Lake Berryessa: Fishing Report and Guide

Scene of fishing in the Lake Berryessa.

If you live in Sacramento or San Francisco and want to try your hand at the lake fishing, you can check out Lake Berryessa. It is located around 120 km from San Francisco and 63.9 km from Sacramento. It is an artificial lake, yet it has quickly become a popular fishing location. 

The waters of Lake Berryessa turnover once a year, which means it is a monomictic lake. The turnover of water happens somewhere during fall when the warmer water of the surface begins to cool and matches the cooler lower water. 

Once the higher and lower levels of the lake match their temperature, water freely circulates, allowing the underlying water level to replenish its oxygen content. Fishing, however, during the monotone temperature is not easy because fish can swim anywhere in the lake.

History of Lake Berryessa

As mentioned above, Lake Berryessa is an artificial lake. It is a deep reservoir with an average of 50 to 140 feet in depth. Its maximum depth is around 275 feet when it is full. It is around 16-mile long and approximately 3-mile wide. It provides a fishing ground of around 20,700 acres and a shoreline of about 165-mile long. 

Boat operators in Lake Berryessa are required to possess a California Boating Card. Anyone under 41 of age must have this boating card to operate their boat in Lake Berryessa waters. 

Lake Berryessa is located in Napa County, about a one-and-a-half-hour drive from San Francisco and an hour drive from Sacramento. You can easily access the Lake from CA-128 by taking Steele Canyon Road leading to Berryessa Highlands. 

You can also head north via Berryessa Knoxville Road, which winds along the lake’s western shoreline. Via this road, you can access several marinas, recreation areas, and parks.

Lake Berryessa was initially not designed for recreational use. At the onset, it got fenced off. Yet, public interest feverishly increased over time, and many citizens gained access to the waters. Hence, seven concessionaires were authorized to offer recreational activities there soon after. All these contracts of concessionaires, however, ended in 2009.

Nowadays, you can engage in popular activities in the lake, including fishing, jet-skiing, waterskiing, pleasure boating, hiking, canoeing, kayaking, wildlife observation, motorcycling, swimming, and picnicking. You will also find the Lake Berryessa Seaplane Base on the lake’s surface.

Fish Species in Lake Berryessa

Fishing at the Lake is year-round. The lake, of course, is home to cold-water and warm-water fish species. You will find various fish species ranging from landlocked salmon to sunfish. You can also fish at the lake using multiple techniques like bait fishing, trolling in the deep, to finesse techniques. Below is a shortlist of fish species found in Lake Berryessa:

Smallmouth Bass

One of the most sought-after fish species at Lake Berryessa is the Smallmouth. As a freshwater fish, it is scarce in California. It is a popular game fish, and anglers like to seek this fish. It has a slender body, yet it is muscular, making it a powerful swimmer. So, this fish provides a good chase. 

This smallmouth bass has a maximum size of 27 inches and a maximum recorded weight of 12 pounds. Although this fish is native to the Mississippi River basin, Great Lakes, and Hudson Bay basin, it has found its way into Lake Berryessa. 

The two opposite narrow ends of the lake seem to provide the best locations for fishing for smallmouth bass. The Putah Creek inlet up north, of course, offers excellent habitat for smallmouths to thrive. On the other hand, the southern end of the lake, called Narrows, also provides the best and most productive spot to fish for smallmouths. 

During the Spring, the Narrows seem to swarm with smallmouth activities beginning in February. The smallmouths then would make their way to the shallow waters to spawn their eggs. By April, you can find fully-grown smallmouths ready for the taking. 

The male smallmouths are relatively smaller than their female counterparts. Besides, the best lure for the smallmouth includes the Crawfish-imitating jigs. You can also use smelt and chad. 

You can also utilize minnow-imitating swimbaits and crankbaits early in the fishing season. Yet, as these fish make their way to the deeper waters during May and June, you should shift to the use of drop-shot rigs.  

Largemouth Bass

If you want to catch a ravenous carnivorous fish, you should check out the largemouth bass of Lake Berryessa. This fish has an olive-green color to greenish-gray color. It has an upper jaw that extends beyond the rear margin of its orbit, making it appear to have a largemouth. It is the largest species of black basses and can reach up to 29.5 inches and a maximum weight of 25 lbs. 

Lake Berryessa, however, has a record of 17lbs of largemouth. The largemouth consumes scuds, small baitfish, copepods, water fleas, and many other lures. The larger largemouth dwells in the deep water while the younger fish inhabits the shallower waters. The smaller largemouth fed on shad, ciscoes, yellow perch, suckers, etc. The ideal time to fish for more prominent largemouth bass is during the late winter and Spring. 

