Fishing Clear Lake
Clear Lake – California’s Largest Natural Freshwater Lake
Clear Lake is located in Lake County in California, 90 miles north of San Francisco. The lake is moderately shallow; its average depth is 27 feet, but the maximum is 60 feet. However, at 68 square miles, it’s the largest natural in California.
With abundant wildlife within the basin, beautiful scenery, and recreational opportunities, Clear Lake is an excellent place to unwind and refresh.
Fishing Clear Lake: What You’ll Find
You can find several different types of fish in Clear Lake, some native, some stocked. Although the lake’s often designated as the “Bass Capital of the West,” there’s much more to be found here.
Let’s look at the best and the biggest Clear Lake offers.
Clear Lake Bass Fishing Guides
Clear Lake Overview
Clear Lake reaches a length of 19 miles and a maximum width of 8 miles, covering a total surface area of 43,785 acres. The average temperature is 40°F during winter and 76 °F in summer.
Clear Lake has numerous inflows and one primary outflow – Cache Creek. A dam was constructed on the outlet in the early 1900s and now helps stabilize water levels.
Both the water and surroundings of Clear Lake are enriched with various fauna. The lake is home to considerably sized populations of bass, crappie, catfish, sunfish, and trout. Additionally, wildlife also thrives on nearby land.
The shoreline stretches for 100 miles. Although most of it is developed and privately owned, there are plenty of public access areas.
Humans and Clear Lake
Clear Lake has always been a productive location brimming with fish and wildlife, a quality that attracted Native American settlers years ago. Archeological evidence suggests people have inhabited the Clear Lake area for 12,000 years.
The region’s history and culture are preserved and presented thanks to the Clear Lake State Park and the Anderson Marsh State Historic Park. Lake County towns also have two museums and numerous historical landmarks, so your trip can be culturally enriching and relaxing.
Top Targeted Fish Species
Out of all the species Clear Lake offers anglers, the largemouth bass is the one that draws in the biggest crowd. Since the 1950s, this lake has been supplied with Northern and Florida strain largemouth bass.
It’s often hailed as one of the top bass fishing lakes in the US and the best one west of the Mississippi.
The largemouth bass here have an average size of 2-3 lbs, but specimens over 4 pounds are quite common, and it’s not unusual to come across an 8-pound bass at any time of the year.
The lake offers an opportunity to reel in an abundance of modest-sized largemouths. Under the right conditions, you can walk away with dozens of fish in a single day. However, this isn’t the only reason it’s such a hotspot for anglers – there’s also a relatively high number of large trophy-sized bass swimming around.
Clear Lake’s warm and shallow waters make it an ideal bass habitat. Largemouth populations not only remain prolific all year round, but individuals can grow to impressive sizes. The Clear Lake record is a 17.52 lbs largemouth caught by Jerry Basgal in 1990.
Bass Populations Throughout the Year
Largemouth bass stick to deep water during the winter but move toward the shallows as temperatures rise. The exact time will vary; however, largemouths will spawn when the temperature falls within the 55-65 degrees range.
Due to this, spring is the best time for successful and consistent bass fishing. A lot of people target the lake March-May when more big bass congregate in shallow waters. Even in summer, you can find bass in spots less than 10 feet deep.
As temperatures drop in fall, Clear Lake fishing can be more “hit or miss”, but this carnivorous predator might still follow its prey of shad to shallow coves and backwaters.
The Clear Lake Team Bass Tournament is held annually in mid-March and can draw in fishermen from all around California, and even a lot of out-of-state anglers are known to make the trip.
Although springtime draws in the crowds, you can find largemouth bass at any time of the year, and individuals weighing over 10 pounds are available even in the colder winter months.
However, bass tournaments are frequent, so when you fish, avoid the days immediately following one, as you’ll be looking at a largely reduced population.
Bait and Fishing Techniques
The live bait and lures you use will depend on how you approach bass fishing. It’s useful to be armed with:
- Large spinnerbaits;
- Drop-shot rigs;
- Shaky head jig and worm;
- Minnows in winter;
- Frogs in summer.
