Complete Fishing Guide to Bass Lake 

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Bass Lake is a storied reservoir near Yosemite National Park, which given its name naturally is best known for … kokanee salmon fishing!

We’ll get to the kokanee and other fishing opportunities in just a few, because Bass Lake indeed also has a history of good bass fishing with a story behind it.

The dam was built well over a century ago, and Crane Valley Reservoir was born.

Along came the Bass Lake Lumber Company, who then proceeded to pollute the lake so completely that nearly all the fish died out. The Feds made them restock the lake. Any guesses what they chose?

The lake’s name was changed to the fish they stocked since it was the only thing living in the inhospitable waters in the reservoir those days.

Years of focused cleanup efforts made the reintroduction of trout and salmon a very successful endeavor.

These days that’s all just old history.

These days, Bass Lake is a fantastic kokanee fishery with a good dose of big bass swimming around, along with ample rainbow trout, channel catfish and other game fish to catch.

So it seems like everything has turned out okay for Bass Lake. The bait company Strike King does field testing here. The biggest kokanee in the state are routinely caught in these waters.

What’s missing might just be you. You may as well be the one to catch the next state record. Get out there and give it a go.

Kokanee Salmon

Kokanee are the biggest draw to Bass Lake. There aren’t too many lakes where you’ll see fishing boats stacked up like you do here on a Saturday morning in June.

Make a note to get here early in the morning. Possibly on a Tuesday.

Bass lake has an abundance of food for kokes, which are landlocked sockeye salmon. The three-year-olds in the lake typically range from 15 to 20 inches. There have been several in the 21-inch range caught here. That’s a beast of a koke. 

Kokanee are generally found throughout the spring and summer in 40-100 feet of water.

They are a schooling fish, so once you find them, keep them on your finder and make several passes with your bait just above them. It’ll drive them crazy, which leads to aggressive, angry strikes.

You’ll soon find that kokanee aren’t messing around. They eat plankton as their main diet but will aggressively attack anything that annoys them.

As the summer winds down, the mature kokes begin changing into their spawn colors. At this point, their schools get super tight and are perfect targets for jigging.

In many places, it’s recommended to let them be during the spawn, but at Bass Lake, the population doesn’t consist of many locally spawned kokanee. They come mainly planted as fingerlings from hatcheries.

While the spawners don’t have much success here, when they get farther into their spawning transformation they aren’t as good as table fare. Many anglers catch and release kokanee into the fall.

The main areas to target kokanee for much of the year are from The Pines Resort to the dam. In the later part of the season, toward the end of August, you’ll find them tightly schooled near the buoy line and the dam. Jigging is most effective when they are in a tight ball.

Spring will find them spread throughout the lake, and they will go deeper as the water warms.

For much of the year prime season, trollers will do best with down-riggers, although a lead-core line or added weight will get down to them if they aren’t terribly deep.

As the water warms, they’ll go from 40 feet down to a max of 100 feet, possibly a bit deeper near the dam, and it’s going to be a down-rigger or jigging show all the way.

Again, once you find them on your fish finder, keep at them, and you should have a very successful day.

Expect to land several in the 14- to 16-inch range, even earlier in the year. Bass Lake is considered a trophy kokanee lake by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

It’s also on our list of best kokanee fishing lakes in California. Read this article to find all the best spots to catch these feisty and tasty freshwater salmon.

More: Kokanee Fishing: Simple Tips and Techniques

Rainbow Trout

As the kokanee season winds down every fall at Bass Lake, the rainbow trout season is just around the corner.

Trout are planted every other week starting in November through spring. There are good numbers of holdover trout in the lake that can get over 24 inches and put up a nice fight. Average size ‘bows are 12-16 inches.

In the late fall and winter months, fishing can be very good from shore for trout. The weather may not agree with you as it will be cool and rainy with a chance of snow, but if you can brave the elements, your creel will be filled with fat trout.

Standard trout bait and lure tactics work excellently here. Use Berkley PowerBait, Kastmasters, Rooster Tails and the old standby, nightcrawlers. Trollers pulling pop gear will often score limits.

January and February are the coldest times here, with daytime temps in the 40s, so watch for breaks in the weather but still be prepared for a chill. Boat anglers might, on very rare occasions, have to deal with the occasional ice flow.

Fish will be within 20 feet of the surface during the coldest months.

As the water starts to warm in March and April, the trout get active and the fishing heats up even more.

Shore anglers will do well with bait cast out off Fawn Point, Wishon Point, near Sheriff’s Tower and Willow Cove.

The cove area is also great for catfish in another month or two, once the water heats up a bit more, but even now the occasional whiskered fish might pick up your bait.

Boat anglers will do well in the main channel with typical trolling gear for rainbows. You may happen upon a kokanee or two during your day, but they aren’t very active yet.

May finds the trout moving deep or running up the creeks into cooler water. Most of the creeks have special regulations, so check those before hitting the water.

If the trout are deep, it’s probably time to switch to kokanee and knock those around for a few months.

Black Bass

Largemouth and spotted bass call Bass Lake home. There’s plenty of forage, plus cover for them to hold in.

Regular planting takes place, so they have plenty of kokanee fry to snack on, which helps them get nice and fat, sometimes big enough to start swallowing those pan-sized rainbows.

The time to fish for bass at Bass Lake is typically the spring and fall. Fewer power boats means fewer waves. Fewer waves means better fishing conditions along the shoreline.