Largemouth usually lay their eggs early in May. So, the best time for catching largemouth in Lake Berryessa is during May, with largemouth in different stages of their growth. Your best chance to catch largemouth would be in the Markley Cove, a favorite location for largemouth fishing. 

Locating the largemouth basses is not that difficult. Besides, their behavior is entirely predictable. They would often swim toward the shallowest waters in the coves’ far backs, where the waters are almost three feet deep or less. You can also find them behind weeds and layouts. 

It will be best to use wacky worms and Carolina-rigged creature baits to lure the largemouth. Largemouth tends to fall prey to dainty lures and downsized finesse worms. However, you can use crankbaits to trigger the largemouth to react instinctively in the deeper waters. 

Another excellent location is the Paradise Cove when fishing during the Summer, and your best shot would be the use of topwater lures during a calm summer day.

Spotted Bass

Another excellent fish for anglers is the spotted bass, also referred to as spotty. Its most prominent characteristic is its dark spots below its lateral line. Spotted bass got recently introduced to Lake Berryessa compared to the previously discussed fish species. 

The size of the spotted bass is like that of smallmouth bass, and you might sometimes catch a five-pounder spotted bass in the lake. However, seldom will you catch a rare giant spotted bass. 

The spots are known to bite readily. Even during the winter, you can still catch spotted bass, and it will bite with alacrity. Besides, they spawn in the deeper waters and colder locations. 

The spotted bass can live up to six years. They usually spawn from April up to May. Additionally, their males build nests in substrate like gravel. Then, it enjoins the female to spawn in that nest. The male then looks after the nests until the newly hatched fish disperse. 

As a popular game fish, the spotted bass inhabits almost all the areas of the lake. Yet, the most effective locations for fishing spotted bass include the drop-offs and the sloping rocky points. 

The Narrows are the best locations for catching spotted bass because of their many steeps, sloping rocky points, drop-offs, and accessible routes between shallow and deep waters.

Rainbow Trout

Lake Berryessa has been home to Rainbow Trout for several decades already. Hence, if you wish to go fishing in this lake, you might catch a Rainbow Trout. Rainbow Trout are the more abundant species in the lake compared to the brown trout. You will find most rainbow trout in the open deep waters around 30 to 40 feet deep during the Summer. 

Rainbow trout have several types. There is the Redband trout and the Kern River Golden Trout. Rainbow trout usually weigh around 1 to 5 pounds on average. 

You can succeed if you fish near the drop-offs and ledges for rainbow trout. You can also employ the strategy of finding vegetation wherein smaller baitfish are known to feed. If you see where the baitfish are feeding, you will likely find the rainbow trout. 

Rainbow trout feed on larvae and insects like stoneflies, caddisflies, ants, mayflies, crickets, and grasshoppers. They also feast on smaller fish, shrimp, fish eggs, and crayfish. They will also eat almost everything that they will find. 

During the late Spring or early Summer, the rainbow trout usually spawn. However, they dwell in the deep waters during summer, though they stay more at different depths than the Kokanee. Trolling is your best option when catching rainbow trout. You can use silvery spoons and spinners as well. Many locals, however, like to use squid-like lures made of plastic. 

You can also use downriggers to position your lure further, while a dodger can deliver that extra flash to your bait. If you don’t want to go further to the deeper waters, you can choose the best time for catching trout in the shallow waters. The colder months, of course, are the best months for shallow-water fishing for trout. In November, for example, you can find some rainbow trout in ten-foot-deep waters, allowing you to do shore fishing. 

If you don’t have a boat, the colder months would be your best months to fish for trout. You can catch winter trout by simply casting spinners, small crankbaits, and spoons from a spot on the shore. 

The best points in the lake where you can engage in shallow-water fishing are at Pope Creek and Putah Creek arms. You can also check the areas surrounding the Narrows for the best shallow-water fishing.

Kokanee Salmon

The Kokanee salmon is also referred to as the Kokanee trout and little redfish. The Kokanee is a sockeye salmon. This fish species live primarily in freshwater. Moreover, they usually inhabit the lakes of Canada and the United States, and one of the lakes where you can find the Kokanee salmon is Lake Berryessa. 

The size of the kokanee salmon may range somewhere between 23 to 30 centimeters. They can weigh around 1.4 to 2.3 kgs. In some lakes in the United States, the kokanee salmon seldom reach larger sizes, and more often, their growth gets stunted to 10 to 12 inches long. Even smaller kokanee salmon serve as food for the larger trout and bass in some lakes. 

