Southern California’s largest natural freshwater lake is easy to reach from most major cities in the region, and it’s also one of a select number of fishing lakes where you can catch hybrid fish known as wipers.
While Lake Elsinore doesn’t get stocked with hatchery rainbow trout each winter, like many SoCal waters, for plenty of anglers those hybrids of striped and white bass more than make up for the lack of trout.
On top of that, Lake Elsinore also is a great place to catch a variety of game fish species, including largemouth bass, catfish and several species of panfish.
Lake Elsinore is located near the city of Lake Elsinore on the western edge of Riverside County, not much more than a long cast from Orange County.
The lake sits just east of the Santa Ana Mountain Range, which offers fantastic views when fishing, boating, hiking or other activities.
Due to its location near enough to major cities ranging from Los Angeles to San Diego, there’s little surprise that the lake becomes crowded, especially on weekends, and even more so during summer holiday weekends.
Warm weather will bring out plenty of non-fishing power boaters, so time your fishing trips around the splash-and-dash crowd if possible.
While day trippers make up the bulk of visitors, by all means you can pack up the camper, connect the boat and stay awhile.
There have been times when Lake Elsinore has been overrun with common carp, which had a detrimental effect on more popular game fish, but recent efforts to control the carp population have helped bring back the lake’s productivity.
Carp were both removed as adults and also controlled with the addition of the wipers, which feast on young carp.
In addition to controlling the carp, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife reports that practices that have aerated and stabilized the water levels have improved conditions for bass, panfish and catfish … and therefore anglers.
The Lake Elsinore and San Jacinto Watersheds Authority (LESJWA) manages the water quality and has worked with CDFW to improve the balance of fish species, including removal of hundreds of thousands of pounds of carp.
Recently, Lake Elsinore was stocked not only with wipers (for the first time in more than a decade), it also was planted with more fish including bluegill, black crappie and redear sunfish during the winter months.
Due to the variety of game fish here, both experienced and experienced anglers have the opportunity to catch fish.
As mentioned, a wiper is a hybrid mix of white bass and striped bass. They are sterile so won’t overrun the lake, but they are aggressive feeders that will eat almost anything they can fit in their mouths.
And they’re a blast to catch, as they are willing biters and hard fighters.
At this writing the wipers are still growing, but they will grow quickly with the amount of forage available in Lake Elsinore.
The wipers had the potential to hit the minimum 18-inch size to keep in 2021 (the limit is two, just like striped bass).
Wipers over five pounds should be coming in the next few years and the biggest of Lake Elsinore’s wipers should eventually reach into the double-digits and put on a monster fight on medium-weight tackle.
Cast or troll with crankbaits in areas with minimal structure. Wipers tend to spend most of their time on flats along the edge of channels and wait to ambush bait.
Topwater lures worked slowly across the surface at times will lead to an exhilarating bite with a wiper launching itself out of the water as it hits the artificial.
Many anglers in search of wipers find themselves connected to a hefty largemouth bass by surprise.
They also are worth targeting in their own right.
The lake’s largemouth bass at times can exceed 10 pounds and are caught in a variety of ways. Largemouth loves grassy areas, so either position the boat or venture by foot to grass-lined shorelines.
Soft plastic baits with weedless hooks should be cast in these areas. Work them slowly back in with gentle jerks of the rod and allowing the bait to settle to the bottom before reeling the slack.
Another technique is to troll crankbaits around rocks, docks, trees and on the edges of drop-offs.
Largemouths are ambush feeders that also like to stay out of the sun, especially in the middle of the day, so you’ll have to deliver the meal right to them like Uber Eats when the fish are hunkered down.
They will venture out and hunt more in the low light of early mornings and late evenings, which bass fishing is often best.
Blind casting lures from shore and covering lots of spots can lead to a surprising number of strikes. Fan the casts from the bank on one side of your body to the other to ensure you cover all of the water before you.
Largemouth are known to put on an acrobatic show and also will hit topwater lures, especially when the sun is low or down.
The bottom-dwelling channel catfish is a frequent catch for anglers working the lake’s bed. Lake Elsinore holds cats that regularly exceed 10 pounds, although fish in the 12- to 24-inch range are excellent for eating.
To catch channel catfish or bullheads, focus on soaking baits at the bottom of the lake’s floor. Catfish lay low with their bellies in the mud, searching for their next meal.
The best baits to catch catfish include cut fish such as mackerel or shad, shrimp, artificial stink baits, chicken livers and nightcrawlers. Any of these will do the trick.
The setup for catfish fishing is simple. Tie a hook on the end of the line with a weight 12 inches above. A sliding weight stopped by a swivel is especially effective, as it allows the catfish to take line without feeling the weight. Place the bait of your choice on the hook and cast the line.
