Lake Oroville Fishing: Catch More Bass & Salmon

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Known as one of Northern California’s best bass fishing lakes, Lake Oroville is a sprawling reservoir that lies among the foothills of the Western Sierra. It’s a lake that offers year-round opportunities for great fishing.

Largemouth bass have always given anglers a run for their money in Lake Oroville, and increased numbers of spotted bass in recent decades have added another dimension to the fishery.

Fed by the Feather River, Lake Oroville is located at the confluence of the river’s four principle branches, and is held in place by the massive Oroville Dam. At 770.5 feet, it’s the tallest dam in the U.S.

Lake Oroville spans over 15,000 acres at full pool, making it California’s second-largest manmade lake (only behind Shasta Lake).

Lake Oroville’s waters are deep and cold, allowing it to support not only warm water game fish like bass, but also cold water species like landlocked Chinook salmon. 

In addition to the large main lake, all of Lake Oroville’s four major arms—each formed by a branch of the Feather River—offer some of the best fishing in the region.

Thanks in large part to its long arms, Lake Oroville has an incredible 167 miles of shoreline and countless places to cast.

In recent years, Lake Oroville has made headlines just as often for the effects of California’s drought on its water levels than for its fishing.

But even when the water is low, Lake Oroville remains a productive fishing lake that offers a lot of opportunities.

Largemouth Bass

You’ll hear a lot of arguments that largemouth bass fishing in Lake Oroville isn’t what it once was. And there’s truth to that.

A lot about this lake has shifted over the last 30 years, and the introduction of spotted bass is mostly to blame. 

But don’t write off Lake Oroville. It’s still a solid largemouth lake, with good numbers of largies weighing 3 to 7 pounds.

Big bass in the 10-pound class also turn up often enough that it’s reasonable to expect to tangle with a giant, especially if you fish the lake during the productive pre-spawn period. 

Largemouth bass fishing in Lake Oroville starts to heat up in March most years, eventually kicking into high gear in April. Big bass head toward shallow cover in creeks and coves to spawn during this season.

The West and North Branches are, by most accounts, the best parts of the lake for largemouth bass fishing. Both arms offer an abundance of shallow cover, and numerous creeks and coves that harbor largemouths in springtime. 

The North Branch in particular has a lot of prime habitat in the mouths of creeks like Frazier Creek and French Creek.

The main body of the lake around Foreman Creek is another great spot, along with the Berry Creek Bridge.

Try plying downed trees, brush and other shoreline cover with plastic lizards and jigs, especially during pre-spawn and spawn periods.

After spawning, many largemouth bass transition toward deeper water. The points and drop-offs closest to spring spawning sites are often the best places to catch them in summer.

When bass go deep, try a plastic worm on a drop-shot rig, or toss a jig with a bit of orange in it to mimic the local crawfish.

Fishing ledges and drop-offs in summer often yields a mixed bag of largemouths and spotted bass. 

Some big largemouths have also been caught in the main lake, especially along the steep, rocky banks close to the dam.

There’s a good topwater bite at times. Try tossing a Jitterbug or a Zara Spook around shallow cover in the evening as summer turns to fall.

Lake Oroville is among the best largemouth bass fishing lakes in Northern California.

Spotted Bass

Lake Oroville once had a reputation as one of California’s better smallmouth bass lakes. But the introduction of spotted bass in the ’80s radically changed things.

These days, smallmouths have become something of a rarity in Lake Oroville, but spotted bass are everywhere. 

It’s not hard to see why. Spotted bass thrive in colder water, giving them an edge over smallies in terms of both feeding and spawning. They’re adaptable. 

As they say, when one door closes, another opens.

The spotted bass at Lake Oroville have a reputation for biting just about anything you can throw at them, and they’re more likely than either smallmouth or largemouth bass to bite in cold water.

To find spotted bass in Lake Oroville, your best bet is to head to the creek arms.

Target shoreline cover from March through May, especially steep rocky banks, which there are plenty of in the North and Middle Forks of Lake Oroville. 

The lure of choice for spotted bass here is a 4-inch straight-tail worms rigged on a dart-head jig. A lot of locals swear by any dark-colored worm with some blue in it; try junebug or black with blue flake.

A lot of spotted bass migrate toward the deeper main lake during the hottest part of the summer, and then head back toward creeks and coves in fall.

In summer, try drop-shotting finesse soft plastics along rocky ledges, drop-offs and points leading into the main lake. Ned rigs work well too.