However, the case of kokanee salmon in Lake Berryessa is different. In this lake, kokes, as they are commonly referred to, grow up to 18 inches and can weigh up to two pounds. They also proliferate well in this lake. Hence, Lake Berryessa is one of the best lakes for catching kokanee salmon. 

Throughout the year, Kokanee appears to dwell in the open waters. So, you should seek them out in the lake’s deeper areas by trolling. You can usually find them on the deep side near the big island in the middle of the lake. You can also search for a school of kokanee in the Skier’s and Markley Coves. 

The best time for catching Kokanee is in the Spring, from March to May. During Summer, their number seems to dwindle, though you will find larger Kokanee at this time. They usually dwell ten to thirty feet below the water surface level because of the warmer temperature of the surface water. 

You can engage in trolling with spinners and small spoons with flashing dodgers. You can also opt for any color with the fluorescent and bright ones at the fore. Make sure you tip the hooks with white sweet corn kernel, whichever lure you use. Such a food seems irresistible to Kokes.

Landlocked Chinook Salmon

Lake Berryessa is home to some landlocked king salmon. The king salmon might be fewer than the Kokanee, but they can grow more extensively than the Kokanee. You can catch four to five pounders of Kings at Lake Berryessa if you’re lucky. 

Chinook Salmon, of course, belongs to the highly prized species dwelling in freshwater. You can identify them by their silvery body with a bit of spotted back and square caudal fin. They are known more for their sporting purpose than for consumption. 

The colder months produce better quality Chinook Salmon. They become lethargic during the warmer months, and you can find them in the deeper waters during these months. Besides, the best time to catch them is at dawn and dusk, when they are more active and engaged in hunting. 

You can use a spinning rod (medium-sized) and reel setup. It will be best to start with a fast-action rod with 3 to 5 kg ratings, ranging from 6 to 7 feet. You can pair this up with a 2,500 reel. Spool up with a fluorocarbon, monofilament, or braided fishing line.

Suppose you opt for a lure while fishing; you can use a braid for your mainline and firmer fluorocarbon leader. Such a setup will allow you added sensitivity while you work your bait. 

Chinook salmon will take different natural baits. They would take scrub worms, minnows, yabbies, and mud-eyes. Moreover, you can determine the hooks by the bait size you will use. Nevertheless, you can use a longer circle or shank for the best results.

Crappie

If you want a sweet, soft, and tasty fish, you can go for crappie. Lake Berryessa is home to crappie, and you can catch them there year-round. Crappie comes in two main species: white crappie and black crappie. Crappie feeds on vegetation. Hence, you can usually find them in locations where there is vegetation. 

They also spawn in shallow spots. Knowing this, you can easily predict where to find crappie in Lake Berryessa. Besides, crappie can grow up to 20 centimeters, and they can weigh up to 8 ounces. 

When catching crappies, timing is essential. During the daytime, crappies usually dwell in the deep. Hence, your best chance of catching them is at dawn and dusk. During these times, they go near the shore. 

They also like to stay near laydowns or anything underwater. So, you will find them in a tangle of weeds and sunken tree branches.

You can catch crappie even with a minnow equipped with a bobber. You can also use a beetle-spin lure. Besides, you can cast a small jig or use a small plastic lure to catch them. 

During Summer, crappie sports a nomadic lifestyle. They usually follow schools of minnows, not too far from the drop-off or weed bed. Hence, you might find them hard to locate, but you will find more of them once you encounter one. 

You can drift live minnows or even cast a small jig to catch them. Moreover, the best spots in Lake Berryessa to catch them are at the Putah Creek, Steel Canyon, and Portuguese Cove.

Catfish

Lake Berryessa supports a thriving population of catfish. Catfish, of course, is usually underrated. Yet, if you’re a beginner in fishing, you might want to practice fishing by catching catfish. Catfish grow well and taste good. Besides, they would put up a struggle when you catch them. 

The best time to catch catfish is nighttime because they would gladly move out of their hiding place and forage around for food. They also show up in shallower waters. 

Because catfish are voracious eaters, they usually follow their stomachs. Moreover, they are scent-based fish, which means they depend more on their smelling capability to hunt prey in the dark. 

In Lake Berryessa, the most prized catfish species is the Channel catfish. You will find up to four pounds of catfish in the lake, though you can also catch catfish weighing 20 pounds. Besides, you will find there white and bullhead catfish, though they come in a smaller number. 

