Lake Perris Fishing: Catch Huge Bass, Trout & Panfish

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Lake Perris is a definite go-to Southern California reservoir that’s packed with trophy-sized bass.

Fishing at Lake Perris also offers seasonably good fishing for trout, catfish, crappie, and even giant bluegill and carp.

Popular for outdoor recreation of all stripes, the lake tends to fill up with people quickly during the summer. 

Located in the Lake Perris State Recreation Area just southeast of Riverside, Lake Perris is surrounded by the Bernasconi Hills and nearby mountains. The beautiful scenery can quickly make you forget all the nearby cities. 

Wildlife watching is popular here, with all sorts of deer and other animals wandering the hills and lakeshore. The rocky terrain makes for beautiful viewing and is popular with equestrians.

Fishing here can be epic at this reservoir, also known as Perris Reservoir or Perris Lake.

Trophy largemouth bass often get top billing, as they’ve been caught weighing in at 17 pounds plus.

While the lake used to boast an excellent Alabama spotted bass fishery, the largemouths have really taken over.

Rainbow trout are planted in healthy numbers in the spring and fall, with the best time of year to target them from November through April. 

Access to the lake is easy, with around 10 miles of available shoreline when the lake is full.

There is a reef made of old tires along and an island that provides excellent rocky habitat for fish.

Fish habitat has been installed throughout the years, including citrus tree branches in fairly recent years to add habitat where needed to help combat structures left inaccessible to fish during lower water levels.

There typically are a marina and a bait shop, although at the time this article is being published it is being rebuilt. Definitely check ahead to see what services and supplies are available before heading to the lake.

The dam was being worked on for several years, causing the water levels to be lower than usual. The repairs have been completed, but it definitely might be well below full much of the time, depending on drought and related conditions.

Bass Fishing at Lake Perris

Every lake that has a largemouth bass in it will claim it has the best bass fishing in the state. At lake Perris, this is at least a viable argument.

There are so many great structures and flats that hold big fish that you could spend a week or more exploring them all. 

Big bass are all over the lake; you just need to take your time finding them. Excellent fishing can be found throughout the reservoir, though certain spots tend to be more productive. 

Stripers can occasionally be found in the lake, most commonly by the water intake area on the southern corner, but striped bass aren’t the main draw here. Largemouth bass are the prime target for bass anglers. (Find better striped bass lakes.)

Keep in mind that there is a 12-inch minimum size for bass.

Largemouth Bass

If a giant largemouth is your goal, you might want to give Lake Perris a try.

Overall the reservoir has a healthy population of largemouth bass, including some of the biggest bass in Southern California.

The lake record is 17 pounds, 6 ounces. That’s about the same as reeling in a couple of gallon cans of paint if that paint were angry and thrashing around. 

One of the best areas around the lake is along with the rock structure on Lake Perris’ long dam.

Try casting at an angle along the rock line. Use some darker colored soft baits in green/watermelon flake or crawfish imitations.

You can fish with actual crawdads, but live baits must be purchased at the onsite bait shop so invasive species aren’t introduced. Bass tear those crayfish up, so it could be worth the money to try.

Another area to focus your attention on is Sail Cove at the northwestern end of the dam. The entire cove can produce good numbers, though sometimes the bigger fish are hard to find here.

The east end of the lake overall is a pretty good spot for giant bucketmouths. Targeting them from mid-winter through the beginning of June in this area can be very successful.

Once the summer heat hits, the fishing drops off, and the powerboat squadron tends to sort of take over this part of the lake. Be aware of the lake speed zones. 

Around Alessandro Island, you’ll find an excellent structure for bass. You might find the next lake record there.

If the bite is slow in this area, try moving from Bernasconi Beach up through the reef area and into the northeastern flats. Don’t be surprised if you bring in a channel cat or two while fishing in the flats.

We’ve rated Lake Perris among the best largemouth bass fishing lakes in Southern California.

