Los Vaqueros Reservoir Fishing: Stripers, Trout & More

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Los Vaqueros Reservoir first opened to fishing in 2001 and since then has been steadily growing into one of the Bay Area’s premier lakes for fantastic striper action as well as being a good to great spot to catch rainbow trout, largemouth bass and catfish.

Located in surprisingly rugged, untouched hills between Brentwood and Livermore, the water storage reservoir is a great place to take your family or friends, not just for the fishing but also other types of outside recreation including hiking.

Keep watch for wildlife. On the ground you might see deer, coyotes and maybe even foxes or wild boars. Look up, too, because this area is known for golden eagles and maybe the occasional bald eagle, along with lots of hawks and other raptors.

The scenery is striking, as bright green hills that surround the reservoir in winter and spring transform into warm golden rises as hot, dry and breezy summer weather parches the landscape each year.

It’s the perfect Western setting for a reservoir with the Spanish name for Cowboys.

However, know going in that this isn’t the Wild West of fishing spots.

Los Vaqueros has tight regulations aimed at keeping its water supply pure, including a prohibition on boats other than those based at the lake’s marina. The marina rents boats to use, though they go pretty fast.

There’s also no swimming or any types of water sports, other than fishing and boating, that lead to human contact with the drinking water.

The Contra Costa Water District manages the reservoir’s water supply as well as its recreation, which is limited to open hours posted on the district’s website.

It’s also wise to know that the wind can really howl through these hills, and it’s especially brutal at times during the warmer months when recreation peaks. If you don’t believe us, check out the windmills stationed on the hills over the lake.

Each year there are thousands of pounds of fish planted in the reservoir. Trout are the main stocked fish, though, in the past, there have been Chinook and kokanee salmon added to the lake as well. 

The salmon never really took here, and if any are still around, they are very few and far between.

The trout are hearty and robust, with good numbers being caught regularly. It’s common to get your limit as long as the wind stays away.

Striped Bass Fishing

There are plenty of stripers in Los Vaqueros Reservoir to keep you busy.

Stripers in the 6- to 10-pound range are plentiful, with bigger lunkers out there but caught far less often.

But keep up the faith, and you’ll be sure to eventually find the trophies. Who knows, you might break the lake record of 45 pounds!

Cowboy Cove and Howden Cove are definite hot spots for striped bass.

The coves offer protection for the bait fish stripers love to eat.

These same coves have largemouth bass lurking around as well. One cast might bring in a striper, and the next could be a bucketmouth.

Try anchovies or shad for bait, whether in the coves or fishing off the pier as well. 

Also, another bait that will work on stripers is chicken livers. No, these aren’t just going to hook the big catfish also here, as stripers are known to be big fans.

Crankbait, swimbait and Kastmaster lures that resemble small fleeing fish such as shad or even trout also are effective for striper fishing, as well as catching largemouths. Bucktails and other types of jigs are popular.

Bigger fish have been caught at the pier, though not as frequently. It’s possible to bring in a chunk of a channel cat here too.

Work the submerged tree lines in the coves, and you’re bound to bring in at least one, or maybe several, stripers. They cruise through here to eat the bait fish and rainbows that stack up around this cover.

Even though smaller stripers are everywhere, water district officials ask anglers to handle undersized fish with care to keep the fishing here going at the level it is now.

More: The Bay Area and other parts of the state has lots of striper fishing hot spots. Find all the best striped bass fishing spots in California. Also, read up on striper fishing techniques that work best in freshwater.

Trout Fishing

Los Vaqueros Reservoir has some of the best trout action in the entire Bay Area. 

Limits are attainable from either shore or boat.

Since it’s such a popular lake, if you have any hope of getting out on the water when the fishing is good, be sure to get there early to reserve a boat. They are first-come, first-served, and they sell out fast. 

The trout in this lake are readily available and don’t require special equipment at all. 

Whether trolling or fishing from shore, you’re bound to catch a few.

Bank anglers often will still-fish with bait or perhaps cast and retrieve lures or flies. Boaters can use those tactics as well but also often turn to trolling lures or bait to catch the trout.

In this region, where the summers can be blazing, trout may be found at relatively shallow depths when the water temperature is still cool but are likely to move into deeper and cooler parts of the reservoir in hotter weather.

Overall, the cooler months will produce the best trout-fishing results. That’s also when trout planting occurs.

Since the lake water is often clear, except when windy, light tackle is necessary. These fish see big tackle and heavy line constantly due to the striper population. 

Try a 4-6-pound test and a light action rod. You’ll have a great time bringing in trout, regularly found from the pan-sized range up into the 2- to 3-pound class. There are some larger holdovers as well.

Garlic-scented PowerBait, considered by many bait-fishers as the gold standard, certainly works great here for bait fishing.

Nightcrawlers also do the job on trout and, for better or worse, are more likely to catch other types of fish.

A Kastmaster lure is a fantastic option here as well ­— try ¼ or 3/8 ounce in gold or other bright, shiny finish. The trout love them.

Here’s a productive approach: Cast out from the fishing pier and bring the Kastmaster in with a relatively slow retrieve or a stop-and-go method that lets the lure fall a foot or two before a quick retrieve for a few yards.

Rinse and repeat.

In fact, the very first fish caught in this lake was (allegedly) caught on a Kastmaster, as was the lake record rainbow of 16.42 pounds, fooled by a gold Kastmaster. 

In the cooler months, you’re going to have your best chance fishing the shallower coves. Once the water warms up, trout go deeper, so trolling becomes very productive (if you can get a boat rental).

Los Vaqueros Reservoir is so consistently good for trout fishing in the cooler months that it made our list of best rainbow trout fishing lakes in California.

If you’d like more information to improve your catches, read our simple trout fishing techniques and tips article.

