Riverside County's Bass Hotspots

The locals are catching more fish at Elsinore, Perris and Skinner lakes. Here's why, and how they do it. (March 2010)

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

There's a good chance that next world-record largemouth bass will be caught in one of the four top-producing lakes in Riverside County: Lake Perris, Lake Skinner, Lake Elsinore or Lake Hemet. Professional bass anglers know where the likely trophy spots are located. Now you, too, can learn what they already know and increase your odds in catching that once-in-a-lifetime trophy.

Since there are so many lakes and reservoirs to chose from, your decision on which one to fish often comes directly from what you read or hear. Sometimes that information isn't always accurate or even the complete truth. Listening to the real experts in the field is your best bet, and that is exactly what California Game & Fish has done. There are three very productive and well-known lakes in this area and one "sleeper lake." Read on and learn where the big bass are hiding.

LAKE PERRIS
With Lake Perris you really can't go wrong fishing this lake in the spring either from a boat or from the shore. Located in the city of Perris just off the Ramona Expressway, this is a state park and boat inspections are mandatory.

You can find current lake information by calling (951) 940-5600. Formally at 2,200 acres, this lake has been drastically reduced. That doesn't affect the outstanding fishing. At Perris, the shore-angler sometimes has the advantage over the boat or float tube angler if you are fishing in the marina area where no fishing from boats or float tubes is allowed. The amount of threadfin shad that will school up around the marina is sometimes overwhelming, that along with the stocked trout that are put into this lake give the bigger bass a lot of food to choose from.

This lake receives well over 25,000 pounds of trout every year starting in October and going to the end of May. That is why so many bass anglers use larger swimbaits that closely resemble swimming trout. The lake record for largemouth bass is currently at 17.5 pounds, and we all know that records are meant to be broken.

The marina area consistently produces larger bass than the rest of the lake. Walking the rocks along the dam will always produce fish. However, you're limited to the type of technique you can use and the depth that you want to fish because of all the rock structure. Drop-shot setups work well closer to shore and crankbaits work best farther out. A fishing pier extends out and over the lake about 50 yards. This can also be a good spot to try your drop-shot rig.

Some anglers use dip nets at the marina and boat launch areas to catch shad and use them for bait. You cannot use throw nets, only the long-handle style of dip nets.

The most productive and most widely used technique at Lake Perris is the plastic worm. With a wide array of manufacturers making plastic baits, it can be a challenge to find the right one that works for you. Local professional bass angler and guide Art Hill routinely fishes Perris and other surrounding lakes for trophy-sized bass. When fishing Perris in the spring, Hill prefers to use plastic worms for most of his time on the water. A favorite of his is made by AA Plastics. He uses the Brown and Blue Vein in 8-, 9- and 10-inch sizes with either a size 3 or 4 larger hook and having it set up Texas rig style with 10- or 12-pound fluorocarbon line. Just bounce this along the bottom and hang on. Art Hill can be reached at www.dvguideservice.com, or call (951) 265-9551.

When fishing Perris in the spring, you can have 15-plus fish caught per day, mostly in the 3.5- to 6.5-pound range. A small island is located in the middle of the lake with a lot of structure surrounding it. There are two places near this island that frequently produce fish. One is directly across from the marina in front of the island in the exposed rocks, and the other is on the back of the island directly across from lots 11 and 12. Here, too, you will find exposed rock and dropoffs along the island shoreline. Most of the east end of the lake is rather shallow with only weedbeds for shelter and some rocks. The bass spawn the most out by the island on the east end near the rocks.

There are two access points for Lake Perris. One is the main entrance off Ramona Expressway, which has launch ramps. The other is Berasconi Beach a few miles past the main entrance and has various places to park, but there is no launching from this side except float tubes and kayaks. This area will get you closer to the intake towers for the lake and also access to a large manmade tire reef. Fishing from shore or a boat near the launch ramps is always a good option; just tossing a drop shot out next to the floating pier (fishing is not allowed from the pier) will result in a lot of hookups. Don't stop with that. Toss out a live crawler on the bottom as you work the plastic worm setup.

LAKE SKINNER
Lake Skinner has the most water level fluctuations of all four of these lakes. The water is moved in and out of this lake on a daily basis. Most of the time it is full; however, it does go up and down quite a lot. Springtime fishing here is hot with bass bedding up all along the shoreline.

Once again, the good old plastic worm comes through as the all-round "go-to" setup here. Also, a highly effective crankbait made by Ima Lures called the Rock-N' Vibe works wonders where the shad are piled up. Ima also makes a lure called a Flit in Olive-Bass color that works well up close to the weedbeds. With the water being clear, the bass tend to be line-shy, so you would want to use a lighter line that is harder to see.

The structure is mostly weedbeds, dropoffs and points. There is little hiding structure in this lake. Sticking close to the shore is your best bet when going for bass.

The east end, by launch ramp one, is famous for stripers and largemouths, with the stripers hanging out in open water. There is a large section of dropoffs and ledges as you leave the marina area on the left. You can't miss it with its big boulders showing just above the surface. Using a drop-shot technique will put bass in the boat for sure.

