One of California’s great multi-species fishing lakes, Folsom Lake draws anglers for its trophy bass as well as its hard-fighting landlocked salmon and trout.
Located practically in Sacramento’s backyard, it’s a vast man-made lake with a lot of possibilities.
Folsom Lake was built in 1955, and it spans 11,500 acres at full pool.
The lake is fed by the North and South Forks of the American River, and its two main river arms offer some of Folsom Lake’s best fishing opportunities.
Water levels at Folsom Lake fluctuate quite a bit as California cycles through periods of rainfall and drought, but the lake usually has depths well over 200 feet, allowing it to stay relatively cool all year long and support a rich and varied fishery.
It’s a lake that offers splendid scenery as well as great fishing. The Sierra Nevada provides a picturesque backdrop, and a state recreation area offers ample access to Folsom Lake’s shoreline.
For many anglers who come to Folsom Lake, bass are the main quarry. The lake has produced numerous largemouth bass over 10 pounds, and is home to a growing population of spotted bass.
Smallmouth bass are not as common as they once were, but Folsom Lake remains one of California’s best bets for smallmouths.
Fishing for landlocked Chinook salmon and rainbow trout can be excellent as well, and if you time your visit just right, Folsom Lake can offer some truly epic multi-species action.
With a lake record topping 16 pounds, there can be no doubt about Folsom Lake’s potential for producing trophy largemouth bass. Unfortunately, periods of low water have put a dent in the lake’s reputation.
There have been years when low water prevented largemouths from spawning, but reports in recent years suggest that the bass population has been on a major upswing, with some solid 10-pounders and abundant bass in the 5-pound class.
Springtime is the best time to go out after them. Largemouths spawn in relatively shallow water in areas throughout the lake, including the main lake near Dyke Eight and Beales Point.
The pre-spawn period from late March into April offers some of the best opportunities to catch big largemouths.
The lake’s best year-round bass fishing spot is almost certainly New York Creek Cove, an area in the South Fork that has what might be the highest concentration of bass in Folsom Lake.
Unfortunately, as you may have guessed,New York Creek Cove is not a well-kept secret. This area receives a lot of fishing pressure, and bass tend to be wary.
Nearby areas in the South Fork, like Deep Ravine and Jacks Shack, are good alternatives.
A wide variety of baits and lures can be productive for Folsom Lake’s largemouth bass.
Ripbaits are a favorite pre-spawn lure, and they often provoke vicious reaction strikes. Rapalas and Zara Spooks are popular lures as well, along with a wide variety of soft plastics including lizards and creature baits.
Folsom Lake has very little of the natural aquatic vegetation that largemouth bass prefer. Instead, it often pays to focus on steep points, rip-rap shorelines, rocky reefs, woody cover and brush piles.
Bass fishing in summer can be challenging, as the water warms up and is often crystal clear, driving bass down to deeper water.
Long points with deep structure often hold summertime fish, and plastic worms on Carolina rigs often get bites.
At times, topwater baits can draw bass up from great depths and produce thrilling surface strikes.
Read up on all of Northern California’s Best Bass Fishing Lakes.
Spotted bass weren’t always abundant in Folsom Lake.
Surveys from the ’90s suggest that smallmouths were once much more common, but these days the balance seems to have shifted, and spots make up a much larger share of Folsom Lake’s bass catch.
That may have a lot to do with their ability to spawn in colder water and at greater depths than other bass species.
When low water spoils the spawn for largemouths and smallmouths, spotted bass can often still access their spawning grounds with ease.
In any case, areas all over Folsom Lake—including the main lake as well as both the North and South Forks—offer potential to catch lots of feisty spotted bass.
And while there’s a solid chance of catching 5-pound-plus spotted bass, it’s best to expect spot fishing here to be more of a numbers game.
Most of the spotted bass in Folsom Lake seem to weigh around 2 to 2.5 pounds, and look like they were stamped out in a factory. But these “cookie cutter” spots are abundant, and even a 2-pounder can be plenty scrappy.
Soft plastic lures including Senkos, Robo Worms and tube jigs are great for spotted bass on Folsom Lake.
A lot of local anglers go after spots using finesse plastics on drop-shot rigs, especially around rock piles in the main lake. Jigging spoons can be great choices too.
The rip-rap shores near the dam are often great for spotted bass, and the boulder-strewn bottom of Granite Bay near the entrance to the North Fork is a perennial favorite.
Spotted bass offer a great year-round fishery, and often bite well into winter when largemouth and smallmouth bass are less active.
Spots may be as deep as 40 to 60 feet in the colder months, but they can still be caught around rocks and the deep edge of a steep drop-off.