Allow the bait to sit on the bottom while waiting for a bite. Place the rod in a rod holder or a Y-shaped stick and rest the rod against it while remaining patient. The scent of the bait should bring the catfish to you.
When the strike comes, set the hook and enjoy the battle but use caution when handling. The top fin called the dorsal fin, and pectoral fins on the side near the head can inflict a painful wound.
Catfish can be caught from shoreline or boat. Lots of bank-fishing spots all over the lake will have catfish to catch, but Whiskers Fishing Beach on the east shore (near the middle school) definitely will produce.
Catfish can be caught all day long but feed most aggressively in lower-light conditions, from evenings through early mornings.
Find the very best catfish fishing lakes in California, including several in Southern California.
Lake Elsinore has an excellent panfish fishery.
Crappie are a popular species to catch, although they tend to be a bit hit and miss and run in cycles in most lakes.
Some Lake Elsinore crappie are real slabs, and both white crappie and black crappie have been caught.
Small jigs and other minnow-imitating lures are ideal for crappie, and bait also will work.
Fish for crappie around structures.
Want even more crappie? Start with the best crappie fishing lakes in California.
Lake Elsinore also can be excellent for bluegill and redear sunfish, and you might also hook some smaller green sunfish along the way.
Bluegill and sunfish are primarily insect feeders but also eat smaller fish.
As for catching bluegill and other types of sunfish, worms, mealworms, crickets and other buggy baits will definitely work, as will small lures and artificial flies.
Many anglers fish for sunfish with bait under a bobber, and cast near weedlines or other areas where these fish can hide. They are often found where structure creates a bit of shade.
With both crappie and various sunfish, you’ll usually find them in groups. Crappie schools can be large at times, but bluegill and sunfish will also often hold with several fish. So once you catch one, keep working that spot until the bite stops.
Light action rods and reels are all you need for sunfish. The kids will find plenty of entertainment with the nonstop action.
Carp still make up a good portion of the fish here, and despite their habit of stressing some fisheries, they are excellent fighters on the end of the line.
Lake Elsinore can produce carp big enough to strip reels and break rods, so if targeting these fish, make sure you are geared up for them.
Dough balls, corn and other baits are the most common to catch carp and at times will result in catfish at the end of your line.
As mentioned, Lake Elsinore is not typically stocked with hatchery rainbow trout during the winter, when colder weather might bring a bit of a lull in the fishing action, but you can catch something here any month of the year.
Planning Your Trip
The summer months on Lake Elsinore can be chaotic because of southern California residents looking to escape the summer heat and head to the shore of the largest natural lake in the area.
Boat traffic between Memorial Day and Labor Day is at its peak. When planning a trip, consider the spring and fall to avoid the congestion you seek to escape by leaving the city and heading to a picturesque setting.
Where is Lake Elsinore?
Lake Elsinore is centrally located not far off Interstate 15 and Ortega Highway (State Route 74) at the town of Lake Elsinore, which has all the supplies you need for a day trip or overnighter.
Outside of busy traffic times, figure on driving a little more than an hour southeast from Los Angeles or a similar distance heading north from San Diego, east from much of Orange County, or west from Palm Springs.
Bank and Boat Access
Various parks are situated along the shore allowing multiple access points to utilize beaches, banks, and boat ramps.
For the beachgoer, free parking is available at Elm Grove Beach. In addition to free parking, the park provides shaded areas, fire pits, volleyball courts, and leashed dogs are allowed.
With miles of shoreline and lots of parks and other public areas and private lake resorts, fishing access is abundant.
If you’re looking for a public beach, choose from Davis Street Fishing Beach, Whiskers Fishing Beach and Lowell Street Fishing Beach, among others.
Boaters have three boat ramps at their disposal. Keep in mind; you will be required to pay a launch fee.
The ramps include SeaPort Boat Launch, Lake Elsinore Marina & RV Resort, and Launch Pointe Recreational Destination & RV Park.
If you don’t come with all the bait and tackle you need, don’t worry. Employees at the local bait shops are likely to know what the fish are biting on and where to go.
Before casting a line, all anglers 16 years old and up must purchase a fishing license.
Although boats are not required to enjoy all that the lake offers, boat rentals are available from Launch Pointe Landings.
Lodging And Camping
It will be hard to decide where to stay during your getaway to Lake Elsinore with so many options available.
Whether you are looking to camp by a tent, bring the RV, or rent a room or cabin, all of these options will be available to you.
The most popular destination for getaways on the lake is Launch Pointe. This location has everything you could ask for in one spot, including the namesake boat launch.
Lake Elsinore Marina & RV Resort is another one-stop spot to suit most of your needs.
Other overnight options include Coyote Cove, Lake Elsinore Marina & RV Resort, Crane Lakeside, Lake Park, Road Runner, and Weekend Paradise RV Park.
Day trips can be equally as fun as extended getaways. What is most important is making time to explore new adventures not far from your backyard.