Lake Oroville produces some solid 5-pound spotted bass, but it isn’t known as a trophy spot lake (for that, try Lake Berryessa or New Bullards Bar Reservoir). But Oroville really shines when it comes to numbers.

Most of the fish are “cookie cutter” spots weighing about 2 pounds, but you can often catch them until your arms are sore. When the bite is really on, a 50-fish day isn’t just possible, it’s probable.

Added together, you can see why Lake Oroville is among the best spotted bass lakes in California.

Catch More Bass

Want to catch more largemouth, spotted or even the rare smallmouth bass in Lake Oroville or elsewhere? Check out our suggestions in Bass Fishing: Simple How-To Techniques and Tips.

Landlocked Salmon

Every year, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) plants fingerling king salmon from the Feather River Fish Hatchery into Lake Oroville.

For anglers, there are ample opportunities to catch 16- to 18-inch salmon, along with a few holdover fish in the 5- to 8-pound range, which makes this reservoir among the Best Landlocked Chinook Fishing Lakes in California

That being said, the quality of the salmon fishing here can swing wildly.

Water levels are a key factor, because they determine whether the DFW stocks salmon fingerlings in the spring or fall (low water equals spring stocking). 

Fingerlings stocked in fall have a chance to grow into catchable salmon by the following season. Those stocked in spring do not, leaving anglers to catch only holdover fish that have survived from previous years. 

In any case, trolling for salmon in deep open waters is the tried-and-true method of catching them.

The area around the Highway 162 Bridge is often productive, and the main lake area near the dam is another good place to troll for kings.

The most productive depths for king fishing tend to be in the 50- to 80-foot range—shallower in spring, deeper in summer—so be prepared to experiment with depth. Trolling with downriggers and leadcore line is helpful to get your bait down deep. 

Kokanee Cut plugs are popular trolling lures among locals, but a wide range of spoons and plugs can tempt landlocked Chinook salmon in Lake Oroville. Bright shades of hot pink and chartreuse are great for catching the eye of these fish.

Speaking of kokanee salmon, smaller Chinook can be mistaken for kokanee, which are actually landlocked sockeye. If that latter is what you want to catch, check out the Best Kokanee Fishing Lakes in California.

Other Fish Species

Lake Oroville is anything but a one-hit wonder when it comes to fish species. From feisty panfish to hefty catfish, anglers have a lot of options here beyond just bass and salmon.

The truth is, some of these less glamorous fish can save the day when the marquee game fish refuse to bite.

A quick note on coho salmon: The DFW stocked cohos in Lake Oroville for many years starting in the 1970s, making it the only inland lake in the state that held these fish.

Coho plants were discontinued in 2012, however, and it is extremely unlikely that any remain. 

Crappie

Lake Oroville has historically been an excellent crappie fishing lake, although the quality of the crappie fishing can rise and fall drastically as water levels change.

You can usually count on catching at least a few in spring, but some years are better than others. 

Look for crappies in shallow water in March and April.

Any of the lake’s coves and creek arms have potential in the spring, but those that have brushy cover are the best.

Check the South Fork around Enterprise and McCabe Cove, and the Sycamore Creek inlet of the Middle Fork.

Live minnows and small jigs are some of the most effective crappie baits.

Brightly colored tube jigs and fuzzy marabou jigs can be fished by casting or drifting under a bobber.

Downsized spinnerbaits and crankbaits can draw strikes as well and make good searcher baits.

Much more information: How to Catch Crappie and Best Crappie Fishing Lakes in California.

Catfish

You can always count on catfish.

Lake Oroville has substantial populations of channel catfish, including lots of 3- to 5-pound fish as well as a few brutes weighing 10 pounds or more.

Channel cats are fairly evenly distributed throughout the lake’s many coves and creek arms.

They have a habit of spending their days in deeper water, and then moving toward the shallows to feed as the sun sinks down, providing provide great opportunities for shore anglers on warm summer evenings.

Smelly, natural baits like mackerel and chicken livers are most effective, and should be fished close to the bottom.

Any spot with shore access has potential, but some of the more popular areas include the Berry Creek Bridge, Foreman Creek, near the Dam and any of the lakeside campgrounds.

Learn more: Catfish Fishing: Simple How-To Techniques and Tips and Best Catfish Fishing Lakes and Rivers in California

Trout

The California DFW has stocked rainbow trout, brown trout and mackinaw (lake trout) in Lake Oroville at various times throughout the years, but the agency halted trout plants in the 1980s.