The lake’s aquatic vegetation can be of significant use when bass fishing. Largemouths use tules to hide and hunt – casting along their edges is a common strategy. Bass also favor other vegetation as well as man-made structures, like docks, piers, and pilings, where they seek shelter.
Crankbaits and drip-shot worms can be effective in summer, especially around ledges and rock piles in deeper waters. Floating frogs can also be a good choice for summertime fishing. Cast them around possible spawning sites during low-light hours when there’s a higher chance of a topwater bite.
Spinnerbaits, crankbaits, and jerk baits are excellent for covering more water areas and can provoke reactions in pre-spawn and post-spawn periods.
You can catch bass from the shore or set off on a boat. Clear Lake is massive and offers all anglers their fair share of options when it comes down to fishing spots.
The northwestern shoreline is a popular and often productive choice. Fishermen may frequent Berger Bay and the Lakeport area.
Other popular spots include the mouth of Kelsey Creek, the Buckingham Point to Shag Rock narrows, Lakeside County Park, Point Lakeview, Baylis Point, and Luebow Point.
Smallmouth bass are brown – a feature that has earned them several nicknames such as “bronzeback”, “brown bass”, or “brownie”. These fish are closely related to largemouth bass; however, a few physical features differentiate these two species.
Smallmouths reach only about half the size of largemouth bass – the California state record is 9 lbs 13 ounces, while the largest catch recorded was approximately 12 pounds.
However, smallmouth bass are faster, more agile, and, pound-for-pound, more powerful than their larger siblings, the largemouths. They feed on much of the same prey, and anglers can see productive results using the same techniques as they would for largemouth fishing.
The species spawns in spring, and the most productive fishing times are early mornings and late evenings, under low light conditions.
Clear Lake Charter Captains
To see a complete list of great California Fishing Guides for fishing Clear Lake, please click here!
Catfish are a diverse group of fish distinguished mainly by the barbels located by their mouths. These are used to search for food, and their whisker-like appearance gave the catfish its name. Another notable catfish characteristic is its soft skin and lack of scales.
When fishing Clear lake, this group of fish can range in size and behavior, but most are nocturnal bottom-feeding predators and scavengers. Catfish aren’t native to California and were first stocked in 1874 when channel catfish were brought over from the Mississippi Valley and introduced into the San Joaquin River.
Today, there are several different types of catfish in Northern California, and in Clear Lake, you’ll be able to find:
While some fishermen may insist that blue catfish are also found in Clear Lake, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists refute these claims. The main draw of the lake has always been the channel catfish and their vast numbers.
Although fishing Clear Lake is well-known for its largemouth bass population, the abundance of channel catfish is impressive in its own right.
Most channel cats are in the 5-10 lbs range, but there are also bigger fish lurking in the depths. The current lake record is held by Frank Gentle, whose catch weighed in at 33.57 pounds.
Bullhead catfish don’t grow quite as large. They usually reach 1-2 pounds, but you can also come across larger individuals of around 5 lbs.
White catfish are the smallest of all breeds in Northern California lakes. They will only grow to about a foot and weigh less than 2 pounds.
The Clearlake Oaks-Glenhaven Catfish Derby is an annual fishing event – held for more than 3 decades now. The tournament hands out prizes of thousands of dollars to winners, and it is a great time to aim for a record-breaking catch.
Bait and Fishing Techniques
All types of catfish have an affinity for live bait, cut bait, and dough bait. Your best choices, and ones local anglers sware by, include:
- Raw shrimp;
- Chicken liver;
- Hot dog chunks;
- Catfish stink-bait.
Catfish like to hang out in warm coves, yet sometimes scavenge near the marinas and around the dam.
During the day, they tend to rest in deeper water and move toward the shallows at night to feed, following their forage. Although this makes night fishing a smart option for Clear Lake cats, these specimens are active at all times of the day.
Late spring to fall prove this and provide the best opportunities for around-the-clock catfishing. During these months, individuals are known to move to shallow water during daylight.
