September 29, 2010
Summer is almost here! Make the most of your family's vacation time by heading to a destination that provides quality fishing, awesome facilities and nearby attractions sure to please all. (June 2006)
Anglers and campers residing in California are perhaps the richest outdoor enthusiasts west of the Rocky Mountains. Their wealth is not in the form of cash, however, but in the state's 4,800 lakes and reservoirs, 30,000 miles of flowing rivers, streams and creeks -- and more than 1,100 miles of coastline.
With summer right around the corner, it's time to start thinking seriously about exploiting these riches. Where do you want to take the family this year? You might think that it's a simple matter of packing them up and heading out the door. But with just over 2 million licensed anglers and even more campers, selecting the right Golden State destination can be tough.
The key to picking the right places to go and ensuring successful trips is discovering locations with above-average angling opportunities, top-notch facilities and a host of side attractions. To help you search for ideal destinations, here are five spots worth considering. Each one offers something different.
Interstate 5 crosses Lake Shasta just upstream of its massive dam, making this one of the North State's most straightforward bodies of water to get to. And as you might expect, this easy access translates into lots of visitors. Does that mean that families looking for a peaceful summer outing should stay away? Not really. Most of the land surrounding this 29,500-acre reservoir is under the control of the U.S. Forest Service, which means that you can count on a serene experience no matter when you go.
Largemouth and smallmouth bass can be found throughout Shasta, but anglers looking for fast action should concentrate on the lake's prolific spotted bass. These scrappy fish like to hold on relatively steep structure, and will eat downsized crankbaits, flashy ripbaits and shad-pattern plastics. One popular technique is drifting a 4-inch straight-tail worm, rigged on a darthead jig, parallel to rocky ledges and bridge pilings.
Coldwater-species enthusiasts will find their share of action too, with lots of landlocked king salmon, brown trout and rainbows. Trolling spoons or night crawlers, often down to 80 feet during the heat of summer, are the techniques of choice for boaters. Shore-bound anglers do well soaking night crawlers or salmon eggs, especially when using marshmallows to keep their offerings off the bottom.
Fishing vertically over submerged brush and willows, with small white jigs or live minnows, hook crappie to 15 inches. Look for sunfishes in the backs of coves, or suspended under docks and houseboats. During low-light hours, try liver or clams for big catfishes.
There are plenty of public and private campgrounds around Shasta, with accommodations ranging from primitive to fully developed. The key to a successful trip is looking for a campground close to the arm of the lake you want to explore. Most sites are first-come, first-serve, but some do take reservations. For families with older children, two popular alternatives are pitching tents at a boat-in site or staying aboard a rented houseboat. For information, call the Shasta Lake Visitor Information Center at (530) 275-1589.
There are plenty of lake-related activities to keep the family busy during an outing, but sometimes it's nice to get away from the water. Nearby attractions that the entire family can enjoy include Lake Shasta Caverns, Lassen Volcanic National Park and Redding's Turtle Bay Exploration Park. For details, call the Shasta-Cascade Wonderland Association at 1-800-474-2782.
Nestled in the arid foothills of the Western Sierra and operated by the East Bay Municipal Utilities District, Camanche is prone to diminishing water levels as summer progresses. But even with less than ideal conditions, this large reservoir provides some of the best fishing that the Gold Country has to offer. Add Camanche's full-service facilities, and you have the makings for a stress-free family outing.
Largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass are prime targets at this low-elevation lake during the heat of summer. You'll find a reaction bite both early and late in the day: Working buzzbaits and poppers over submerged islands and trees is the way to go. When the sun is on the water and skiers and personal watercraft wreak havoc, slow down your approach and fish deeper. Try casting weightless worms to rock piles, upstream of the narrows.
Camanche also offers outstanding channel catfish action. Although you'll have success throughout the day, the fishing is best after sunset. Target any of the lake's shallow coves by soaking livers, anchovies, sardines or mackerel in 10 to 20 feet of water. Two of the best spots are the Camanche arm to the south and Causeway Cove to the north. The kids will also find stocked cats in the South Trout Pond, at the south shore campground.
