Your Guide to Fishing for Bay Area Trout
Trout are the species of choice when freshwater fishing in the cooler months in the Bay Area. Every winter and spring, the Department of Fish and Game drives thousands of hatchery trout to our local lakes, specifically for fishermen to catch and take home. Local park districts, like the EBRPD, supplement with their own stockings. What this means is the fishing can be heavily dependent on when these trout plants occur, so keep an eye on the schedule (DFG, EBRPD) when planning a trip.
How to Catch Bay Area Trout
Trout fishing can seem daunting at first, with all the terminology and baits that people use. In this article, I will try and give a quick summary of the techniques and setups that people use around the Bay.
Perhaps a key thing to remember is that the trout we catch in the Bay Area are all planted from various hatcheries around the state. Having lived in concrete tanks their entire lives, these fish are not the brightest. What that means is that if the trout are there, you should be able to catch them as long as you are using the right baits or lures. In fact, many dough baits are designed to smell like the fish food these trout are fed in the hatchery.
Your Rod and Reel
When fishing for trout, I prefer using a light or ultra-light setup, spooled with 4-6 lb monofilament line. In general, trout have pretty good vision, so try and use as light of a line as possible. The lighter rod lets you cast smaller trout lures and baits farther, which can be important in certain scenarios. In addition, trout around here don’t get quite that big so it’ll be a lot more fun fighting fish on a lighter setup.
If you want some specific recommendations:
Daiwa Minispin Travel Combo
Berkley Trilene XL Monofilament Line (4 lb)
Honestly a cheap setup from Walmart or Big 5 will probably work just as well. This cheap setup from Amazon, which I haven’t used, also seems like it would work well. If you buy a combo with pre-spooled line, I’d probably replace the line if possible - the pre-spooled line is usually pretty low quality and will cause you a lot of pain in the future.
Fishing with Bait
Fishing with bait is perhaps the most common technique that Bay Area fishermen use to catch trout. The general strategy is a sliding-sinker rig - in short, a free sliding ~1/4 ounce egg sinker, a bead, a small swivel, and a 12-36 inch leader of about 2-4 lb line (you can buy pretied versions online, but you’ll save money tying them yourself). The general idea is that trout bait tends to float, so using a long leader lets the bait float off the bottom right in the strike zone. A few common baits that people use on these rigs:
Inflated Nightcrawlers with a Worm Blower
Pautzke's Salmon Eggs
Supposedly people also used Velveeta Cheese back in the day, but I don’t personally have any experience with it. Might be a good way to show the trout something they haven’t seen in a while.
When the going gets tough, try switching to an even simpler rig, with just a size 8 hook baited with a nightcrawler and a small split shot a foot up the line, or even no weight if possible. The general idea is to let the worm drift and flutter naturally in the water for finicky trout. There’s been times when I’m the only person on the lake catching fish by using this technique. This is also my go-to rig when fishing rivers and streams.
Fishing with Lures
While bait fishing can certainly be an effective way to catch Bay Area trout, simply waiting for the fish can sometimes get a bit boring - you might sometimes wait hours between hits.
Fishing with lures provides a more active alternative. Instead of just letting your bait sit, with lures you attempt to imitate an escapinng minnow or baitfish by reeling in. A general rule of thumb is to use a stop-and-go retrieve with most trout lures - the momentary pauses somehow imitate an injured baitfish. You can also try erratically twitching the lure by repeatedly jerking your rod, which seems to sometimes work quite well.
When you fish these trout lures, try and cover as much water as possible, in order to find the actively feeding trout. When fishing from shore, a good strategy is to continuously walk along the shoreline and cast in all directions. In a boat, you can take a similar fan-casting approach, or you can slowly troll the lure as you move around the lake.
In terms of colors, try and stick with gold in sunny weather or murky weather, and use silver finishes on cloudy days or clear water. Most of these lures also come in more exotic color schemes, which at least in my experience don’t work any better on hatchery trout.
Here are a few lures you should have in your tackle box:
Acme Kastmaster, 1/8 oz
Thomas Buoyant, 1/4 or 1/6 oz
Panther Marin, 1/16 oz
Get a Two Rod Stamp!
When doing trout fishing here in California, I highly recommend thinking about getting a two rod stamp on your fishing license. With a two rod stamp, you can cast out one rod with bait and let it sit, and rig up another rod with a lure. This way, you get the best of both worlds!
Where to Catch Bay Area Trout
In general, when I pick a spot on the lake I try and choose an area of the water with noticeable variation. For example, this can mean an area where the shoreline switches from gravel to dirt, or off points where the land abruptly juts into the water. These changes seem to concentrate the trout. However, when the lakes are crowded as can often be the case here in the Bay Area, you might not have a whole lot of options. Don’t worry too much - most spots will at least be ok.
In the South Bay, Sandy Wool Lake is a small pond that gets stocked every 2-3 weeks in the winter months with trout. Stevens Creek Reservoir, Lexington Reservoir, Lake Cunningham, and the Campbell Percolation Ponds used to get planted with trout by the DFG, but no longer. If you’re willing to make the drive, Loch Lomond off Highway 17 is a decent place to cast a line in the spring.
A number of lakes are stocked in the East Bay by both the DFG and the EBRPD. Lakeshore Park in Newark, Quarry Lakes in Fremont, Shadow Cliffs Reservoir in Pleasanton, Contra Loma Reservoir in Antioch, Don Castro Reservoir in Hayward, Lake Temescal in Oakland, Lafayette Reservoir, and San Pablo Reservoir in El Sobrante all regularly receive trout plants.
In the San Francisco/San Mateo area, Lake Merced is pretty much your only option, and it doesn’t really get stocked all that often. So make the drive to the East Bay.