Pardee Lake is a beautiful fishing destination within an hour or two from Sacramento and San Francisco.
Kokanee salmon, rainbow, and brown trout are all likely targets at this pristine reservoir, and bass anglers have their own lunkers to chase here as well.
Fantastic campgrounds and other recreational activities welcome those looking for a weekend getaway.
Often known as Pardee Reservoir and Lake Pardee, the manmade lake has more than 2,000 surface acres when full, which of course often isn’t the case in California.
It was created in 1929 with the construction of a dam across the Mokelumne River. Since then, it has been a popular landing spot for anglers. Trout and kokanee are always a draw here. They do well in the clear, cool water of Pardee.
If you’ve spent any time in the Mother Lode area, you’ll know there are some terrific fisheries of all types.
Cold water species tend to bring the most anglers here, as there are good numbers of stocked rainbow trout, holdover brown trout that can grow really big, and a healthy population of kokanee, which are a landlocked sockeye salmon.
Any one of these species would be a reason to visit a lake, and when you can find all three in catchable numbers from mid-fall through late spring, you’ll find all sorts of reasons to slip off and go fishing.
On top of that, when the trout fishing tends to slow heading into the warmer months, Pardee Lake can still really shine for bass, including monster largemouths and feisty smallmouths.
Speaking of warm months, Pardee also has some worthy catfish and panfish angling, though not as many people go after them as the trout, kokanee and bass.
This article will look at what Pardee Lake has to offer.
Check on local regulations before fishing, and always keep your arms and legs inside the boat. There’s no water contact allowed with the lake itself, but there are swimming pools for those who want to take a dip.
There are rainbow and brown trout in Pardee Lake. Browns aren’t as numerous but are largely a self-sustaining population and also can be literally quite large, while the rainbows are planted regularly.
The fishing fee you’ll pay goes to keeping the lake planted with harvestable-sized fish.
Rainbows get planted from mid-fall through late spring, which means fishing is good to excellent during that entire cooler season. Shore and boat anglers do well.
If you’re targeting trout from the bank, try out PowerBait, Kastmaster lures and inflated worms.
The area around Marina Cove is your best bet for getting into trout from the bank. Most of the trout are planted in this area, and access to the shoreline is readily available. Along the shore, try Rainbow Point, just south of Marina Cove.
The Narrows is a great place to try for some bigger trout. Shore access can be a bit difficult here, but boat access will give you the freedom to hit the big holes at the beginning and end of the Narrows.
Woodpile is a good spot to target while trolling—head from here to the buoy line and back. Be sure to pay extra attention to the intersection of the Channel Arm and the main lake, because lots of rainbows are caught in this area.
Earlier in the season, set your trolling depth at 10-20 feet. As the water warms, go deeper, often in the neighborhood of 40 feet in the summer heat.
More trout fishing: Best Rainbow Trout Fishing Lakes in California and Trout Fishing: How-To Techniques and Tips.
The brown trout in Pardee Lake often are caught by trollers searching for either kokanee or rainbows, as they’ll strike many of the same lures and baits.
Those who specifically target the bigger browns will often use lures that imitate smaller trout or other fish, as these are favorite meals of these large predators.
Also know that brown trout like to feed in low light and at night, so your odds improve if you fish when there’s no direct light on the water.
Remember that the browns aren’t stocked regularly, so most of the time the occasional brown you’ll catch was born and raised in the system.
To help keep these great game fish present, we suggest you snap a quick picture and release browns unharmed to fight another day. Keep those rainbows and kokanee (or catfish or panfish) for your next meal.
Find the absolute best spots to catch one of these huge trout in our Best Brown Trout Fishing in California.
Kokanee are planted during the spring at Pardee Lake and grow into keeper sizes at the lake.
Most years there are good numbers of 10- to 12-inch kokes waiting for your lure or bait, with bigger fish occasionally making an appearance, good enough to make an honorable mention on our Best Kokanee Fishing Lakes in California.
One of the most important things to keep in mind about Pardee Lake is the very clear water. That means using longer leaders, and some anglers attest to using a lead-core line instead of down-riggers for a stealthier approach to fishing deep.
In the cold water of February, as early kokanee anglers start to hit the water, kokanee are likely going to be just 10 to 15 feet below the surface. They drop deeper throughout the spring and often end up around 40 feet deep in the summer.
Be cautious while trolling due to the sunken islands and other snags around the lake. Those can be especially treacherous with down-riggers.
Go early in the morning and test out the areas around the Woodpile and Mel’s Cove.
Kokanee king rigs work great here, as do Needlefish and other standby kokanee lures.
Pink is the most popular color for many types of lures, although Kastmasters work well in silver and bronze colors.
Pick up lots more kokanee fishing tips and techniques in our simple guide.
Black Bass Fishing
Both largemouth and smallmouth bass call Pardee home. There’s a solid population of each, with some getting to a good size.
Fish in the 3- to 4-pound range are common. There also are some double-digit monster largemouths in there, but of course those are harder to come by.
There have been some lunkers caught here.
The rocky points on the south end hold both largies and smallies.
