Fishing in Lake Berryessa
Lake Berryessa Fishing Guide
Anglers dream of diverse fish populations concentrated in a scenic body of water, surrounded by adequate infrastructure, creating the perfect weekend gateway. One such fishing attraction is Lake Berryessa in Napa California.
This man-made reservoir is located in Napa County, about 77 miles from San Francisco, representing a crucial source of electricity and drinking water for residents of the Bay Area. Fishermen appreciate the varieties of trout, salmon, bass, crappie, perch, catfish, bluegill, and sunfish that inhabit the 20,700-acre reservoir. It stretches for 16 miles in length and is 3 miles wide, offering anglers 165 miles of coastline to explore.
During the weekend, pleasure boaters from Sacramento and San Francisco arrive in drove to take advantage of the 275 feet-deep lake. However, the average depth is between 50 and 140 feet. There are several resorts and marinas on the lake, and both cold water and warm water fishing tournaments get held regularly. Fishing in Lake Berryessa offers locals and out-of-state visitors the chance to catch a prized game species.
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Types of Fish Found In Lake Berryessa
As one of California’s finest fishing lakes, Lake Berryessa gets regularly stocked and offers a large variety of fish. The landscape has many suitable sites to catch the preferred spices, but before embarking on your fishing expedition, check the regulations, which can change throughout the year in California.
When fishing at Lake Berryessa, it’s necessary to respect the local regulations, stipulating the type, size, and quantity of fish that anglers can catch and keep. Consult the rules ahead of time and purchase an adequate sports fishing license before arriving at the lake.
With the bureaucratic aspect taken care of, you can start customizing the excursion to fit the experience level and objectives.
Let’s examine the fish species in Lake Berryessa, which is among the best northern California lakes for avid anglers.
The spotted bass is a recent addition to the lake’s ecosystem and has found the environment hospitable, as evident from the thriving recorded numbers.
Do not expect monster catches when bass fishing. The average weight is 3 pounds, and you can feel proud if you net a 6-pounder. It’s a fish with an appetite for biting, even in winter. However, unlike its cousins in the bass family, the spotted bass is not a fan of hot water for spawning, so it moves into colder reaches.
Although the Narrows is the best area for catching spotted bass because of the rocky points, these terrain features are present all over the lake, making the spotted bass available at numerous points along the lake’s shoreline.
The spotted bass also likes to inhabit areas visited by largemouth and smallmouth bass, making it possible to catch all three species from a single spot.
During the summer, spotted bass hunts shad, and anglers can use that to their advantage by casting cranks, jerk baits, and swim baits. Alternative options for bait include soft plastics, jigs, and wacky rigs that can effectively cover a lot of water. So as not to damage the fishing rig, be careful around rick piles and trees.
Most larger bodies of water in California are inhabited sparsely by smallmouth bass also called bronzebacks. But that’s not the case at Berryessa Lake, which in the 1980s began receiving a regular infusion of Florida-strain largemouth bass, creating a productive resource for anglers.
The lake has produced some monster specimens, but realistically you can expect to catch 9-pounders. Lake’s opposite ends are favorite locations to find bass, with the Putah Creek and Narrows giving you the best chance for success.
Spring is the period when smallmouth bass becomes active, with April being the high season. You can visit the lake in May and June in time for the migration towards deeper habitats.
The season and the water quality will influence the bass fishing techniques. Small lures and finesse techniques produce the most bites in clear to slightly stained water.
However, when the lake is murky, selecting darker lures and thicker diameter lines is the formula for good results. At the height of spring, if fishing near drop-offs and rocky points, soft plastics and crawfish-imitating jigs can be effective bait.
Largemouths are called bucketmouths because of their large jaw which allows the mouth to open so wide and considered the heavyweights in Lake Berryessa. It’s a fish with a reputation for an aggressive temper.
Pulling out a 17-pounder, the official record at the lake can be challenging but also fun when bass fishing.
If you are after a prize catch, then later winter into early spring is the time to snag a hefty trophy bass. Early May is the spawn or post-spawn period for largemouth bass in different lake sectors. At this time, they seek shallow water in the backs of coves at depths of under 3 feet.
