Lake Berryessa is the seventh lake in our Discover Northern California Lakes Series
By Robert Deen
Lake Berryessa is 70 miles northeast of San Francisco and 40 miles west of Sacramento. At an elevation of only 445 feet it’s a warm water, year-round fishing lake. The California Fish and Wildlife stocking program maintains a strong rainbow trout and king salmon fishery, but the lower elevation and warm waters are better suited for large and smallmouth bass, panfish like black crappie and bluegill, and channel and bullhead catfish.
Fed by Putah Creek, it’s located in the California coast range, in Napa County on the eastern side of the Central Valley. It’s a substantial body of water, with 165 miles of shoreline (more than Lake Tahoe) and a surface area of 20,000 acres when full. The upper lake is characterized by shallow flats, and the northern half by steep, rocky banks.
Although water skiers and pleasure boaters can fill the middle lake during warm weather, countless coves and inlets provide ample opportunities for shore and boat fishermen. Shore fishermen will do well at Steel Canyon Inlet and Capell Cove, as well as near Big and Small islands.
Trout and salmon prefer the lake’s deep, colder waters. In the spring they may be as shallow as 10 feet, but by summer they are down to 40. Rainbow trout are most common, although brown and brook trout are present. Two to three pounders are usual, with some trophies going up to 10 pounds. Trolling is the tactic of choice, particularly near the dam at the southern end of the lake. Other productive areas include Portuguese Point, along the Narrows, Wragg Canyon Inlet and Markley Cove. Popular lures include silver spoons and Needlefish. Salmon eggs are also sometimes trolled.
Bassers rely on plastic worms, Rapala spinner baits, rip baits, and Zara Spooks. Both large and smallmouth bass tend to spend warm summer days in deeper water, although they feed in shallow waters very early and in the evening. Bass prefer to stay close to the shallow feeding waters, so many anglers seek them out by fishing along steep ridges or rocky points that border shallow areas that offer the fish cover like dead trees, vegetation or even docks.
Channel and Bullhead catfish are plentiful in Lake Berryessa and easily caught. An average fish may weigh 2 to 4 pounds, but they can exceed 20. Catfish can be caught all day, but are primarily night feeders. If you do fish during the day, go at least 30 feet deep. Catfish hotspots include Pope Creek inlet north of the northern bridge, and the Putah Creek inlet. Best baits for whiskerfish include nightcrawlers, crayfish, chicken livers, minnows and clams.
Pleasure Cove Marina – on the southwestern shore of the lake 15 miles east of Napa – offers houseboat and fishing boat rentals, a retail store, a launch ramp and fuel. Tents and RV sites are also available.