Spotted Bass

Lake Perris used to be the best spotted bass fishing hole in the world, but now they are few and far between, and they may even have vanished altogether.

The lake record is 9 pounds, 4.5 ounces caught in 1987. The lake produced previous state record and world record spotted bass at that time, but those days are gone. (Some anglers mistake spotted bass for smallmouth bass.)

The largemouth have definitely taken over here. There are bound to be a few spotted bass here and there, but not in big numbers or sizes like they once were.

Florida strain bluegill were introduced several years ago. They had an almost immediate negative impact on the spotted bass in the lake.

Spotted bass spawn in deeper water than largemouth, but the Florida bluegill spawns shortly after spotted bass at the same depths. They show up as the spotted bass fry start moving around and snatch them all up.

These days, the best spotted bass fishing lakes are in central and northern California.

How to Catch Bass

Read our simple fishing techniques and tips for catching bass.

Trout Fishing at Lake Perris

Anglers sitting in chairs next to a car while shore fishing for trout and other species at Lake Perris in Southern California.
Photo by Jeffrey Walters

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife plants rainbow trout in the lake every spring and fall. The lake record is just over 7 pounds, so they can be caught to decent sizes here.

The standard trout fishing methods should work well here.

This being trout fishing in Southern California, focus on the cooler months, starting in October or November until about April, including through the winter months. 

Trout like cool water, so it makes sense to target the deeper portions of the lake to catch them, especially when it’s warmer outside. Cold-weather trout may move to the surface.

Some of the more popular places are along the dam on the west side, then trolling back and forth through the area, moving farther out into the lake with each turn.

Once you find the fish on your electronics, or by getting strikes, you can have a spectacular time. 

From the shore, you can do well with PowerBait or other baits chucked out as far as possible.

Try the Sail Cove and along the dam. Be careful walking out on the rocks; they can be way more hazardous than you’d think.

Trout, like bass and other game fish, also feed on the threadfin shad at Lake Perris, so lures that imitate these small fish or actual live thread fin shad purchased at the lake can work well, if live bait is available.

Early morning in Sail Cove can be perfect with a fly rod. Use the typical streamers or dry flies, and you can bring a few to the net.

Into rainbow trout? We have an article with the best rainbow trout lakes in California.

Lake Perris Catfish

Channel catfish are found in several parts of the lake. They have been planted at Perris in the past and have really taken hold.

Fish in the 6- to 8-pound range are fairly common, with bigger ones in there. Channel cats in the 25- to 30-pound range have been caught in the last few years.

Start your day at the southwestern corner of the dam and around the tower. Use cut baits, live baits and nightcrawlers.

There are a lot of catfish in here, so you’re bound to get a few. Depending on your bait choice, and with a fair bit of luck, you might even get a surprise striper in this southwest area that arrive through the aqueduct.

Sail Cove up through parking lots 11 and 12 are pretty great areas to target catfish. They might hold around the sandy beach areas here, preparing for the spawn. Some get pretty big, so come prepared.

The shallower east side is always worth targeting, with the primary focus up by the flats. It’s not unheard of to land a 20-pounder out of the flats.

Learn more about the best catfish fishing baits and techniques.

Also, we’ll help you find all the best catfish fishing lakes and rivers in California.

Carp Fishing at Lake Perris

Carp fishing has become more popular over the last few years.

That makes sense because common carp are big fish that can put on a great fight.

Lake Perris has its fair share of carp running through the weeds and flats on the eastern side. The marina and dock areas also have some great cover for carp. 

Some of the more recent reports from the lake show people catching 15-pound or larger carp pretty regularly. Anglers catching multiple giant carp is pretty common.

If you want a challenge, go after them in the morning with a fly rod.

Use a 6 or 7 weight, so it doesn’t get destroyed by the giant submarines you’re targeting. One carp on a fly, and you’ll be hooked.

Lake Perris Crappie

Crappie might take some time to figure out here. They get big but can be finicky because of the huge numbers of shad they have constant access to.