Plus the bass tend to come in shallower for the spring spawn and fall feeding.

Largemouth Bass

The Bass Lake record largie is over 15 pounds. While that’s not the biggest in the state, it’s still a huge bass.

Bass Lake is routinely used by several companies to field-test their new bass lures. There’s a reason for that. The largemouth bass here aren’t the easiest to catch but will hammer a well-designed lure.

Typical bass fishing techniques work here. Cast along the shoreline and retrieve.

Willow Cove is a fantastic spot to start your day. If conditions allow, start out with topwater lures, then move to swimbaits as the day warms up.

The upper lake is a better bass location than the lower section. The Forks Resort area is good, as is the cove directly across the lake. Hit both with a boat, and you should find success. It’s common enough to bring in a 5- to 7-pounder.

Spotted Bass

The areas you target for largemouth are also going to hold spotted bass. You will probably need to fish 5-10 feet deeper in those same areas, and you’ll be on them. In particular, anywhere with good rocky ledges and points will hold good numbers of spots.

Spotted bass are more prevalent throughout the lake than largemouth bass, though they don’t grow nearly as big. Typically, 1- to 3-pound spots are the norm, with a 5-pounder giving you some low-key bragging rights.

Shore fishing is also good for spots. Casting along the shoreline at a 30- or 45-degree angle with a finesse rig or crankbait should do the trick.

Once summer hits, bass can be found in 20 to 30 feet of water. Target them off the docks or offshore from a boat to get into deeper water. Try drop-shotting, jigging and finesse rigs during the hotter time of year.

Catfish

Catfish provide another great target at during the warmer months.

Bass Lake has some good-sized channel catfish just waiting for your cut mackerel, chicken liver or stink baits to entice them off the bottom of Willow Cove, where Willow Creek enters the reservoir.

In fact, every cove in the lake should hold good numbers of cats.

Evening fishing from shore on the eastern side of the lake will bring you the best luck, if not using a boat. You can either rig a rattle trap tipped with bait and cast with a slow retrieve, or simply cast good bait and wait.

From a boat, you’ll be able to get a better angle on the areas where the cats hold along the willows. Toss your baits just outside the willow lines and hold on.

There are fair numbers of catfish into the 8- to 12-pound range at Bass Lake, with bigger ones caught more occasionally. Smaller catfish under 5 pounds are typically the tastiest.

While the bite may not be aggressive, you’re likely to catch a few.

Crappie

Search around the lake for cover like submerged bushes or trees, and you’ll likely find crappie hanging out.

These guys are found throughout the lake and can be fun to catch and great to eat when you find them large enough to fillet. Generally, that’s the size of an adult hand or larger.

Use mealworms and wax worms on a light action for the best chance, or of course the ubiquitous crappie jig will get the job done.

They will hold at varying depths, often quite shallow during their spring spawn. Try different depths around good hiding places and cover as much water as possible until you find the right depths and holding types.

Your kids will love catching a bucket full for dinner, too.

Bluegill

These guys just need a bit of nightcrawler and access to the shoreline to catch.

They’re everywhere along the rocky parts of the shore and also hold around other cover and in shady spots. Your kids will have a blast bringing them in all day long.

At Bass Lake, there really isn’t a precise science that goes into catching them at all. They rise for a worm and will take it under almost any conditions, especially in warmer seasons.

Increase your catches with these simple bluegill and sunfish fishing tips and techniques.

Planning Your Trip

Located in Madera County about an hour’s drive north of Fresno, Bass Lake is famous for its kokanee fishing.

Well, that and being the primary location for the filming of “The Great Outdoors,” starring John Candy, Dan Akroyd and Bart the Bear.

Goofball comedies aside, it’s a beautiful place and offers exceptional and varied fishing that will have you smiling (and catching fish) throughout much of the year.

Water sports, hiking, relaxing, camping and of course Yosemite are all within easy reach at Bass Lake, so plan a trip for yourself or the whole family.

If you like a little friendly competition, come in the spring for the local chamber of commerce’s Bass Lake Fishing Derby.

Boat and Shore Access

Boat ramps are everywhere here. It’s easy to get on the water, but you’ll pay a modest launch or parking fee.

Recreational boating is very popular in the summer months, so go early in the morning to avoid the speed boats and jet skis entirely.

Even so, Bass Lake has a variety of rules aimed at keeping different types of boaters separated and happy, including special zones, hours and so on for water skiers, Jet Skis and the rest of the powerboat crowd.

See a rundown of the major boating rules before going and check at the Sheriff’s tower at the lake for the full scoop.

Shore access is widely available, though there are significant private portions along the way. Make sure to obey all posted signs.

Several anglers prefer to shore fish for bass and trout in the spring here, avoiding the more crowded boat armada chasing trout around the lake. Time it right and the fishing can be good from both places.

Lodging and Camping

Lodging and camping spots are everywhere at and near the lake, which is in the Sierra National Forest.

Several resorts line the pine-covered shoreline, making it a beautiful place to rent a cabin or hotel. Campgrounds are scattered around the lake, offering tent and RV camping and some yurts. There are more lodging options in nearby towns.

Several dining options are available or cook the fish you catch at camp and enjoy the scenery. After all, that’s what you should do in the Great Outdoors! (Just be on the lookout for the “Bald-Headed Killer Bear.”)