Folsom Lake isn’t quite the smallmouth fishery it once was. But opportunities to catch smallmouth bass in California are fairly few and far between, that even a merely okay smallmouth fishery deserves attention.
Smallmouth bass, perhaps even more than spotted bass, gravitate toward rocky areas.
Rattlesnake Bar is a popular smallmouth spot in the North Fork, and the rocky area just off the peninsula that separates the North and South Forks also has a lot of potential.
Smallmouths tend to school together, so there’s a good chance when you catch one that there are others nearby. Folsom Lake has a lot of 2- to 3-pound smallies, along with some weighing up to 5 pounds.
Much of the North Fork has almost canyon-like granite walls, and it’s a great area for to fish vertically by jigging or drop-shotting. Smallmouths often smack jigging spoons and wacky worms around steep rocky drop-offs.
Smallmouths and spotted bass typically share habitat here, so expect a mixed bag.
Some of the best action is during fall, and it’s even possible to find a king salmon or rainbow trout at the end or your line.
All of Folsom Lake’s major predators gorge themselves on shad and pond smelt, often in the same general areas.
How to Catch Bass
For plenty more ways to catch largemouth, spotted and smallmouth bass, including quite a few lure suggestions, read our easy to follow guide, Bass Fishing: Simple Techniques and Tips.
Landlocked King Salmon
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has been stocking fingerling Landlocked Chinook salmon, also known as king salmon, in Folsom Lake since 1999.
Salmon have done very well here and established a stable population that includes fish over 10 pounds, making Folsom Lake among California’s best landlocked Chinook salmon fishing lakes.
For most anglers who pursue them, late winter and early spring are prime time. Chinook salmon tend to favor deep, cold water, and may be down as deep as 100 feet at the height of summer.
But toward the end of winter, as the water is just starting to warm up for the year, they often hunt in less than 20 feet of water.
Most salmon are in the main lake during spring, and the easiest way to pinpoint their location is by trolling.
Try different lures at different depths until you hit pay dirt. Good areas to start include Granite Bay, Brown’s Ravine and the dam area.
Apex lures and Speedy Shiner spoons are some of the most popular options for trolling for salmon on Folsom Lake. Live minnows and nightcrawlers are also good options, especially trolled behind a flasher or dodger.
There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to depth for Chinook salmon, but 25 feet in spring and 75 feet in summer are good places to start.
One of the great things about early spring is that it’s occasionally even possible to catch salmon from shore.
Landlocked king salmon have been stocked in quite a few California Lakes, but Folsom Lake is one of only two in which they have been known to reproduce naturally. These fish make an annual spawning run up the American River from Folsom Lake every fall.
The spawning cycle makes late summer and early fall another great time to catch Chinook as they start to make their way into both river arms, but especially the North Fork, where areas around Anderson Island and Rattlesnake Bar are popular spots to catch them.
Pick up more salmon fishing techniques and tips in our how-to article.
Folsom Lake offers a solid rainbow trout fishery that rests almost entirely on stocking efforts by the DFW.
Rainbows are stocked several times throughout the cooler months most years, and trout plants may include fingerlings as well as catchable adults.
Some holdover trout survive long enough to make it through multiple years and reach trophy proportions.
Every once in a while, a 20-plus-pound rainbow trout is pulled from Folsom Lake, but for the most part fish of that size are the stuff of rumors and whispers.
That being said, Folsom Lake can usually be counted on to offer up consistent rainbow trout in the 12- to 18-inch range. That in and of itself makes this a lake worth visiting for trout.
Rainbows in Folsom Lake share a lot of behavior patterns with landlocked salmon, but they can tolerate slightly warmer water, and for that reason are often found closer to the surface.
A good general rule is to start out by looking 10 to 15 feet down during the colder months, and below 25 feet when it’s warmer.
There are times, especially from late fall through early spring, when rainbow trout will strike baits fished right on the surface. Casting and shallow trolling with live nightcrawlers and a wide range of lures can be effective in those cooler months.
Rainbow trout also offer excellent opportunities for shore fishermen during the colder months.
Nightcrawlers, PowerBait and Kastmaster spoons are popular among shore anglers focusing on trout.
Beal’s Point and Folsom Point are good shore fishing spots for trout on the main lake, and there are several quality spots to get to the water on the North Fork as well.
Trout transition to their summer depths during May most years, and trolling deeper waters off points and coves with Apex lures, Needlefish, Speedy Shiners and Rapalas is the go-to tactic.
Learn about more great lures and tips in our simple article covering how to catch trout.