Remember that catfish’s fins have sharp spiny protrusions that can hurt you. Make sure you know how to handle your prized catch, and maybe bring some protective gloves with you.
During the day, you should focus on sloping points, drop-offs, channels, and submerged humps. Deep areas next to shallow flats are ideal.
Some notable locations are areas just off Redbud Park, Rattlesnake Island, Soda Bay to Clear Lake State Park, and Fraser Point. Rodman Slough can also be a good Clear Lake fishing spot when angling for catfish.
Clear Lake was first stocked with crappie in 1908, and today it’s one of California’s best lakes for angling in both black and white crappie. It’s easy to let the popular largemouth bass outshine other populations, but you shouldn’t sleep on the Clear Lake crappie.
Spring is the prime time to fish for these species, but crappie fishing means you get opportunities all year round. They spawn earlier than bass and catfish and usually gather in shallow water around the beginning of February.
Black crappie are silvery-olive and have irregular black speckles and blotches. They’re known to feed early in the morning and move in schools. Black crappie prefer low-current areas with clear water and sandy to muddy bottoms.
This type spawns in lower temperatures and will be the first crappie species to breed at Clear Lake.
White crappie are similar to their relatives but are lighter in color and have regular vertical bars along their body. These fish are also more elongated than the rounder and more compact black crappie.
White crappie usually form large schools and like areas with rocks and heavy vegetation to hide under during the day. However, they’re more tolerant of murky waters than black crappies and can be found in open areas in the mornings and evenings.
Trophy Crappie at Clear Lake
A typical black crappie catch is 4-8 inches, while white crappie are slightly longer at 8-12 inches. Both species usually weigh in a little under a pound, but larger individuals are available, and it’s not uncommon for the crappie at Clear Lake to reach around 2 lbs.
Although the required size for a crappie to be considered a trophy catch will depend on who you’re asking, most anglers would definitely place a 15-inch, 2 lbs specimen in this category. Clear Lake provides plenty of chances to fish out crappies just as big, if not even bigger.
The California records for both species were caught precisely in this massive lake. The white crappie record is a 4 lbs 8 oz catch that hasn’t been surpassed since 1971. Meanwhile, the state’s black crappie record fell in February when a 4 lbs 5 oz fish was pulled out of Clear Lake’s waters.
Bait and Fishing Techniques
Crappie are considered easy-to-catch fish, and they’re great options for children, beginners, and seasoned anglers alike. They actively feed during spring, so throughout March and April, reeling in more than 50 crappies in a day can be a relatively easy achievement.
Since these fish like to form schools and move as a unit, once you’ve caught one specimen, more are sure to follow. However, you have to locate crappie schools first.
Effective bait and lures include:
- Small minnow under a bober;
- Small jigs (crappie tubes, split-tail jigs, silver spoons, etc.);
Dock fishing is practical and useful in spring and can sometimes give you good results in summer, as crappie might use the structures to shield themselves from the sun. Slowly move along a part of the shoreline full of docks making a couple of casts until you find a school.
Once spring is over, most crappie retreat into open water and depths of 20 feet. Under these conditions, anglers rely on electronics and turn to their fish finders to help locate schools.
Bluegill and Redear Sunfish
The fish that naturally occupy California’s freshwater lakes are limited, but throughout the years, many stockings have enriched lakes and reservoirs with various species. The warm water of Clear Lake allows many of the introduced fish to flourish there, including sunfish.
Bluegill, or bream, is the most abundant type and is easy to catch for both children and adults. These fish usually grow to around 6 inches and weigh well under a pound, although larger specimens hiding in the depths grow to measure over 10 inches.
Visitors at Clear Lake can also angle for redear sunfish. They grow to be slightly larger than bluegills and are typically 7-8”, but aside from their different appearance, the two panfish are quite similar.
Bluegills and redear sunfish feed on small fish and insects and hang out near logs, docks, rocks, and vegetation. Clear Lake has plenty of docks and brushes, so these fish can be found within casting distance of the shore, and bank anglers can find some surprisingly good fishing spots.