Launch ramp two is popular for the shore-bound angler going after stripers and catfish. When fishing from the shore, early morning is a good time to use a frog-style bait. The east end off ramp two is rather shallow and offers some good spawning areas. Night crawlers work well if you're using live bait; however, the main food source for these bass are the shad and the stocked trout. The bass seem to know when the stocking truck pulls into the area; they just sit back and wait for an easy meal to come their way. With the lake record at 13.9 pounds, you know they are eating their share.

You will see people using large swimbaits

all along the shoreline. During and after a recent stocking, you will also see the bass. It's not uncommon for the knowledgeable angler to have a 15-plus-fish day on this lake either from the shore or from a boat. Skinner has the larger average size bass than most lakes, which is why it's so popular. Professional bass anglers as far away as Japan come here to fish.

Most of the boat-anglers will hug the shoreline all around the lake and use the east end when the winds pick up. Casting out near the water inlet will result in a mixed bag of fish. There are a lot of smaller coves that produce well in the morning, but die off when the winds kick up around midmorning.

Straight across the lake from ramp two is a hotspot for boaters. Steep dropoffs on the west side of the cove get the sun first, and the bass are active. The larger cove to the east of ramp two is also a good spot, with a huge boulder marked by a floating white barrel-buoy. Drift by with a deep crankbait and see what happens. I have been told by some of the more successful anglers that crankbaits rule the morning bite when anglers cast into the boils, and that plastics have the afternoon bite.

You can reach the local bait store by calling (951) 926-1505. Stopping by before or after fishing is a must because of all the pictures of large bass that are caught here.

LAKE ELSINORE
The oldest and the only natural lake in Riverside County is Lake Elsinore. This 3,000-acre lake is mainly fed by the San Jacinto River, which flows all the way from the San Jacinto Mountains and Lake Hemet. Lake Elsinore has had a terrible past; however, it has an outstanding future. Over the past four-plus years, the city of Lake Elsinore has put millions of dollars into the survival of the lake. Installing aeration pumps all throughout the lake, the use of reclaimed water, a state-of-the-art water filtration system and more have gone into making this lake what it is today, a premier hotspot for bass.

Three years ago, the city of Lake Elsinore and DFG removed approximately 5,000 largemouth bass from Lake Matthews and transplanted them into the Lake Elsinore. The average size bass is around 2.5 to 4.5 pounds with larger ones being reported. The lake record is 10 pounds.

With Elsinore being a rather shallow lake, the average depth is 25 feet. You will not find it hard to locate any type of structure to fish. Launching your boat is easy. The West Side Marina (951-678-1300) charges $20 to launch and is a good hotspot with stickups that surround the entire shoreline. Seaport Boat Launch (951-245-9308) is operated by the city and also charges $20 to launch.

The lure of choice to use here is anything shad related, because the lake is full of shad of all different sizes with bait balls all over the lake during spring. Using the IMA Flit in shad color is simply deadly here for bass, crappie and wipers. Also, try small Berkley Power Nymphs on 16-ounce leadheads when targeting the bass hanging deep in the sticks. Another jig to use is made by Skinny Bear in brown and purple color on a jighead. Rigged weedless style, this jig provokes the big bass to strike when tossed up into the sticks. The shallow areas near the inlet offer some good advantages for the boat-angler -- just follow the shoreline heading toward the west.

According to Richard Miller, president of Lake Elsinore Bass Club, Elsinore has been producing quality bass for the past five years. This club routinely plants fish structure, is in constant communication with the city and helps in many ways to improve the quality of the lake. For inquires about Lake Elsinore Bass Club, you can reach Richard at (951) 970-8912.

LAKE HEMET
Lake Hemet is located in the San Jacinto Mountains at 4,500 feet, so the springtime bite starts later here than other lakes.

Boat access is through the campground side and the cost $19 for vehicle, boat and two people. Each additional person is $4 each, and boat inspections are mandatory. Take Highway 74 through the town of Hemet and turn right at Highway 243/74 junction. The lake is nine miles past that point.

With this rather small lake of only 420 acres, you really have to know where to go to find the bass. The east end is shallow and has a mud-filled bottom. The west end offers more boulder and rock structure. The most popular spots for bass are in the west end of the lake, with Bass Cove by the dam being appropriately named. There is so much boulder and rock structure here that you can't go wrong. This lake has no shad. However, bluegills and other panfish are bountiful, along with crayfish and trout. Known as a trout lake, few people fish here for bass, and that should make it even easier to find them. With the record bass at 9.8 pounds, you know they are there.

Try using small swimbaits like the bluegill pattern made by Storm Lures. Cast to the shoreline boulders and work your way back to deeper water. Small jigs like the Berkley Power Nymph work well here for the smaller bass, and the larger jigs like a Brush Hog work well for the larger bass in deeper water. Plastic baits work well here when you bounce them off the boulders, let them sink and then retrieve. Even with an abundant trout population, I have not heard too much about using larger swimbaits like at Perris or Skinner; smaller seems to work better here.

The shore-angler has better access to tighter spots than the boat-angler. The Lake Hemet store sells bait and supplies; however, access is via the campground. You can reach the Lake Hemet Campgrounds office by calling (951) 659-2680.

GET THE GEAR
AA Worms -- www.aaworms.comBerkley -- www.berkley-fishing.comBrush Hog -- www.brushhoglures. comIma -- www.imalures.comSkinny Bear Fishing -- www.skinnybearbassjigs.comStorm -- www.stormlures.com

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