But after they spawn, bass tries to avoid the increasing hotter temperature of the summer and moves into colder water. Accordingly, you will need to go fishing in a deeper section of the lake, and Markley Cove is a favorite location to target largemouths.
This type of bass prefers weeds and fallen timber, and you can find them across the entire lake. The easiest way to tempt it is with dainty lures and worms.
Top Targeted Fish Species
As predatory fish, they can get big, up to 20 pounds, but this weight gets reserved for channel catfish. The other varieties, white catfish and bullhead, are smaller at 2 to 4 pounds.
Catfish are most active in the night and early morning when they feed at depths of 10 feet. However, when the sun moves above the horizon, they move to depths of 25 feet or more and tend to be lazy during daylight hours.
Lake Berryessa harbors a substantial population of catfish, and one reason for this is that most anglers focus their efforts on trout and bass.
Warmer coves harbor every specie of catfish, which are active around the dam and marinas, where they scavenge. Because they are bottom feeders, smelly bait is the best choice.
Natural baits such as chicken livers, shad, anchovies, hotdogs, sardines, and night crawlers can lure catfish to a tugging match. They have a reputation for being a fighter, and pulling one out can be quite a struggle.
Bluegill or Sunfish
Collectively referred to as panfish, it’s a mid-tier predator which can also be prey. Panfish stick to the shoreline and nearby structures. They are constantly vigilant of their surroundings, ready to attack anything that can be a tasty meal.
But this is also panfish’s weakness since being too aggressive makes them easy to bait. For that purpose, anglers should use worms, sausage pieces, a small spinner, and trout flies.
Optimistic expectations for bluegill are about 3 pounds, while sunfish can offer slightly bigger plate sizes at 5 pounds. But these are all the highest recorded catches, so be ready to come home with smaller-size fish.
The reservoir is regularly stocked with rainbow trout. Because of the deep and colder water, trout thrive in the lake, providing abundant fishing opportunities for anglers.
During colder months of the year are the best time to fish rainbow trout on Lake Berryessa’ when the shallow waters get infested with this specie of trout. Shore fishing is possible in winter when rainbow trout prefer depths of 10 feet or less.
If you do not own a boat or prefer to stay on dry land, mark November on your calendar, and bring spoons, spinners, and crankbaits to nab a tout. Find the Narrows, Putah Creek, and Pope Creek arms on the map, and use the shallow areas in this region to get a consistent bite during winter visits.
However, during the summer, the pattern changes, and rainbow trout move into depths of up to 40 feet, meaning trolling is the best method for catching trout in the warmer months. Reaching the required depth is possible with downriggers, and trolling with a dodger makes the lure more attractive.
Locals use fishing gear such as squid-like plastic lures, silvery spoons, and spinners. It’s worth remembering that you can unintentionally catch kokanee with the same bait, considering it navigates the same region and will show interest in the recommended bait types.
California is not a native habitat for brown trout. It originated in Europe and got introduced to the lake in the closing years of the 19th century. Surprisingly, it’s the only fish in the state with black and red body patches.
Sizes tend to vary, with a record catch of 26 pounds motivating many anglers to try their luck. Although, this is not the average weight encountered in the lake.
The feeding habits are commonly known, with daylight encouraging the most activity, and brown trout is not known for its patience. It will aggressively go after its prey.
Troll with a boat is the best tactic to corner these behemoths, with artificial baits offering great results, like inline spinners, small minnows, or live nightcrawlers. Spillways or waterfalls are the preferred ambush sites for brown trout, which like to wait for their prey to drift in their direction.
Positioning yourself in these locations will give you access to brown trout and turn the tables on it, making it switch from being a predator into prey.
Brook trout is not discriminatory with its dietary preferences, consuming small crawfish, worms, and minnows. The opportunistic appetite benefits anglers, enabling the application of different flies and lures.
Spinners, worms, grasshoppers, and floating flies are great baits for trout fishing at the lake. The best tip is to fish with a light line, small sinkers, and hooks.
