Pine Flat Lake is a beautiful lake tucked away in the Sierras not far from Fresno and is considered one of California’s best bass fishing destinations.
Spotted bass are a big draw here, and we mean big: This is one of the lakes where the biggest Alabama spotted bass caught here topped 10 pounds and at the time was a world record that has since been eclipsed.
We won’t be completely surprised if a larger spot comes to the net at Pine Flat to reclaim that record.
But the fishing at Pine Flat Lake doesn’t revolve just around the spotted bass, as there are both Chinook and kokanee salmon, trout, catfish and the other two popular species of black bass found in California.
Keep in mind there are special regulations in the upper Kings River for trout. Native rainbow trout are in the area and are catch and release.
Check the current regulations before hitting the water as these wild rainbows occasionally drop downstream into the reservoir.
The lake itself is used for irrigation water and operating the power plant at the dam. This means the water levels can fluctuate wildly and may drop to extreme levels in the summer and fall. Keep that in mind when heading to the lake.
Pine Flat Lake has some of the best spotted bass fishing in the area. Largemouth and smallies are also found around the lake.
All of these bass can grow big, feeding on everything from shad and crawfish to rainbow trout and kokanee.
There are several reasons for the massive-sized spots found here.
One is the variety of habitats. Another is the amount of forage.
The bass here benefit from the regular planting of rainbow trout and kokanee salmon. There are threadfin shad, bluegill, and crawfish on the menu as well.
Whatever the reason, Pine Flat Lake is a definite go-to destination for big spotted bass. Add some hefty largemouth bass, and you have the makings of an epic fishing trip.
If you’ve always wanted to catch a big spotted bass, this is among the best places to do so.
In the late winter and early spring, kokanee move shallower, following warmer water to feed. This action brings the spots along right behind them. Kokanee aren’t just revered by anglers; bass love them.
When starting out at the lake, head up the Kings River Arm and go to the Big Creek Inlet. Toss some crawfish-imitating plastics and wacky-rigged Senkos. That former record 10-pounder that was caught here was on a wacky-rigged worm.
Check out Sycamore Creek Inlet and the smaller coves around the area. These coves can hold some beasts.
There are areas throughout the lake to try and, depending on water levels, rediscover again and again. Bass do love the right cover, and Pine Flat Lake has it everywhere.
You probably won’t be surprised to find Pine Flat Lake in our rundown of the Best Spotted Bass Fishing Lakes in California. (Click the link to find the others.)
While the world looks at Pine Flat Lake as a premier spotted bass fishery, people in the know look at it as a producer of giant largemouth bass.
Though Pine Flat might not produce the next California record for largemouth, this species does run a fair bit bigger than spots on average, so double-digit largies are more likely.
If you’re fishing from a boat, a good plan is to launch at the Trimmer Recreation Area and head for the Kings River area.
The Sycamore and Big Creek inlets are perfect spots to start your day. Hit them early and work top waters. Once the sun warms everything up, switch up to some shallow diving crankbaits, then follow them deeper with Senkos.
Use the same patterns in the many little inlets and coves throughout the Kings River.
Don’t overlook the cove at Lefever Creek or Zebe Creek. Locals are known to favor to the Windy Gap area.
Shore fishing is difficult to come by around most of the lake, but you can gain access in Deer Creek Cove and south of Deer Creek Recreation Area. There are a few good spots by the inlet at Billy Creek, which is just south of Trimmer.
Looking for largemouth bass? Try our double dose of bucketmouth bonanzas in Best Largemouth Bass Fishing Lakes in Northern California and Best Largemouth Bass Fishing Lakes in Southern California.
Smallmouth bass might be like the third wheel of bass here, yet they do fairly well in Pine Flat Lake. There are plenty of rocky points and structure for them to hide out and eat crawfish and baitfish.
As with the spots and bucket mouths, head up the Kings River area and target the Sycamore Inlet. Deer Creek Cove is another good spot to target smallies. They group up a bit in cooler temps around the points here.
Chase them down with crankbaits that imitate crawfish or various baitfish. Dropshotting plastics work great in the summer heat as well.