There are kokanee listed on the reservoirs’ website, but this might not be a viable option unless they’ve been on the stocking program recently enough.

Largemouth Bass Fishing

Largemouth bass are one of the most sought-after fish in California and across the country, if not the top.

Los Vaqueros Reservoir gives you the opportunity to catch bass throughout the year, with spring through summer and into early fall the best for catch rates.

The reservoir holds bass ranging from toss-back size and the lake record of 12-pounds.

As this is a productive but relatively new lake, it seems reasonable that this is a bass fishery on the rise. There likely will be significantly bigger bass caught here as they have been at nearby San Pablo Reservoir, Lake Chabot and Del Valle Reservoir.

Break out your shad-colored X-Raps and search the usual bass holding spots.

There are great spots with cover in Cowboy Cove, Cox Cove, and the rocky shorelines around Peninsula Cove.

Several of the coves and shorelines are dotted with submerged trees left in place when the reservoir filled, providing excellent cover for bass and other gamefish, as well as the smaller fish they eat.

They cruise the shallows in the mornings, snatching up bait fish, so it’s a great time to hit them with crankbaits. 

There are excellent options for shore fishing for big largemouth bass as well.

The lake has some pretty outstanding rocky shoreline coverage that you can target from the bank. Remember to cast parallel to the shoreline to cover as much area as possible.

When the wind picks up, the water clarity drops pretty fast. Be sure to adjust your colors to match. 

On slow days try out Ned rigs or Texas-rigged plastics. Finesse can be key here when power fishing isn’t getting the job done.

While Los Vaqueros may not (yet?) rank among the very upper echelon of bass lakes in the region, we still have you covered in your quest with Best Largemouth Bass Fishing in Northern California.

More: Bass Fishing: Simple How-To Techniques and Tips

Catfish Fishing

Want a shot at a giant? The channel catfish record at Los Vaqueros is a 30.31 pounder caught by a…wait for it…seven-year-old. He ruined his entire fishing future with one epic catch. Nothing beats setting a lake record, but at seven?

Big cats are all around the lake, with frequent catches of 5- to 10-pounders. As a bonus, the clear and clean water in this reservoir makes these cats excellent table fare. 

Target channel catfish here like you wound most places, with anchovies, shrimp or piece of chicken liver being among the best bait choices.

Fish off the bottom and either let the bait sit or deploy a very slow retrieve. Cowboy Cove, Peninsula Cove and East Cove are always worth testing out if you have catfish in mind.

There are brown bullhead and white catfish in the lake as well, though white catfish aren’t found in big numbers, and smaller bullhead can be caught anywhere.

If targeting bullheads, just throw a worm out there, and you should find one and possibly other types of fish as well.

Pick up some more catfish fishing tackle and bait tips in our simple angling guide.

Find the best catfish fishing lakes and rivers in California.

Bluegill and Sunfish Fishing

Bluegill and redear fishing can be off and on at Los Vaqueros Reservoir.

Some days you can catch a full bucket, and other trips you won’t catch any.

For bluegill, try threading a mealworm on a smallish hook around the fishing pier.

Other sunfish hang around the shoreline and into the middle of the coves, including around sunken trees. 

Standard fishing techniques work for bluegill and sunfish, so keep at it, and you could have an epic day.

Crappie Fishing

There are white crappie in Los Vaqueros Reservoir that will bite the usual crappie baits and jigs if you can find them. 

Try searching the backs of coves for them, with particular attention spent on the south end near the marina.

These fish can be very hit-and-miss. If you find a school, keep at them, and you’ll fill your stringer. If not, keep moving until you do.

More resources: Crappie Fishing: Simple Techniques and Tips and Best Crappie Fishing Lakes in California.

Planning Your Trip

Los Vaqueros Reservoir has some incredible fishing, hiking and sightseeing options for you and your family to enjoy.

The lake is located a short drive north of Livermore and only roughly an hour to the east from Bay Area communities including Oakland, San Jose and San Francisco, so it’s an easy distance for a day trip.

Coming from the other direction, it’s also only about an hour’s drive from the Stockton area.

Boating and Shore Access

Boating access is extremely limited here. The marina rents boats, and once they’re out, you’re out of luck. Try to get to the lake early to take advantage of the boat rentals.

The marina is located at the South Gate entrance, closest to Livermore, and that end is where most anglers begin their trip due to both bank access and rental boats. Los Vaqueros Marina also sells fishing licenses.

Shore access is pretty good with fishing piers and lots of bank, so if you don’t get a boat, you’ll still be able to find fish.

Hiking around the western side of the lake will take you to some fantastic spots, including for trout and stripers. The eastern side is closed to foot access, so watch out for that.

Coming in to the northern entrance, closer to Brentwood, offers parking at the John Muir Interpretive Center but a fair good hike of a half-mile or more to get to bank fishing spots from the north gate.

Check current wind conditions and the forecast, as stiff gusts can quickly make boating nearly impossible and shore fishing fairly unpleasant.

Find details like fees and current operating hours at the Contra Costa Water District website.

Where to Stay

There are several campgrounds throughout the region that offer tent and RV camping, but note that there is no camping or overnight stays allowed at the lake itself.

If you’re coming from farther away, of course there are hotels readily available, with restaurants and every type of shopping you might need.

There are a few resorts in the area catering to wineries, so if you like wine with your fresh seafood, check them out.

Any convenience items you may have left at home are available closeby in Livermore or a bit farther heading north to Brentwood.

Fishing at Los Vaqueros Reservoir can be an incredible time with epic angling opportunities.

If you live in the Bay Area or out toward the valley and haven’t fished here yet, it’s time you do.

Find More Fishing Spots in Contra Costa County