California’s 5 Best Fishing Lakes

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 Northern California’s 5 Best Fishing Lakes (feel free to chime in, complain or add your favorite in the comments section below).

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 smaller spotts seem to be the most dominant bass species now.

Lake Shasta bass.jpg

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.

For more info: Shasta Tackle Co.

2) 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.

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The mackinaw bite all year long here and can reach some impressive sizes – the lake record is 37 pounds! Big rainbows and brown trout to over 10 pounds 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, however, the koke fishery seems to be in a bit of a down cycle but you can still get fish spring through fall. 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: The Sportfisher

3) Diamond Valley Reservoir

From the get-go, this new reservoir near Hemet has been managed to be a truly great fishery. DFG biologists have been working on the lake – even before it was filled – to make sure the trout, bass, catfish and panfish planted here had the best possible living conditions.

Diamond Valley Lake record Bass.jpg

Apparently it’s working as largemouth to nearly 17 pounds have already been taken here and the trout population is doing extremely well.

For more info: Diamond Valley Marina

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. As a sweet little bonus cherry on top, the lake also plays host to a very nice population of smallmouth bass.

Lake Almanor Brown Trout

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

5) Clear Lake

I know, I know, this lake can be as ugly as sin in the summer and the heat can be miserable. Some of the towns around Clear Lake aren’t exactly what you’d call 4-star resorts (to say the least!), but it’s a different world here in the spring when the hills are green and the fish are biting. Clear Lake has been on an absolute tear the past couple years and tournament guys were getting 40-pound sacks last spring. Amazing!

The lake’s world class crappie fishery has been going great guns the past several years as well 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.

For more info: Clear Lake Guide Service

Honorable Mention:

Lake Berryessa, Trinity Lake, San Pablo Reservoir

Related articles:
Top 5 California Kokanee Lakes

46 thoughts on “California’s 5 Best Fishing Lakes”

        1. I guess the point I was trying to convey is the Delta is much more fun to fish than most all other lakes or ponds in the vacinity. If you want to take a little ride SE you run into places like New Melones lake, or Meclure lake, Don Pedro lake, to name a few. If you want to go W there’s Chabot lake. Or head N to Clear lake. Again just a few out of many. All have their unique qualities. I like them all.

        2. Where’s a good place to go fishing within 2 hrs of Los Angeles, when you don’t have a boat or I can rent a boat. I’ve gone to Puddingstone, Pyramid Lake on a boat 2 wks ago..No catches. I went to Ventura and Newport Beach Pier within the last 2 wks..No catches. I might have better luck at a pond in a park. LOL!!

          1. Not to sound like a know it all but I’ve been fishing for over 40 years, mostly LMB and SMB and it takes knowledge and skill to catch fish with any consistency. Can be caught from the bank but for numbers a boat is almost a must at most lakes and the delta. Don’t need thousands of dollars in equipment but the right equipment sure helps. Talk to friends or family who loves fishing for help will be a big time saver. I’ve fished many lakes in S CA and all of the mother lode lakes east of Stockton and Modesto and the delta. Have had 150 bass days in the past and looking for more in the coming days. Good luck eat some and save some for the future.

    1. Lake casitas is the best that’s nearest to brentwoood, I’ve caught an 8.6, 7.5 , 6.5 , 6.2 and 5.6 lb bass there in the past 3 months. email me if you’re interested in going

      1. Unless Lake Casitas has moved in the last week it’s located around Ojai, north of Venture in S, CA. It’s a great bass lake but highly restricted with your own boat due to mussels getting into the lake. LMB pushing 20 lb have been caught in the past but not so much the last few years. Bank fishing is mostly no where.

      2. My husband is new to fishing he’s a big fan caught a couple of fishes our selves we travel around to lake and were just trying to learn more and go if available.