Water that has 20-foot visibility is a definite challenge when it comes to bass fishing. They just sit there and watch you try to catch them. If bucketmouths could stick out their tongues, these jerks would be doing it all day. Frustration is sure to ensue.
Snobby fish have weak points, and for these largies, it’s crawfish. Whether a finesse Ned rig with a Z-man craw or a Texas rigged live crawfish, you’re sure to get their attention. These feisty bass will smack a crawfish and put your line to the test.
It’s common to catch a fish right away here and then spend the next 8 hours searching for the next one. It’s almost like they send out a group text with your bait information and boat profile. They’re onto you.
Plastics and topwater lures are the go-to in the spring during the spawn. The rest of the year, bass are in 20-40 feet of water and will take some adjustments on your part to bring them to the net.
It’s a challenge many anglers are willing to take, and stealth approaches such as lower-visibility lines, longer casts and finesse tactics can make the difference between success and skunk.
Honestly, there are anglers who will spend their angling time on Pardee focusing on trout and kokanee and then head over to nearby Lake Amador when they want more cooperative bass.
Still, Pardee Lake puts out enough largemouths to get an “honorable mention” nod in our rundown of the Best Largemouth Bass Fishing Lakes in Northern California.
Thankfully, these aggressive guys are a little less wary than their largemouth cousins, though on average they don’t get as large.
That’s on average, though, and Pardee Lake has boasted the California state record smallmouth bass of 9 pounds, 13 ounces since 2007. (See California Game Fish Records.)
That record potential plus good numbers of more typical smallmouths (which are great fighters) means Pardee Lake ranks among the best smallmouth bass fishing lakes in California.
Smallmouths fall to plastics regularly, and there are plenty of the rocky spots to target them, as these fish definitely have a preference for hard structure.
Bring along your favorite craw-colored crankbaits, and either Texas or Carolina rigged Senkos in craw or pumpkin flake, and you’re bound to catch them. Unlike their snobby cousins.
The southern end of the lake has some great coves and rocky points that provide excellent coverage. The marina area is also worth trying out.
The average catch is between 1 and 2 pounds, with those bigger fish showing up occasionally.
Spend time on a boat casting parallel to the shoreline around rocky points, especially in the spring. Summer and fall find them in deeper waters, munching on crawfish and bluegill, so move off-shore a bit and down deeper to find them.
Catch More Bass
Want to land more largemouths? Snare more smallmouths? Try out some of the tactics and lures you’ll find in our Bass Fishing: Simple How-To Techniques and Tips.
Catfish and Panfish
Channel catfish are found in good numbers up the Channel Arm of Pardee Lake. Marina Cove also provides enough forage for them to hold in catchable numbers.
Stink baits work, as does cut mackerel, and chicken livers are often the best bet for catching a beast of a catfish. The scents these baits release draw in these fish, which rely heavily on their great senses of small.
There are some big ones to be found, with channel cats in the 15- to 20-pound range caught now and then, although keep in mind the larger fish are the breeders and catfish under 5 pounds (especially 1-3 pounds) are the best for eating.
If you’re targeting big cats here, be sure to prepare with a heavier line and a tougher, heavy-action rod. Unlike bass and trout, catfish aren’t line and tackle shy.
Mornings and evenings are the best times as catfish are low-light feeders. Night fishing isn’t allowed here.
Pick up more catfish fishing tips and check out the best catfish fishing spots in California.
Other fish you may come across are crappie, bluegill and other sunfish throughout the lake.
The catch rates for crappie and other panfish here are inconsistent compared to some of the best crappie lakes in California, with populations exploding one year and disappearing the next.
Planning Your Trip
Pardee Lake is located just a quick hour’s drive south of Sacramento and about 40 miles east of Stockton, in the same area as Lake Camanche and several other great fishing reservoirs.
This area, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada straddling the line between Amador and Calaveras counties, is covered in oak trees and tall grass, making it not only a great fishery but a beautiful place to camp.
Quiet mornings aren’t interrupted by the constant noise of jet skis and powerboats. Body contact sports including water skiing, personal watercraft, and even swimming aren’t allowed in this drinking water storage reservoir. Peace and quiet for fishing are the tradeoffs.
Spend some time on the hiking trails around the lake and watch the wildlife. Deer are everywhere, and a wide variety of birds can be found.
Boat and Shore Access
The Pardee Recreation Area offers a 10-lane boat ramp at the marina that provides easy access to launch. Be sure to stop by the inspection station before hitting the water.
The marina has the only ramp on the lake and also offers boat rentals if you don’t have your own watercraft or don’t want to worry about a boat inspection. Be sure to get there before they run out when renting boats.
Shore access is readily available. Trails around the lake will take you to almost any cove you want. Most can be accessed with a short hike on well-maintained trails.
Lodging and Camping
Pardee Lake has two campgrounds with over 100 sites to choose from. RV hookups are available, and the campgrounds have running water, showers, and laundry facilities near the marina.
There is a café at the marina, along with a small store for any last-minute necessities.
Lodging also can be found relatively close by in the surrounding towns, as can restaurants and markets.
Pardee Lake is a great spot to take your family. The swimming pools and other activities around the lake and across this region will be sure to entertain everybody.