Cachuma Lake Fishing: Loads of Bass & Trout

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The water is designated for drinking water, and swimming and water skiing aren’t allowed.

Cachuma Lake offers top-notch fishing in the beautiful Santa Ynez Valley, a couple hours north and another world removed from hectic Southern California.

That restriction makes the reservoir, also commonly known as Lake Cachuma, the perfect getaway for kayak fishing because the power-boaters stay away.

You won’t have to fight many of the giant wakes the power squad generates at other reservoirs where water skiing and Jet Skis are allowed, although larger horsepower motors are allowed on fishing boats in certain areas and away from trolling boats.

Spend a few quiet days here and get in some quality fishing. 

Cachuma Lake is full of largemouth and smallmouth bass, along with good fishing for rainbow trout, crappie, channel catfish and more species of fish.

With the ample vegetation in the lake, game fish have prime habitat to call home. 

Cachuma Lake Bass Fishing

Largemouth and smallmouth bass populations fluctuate a bit between regular water years and drought years.

Cachuma Lake’s grass beds offer excellent cover in the shallower waters where the bass spawn, which is the perfect place to target from early April through early June.

Largemouth Bass 

Largemouth bass like to hang out around Arrowhead Island, the Narrows and Cachuma Bay.

The cover and vegetation around the island make for some pretty perfect habitat. Baitfish hide everywhere around the island and draw in the big bass. 

The spawn generally gets going in early April and offers about two months of prime-time bass fishing, including some genuinely big fish. Be sure to put the females back to add to next year’s numbers.

Jack Rabbit Flats is a great spot to catch bass from shore.

Try casting perpendicular to the shoreline and fish the cover and rocks.

Finesse baits work well here. Work the shoreline with shallow crankbaits, rainbow-colored swimbaits and shad-colored Rat-L-Trap style lures. Toss some topwater in the early mornings.

Boat anglers will find the best early season fishing around Cachuma Bay and the Narrows.

Once the spawn is over, the bass move deeper and become more difficult to catch from shore. 

The male bass hold around the spawning grounds for a little while after the females go deeper. They stick around to protect their eggs and fry from the bluegill that come along to spawn next.

Toss some bluegill imitations out there, and you’re bound to bring a few protective bass to the net.

Earlier in the day is better, and topwater work great for early morning and late evening fishing.

Mid-summer through early spring finds the bass holding in deeper waters throughout the lake, so target outcroppings from 20 to 60 feet o water.

Keep fishing and searching until you find the proper depth, and then you’ll likely do well by sticking with it.

More: Best Largemouth Bass Fishing in Southern California and Bass Fishing: Simple How-To Techniques and Tips.

Smallmouth Bass

Smallies are pretty localized in Cachuma Lake.

As with most places, smallmouth at Cachuma Lake are drawn to rock structures. Here they often hold on rocky outcroppings around each end of the dam, Tequepis Point to Clark Canyon, and Sweetwater Bay.

The spawn finds smallmouth bass going shallow in the bays around the dam area.

Use Senkos or other finesse approaches during the day over the bedding bass. Early mornings call for buzzbaits and other topwater lures. 

Once the spawn slows in June, you’ll likely find smallmouth holding in deeper water, especially around the dam. Target any of the ledges around the area with swimbaits, Rat-L-Traps and various crankbaits. Shad and rainbow imitations work well.

Throughout the cooler months, smallmouth become a bit more sluggish and hold in deeper water.

Slow-moving baits work to catch a few in colder water, but during this time it might be best to go after the rainbow trout that are prevalent throughout the lake at that time of year.

Find the best smallmouth bass fishing lakes and streams in California.

Rainbow Trout Fishing 

Most years, rainbows are planted in good numbers at Cachuma Lake throughout the winter months.

In fact, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife has often joined Santa Barbara County in stocking the lake, making this one of the more generously stocked lakes within a reasonable drive of Los Angeles and other SoCal locales.

During the cooler weather in late fall through early spring, you can catch trout fairly reliably in shallower water and from shore.

Summer season puts the brakes on trout stocking and sends the survivors deep in search of cool water, and trout fishing will be far tougher. 

