For anglers, San Luis Obispo County offers several promising freshwater lakes as well as plenty of places to go fishing in the Pacific Ocean.
Besides San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay, these fishing areas will be nearby if you live in or are visiting Paso Robles, Atascadero, Arroyo Grande, Nipomo and Los Osos.
The county is home to the famous Hearst Castle, California Polytechnic State University, wineries, and a fair bit of tourism in beach communities like San Simeon, Avila Beach and Pismo Beach. It’s roughly between Los Angeles and San Francisco, with a far slower pace.
Sights of interest to outdoors lovers include Morro Rock, Franklin Hot Springs, Montaña de Oro State Park, Carrizo Plain National Monument, Moonstone Beach, Bishop Peak and Morro Bay State Park.
What follows are brief descriptions of the better fishing spots in San Luis Obispo County.
At the end of this article, check out the “Fishing in Neighboring Counties” section to find more spots to wet a line that are still within a reasonable drive.
This 30-acre lake located in a pleasant small town park is most popularly fished for its hatchery trout.
The lake is typically stocked with catchable rainbow trout a handful of times in late winter and early spring (often in February and March). Expect the best fishing to occur shortly after a planting occurs, and trout fishing will fall off quickly into the spring as people catch most of them and the water warms too much for this species.
The lake also is home to a modest population of resident warmwater species such as bass, catfish and panfish, which should continue biting even after the trout fishing is a thing of the past. Carp are present as well and put up quite a fight.
The lake can be found just south of the Atascadero community just off E.G. Lewis Highway (41) and Portola Road.
Barney Schwartz Park Lake
This small urban lake in Paso Robles can be stocked as many as a half dozen times, typically starting as early as January and going into March or farther into spring.
Fishing is likely to slow down quickly after the last planting and trout are not likely to be present in fishable numbers once the hot weather arrives for good. If the trout aren’t biting, it’s probably best to move on to one of the better fishing holes in the county.
The lake is in Barney Schwartz Park along California State Route 46 on the eastside side of Paso Robles.
Lopez Lake is located in coastal mountains just east of Arroyo Grande with good trout fishing opportunities.
This reservoir, which is about 950 acres when full but fluctuates significantly, is typically stocked several times from late winter into early spring, which is the best time of year to catch trout here. At times stocking has been halted here, so check for updates if you’re counting on that.
Especially when the water warms up a bit in spring, and on through summer and into the fall, there are also largemouth and smallmouth bass, catfish and panfish including crappie and redear sunfish to catch.
There is a boat launch and marina, camping, cabins and other amenities at Lopez Lake Recreation Area. The lake also is popular for water sports.
Visit the park’s website for more detailed information.
Once known as one of California’s top bass lakes, today perhaps Lake Nacimiento’s claim to fame might just be that this is the only major fishery for white bass in the state.
The pan-sized bass are fun to catch (especially in spring) and excellent eating, but biologists don’t want them spreading elsewhere as they tend to take over a watershed. They are more popularly fished for in places like Oklahoma and Texas.
Lake Nacimiento is a large reservoir with 5,370 surface acres whenever there’s enough rainfall to fill it.
And it still has some pretty good fishing for largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass.
While it no longer ranks among the best largemouth bass fishing lakes in Southern California, fishing for the spots has been so consistent that we’ve included Nacimiento as a honorable mention in our list of the best spotted bass fishing lakes in California.
Lake Nacimiento also can be very good at times for the assortment of panfish and catfish typical for many reservoirs in the region.
Amenities include a marina, boat rentals, picnic area and developed RV campsites.
The reservoir is located at the northern end of the county, about 40 minutes northwest of Paso Robles.
More: Lake Nacimiento Fishing
Oso Flaco Lakes
Oso Flaco Lake and Little Oso Flaco Lake are small lakes tucked among the dunes just inland from the beach west of Nipomo, at the southern end of San Luis Obispo County.
The lakes are lightly fished, mostly for bass. They tend to run small and feisty and anglers release them all.
If only the biggest of ponds will do, the Pacific Ocean is teeming with all kinds of fish to catch.
The biggest catches tend to come from boats that can reach the best fishing grounds. You can look to book a charter boat out of Morro Bay or from Port San Luis in the Avila Beach area.
Depending on what’s biting (and the season), these boats can bring in tuna, salmon, albacore, halibut and other favorite game fish. Rockfish are pretty much always an option, with some lingcod or bass, perhaps.
If you’re more of a DIY angler, check out some of the fishing piers in San Luis Obispo County.
Good options include the San Simeon Pier, Cayucos Pier, Morro Bay T piers, Avila Beach Pier and Pismo Beach Pier.
Catches from piers vary somewhat by location and definitely by season. Perch are the most widely caught fish, but more prized species including halibut, mackerel and more.
Fishing directly in the surf is a favorite pastime of many who like the sand and waves on their toes while they cast. Perch are the most common catch off the beaches.
The state beaches at Cayucos, Morro Strand, Pismo and William Randolph Hearst Memorial are among your options for surf fishing in the county.
Santa Margarita Lake
This fairly-decent sized lake of about 800 acres is near Santa Margarita and only about a half hour from San Luis Obispo.
The lake offers a variety of fishing options, including late winter and spring fishing for stocked rainbow trout.
Anglers also can catch bass, catfish and panfish, which will bite more readily as water temperatures rise in the spring and through summer and fall.
As a bonus, striped bass are sometimes caught at Santa Margarita Lake and at times are quite large.
As another bonus, to anglers at least, is restrictions limit the types of water sports here. It’s a peaceful place to wet a line.
Shore fishing is available but a boat will let you reach more fish here. Boat ramps are available but may be rendered unusable with low water levels.
For more information: Santa Margarita Lake Recreation & Natural Area
Whale Rock Reservoir
This water supply reservoir near Cayucos, just inland from the northern end of Morro Bay, is open to fishing but offers only modest access and opportunity.
There are wild trout present, in the form of landlocked steelhead. The city of San Luis Obispo, which is one of the water users, also lists catfish, bluegill, bass and Sacramento suckers in the fish population.
Access is confined to the bank on the south end.
All reports we’ve seen suggest catch rates are low enough that we’d likely recommend you spend your time fishing the county’s other lakes and saltwater areas mentioned above.
See San Luis Obispo’s website for more information.
Fishing in Nearby Counties
Kings and Tulare Counties: To the northeast, Tulare County stretches up into the Sequoia National Park area and includes great trout fishing streams and multi-species reservoirs.
Kern County: To the east, the Bakersfield area is home to the outstanding Lake Isabella, the Kern River, and lesser-known fishing holes.
Santa Barbara County: To the south, the Santa Barbara area boats Cachuma Lake and lots of prime ocean fishing.