Rainbow trout are heavily stocked at Camanche during the cooler months, both in the reservoir and in the south shore campground ponds. Bright doughbaits suspended off the bottom take most of the fish. Fair numbers of crappie are available, but you'll need a boat with good electronics to locate the relatively deep submerged brush that they school on. For sunfishes, soak red worms around vegetation in shallow water.
On Camanche's north and south shores are campgrounds with over 500 sites combined, each with a table, fire pit and running water nearby. The south shore campground also offers an additional 120 full-hookup RV sites. Each campground has a small convenience store, laundry facilities, boat ramp, marina with boat rentals and RV dump stations. The north shore campground has a coffee shop, while the south shore facilities offer a weekend-only snack bar. For information, call the north shore campground at (209) 763-5121 or the south shore one at (209) 763-5178.
Lake Camanche is in the heart of Gold Country, and there are several fun and educational things to do in the area. The adventuresome will enjoy spelunking at Mercer or Moaning caverns, while those less daring may prefer to learn about the region's history at the Amador County Museum. Or you can compromise with a trip to Sutter Gold Mine. For details, call the Amador County Chamber of Commerce at (209) 223-0350.
LAKE DEL VALLE
Bay Area families looking to save a few dollars on gas can find quality camping and fishing right in their backyard. Located only ten miles south of Highway 580 in Livermore, at the edge of the Ohlone Wilderness, Del Valle is one of those places that makes visitors forget they're within minutes of a bustling metropolis. The lake's popularity is a testament to the outstanding management provided by East Bay Regional Park District.
When Del Valle's waters get too warm to plant rainbow trout successfully, lake managers turn to channel catfish. And while most of those stocked cats run only a few pounds, there are plenty of double-digit holdovers available. Although anglers catch catfish all over Del Valle, the short hike from the launch ramp to Badger Cove and Swallow Bay is often worth the effort. Try soaking chicken livers, anchovies or mackerel both on the bottom and a few feet below a bobber.
Largemouth and smallmouth bass are two of the most popular targets at Del Valle during the warmer months of the year. Try casting topwater baits over submerged vegetation and parallel to tules for starters. If that doesn't work, drop-shot or darthead soft plastics around cover. Targeting submerged Christmas trees that volunteers have anchored to the bottom is always a good bet. You'll also catch pan-sized striped bass here, and some significantly larger, by casting big minnow-type baits.
During summer, numbers and sizes of rainbow trout and Chinook salmon tend to be down. But boaters with downriggers trolling flashers in front of a night crawler still catch some fish. The best areas tend to be between Heron Bay and the dam. If you want to try for trout from shore, head to the narrows and dunk orange or yellow doughbaits. Kokanee were first planted here in 2005, and may be large enough to catch by late this year.
Del Valle's campground, just upstream of the lake, has 150 sites, 21 of which have water and sewage hookups (but no electric) for RVs. You'll find picnic tables and barbecues at each site, with centrally located running water, toilets and showers. Two sandy beaches provide families with safe places to swim, while the Rocky Ridge Visitor Center presents information about the area's natural history. Anglers enjoy a marina, small store with tackle and fishing licenses, boat rentals and a boat ramp. There's a 10-mph speed limit on the lake, and you must be off the water just before sunset. For information, call East Bay Regional Park District at (510) 562-2267.
Countless away-from-the-lake activities are available in the Bay Area, with several relatively close to Del Valle. The historic Niles Canyon Railway offers train rides departing from the town of Sunol, every Sunday during the summer. Time your trip just right and you can catch an Oakland A's home game at McAfee Coliseum. Adults will appreciate an afternoon of wine tasting, a round of golf or a gourmet meal at Wente Vineyards Estate Winery in Livermore. For details, call the Livermore Chamber of Commerce at (925) 447-1606.
BIG BEAR LAKE
When high-country adventure is brought up, the San Bernardino Mountains, less than 100 miles east of Los Angeles, are not the first destination that comes to mind. However, Big Bear Lake and the surrounding national forest offer fine mountain fishing, breathtaking vistas and more than their share of outdoor recreational opportunities. And with the town of Big Bear Lake nestled along the lake's south shore, you'll never be more than a short trip from the conveniences of home.