What’s the difference between sockeye and kokanee salmon? In a nutshell, kokanee is the landlocked sockeye salmon variant. The latter matures in the ocean and then migrates to rivers, while the former uses streams to spawn.
Throughout the year, kokanee stays in open water at depths up to 200 feet, forcing anglers to troll with a downrigger. Areas around the dam are a good choice, with the mid-lake and the coves also being productive sectors.
Spring is the prime season for kokanee, while June will force the salmon into deep, cold waters. Subsequently, there is a reduction in numbers in the summer, so try to schedule a visit between March and May for the best results.
The droughts experienced in recent years have worried many because the lower water level changes the patterns of the local fish. Old locations no longer offer the same results, especially when salmon is in question, considering it typically inhabits deeper water.
This forces anglers to invest more time and effort to find these cold-water beauties. If you wonder if the effort is worth it, remember that most kokanee is modest in size, the average weight is about 2 pounds.
Trolling with spoons and spinners with bright colors to get their attention is recommended. Salmon have sharp teeth that can cut a line, so experienced anglers advise using a lead leader. Interestingly, sweet corn is a tempting bait for kokanee salmon.
Landlocked Chinook Salmon
Lake Berryessa harbors a large population of chinook salmon, making it one of California’s most significant landlocked fisheries.
Chinook salmon or king salmon can grow up to 4 pounds in the lake, a smaller weight than expected, but it’s due to it being an inland variant. However, 10-pounders have been caught on occasion.
Salmon is abundant near the dam at the end of winter, at depths of about 50 feet. But at the end of fall, chinook feeds near the surface, making it more accessible for fishermen.
When the king salmon inhabits shallow waters, a suitable method is drifting with live shad or anchovies.
Generally, the fishing gear and techniques are similar to the ones used for kokanee. You only need to go deeper and with bigger baits. Select larger spoons to mimic shad and slender to give the impression of pond smelt.
Anglers also use live bait and plastic worms to catch them. Still, focusing on their preferred diet is the best option to achieve the wanted results.
The cyclic nature of crappie means that not every year will offer the same quantity. But despite that fact, the lake is brimming with crappie, with most specimens tipping the scale at a pound.
Submerged timber and brush is an attractive lingering areas for crappie. It’s important to note that there are two types of crappie in the lake, white and black, and from the pair, white crappie is happier in warmer water.
Springtime is the best period for crappie fishing, with docks and weed beds offering opportune fishing spots. But when summer rolls around, crappie migrates around the lake, mostly following schools of minnows. Although it ventures into open water, it tends to stay close to a weed bed or a drop-off.
The best fishing gear for catching crappie is using a submerging green light and drifting live minnows or small jigs. Locating a shoal is not difficult, and when you track them down, the catch can be bountiful.
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Planning Your Trip at Lake Berryessa
Located in Napa County, Lake Berryessa is a half-hour drive from Sacramento and an hour-and-a-half trip from San Francisco. California’s state route 128 offers access to the lake.
The lake is owned and managed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which operates the recreational facilities on and near the lake.
From route CA 128, visitors can merge with Steele Canyon road and Berryessa Knoxville road and get access to the marinas, parks, and recreation areas around the lake. There are several dedicated boat launch sites and shore fishing areas, with third-party vendors operating most facilities.
Camping with RVs and tents is available at the Spanish Flat, Steele Canyon, and Putah Canyon recreation areas, plus the Pleasure Cove Resort offers accommodations.
Don’t be shy about hiring a fishing guide if this is your first visit to the lake or if you are a novice angler and need help getting oriented in the right direction. Several local guides can assist you in mapping your first Lake Berryessa fishing trip that matches your skill level.
The shoreline of Lake Berryessa is undeveloped, aside from the marinas, parks, and boat launch sites, so do not expect too many facilities. This can be a genuine camping fishing trip if you decide to make base camp around the lake.
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Lake Berryessa Map
Best Fishing Places At Lake Berryessa
The large stretch of coastline offers many productive spots to anchor down and watch the fish bite. However, no two places are identical.