The habitat around the lake provides good cover for the smaller rainbows, letting them grow to a decent size.

There are decent numbers of trout caught in the 15- to 18-inch range, and some bigger fish aren’t all that uncommon.

Cachuma Bay is one of the more popular areas to target trout.

Tempt them with Kastmasters tipped with worms while trolling, along with Needlefish and various spoons.

Troll from Cachuma Bay up to the area near the dam and back. Fall through early spring, depths for trolling should be around 10 to 30 feet, then diving to 50 to 80 feet for summer.

Cooler weather will bring trout shallower and near shore. They are cruising the shallower waters targeting baitfish and other forage.

Bank anglers can do well from Harvey Cove and the marina area, especially during the cooler months when trout are feeding within casting distance of the shoreline.

There is good shore access in these areas, allowing you to spread out along the bank. You should have plenty of room.

Use salmon eggs, inflated nightcrawlers or PowerBait when fishing from shore, or use some of our other tactics to catching more rainbow trout.

Crappie Fishing

Crappie can be prolific in Cachuma Lake. They can also be scarce, making them a more difficult fish to consistently target here.

If you’re up for the challenge, try finding them around The Narrows toward where the Santa Ynez River enters the reservoir.

Use crappie jigs in silver and red or white and yellow combos.

Toss your jig into cover around submerged trees. A fast-jigging retrieve can be very effective.

You might also hook into some redear sunfish or bluegill along the way.

More: Best Crappie Fishing in California and Crappie Fishing: Simple How-To Techniques and Tips.

Channel Catfish Fishing

Channel catfish are everywhere in the bays and inlets around the lake.

You might catch a giant here as well. Fish up to 32 pounds aren’t unheard of, so be prepared. 

Every cove around the lake might be holding a new lake record, with areas off the Loop Trail and Santa Cruz Bay being favorites among local catfish anglers.

Stink baits, mackerel, shrimp, and nightcrawlers all do well, with mackerel being the top choice.

Since the cats here can be big, you’ll want to use a strong rod, 15- to 20-pound line, and big hooks. Slow retrieves and cast-and-wait techniques work well. 

Shore fishing can be very effective here, leading to some epic catches. The bite stays mostly consistent from early spring through late fall before the fish slow down and feed less during winter.

Some sources also report the presence of blue catfish in Cachuma Lake. These are a less-common catfish species in California, but they can potentially grow far larger.

More: Best Catfish Fishing Lakes and Rivers in California and Catfish Fishing: Simple How-To Techniques and Tips.

Planning Your Trip

Located just a half hour north of Santa Barbara along Highway 154, Cachuma Lake is a sight to see.

Cachuma Lake Recreation Area offers exceptional recreational activities for you and your family, with fishing piers, hiking trails, lake cruises and playgrounds for the kids. A nature center offers detailed information about the area and its wildlife.

There is a store at the marina that offers groceries and essentials, along with bait and tackle. Rental boats and kayaks will get you access to the entire lake, even if you aren’t a boat owner.

Boat and Shore Access

The marina at Apache provides everything you’ll need to have a great day on the water.

Keep in mind that swimming and water sports are not allowed here, so stay out of the water. 

Boating here can be very relaxing since you don’t have to contend with the speedboats and water skiers. Plus, there is some excellent fishing to be had. Cachuma Lake is truly a win-win.

Shore anglers will find plenty of easily accessible shorelines all around the marina and down to Jack Rabbit Flats. There are also hiking trails throughout the area to get into more remote portions of the lake. 

There are fishing piers near the marina, which offer shore anglers the ability to get a bit deeper.

Rainbow trout are catchable from the piers, at least when the water is cooler, as are bass and bluegill as the water warms. 

Camping and Lodging

There are several camping and lodging options around the lake.

Cabins, yurts, RV spots and standard tent camping sites are available to be reserved. Be sure to plan ahead and book early. You can reserve up to six months before your trip. 

There are vacation rentals in the area to accommodate get-togethers. Restaurants can be found in the surrounding communities, though a bit of a drive may be necessary.

Spend a few days relaxing at Cachuma Lake and enjoy some epic fishing opportunities.

Find More Fishing Spots in Santa Barbara County