Lake Nacimiento offers one of the more unique freshwater fishing experiences not available in other lakes in California.
Namely, if you’ve ever wanted to try your luck at catching white bass on the West Coast, this is the place.
Tucked away in the foothills of San Luis Obispo County, Lake Nacimiento, or Naci, has something for everyone. Beautiful scenery meets excellent fishing at this popular destination.
Weekends fill up quickly here, so be sure to plan ahead, or better yet, come on a weekday.
More common game fish species including largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass are in the reservoir, as are catfish, crappie and bluegill.
White bass, which are a Midwest native, are found in good numbers in the lake. Keep in mind the special regulations for white bass. They must either be released or immediately killed.
Unlike many California reservoirs, the lake is not currently stocked with rainbow trout but offers a variety of great fishing.
White Bass Fishing
White bass may be common elsewhere in the country, but they aren’t so readily available to California anglers.
Lake Nacimiento is the only lake in the state with a solid population of these aggressive little eating machines.
They will remind some people of big crappie, with their white coloring, aggressive feeding habits on small lures, and at times impressive numbers.
White bass can overtake other species with their eating habits pretty quickly in some waters, but they are usually kept in check by anglers, larger bass and other predators.
These feisty fish are easily caught on white tube jigs, small 2- to 3-inch white swimbaits and Kastmasters.
Target Naci’s main channel from fall through late spring. They often can be found right at the surface with cooler water temperatures and can provide fast action.
White bass are perfect for introducing young anglers to the sport. Once you find a school and the proper lure, you’ll be catching them nonstop.
Focus your energy on the area between Bee Rock to Los Tablas, which can be fairly thick with them.
In the heat of the summer, they typically to go deeper but are still relatively easy to catch, if you can find them down there, that is.
The springtime will find white bass migrating to Nacimiento River. Spawning white bass are particularly fun to catch on a fly rod.
One of the best things about white bass is that they will bite anything that even remotely looks like a baitfish.
Catch More White Bass
Read our complete guide to white bass fishing techniques and tips, written by one of our contributors who grew up fishing for these game fish in their native range.
Black Bass Fishing
Largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass are all present in Lake Nacimiento, but their relative numbers have changed over the years.
These closely related species of bass are the main fishing draw, other than those coming for the novelty of catching white bass. While you might not always catch giant bass, you’re sure to catch a bunch of them, and perhaps a few to good size.
Historically, Lake Nacimiento was known as a top-tier California fishery for largemouths and smallmouths. Not that it still doesn’t produce, especially largemouths, as the lake remains a prime destination and hosts multiple bass tournaments every year.
After the introduction of spotted bass, fishing for the smallies as well as largemouth have at times taken a backseat. Spots are often the most commonly caught black bass.
The lake has some fantastic habitat for spots and largemouth bass throughout its length, and with over 165 miles of shoreline, that’s a lot of ground to cover.
Spots are the most prevalent black bass in Lake Nacimiento. You can catch them along the rocky shoreline throughout the lake and up in the coves where creeks enter the lake.
In the colder months, they are holding a little deeper.
Check your fish finder, and once you find the proper depth, try coaxing them into action with a Z-Man Slim Swim. These tiny baits do the trick at Naci and can lead you to a 50-fish day.
Most of those dozens of bass will be on the smaller side, but if you’re out for numbers, this is the place to go.
Spots will hold in 15 to 25 feet of water in the summertime, sticking close up to the rocks around the shore. They sit there and munch on the crawfish in the lake, along with the shad.
Mimicking the baitfish can be a great way to land a few, once you home in to target the proper depths.
The lake depth fluctuates so much that it can cause previously epic spots to be high and dry, so be flexible as you search for the current holding water.
We include Lake Nacimiento among our list of best spotted bass lakes in California.
Largemouth can be a bit tricky here. Spotted bass have really taken hold.
Search for any submerged wood or trees, and you’ll still have a good chance of finding largemouth bass at Nacimiento.