  1. Regarding Lake Almanor. Great place to vacation . We have gone up the last 6 years and have only caught 1 trout 5 yrs ago and one more 2 years ago. By the way we have a boat so we fish by drop, trolling and down rigging. We just got back from a 2 week stay 9/8 and have stayed all different times of the year May to October and that is all the fish we caught. We also talk to other fishermen and they did catch anything either. We saw one person catch a 14in and one person catch a 5lb that is it. We even went into town Chester and they told us to use the same thing we have been using. After 6 years we are looking for another place to go. Next year we are going to try Mt. Shasta.

  2. I want to catch a Bass fish and we live on the Central Coast any ideas of an area to go fishing and some tips on how to catch one??

  3. Jeff, Planning a fishing trip up north come mid June. What lake/stream locations would you suggest over a 4 day period? Thanks in advance.

  4. I cannot see having a lake on the list where none of the fish caught are safe for children to eat. Something wrong with spending thousands of dollars to catch fish and toss them either back into the lake or into the garbage.

    1. First off, if you are only concerned with eating fish and saving money, go to Costco…you are guaranteed to catch fish there and you don’t have to waste cash on all that worthless fishing gear. Though, with all the farm raised stuff. I can’t vouch for the nutritional value.

      The criteria used for the lakes in the post had nothing to do with eating fish (see paragraph above). I do understand that mercury is a concern in many waters but if you would like to offer some other “safer” suggestions, we are happy to hear them…

      1. Costco would be great if you could determine what type of fist they really are and where they came from. Have you seen how they raise fish overseas it is astoushing about the impurities they feed them. I will still catch my one at least I know aht toxic wast I am eating.

  5. Wow i am 44 year california native and all the lakes mentioned are great and i have been blessed enough to fish from san diego to cresent city and i now live in redding nor cal i hooked and lost the bigest bass of my life and lost em probably pushing 20 pounds i have fished the spring spawn every spring and my god its just an amazing fisherie 100 fish days with multiple 8 pound plus bass a day i cant say enough nor cal kicks butt and i when the salmon and my god monster steelhead start running well hold on to your pole …….its realy gods country up here …………till next time oh and i got 4 brookies this year in hatt creek 3 ….5lb ers and one scaled at a wopping 6lb 7onces oh ya baby nor call is always worth the drive well its 30 min drive to lake shasa now i live here yahoo fish on…………………….

  6. Hi there
    I’m from Europe but I will be living in Irvine, California, for three months from May 2013 onwards. I am a keen angler but I have absolutely no idea on the fishing possibilities in Southern-California. Is there any one who would be willing to give me some general information – for both freshwater and saltwater fishing?
    Best regards
    Tom

    1. Lived in So-Cal for years. There’s so many great places to try. I’d start with Irvine Lake, but Lake Sherwood in Ventura is amazing year round, especially for Bass. Castaic lake is great too – having 6 of the top 20 largest bass ever – and holds the 3rd largest bass ever caught on record.

    2. Hello Tom.

      It really depends what kind of fishing you are interested in and how far you are willing to travel from Irvine. If you are talking about staying really close to Irvine then you really only have a few ‘Pay and play’ Lakes for fresh water near Irvine. They have tons of fish and trophy sized fish as well. For trout, each lake stocks about 5000 lbs every week which keeps the catch rates high. Your average fish will be between 2lbs to 4 lbs but they also stock trout up to 25 lbs as well. No fishing license is required too. That’s the good side. The bad side is that these ‘pay and play’ lake cost about $22 per adults per day and while fishing at most of these lake, you will hear cars driving by on the freeway since they are all located within our crowded cities and be shoulder to shoulder on the shorelines with the million of other anglers. I just float tube these lakes to get away from the crowds. Some lakes to consider are Irvine Lake, Corona Lake, Santa Ana River Lakes, and Laguna Niguel Lake. These lakes are all within a 1/2 hour from Irvine. The size of fish are great and they catch rates are good but this isn’t my preferred setting to fish in. But….. it holds me of during the off season for my preferred destination…The Eastern sierras. The local pay and play season for trout runs between late October through April or May. The open season for most of the prime water up north are between the last weekend in April through November 15th. since you will be here in May, I recommend you make the 4.5 to 6 hour drive up north to the Eastern sierras and work the areas between Lone Pine Ca. to Bridgeport Ca. There are countless amount of beautiful Lakes, rivers, and streams to close from. Some good ‘drive to’ spots and some hike in spots. Whatever you like. Just go north on HWY 395 and it will lead you to heaven. A good centralized play to stay would be in Mammoth Lakes California. We also have our local mountain range that’s about and hour or 2 from Irvine. Check the Big Bear area. If you’re a Bass fisherman, any of the pay lakes have bass plus we have a bunch of lakes within an hour or 2 away that are on the out skirts of our cities that are prime bass fisheries. Some that come to mind is DVL (as mentioned in JD’s article), Castaic Lake, pyramid lake, Lake Perris, and Lake Castitas. There are countless others too. They mostly contain LMB and Stripers.