Massive black crappie have been known to congregate by the marina and launch ramps in the spring, for the spawn.

When the lake water level is down, when crappie move throughout the entire lake, the areas along the dam and the island are places you might find them.

Try trolling with small crankbaits or toss in crappie jigs with live shad. You’ll be surprised at the fight these slabs have. 

Once you find them, use a smaller trout hook and toss some live shad at them. Using light tackle can make the fight pretty exciting.

When the crappie are on the upswing, Lake Perris can rank among the best crappie fishing lakes in California.

More: Crappie Fishing: Simple Techniques and Tips to Catch More

Bluegill and Other Sunfish

Forget your tiny park bluegill.

Lake Perris is big bluegill water, thanks in large part to the Florida-strain bluegill that live here.

Bluegill here get into the 2- to 3-pound range fairly regularly, and they can show up in large numbers. That’s a lot of tasty fillets.

The weed beds on the eastside have a bunch of bluegill, but if you’re looking for more ease of access, try the fishing pier and near the marina.

Bluegill bite best on small natural baits.

Use crickets, meal worms or small earth worms and redworms for bluegill and you’re almost certain to catch a bucket full.

Artificial flies, poppers and other small lures also will catch them.

Bluegill are especially fun to target with little anglers. In fact, new and veteran anglers of any age will love catching several fish fast. And bluegill are surprisingly strong fighters.

Other sunfish found in the lake can be caught using the same techniques as the bluegill, including some nice redear sunfish (also known as shellcrackers) and smaller green sunfish.

The marina and fishing pier are great spots to target the red-ear sunfish.

More: How to Catch Bluegill and Sunfish

Planning Your Trip

Lake Perris is close to several major metropolitan areas, so it can get pretty crowded in warmer weather. Keep this in mind when planning your trip.

Lake Perris is in western Riverside County, right next to Moreno Valley and the City of Perris.

The lake is less than two hours traveling east from Los Angeles or north of San Diego with reasonable traffic. Lake Perris Drive passes the fairgrounds and speedway on your way to the state park on Via Del Lago.

Other reservoirs in the general vicinity include Diamond Valley Lake, Lake Elsinore and Lake Skinner.

Any conveniences you could think of are available within a short distance of the Lake Perris State Recreation Area (SRA).

Be sure to plan ahead for camping and RV park access. The grounds tend to fill up early.

Boat and Shore Access

The marina at Lake Perris State Park with rental fishing boats and private watercraft mooring along docks.
Photo by Jeffrey Walters

The marina at Lake Perris has great launching facilities for your own watercraft.

Check locally for the availability of boat rentals at the time of your trip and other services, including boat slips and the bait shop, which had been limited due to reconstruction but should be open soon, if they aren’t already by the time you read this.

The lake is the centerpiece of a state park and has several “no-wake zones” that are watched closely by the State Parks police and game wardens. 

Small hand-launch boats and kayaks can be launched in Sail Cove.

You can also launch from Bernasconi Beach, but keep in mind this area isn’t actively watched. The parking lot has experienced quite a few break-ins.

Also note that all watercraft to be launched at Lake Perris must be inspected for quagga mussels and zebra mussels, invasive and destructive freshwater shellfish species that have gotten a foothold in several California waterways.

Even float tubes and waders must be inspected.

Shore access is plentiful, with most of the 10 miles of shoreline being accessible to walk-in anglers. There also is a bike trail at the lake.

There is an entrance fee for day use, as well as for boat launching and other services such as camping.

Where to Stay

There are several hotels and restaurants nearby for those staying a while but who don’t want to rough it.

If you’d prefer camping, there are several campground options for you at the lake. RV hookups are available as well. Booking early is always recommended. 

Convenience stores and larger shopping opportunities are all around the area, so if you forget something, you can find it close.

Lake Perris is a great place to bring the family for some fishing, waterskiing, paddleboarding, or just to hang out and camp.

Find More Fishing Spots in Riverside County