Catfish feed at the bottom of the lake. As such, you should seek them in the deeper waters. It will be best to use natural and smelly baits like nightcrawlers, chicken livers, cut shad, and stinkbait. Watch your line intently for a bite. 

The best locations in Lake Berryessa for catching catfish are at the Pope Creek Inlet and Putah Creek Inlet. You can also fish during dusk when catfish usually swim towards the shallow water to forage for food.

Bluegill

Another Excellent fish species to catch at Lake Berryessa is Bluegill. Bluegill is likewise known as bream or panfish. This fish is a prey and predator at the same time. Moreover, bluegill can grow up to a foot long. They are not difficult to catch. Besides, they usually have a bright yellow belly. However, to catch them, you need to be looking in the right place. 

You can utilize a small bait and hooks to catch Bluegill. Since they have small mouths, it will be best to use small bait and hooks. You can use as bait those little worms, crickets, and grasshoppers. 

You can also use artificial lures like woolly buggers and worms in black, yellow, and brown colors. Besides, it will be best to use a smaller hook to allow the Bluegill to bite down on your hook. You can also utilize a lightweight rod characterized by high action. “High action,” of course, means it can bend easily. 

Go for a lightweight composite, carbon, or graphite rod capable of bending easily. Use a monofilament line likewise. Besides, you don’t need to use a heavier braided line. Instead, you can use a small reel. Plus, avail yourself of a light bobber. 

The best time for catching Bluegill is late winter or early spring. You can catch them in deep waters because, during these times, they seek the deeper water for greater warmth. You need to use fish off or dock. 

You can look for Bluegill in shallow waters during summer and late spring, and these are the best times to fish for Bluegill. During these times, bluegills are spawning, so they congregate near the shore. Moreover, it will be best to fish for Bluegill near those weedy locations during late summer and fall.

Yellow Perch

Yellow Perch is another fish species popular among anglers. You can quickly identify the Yellow Perch by their yellow color. Down their side, you will likewise find some green bars. Lake Berryessa harbors Yellow Perch, and if you happen to go on fishing at that lake, you can try catching this beautiful fish. 

You can find Perch near the shoreline and other nearby structures. They are ravenous likewise and would aggressively launch toward anything that looks like food. Hence, the Yellow Perch is not that difficult to catch. 

Their favorite food includes insects and small fish. You can use live bait to catch Yellow Perch. Since Yellow Perch will strike anything that shines and is flashy, you can use small minnows and bait. You can also use any artificial bait that mimics small minnows. 

A popular bait for Yellow Perch is the common grub. You can also use small crankbait. Nothing beats, however, the spoon. You can tip this spoon with a nightcrawler or minnow or just leave the spoon naked. Lastly, the spawning period of Yellow Perch is from February to July.


Tips and Strategies When Fishing at Lake Berryessa

The dam that created Lake Berryessa is the Monticello Dam, completed in 1957. At the onset, one primary plan for the lake was to create a remarkable largemouth fishery. Yet, the largemouth fishing in the lake did not seem to be consistent from year to year. However, this didn’t indicate that largemouth fishing isn’t good at the lake. 

The lake’s best spots for catching fish include the lake’s north end around Putah Creek and the lake’s south end in Capell, Portuguese Coves, and Wragg. 

Of course, the king of Berryessa fisheries is the trout that likes the deep waters. The lake’s depth results in cold water, which is favorable for the proliferation of trout. You can also catch trout year-round. 

Bass, crappie, bluegill, and catfish spawn during spring. Besides, bass will do their spawning in shallow waters ranging from one foot to fifteen feet in depth. 

However, bass, crappie, and Bluegill will shift to the deeper waters during Summer because of the warm surface water. These deeper areas, wherein you can find chunk rocks that readily draw predatory fish like catfish, crappy, and bass. These fish will prey on minnows, crayfish, and bream.


Conclusion

Lake Berryessa is a beautiful lake bordered by oak-tree dotted mountains. It is a fishing mecca just an hour’s ride from Napa. Both locals and foreign tourists enjoy the relaxing view of this lake and the recreational activities it offers. If you enjoy and want casting the line, you can easily book a trip to Lake Berryessa and begin catching your favorite freshwater game fish. Besides, you can book there a luxurious room and relax after a day of fishing.

The lake now harbors some of the best freshwater species of fish. However, if you plan to visit the lake, it will be best to know the fishing regulations of the lake. You can visit the website of the Department of Fish and Wildlife of California to learn more about the different fishing regulations at Lake Berryessa.

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