Depending on the type of fish you are hoping to catch and the style of fishing used, it is a good idea to get to know the lay of the land in advance of the fishing expedition.
Big Island and Small Island
To the north of the Spanish Flat, you can easily find the two islands, considering the main river channel runs into them. Several other ditches and channels create a web of ledges, ridges, and drop-offs, which offer good vantage points when fishing in Lake Berryessa.
The fish exploit the submerged brush and weed beds in this area as cover. That’s why it is a priority to inspect depths up to 15 feet and the small rock piles and drainage ditches in the vicinity.
When embarking on a fishing trip in the summer, the Putah Creek inlet and its surrounding areas should be top locations for catching fish like smallmouth, largemouth, and spotted bass. The trick is to focus on the bedrock patches and rock piles.
When the water table of the lake is low, bass will gravitate around submerged timber. If using this location, always look for fish holding over the rocks before unpacking for the day.
Putah Creek Arm
The northwest section of the lake is the epicenter of a long winding channel known as Putah Creek arm, a treasure trove of all types of bass, catfish, and crappie.
This concentration of fish is a common occurrence with a reduced water level. Take into account that the channel is brimming with standing timber and submerged brush, rock piles, and channel swings.
Spanish Flat to Quarry Canyon
The area is crisscrossed with several submerged points, offering various structures to target and fish. Ledges, humps, ridges, and drop-offs are the most productive areas, but you can also check artificial structures like docks and bridge pilings.
Checking the brush piles and vertical standing timber can also benefit you. Before hunkering down, scout the terrain and look for solid indicators of a large bass shoal in the area.
The dam offers an abundance of trout and salmon, while in the northern section of the dam, you can catch bass and crappie that hides on the rocky shelves.
The drawback of fishing in this lake area is the high winds, which tend to displace a boat from the preferred spot, even with a reliable trolling motor. Invest in a drift sock to stay on course in the strike zone.
It ranks as one of the most productive corners of the lake, with a healthy population of catfish, bluegill, and bass. This is mainly due to the submerged vegetation, which creates a welcoming environment for the fish species.
Locals’ experience reveals that the best result is attainable in sectors where the vegetation intersects with a rock pile or a drainage ditch, basically any other form of cover. The best bait to fish within these parts with submerged grass is a topwater lure, whopper plopper, buzz bait, frog lure, and chatter bait. Be ready to encounter a few isolated rock piles.
The area is known for its thick vegetation. The coastline is full of submerged weed beds and floating grass mats. Using heavy fishing lines is preferred to combat these circumstances.
However, because Eticuera creek is located in the northeast part of the lake, the mouth is an open area offering solitude for anglers who enjoy the scenery and a solo fishing experience. Another benefit is the lack of winds and strong currents.
Not the most welcoming piece of information, but the biggest chances for a catch are during the hottest period of the day, when the bass hides in the deep shadows, effectively trapping themselves.
When fishing the Eticurea creek, the arsenal of baits can be composed of chatter baits, swim jigs, crankbaits, and soft plastic swimbaits.
Entering the water with a boat or a kayak is the best way to fish in this long and narrow stretched canyon in the south section of the lake. The canyon sides feature steep boulder-size substrate, and the water is deep.
Anglers can expect a hull of trout and salmon in the natural humps and ridges, while the bait that offers the best chance to entice the fish is trolling spoons, inline spinners, streamers, and flies.
Using natural bait like corn, worms, salmon eggs, and dough bait can be an option with satisfactory outcomes.
The midsection of the reservoir features a long rocky bank that is very steep, offering a large fishing area.
However, gravitating towards the boulder piles and transition areas from larger to smaller rock sizes is more suitable for fishing crawfish, minnows, bluegill, and shad that shelter in this area.
There are several peninsulas on the lake, but the main one is between two deep channels, with the south channel creating a cove with several ditches. What gives these places a unique look are the drop-offs, ledges, and boulders, something symbolic about the northern creek channel.
The steep banks offer depths of 10 to 25 feet, when smallmouth and spotted bass like to navigate the rock cuts and pockets, frequently moving into the submerged brush and weed beds.