Bait and Fishing Techniques
Bluegills and redear sunfish are feisty and aggressive, so they typically attack anything resembling food. Because of this, they make for easy and relaxing fishing and are a great introduction for beginners and children.
Best and common baits include:
- Small spinners;
- Trout flies;
- Dough balls.
Bluegills spawn in shallow water during spring, the same as bass, which is when it’s easiest to find them. In summer, they’ll start moving into deeper areas, and you may have to fish 10-20 feet down to get a bite.
Rainbow trout are identified by their blue, green, or yellowish back, silver belly, and black spots. This species is also known as “redband trout” since members frequently feature a red stripe running along the body.
These trout are willing to bite on a variety of baits and lures, such as:
- Salmon eggs;
- Wedding rings.
Rainbow trout can be caught year-round, although you’ll likely find the most success in spring and fall when the water’s cooler and the fish are more active, especially near the surface.
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What’s the Weather Like?
Clear Lake doesn’t freeze over, so you can go fishing during any season. In fact, this lake offers some of the best shallow fishing opportunities in all of California.
Still, you might want to check the weather forecast to determine the best time and place to cast your rod. The temperature and restocking schedule can greatly impact catch rates.
Temperatures range between 40°F and 50°F. While it’s not freezing, colder temperatures mean the fish are much less active, making it more challenging for anglers.
In winter, it’s best to fish in the afternoon, as the water gets warmer, and in deeper waters. Winter storms are sure to ruin everyone’s fun – including anglers. Fishing during a storm is impossible, and you should wait a couple of days following one before setting off on the water.
Spring is the prime fishing time at Clear Lake for many of the species of fish found there. The temperature can vary a bit but averages 57-58°F.
Spring is a time when bass and other fish spawn and actively feed, meaning you can target the shallows with great success. Anglers can also enjoy the warm but not-yet-too-hot spring breeze, so it’s a win-win.
In summer, the air and water temperatures reach their highest, but that doesn’t stop dedicated anglers. Fish are still swimming in the water – you just need to know where to find them. Target shade spots near docks and trees where fish hide from the sun.
You can see a lot of success in shallows, even in early summer, but as temperatures increase, most fish will retreat to the deeper parts of the lake. Early mornings and late evenings make for the most opportune fishing times.
As temperatures start to drop, you see some great fishing opportunities arise. Bass actively feed during this time of year and can easily be caught, especially in areas with surrounding tule.
However, when temperatures drop further, fish can become sluggish and inactive and less common in shallow water. Thus, fishing is best-done midday, with the sun above and warmer water below.
Clear Lake Map
Clear Lake History
When fishing Clear Lake occupies a large area and a massive chunk of history as it’s believed to be the oldest lake in North America, with lake sediments dating back 475,000 years.
Long ago, Clear Lake was even larger and included the Blue Lakes; however, the landscape dramatically changed due to volcanic eruptions and landslides.
While Clear Lake is only around half a million years old, lake sediments in the region go back even further – all the way to the Early Pleistocene over 1.5 million years ago. Geologists figure lakes have existed here for as long as that, if not much longer.
The Rumsey Gauge
While we usually measure a lake’s elevation as its altitude above sea level, Clear Lake has its unique measurement – the Rumsey.
In 1872, Captain Rumsey wanted to measure Clear Lake’s water level and used “Grigsby Riffle” as a standard. This rock ledge is still found at the convergence of Cache Creek and Seigler Creek.
To this day, measurements of the lake level are based on the established “Zero Rumsey” elevation, which is equivalent to 1,318.25 feet above sea level. The lake’s considered full at 7.56 ft based on the Rumsey gauge (7.56’R).
More Recreational Activities at Clear Lake
With miles of shoreline, Clear Lakes makes for a beautiful destination with a variety of attractions, like:
- Fishing for bass or other popular species;
- Camping and picnicking;
- Boating, water skiing, jet skiing, wakeboarding, and sailing;
- Clear Lake State Park Visitor Center;
- Anderson Marsh State Historic Park and the McVicar Wildlife Sanctuary;
- Interpretive trails nearby Boggs Mountain for hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking;
- Annual Clear Lake “Splash-In” of vintage seaplanes.