Make your way into the coves and target submerged vegetation. If the weed beds are under enough water, you can usually coax a largemouth out of them. They make a great place to focus.
The smaller coves and canyons along the lake can be productive for largies. Going a little deeper along the rocks gives you the opportunity to snag a smallie or two as well, but relatively small numbers of smallmouths here make this fish more of an incidental catch than a target species for most.
Largemouth and smallmouth bass aren’t as readily available here as they once were, but there are plenty of spots and white bass to keep you entertained for days.
Catch More Bass
Also, raise your odds of catching more with Bass Fishing: Simple How-To Techniques and Tips.
Channel Catfish Fishing
Lake Nacimiento has some prime areas for catfish to grow fat. The channel cats here are feisty and can get pretty big.
The lake has produced cats in the 20-pound range, so there should be some bigger fish hiding in there.
Channel catfish love stink baits. Throw a chunk of chicken liver or a stinkbait ball out in the shallower coves, and you’re sure to have fast action. Evenings and pre-sunup are the best times.
Try the same areas in colder months, just targeting a bit deeper.
The off-season action may not be as fast as in the spring through fall, but you’ll also have far less pressure from other anglers and power boaters.
Catch More Catfish
Fine the Best Catfish Fishing Lakes and Rivers in California, and then catch more of them with Catfish Fishing: Simple How-To Techniques and Tips.
Crappie have done very well at Lake Nacimiento, which has excellent holding water for them. Any submerged cover is likely to hold a few.
These little guys can be a lot of fun on light tackle.
As far as crappie fishing techniques go, use crappie jigs and anything that resembles the local minnows.
Try the areas around Las Tablas, Snake Creek, Dip Creek and Cantinas Creek. Keep working cover and varying depths until you find a school or two of them.
What are the Best Crappie Fishing Lakes in California?
Bluegill are everywhere in Lake Nacimiento.
One of the easiest ways to catch bluegill is with a mealworm or piece of nightcrawler on a smallish hook.
Drop your bait off the side while targeting bass, and have your kids watch the rod. They will catch a bucket full while you catch spotted bass.
There isn’t a need to focus your search for bluegill due to their pervasiveness in the lake. Whether you’re targeting crappie, bass, or cats, you can find bluegill right there among them.
Planning Your Trip
Lake Nacimiento, located in northern San Luis Obispo County, is often referred to as Dragon Lake due to its shape.
As mentioned, this place might be a bit out of the way, but it’s no secret. The lake fills up quickly with boats on warm weekends and holidays, so plan accordingly.
The reservoir near Paso Robles will take more than three hours to reach from either Los Angeles or San Francisco, and a couple hours from Fresno or Bakersfield.
It can be a day trip with a bit of driving, or plan to stick around a few days.
There is a lot to do in the area, from water sports to winery tours. A stop at Hearst Castle toward the coastline might be of interest, though if tourist stops aren’t for you, the fishing at Lake Nacimiento isn’t bad either.
Lake San Antonio offers bass, catfish, and panfish fishing in a bit quieter setting just north of Lake Nacimiento, doubling up your freshwater fishing options if you have the time.
Boat and Shore Access
The lake is huge, with over 165 miles of shoreline, so there’s plenty of shore access to explore, but boating is the real draw here.
Lake Nacimiento Resort has a marina, multi-lane ramps and plenty of boat slips and boat rentals available to get you out on the water.
You’ll also find a general store, restaurant and overnight stays ranging from campsites to a lodge. You can pick up snacks and bait you might need there as well.
Shore access is possible, though difficult. The lake is 18 miles long but mostly down a steep, rocky embankment.
The best areas to target would be near the marinas on the east end or by hiking in along one of the trails into some of the coves around the lake.
Lodging and Camping
There are campgrounds located at and near the lake, with accommodations for RVs and tents. Yurts, cabins, cottages, and hotel-style rooms are available nearby, and there are always private rental properties from which to choose.
This lake gets more boat use than most, so try to visit during the week.
There is something for everyone at Lake Nacimiento, so bring the family along for a vacation.