California Fishing Lakes

By Andy Whitcomb

May 12, 2020

California has many fishing lakes for trout and bass. Here’s where to start for west coast fishing.

California is touted as having over 400 recreational lakes. That makes for a lot of California fishing lakes, California boating lakes, California camping lakes, and California rock-skipping lakes. Or whatever “floats your boat.”

One of the first things you need to do when on the west coast is familiarize yourself with the California fishing regulations. All 91 pages of it. This is a tremendous resource of fishing location information, plus the important details of its contents can help keep you out of trouble.

For example, according to the 2020 California fishing regulations, July 4th and September 5th are free fishing days. BUT, if you are fishing for salmon in certain rivers, or steelhead or sturgeon anywhere, even if you are under 16 years old and/or fishing on one of the designated free fishing days, you must purchase and return a “report card.”

It is also important to learn the rules of each district’s body of water such as when fishing for trout. Trout daily bag and possession limits vary greatly during California trout season. Some freshwater fishing locations distinguish between hatchery trout and wild trout, as designated by the presence or absence of an adipose fin. Some places are catch and release only with artificial lures and barbless hooks. There are even areas where water flow releases affect if fishing is allowed.

Other species are available in California fishing lakes such as catfish, crappie, and bluegill. Clear Lake, which is known for producing massive largemouth bass, even made a Bassmaster list of “100 Best Bass Lakes.” Depending on your freshwater fishing in California preferences and options, you can fish “trout lakes” which also contain bass (New Melones Reservoir, Los Vaqueros Reservoir) or you can fish “bass lakes” which also contain trout (Shasta Lake, Diamond Valley Lake, Bullard’s Bar Reservoir). In any of these crossover fisheries, your tacklebox should contain a large trout-resembling swimbait. People aren’t the only ones who like to eat stocked hatchery trout.

Andy Whitcomb
Andy Whitcomb
Andy is an outdoor writer ( and stressed-out Dad has contributed over 380 blogs to since 2011. Born in Florida, but raised on banks of Oklahoma farm ponds, he now chases pike, smallmouth bass, and steelhead in Pennsylvania. After earning a B.S. in Zoology from OSU, he worked in fish hatcheries and as a fisheries research technician at OSU, Iowa State, and Michigan State.