      As far are Salt water is concerned, you would be about 1/2 hour or less from the coast. The surf fishing opportunities are endless. Or if you prefer to go off shore, then there are a few sport’s fishing landings near by that you could buy a ticket to jump on their party boats. Some in the general area are in Long beach, San Pedro, Redondo Beach, Marina Del Rey, or closer to you in Newport beach and Dana Point. About 1 hour farther south from Irvine is San Diego which probably offers the best opportunities.

      Good luck and have fun

    1. where at exactly? I’ve never fished there. and I have a pole for trout and small mouth bass vein Im from the north an just moved down here. would you recommend me getting a bigger pole or just stronger line? thanks

  7. Has anyone compiled a list of the best fishing lakes in Southern California? If so, I’d love to hear about it.

  8. Clear lake is a great fishery , last spring i fished there for a half an hour from shore and caught a 4 and a half pound largemouth. Yes i believe there is a Mercury warning on fish consumption and i dont think people eat the bass at all from there…..and that is probably a huge reason the fish are so big. People are not eating them and the fish are old. and there is plenty for them to eat in the lake. Shasta is a great fishery too. Just be prepared to share it with 3000 people in the summer on any given day.!

  9. Shasta is absolutely amazing a 10 -12 lb king or brown are nut unusual I love trolling a rapala 2″-4″ these fish are big and strong!

  10. in the fall through the spring i like lake tulloch big trout on flashers & worm also needle fish off the points. tight lines

  11. Last i heard clearlake was high on mercury and always suggested not to eat the fish.
    also a small town that has very little to offer for future.

  12. I lived at ClearLake in ClearLake Highlands when I was growing up. We could go out and catch a limit of bass every day on the surface..yes surface. We used a fly pole and floating fly line and a popper called a Loyd’s Lucky lure..you could get it directly from Loyd or at Bob’s bait shop…I had a 2 1/2 pound bluegill that was mounted and in Bob’s window. I seen a 40 pound catfish caught and on the shore. Now remember this was over 40 years ago.

  13. It’s hard to find a good fishing hole. I’m going to try my luck at Diamond Valley. I’ve heard a lot of good things about that lake, let’s give it the test. I will be reporting back!

  14. I’ve been fishing the Almanor on 4th July for 4 years now and it never disappointed me. Plenty of Rainbows, Browns, bass, and Salmons. Almanor is definetly my #1 pick.
    Diamond Valley Lake is new to me but the closest one out those 5. Any tips how to fish it?

    1. i fished it for a little while before i got orders to virginia, for trout (which are often slabs) ive found that fishing the coves and inlets with rooster tails, spoons, and powerbait are effective, even through the summer months.

  15. Sounds like I need to take a road trip and visit all five! I’ll have to agree with the Tahoe scenery – although who would disagree?! I worked out of Gardenerville, Nevada for a few months a couple years ago and loved visiting Tahoe just to be there – and with great fishing to boot – it’s a tough one to beat!

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