. Jigging for kokanee is fun and productive. And oh yea, there’s always something to do in the area if you get off the water early — skiing, gambling, mountain biking, kayaking, rafting, etc. Tahoe’s a truly wonderful destination and fishery, though boat launching is expensive!
For more info: Tahoe Fishing Adventures
2: Lake Berryessa
Close to the Bay Area and Sacramento, Berryessa ranks high for accessibility, but it is also quickly climbing the power rankings from a fishing standpoint. Over the past several seasons, it has consistently kicked out the state’s largest kokanee salmon and also treats anglers to some amazingly good landlocked king salmon fishing. The kings here can go up over 6 pounds! Can’t tell your landlocked salmon apart? Click our handy identification guide. Eagle Lake strain rainbows that average 3 pounds and fight like steelhead round out the cold water lineup.
Catfish can go to 30 pounds here and the lake also kicks out some outstanding bass (spotts, smallies and largemouth) action. But it’s not just a numbers show – Berryessa has pumped out bucketmouths in the mid teens. Throw in some nice panfishing and you’ve got yourself a heck of a fishery.
Berryessa is also quite pretty – especially if you visit during the spring or winter months when the surrounding hillsides are green.
1: Lake Shasta
This one was a no-brainer. The lake received high marks for diversity — king salmon, rainbow and brown trout, largemouth, spotted and smallmouth bass, crappie, catfish, sturgeon, bluegill, readear sunfish, green sunfish… well, you get the idea. Not only does Shasta host many varieties of fish, but often produces excellent action. Browns can get huge in here, the rainbows are often fat and the kings can reach impressive sizes. Lunker largemouths have been taken out of Shasta, though it’s getting a reputation for kicking out near world-record class spotted bass.
Due to its relatively low elevation, Shasta fishes well year-round. Like most lakes in California, summer time scenery isn’t the greatest, but it’s beautiful fall through spring — especially when you get views of a snow-capped Mt. Shasta. Plenty of ramps and marinas make Shasta an easily accessed lake as well. And if the fishing peters out, you can always hit the Sacramento, McCloud, Pitt, Fall and Rising rivers for trout, Whiskeytown Lake for a bunch of different species or head east towards Burney for lots of other fishing opportunities.
- Diamond Valley Reservoir
- Trinity Lake
- Don Pedro Reservoir
- San Pablo Reservoir
Related articles: Top 5 California Kokanee Lakes