These days, trout in Lake Oroville are uncommon. 

That said, the Feather River, which feeds Lake Oroville, is a prime trout river, and big rainbow and brown trout do occasionally find their way into the lake from its various branches.

Anglers sometimes catch them in spring around Bloomer and Kennedy Ravine in the North Branch, as wells as Kelly Ridge near the dam.

For better trout options, read our Best Rainbow Trout Fishing Lakes in California and Best Brown Trout Fishing Lakes and Rivers in California. We also have an article loaded with trout fishing tips and techniques.

The tailwater section of the Feather River immediately downstream from the Oroville Dam is also an excellent spot for trout fishing.

A 25-pound rainbow trout that very nearly broke the state record was caught in the diversion pool below the dam in 2020.

Also below the dam is the hatchery, which not only produces the Chinook that go into Oroville but also supports salmon and steelhead that run up the Feather River and Sacramento River.

Planning Your Trip

The best overall season for fishing at Lake Oroville tends to be spring, although year-round opportunities certainly do exist.

It is a popular fishing lake as well as a recreational boating lake, including house boating, so try to plan your visit on a weekday if you want to beat the crowds. 

The water level is always the wild card at Lake Oroville. It affects not only where the best fishing spots will be found, but also which boat ramps are accessible. The California Department of Parks and Recreation provides an online portal for checking current launch ramp status and lake levels

Getting to Lake Oroville

Lake Oroville is located in California’s Butte County, roughly halfway between the cities of Sacramento and Redding.

It’s about a 90-minute drive from Sacramento to Lake Oroville via CA-70 N. Figure about twice that from the San Francisco Bay Area.

The lake is accessible through Lake Oroville State Recreation Area, which is made up of several units around the lakeshore.

Several nearby communities offer shopping, dining and other amenities, the closest of which is the city of Oroville, about 5 miles south of the lake.

Bank and Boat Access

Anglers have numerous options when it comes to putting a boat in the water at Lake Oroville. The lake offers two full-service marinas and several public boat ramps that are part of Lake Oroville State Recreation Area.

  • Lime Saddle Marina: Sometimes referred to simply as Lake Oroville Marina, Lime Saddle Marina is located on the West Branch of the lake near the Lime Saddle Campground. This marina offers several paved boat ramps, docks, boat rentals and a store with boat fuel and other supplies.
  • Bidwell Canyon Marina: Located just east of the Dam, Bidwell Canyon Marina is the last boat launch site to close during drawdowns, making it the most popular place to launch a boat during times of low water. They provide rental boats, docks, a fully stocked marine store and on-site bar and grill in addition to launch facilities.
  • Loafer Creek Launch Site: This launch site is adjacent to the Loafer Creek Campground, on the main lake not far from Bidwell Canyon Marina.
  • Spillway Launch Site: On the west side of the Oroville Dam, the Spillway Launch Site has up to 12 usable boat ramp lanes, depending on the water level. It’s a popular site to launch, and often used by anglers when the Bidwell Marina launch ramps are busy.
  • Enterprise Launch Site: Located on the South Fork, this launch site is the least developed of the lake’s major boat ramps, and also the highest in elevation, making it the first launch to close when the water is low.
  • Car-Top Boat Launch Sites: Several mostly undeveloped launch sites, suitable only for car-top boats like canoes and kayaks, are scattered around the lakeshore. They are located at Dark Canyon, Nelson Bar, Foreman Creek, Stringtown and Vinton Gulch.

Abundant shore fishing access is also available throughout Lake Oroville State Recreation Area, including access at most of the above-mentioned launch ramps, and at several campgrounds around the lake. 

Much of the shoreline is undeveloped and open to fishing for anyone willing to walk it. During times when the lake level is low, shore fishing can involve quite a bit of hiking. 

Camping at Lake Oroville

Anglers can take advantage of a wide range of camping options around the lakeshore, all of which are part of Lake Oroville State Recreation Area. The state operates four traditional campgrounds within the park. 

The largest of these is Loafer Creek Campground, on the south end of the lake, which offers 175 sites for tents and RVs.

The Lime Saddle Campground, located on the West Branch, and the Bidwell Canyon Campground, near the dam and marina, are also popular.

A handful or RV-only sites are also available at the Spillway Campground. 

In addition to these options, Lake Oroville State Recreation Area offers several “floating campsites” moored in quiet coves throughout the lake, and four rustic boat-in campgrounds that are accessible only by boat.