Fishing at Lower Otay Lake: Catch BIG Bass & Catfish

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Out near Chula Vista, just southeast of San Diego, Lower Otay Lake is a top bass fishing spot as well as one of the best spots in California to hook an absolute monster catfish.

Bass fishing tournaments are held regularly on Lower Otay Lake, and the catfish, crappie and bluegill are quite likely to be biting for most of the year as well.

Otay Lakes County Park is a great place to bring the family, both for fishing and a variety of other outdoor fun.

Know as you plan your next fishing trip that the lake is only open a few days each week, but when it is, you’ll have plenty of room to fish in its 1,100 surface acres (when full).

You might even catch a glimpse of the U.S. Olympic Rowing Team, which practices on the lake, also known as Lower Otay Reservoir.

You don’t need Olympics-caliber skills to have a successful day fishing here. We’ll give you some pointers to help you reach the finish line.

Bass Fishing

Lower Otay Lake has been planted with Florida-strain largemouth bass, which regularly reach 10 pounds or more even with all the tournaments here.

The reason Lower Otay produces such big bass is a combination of lots of cover, lots of food, and long growing seasons just north of the Mexico border.

Lower Otay Lake ranks among the best largemouth bass fishing lakes in Southern California.

That doesn’t mean it will be easy.

Because the lake is heavily pressured, you might find success using a unique way of presenting your lure to the bass, because they’ve seen just about everything.

That might be a certain color, changing up the speed of your return, or pulling out a different lure. In other words, mix it up.

When fishing in the calm mornings try a topwater such as a popper, buzzbait or frog.

As the wind and temperature rise, try a spinnerbait, Senko, jig or vibrating jig.

As the day wears on, you might need to switch to finesse soft plastic rigs such as a weightless wacky rig or a Texas-rigged creature bait, and maybe move into deeper water as bass tend to retreat in the bright light of mid-day.

The evenings sometimes offer a chance to circle back to topwater fishing.

Your best chance of finding bass will be to find cover, because bass are ambush predators.

Cover could mean any number of things from the tules along the edge of the lake, brush piles, rock piles or trees in the water.

Bass will relate to different types of cover depending on the time of day and time of year. 

Anglers are allowed to harvest a handful of bass here as long as they are minimum size, at last check, but many bass anglers practice catch and release, especially for larger fish.

Be sure to read the regulations before fishing.

Learn more: Bass Fishing: Simple How-To Techniques and Tips

Catfish Fishing

Lower Otay Lake is also renowned for its spectacular catfish fishing.

How could this place not be famous when blue catfish here might hit 100 pounds. Not only that, channel catfish can grow to nearly 50 pounds in Lower Otay Lake.

With numbers like that, it’s clear why Lower Otay Lake is on our run-down of Best Catfish Fishing Lakes and Rivers in California.

Every once in a while, bass anglers will catch a giant blue catfish while bass fishing, as one of the big cats decides a lure is a worthy meal

If you are deliberately trying to catch one of these gigantic fish, you will need heavy-duty gear and a bit of luck. A big rod and reel, strong fishing line, and a strong hook will give you the best chance at landing a giant catfish if you manage to hook one. 

The best place to start with catfish is with excellent bait. Live or cut fish or prawns and raw chicken or chicken livers are generally good bets for catfish. Nightcrawlers and crawfish will also work. 

Drop your bait along a steep depth change or into a channel. Catfish use channels as a “fish highway” to move from one part of the lake to another, so they might sniff out your bait while passing by.

Learn more about how to catch catfish with our simple fishing techniques and tips (including good bait choices).

Crappie Fishing

While even larger crappie rarely grow over a few pounds, they make a delicious fish fry. It’s possible to catch both black crappie and white crappie.

Crappie have a very light bite, so ultralight tackle is recommended for the best results. 

Use a small jig around brush piles at varying depths, depending on the time of day and year.

Springtimes usually sees crappie moving into shallow water around cover to spawn, while at other times they are usually a bit deeper (or at times a lot deeper).

Crappie are a schooling fish, so if you catch one, you are likely to catch more. 

You can keep 25 crappie and bluegill combined.

There is no length limit on these panfish; however, releasing the few huge crappie you might catch and keeping the 9- to 13-inch fish is the best practice to help maintain an abundant population.

More: Crappie Fishing: Simple How-To Techniques and Tips and Best Crappie Fishing Lakes in California.

Bluegill Fishing

Bluegill are excellent table fare if they are large enough to bother cleaning.

Catching bluegill is one of the best ways to introduce someone to fishing, especially kids.

The non-stop action of bluegill biting a baited hook is bound to keep any angler’s attention, and they are surprisingly strong fighters for their size.

Bluegill are often found close to shore and near cover, such as near aquatic plants and under docks.

At times these fish will move a little deeper (especially the larger ones), so don’t be afraid to try fishing down into the water column a little ways if they aren’t biting, or if you want to try to hook some bigger “bulls.”

Ultralight tackle, a bobber, small hook and red worm or piece of nightcrawler or similar bait will give you the best chance of catching bluegill by the boatload.

Pick up some more bluegill and sunfish fishing tips and techniques here.

Trout Fishing

In the past, there have been years that Lower Otay Lake has been stocked with trout.

If they are stocked, it would most likely happen between November and March, when the water here is at its coldest and most agreeable to trout.

You’d want to use these proven trout fishing techniques and tips to catch them.

At this writing, however, records indicate it has been quite a few years since this lake was last planted, but there are a good number of other fishing lakes in San Diego County and elsewhere in Southern California where you still can catch trout.

Upper Otay Lake

Up at the top of Lower Otay Lake you’ll find Upper Otay Lake.

Some consider Upper Otay Lake more of a pond because of its small size.

The upper lake has been used for raising Florida-strain largemouth bass, which can still be found here along with a smattering of other species.

However, unlike Lower Otay Lake, this little upper lake is not one of the region’s major fishing destinations.

You also should know that all fishing in Upper Otay is catch and release only and has other regulations in place.

Planning Your Trip

Lower Otay Lake is only about a half hour’s drive from Downtown San Diego.

Otay Lakes County Park has a playground, picnic tables, hiking trails and reservable areas for special events.

Bring your family for a picnic and a day of enjoying nature for the day, even for those who don’t want to catch lots of fish.

Swimming, camping, and paddling boarding are NOT allowed at the lake. You can bring your dog on a leash, but it cannot ride on a boat or enter the water.

Visit the Otay Lakes County Park website and City of San Diego Lower Otay Reservoir website for more details, including updates.

Bank and Boat Access

Fishing from the bank is possible if you can find a hole in the thick tules. Fishing from a boat is often the best option.

There is a boat ramp open to the public with a launch fee, or you can rent a boat for a few hours or the entire day. Using a float tube also is permitted.

As with most reservoirs used for water storage, water levels can fluctuate widely. Heavy rains can also muddy the water, which can impact fish that feed more by sight like bass and crappie.

The lake is open year-round but only on certain days of the week; at last check, visitors were allowed on weekends and most Wednesdays, but be sure to check before packing up and heading out to Lower Otay Lake.