Other Fish Species
Folsom Lake is a diverse two-story fishery that supports a wide range of fish species. Don’t write off these other, often-overlooked fish.
Kokanee salmon, a landlocked form of sockeye salmon, have been stocked in Folsom Lake.
These fish tend to follow boom and bust cycles, and are very dependent on stocking. It can be tough going for kokanee on many trips, but there can be a great kokanee bite if you get there at the right time.
Kokanee in Folsom Lake typically to measure around 12 inches, and while they aren’t known for being giants, they are some of the tastiest fish around.
Kokanee follow patterns similar to Chinook salmon, often inhabiting deep, cool waters and biting on small trolling spoons tipped with sweet corn.
We love kokanee fishing (and eating). Learn about California’s best kokanee fishing lakes.
Also, find the best kokanee fishing techniques and tips (including favorite lures) in our how-to article.
Panfish including crappie and bluegill are also present in Folsom Lake.
While the lake doesn’t exactly have a reputation for producing bragging-size panfish, crappie can often be found in abundance around submerged brush and woody cover.
As for techniques, Crappie often fall for small minnows and jigs.
Look for bluegill around docks and weed beds.
Bluegill in Folsom Lake are often easy to tempt with live worms or pieces of nightcrawler.
Try fishing under a bobber in shallow water, or with live bait on a light drop-shot rig to catch larger bluegill a little deeper.
For more easy bluegill fishing tips, read How to Catch Bluegill and Sunfish.
Folsom Lake also supports a decent population of channel catfish. These fish tend to favor deep, secluded holes for much of the daytime.
Then they often emerge around dusk, hunting by taste and smell in the lake’s coves and around rocks.
Anglers sometimes catch large channel catfish from shore in areas like Granite Bay and Beal’s Point.
Live nightcrawlers and other smelly, natural baits like chicken livers and dough baits are effective.
Planning Your Trip
Water level is the wild card at Folsom Lake.
The reservoir is prone to severe fluctuations in depth due to California’s ongoing struggle with drought, and the quality of the fishing tends to rise and fall accordingly.
It’s always a good idea to check the current lake level before planning a visit to Folsom Lake. Here’s what else you need to know before you go.
Folsom Lake is located about 25 miles northeast of Sacramento, at the intersection of Placer, El Dorado, and Sacramento counties. It’s about a 35-minute drive from Sacramento.
From Sacramento, the quickest way to the western side of the lake, including Beal’s Point, Granite Bay and the North Fork of the American River, is via I-80 East.
To get to points on the east side of the lake including Folsom Lake Marina, Browns Ravine and the South Fork of the American River, follow US-50 East from Sacramento.
Because it’s relatively close to some major population centers, Folsom Lake is a very popular lake among recreational boaters.
If you’re visiting in summer, it’s best to fish in the early morning or late evening to avoid excessive boat traffic. These tend to also be great times to catch fish, so it’s a win-win.
Bank and Boat Access
One thing that can never be said about Folsom Lake is that it’s hard to reach. The lake is entirely surrounded by the enormous Folsom Lake State Recreation area, which spans 20,000 acres.
Folsom Lake State Recreation Area has multiple entrances that lead to various boat ramps, shore fishing sites, campgrounds and day use areas all around the shoreline.
The only downside of all this access is that there’s no real way to avoid paying the state’s day-use fee to get to the water. At the time of publication, it’s $10 or $12, depending on the site.
Some of the most popular access points include:
Folsom Lake Marina
One of the largest inland marinas in California, this is also the only marina on Folsom Lake.
It’s located at Brown’s Ravine on the main lake, and offers a four-lane boat ramp, hundreds of wet and dry slips, boat fuel and a small marine/bait shop.
Shore fishing access is available nearby at Brown’s Ravine.
West of the marina on the main lake, Folsom Point includes a boat ramp and shore fishing access not far from the dam.
A popular campground on the western shore of the main lake, Beal’s Point offers 69 campsites for tents and RVs, as well as a lakeside picnic area with abundant shore fishing access. There is no boat ramp at this site.
One of the most heavily used day use areas, Granite Bay is located on western shore, where the North Fork meets the main lake.
Granite Bay includes a public beach and picnic areas, shore fishing access, and four boat ramps. Kayak rentals are available here.
Located on the peninsula between the North and South Forks, the Peninsula Campground offers a somewhat more secluded option.
Along with 85 family campsites, this area has boat launch facilities and lots of shore fishing access.
Because of its more remote location, getting to the Peninsula area is a much longer drive from the Sacramento area.
With boat ramps and shoreline hiking trails that provide ample access to the lake, this is a great spot to begin exploring the North Fork.