The Department of Fish and Game stocks trout by the truckload in Big Bear's frigid waters, making rainbows the primary target of anglers throughout the year. Trolling --shallow during spring and fall while deeper in summer -- takes most of the fish here. Most of the locals begin their day trolling flashers trailed by night crawlers, spoons or minnow-type plugs, but they are quick to lose the attractors when the fishing is tough. Shore anglers do well casting in-line spinners or soaking doughbaits. The lake's west end tends to produce more trout than other areas.
There are largemouth and smallmouth bass in Big Bear, but largemouths dominate angler creels despite the lake's chilly waters. You'll find a decent reaction bite first thing in the morning, especially during spring.
Topwater poppers worked over weed-choked flats is a popular strategy. Most of the time, however, dark plastics and jigs are the baits of choice. Probe any structure you can find, working your way from the ends of points into coves. If you have your heart set on smallies, the same baits will work but be sure to downsize.
Mealworms or bright micro-jigs suspended below a bobber are the most effective ways to catch Big Bear's bluegills. Look for them around sparse vegetation in the shallow backwaters of coves. When the sun goes down, head to Juniper Point and soak mackerel or chicken livers for catfish.
Most of the campgrounds at Big Bear are on the north side of the lake, with everything from primitive mountain camps to fully developed resort-style facilities within walking distance of the water. None of the campgrounds has direct access to Big Bear, but anglers can use the east launch to get their boats in the lake. No matter where you stay, groceries and supplies are nearby. For information, call the Big Bear Discovery Center at (909) 866-3437.
Like all Southern California destinations, Big Bear Lake gets crowded, making it wise to have a list of alternative activities handy in case you want to get away from the water. Big Bear Off-Road Adventures offers mountain tours that take visitors to the precariously perched Butler Peak fire lookout.
One of my personal favorite side-trips was to the Moonridge Animal Park, displaying a variety of alpine creatures, including black bears, mountain lions, owls and raccoons. Your whole family can burn off energy on the alpine slide at Magic Mountain Recreation Area. For details, call the Big Bear Lake Chamber of Commerce at (909) 866-4607.
The coastal campgrounds on Mission Bay offer a pleasant change of pace for families who typically camp in the mountains or beside freshwater lakes and streams. The bay's protected waters provide a relatively peaceful place to fish, in addition to easy ocean access for deep-sea anglers. And with an assortment of San Diego attractions only minutes away, there are plenty of other fun opportunities when you want to get away from the water.
For anglers fishing in Mission Bay, sand and calico bass are the primary targets. And the nice thing is, both species are willing to take many of the same baits that you use for freshwater largemouths. Start out with reaction-type lures like spinnerbaits and crankbaits. If the bite is tough, switch to oversized grubs in bright colors. You'll want to concentrate on weedy areas for sand bass, while the rock jetties are the favorite habitat of calicos.
For anglers fishing from shore, piers and boats in the bay itself, there are several other species available including halibut, sharks and rays, surfperch, barracuda, top smelt and croakers. Which specific techniques work best will vary depending on the species you're trying to catch. Live baits, including sardines and squid, work on many of them. Use a standard bait rig with egg-shaped slip sinker, leader and circle hook.
You're in for a treat when you head out on one of several offshore charter boats that call Mission Bay home. Single- and multiple-day trips are available, and the most popular fishing is for albacore, rockfish, calico bass and yellowtail. Before you go, it's a good idea to call ahead to make reservations and be sure to inquire about the types of
gear you should bring.
Campland on the Bay, providing 650 RV and tent sites, is the premier place to stay in the area. Besides the typical picnic tables, restrooms and showers found at most facilities, Campland offers much more to families that don't want to rough it. Visitors will find a well-stocked market, a swim beach and multiple pools and Jacuzzis. At Central Park, you'll enjoy concerts and a variety of regularly scheduled recreational activities. There's also a marina featuring a store, boat rentals, berths and a ramp. For information, call Campland on the Bay at 1-800-4-BAY-FUN.
A trip to Mission Bay is a great option for families who enjoy activities in addition to fishing, with countless opportunities nearby. At Sea World you'll get a firsthand look at penguins, sharks and, of course, killer whales. If you prefer more terrestrial wildlife, head to the San Diego Zoo where you can walk, ride or fly over a variety of wild animals. And Seaport Village is the region's foremost waterfront shopping and dining destination, with 57 shops and galleries, four restaurants and 13 sidewalk eateries. For details, call the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce at (619) 544-1300.