Nature enthusiasts can freely enjoy the warm waters as plenty of public access areas, a swimming beach, and free boat ramps are available.
You’ll find miles of hiking trails around the lake and throughout the two parks. Clear Lake State Park has three different hiking trails on primarily hilly terrain:
- Indian Nature Trail – a half-mile and self-guided trail that shows how the Native Pomo used the natural resources;
- Dorn Nature Trail – a moderately strenuous 2-mile hike;
- Kelsey Creek Trail – an accessible and easy walk highlighting the water flow found in Kelsey Slough.
At Anderson Marsh State Historical Park at Lower Lake, you can find five more trails of varying difficulty:
- Anderson Flats Trail;
- Ridge Trail;
- Mcvicar Trail;
- Cache Creek Nature Trail;
- Marsh Trail.
You may even spot some of the wildlife the Clear Lake basin supports, like Beechey ground squirrels, minks, deer, and the elusive bobcat or mountain lion. Around and above the trails, the Clear Lake area also harbors various birds, including ducks, white pelicans, egrets, herons, and bald eagles.
Clear Lake Camping
There are a fair amount of private campgrounds and RV parks around Clear Lake, but the only public camping available is at Clear Lake State Park on the southwestern shore of the lake.
The park has four campgrounds:
- Lower Bayview;
- Kelsey Creek;
- Cole Creek;
- Upper Bayview.
There are no electrical or water hookups, and all sites can only accommodate trailers up to a maximum of 35 feet in length. Showers and toilets are available in nearby facilities, but you need to pay for them.
Cole Creek Campground
This campground has 26 campsites – each with a table, a fire ring, a food storage box, and 2 sites for hiking or biking. It’s located inland and winds along Cole Creek beneath a canopy of trees, ensuring the campsites stay well-shaded.
Cole Creek opens sometime in mid-May and is functional until mid-September.
Kelsey Creek Campground
This campground offers 65 sites and is the only one that offers lakeside spots, meaning visitors get easy access to fishing in convenient and partially shaded areas. Each site has a fire ring, a food storage box, and a table.
Kelsey Creek Campground is surrounded by lush forest, and it’s the only one open all year-round.
Upper and Lower Bayview Campgrounds
Lower Bayview Campground is a bit further back and rests slightly up a hill. It offers 22 campsites that get a nice view of the lake. The swimming beach is just north of the campground and only a short walk away.
Upper Bayview Campsites are located further up, at the hill’s top. The campground has 33 sites and easy passage to the Dorn Nature Trail.
The Upper and Lower Bayview Campgrounds work from May to mid-September.
Clear Lake State Park also has 2 group campgrounds, each accommodating up to 8 vehicles and 40 people. These sites are only available through reservation and offer tables, fire rings, and shade ramadas.
You may also opt to rent out a lakeside cabin. These can accommodate up to 4 people and have a large storage cupboard, counter space, and a table with 2 benches. Additionally, each cabin has an outdoor barbeque and fire pit.
Even if camping isn’t your cup of tea, there’s no reason you can’t enjoy a trip down to Clear Lake. There are numerous hotels and resorts around the lake where you can stay; make sure to research and find a quality place to book.
Clear Lake Boating
Clear Lake has several locations that rent out motorboats, pontoon boats, and personal watercraft like jet skis, with 11 accessible public-access boat ramps around the lake.
The Clear Lake State Park doesn’t rent out motorized vehicles but does offer canoes and kayaks and may also provide guided tours at certain times.
Lake County requires all registered water vessels to be inspected for quagga mussels before launching.
Head Out to Clear Lake, CA
Clear Lake might be your new favorite spot whether you’re looking for periodical day trips or a lengthier getaway. It is a remarkable place with thriving fauna and rich history. And it’s definitely worth a trip to test out the waters and see if the fish bite.