Cooler months find them in deep water, and plan on going even deeper than you’d think until you find where they are holding.
With the water level fluctuations at Pine Flat, you may have to adjust your approach each time you visit. The area you fished last week might be 10 feet out of the water this week and twenty feet under the next.
It’s hard to judge, so check current conditions before heading out.
While Pine Flat can yield some decent smallmouth at times, you might be interested in the Best Smallmouth Bass Fishing Lakes and Rivers in California.
Catch More Bass
Looking to level up on freshwater bass? Our Bass Fishing: Simple How-To Techniques and Tips is a good place to start.
More northerly big reservoirs like Shasta Lake and Trinity Lake are better known (and often more reliable) for landlocked Chinook salmon, but the California Department of Fish and Wildlife has at times dropped a truckload or so of young Chinook salmon into Pine Flat, where they grow into chunky kings.
When the freshwater kings are present, you’ll likely catch them on occasion while fishing for kokanee or trout, especially on trolled lures.
Some anglers who target landlocked Chinook on purpose will use larger wobbling plugs and other lures that imitate smaller fish, which are a staple of the kings’ diet, even in freshwater.
We have plenty more about this type of angling in our Best Landlocked Chinook Salmon Fishing in California.
Of course, the more common landlocked salmon in California is the kokanee, which is a purely freshwater form of a sockeye salmon.
The kokanee season starts early at Pine Flat Lake.
They move into shallower waters in the cool months, making them an easy target for anybody in a boat that can get lures and bait down 15 to 25 feet and troll with Needlefish. As is often the case with kokes, pink seems to do the trick.
Kokanee are cold-loving fish and are likely to be twice that deep when the heat of summer arrives.
Kokanee are planted in decent numbers, though the catch rate is anything but predictable.
One year can be excellent and perhaps rival some of the best kokanee fishing lakes in California. But the next year frankly can be terrible, with lots of very content, fat bass swimming around. Keep an eye on the fishing reports and hit the lake when the getting is good.
Trolling is your best bet. Use your fishfinder in the Windy Gap and the main lake to locate schools, then keep at it till you find what interests them.
One benefit to this approach is that you’re likely to bring in some decent rainbows. There may be a few kings in the mix as well some years.
Learn how to catch more kokes with Kokanee Fishing: Simple Tips and Techniques.
Rainbow trout are planted regularly in Pine Flat Lake.
Trout grow pretty quick, feeding on the abundant baitfish and other forage found throughout the water column, but also meet a significant amount of pressure from the bass and anglers searching for them.
Rainbows here love PowerBait, salmon eggs and nightcrawlers. That sounds like the usual dinner course for rainbows everywhere. Add to that Rapalas and Kastmasters, and you’ve got them pretty well figured out.
The area where the incoming river water transitions to the slower lake water is the best bet after a stocking event. You can limit up fast.
Trolling can be great in cool weather on the main lake but slow in the summer months. You might have to drop well down into the cooler water to find them.
Some sources also cite the presence of brown trout, but we’d expect most of your trout catches here to be rainbows.
Catfish and Panfish
Catfish, crappie and bluegill are found in fair to good numbers throughout the lake, though they aren’t generally the main reason for a visit. If you want to target these guys, here are some tips.
Go in the evening. Once the sun sets and you hook into a 15-pound channel catfish, you’ll be glad you made the trip.
The river arm is an excellent place to start, with focus paid on the shallower coves. Use nightcrawlers and mackerel cut baits.
Crappie are dispersed throughout Pine Flat Lake but most often in cover.
Anywhere you can find submerged bushes or branches, toss a wax worm or a crappie jig, and you might be in luck.
Crappie are hit and miss here, but if you find them, they can be fun.
Bluegill are prevalent anywhere there is cover and especially a bit of shade to duck under.
The docks at the marinas hold good numbers, so get the kids involved there.
A piece of nightcrawler or a whole wax worm threaded onto a small hook will almost always do the trick. You can catch a bucket full in no time if the bite is on.
Planning Your Trip
Pine Flat Lake is about 45 minutes east of Fresno in the foothills of the Sierras.
The area is covered in pine and oak trees, with plenty of wildlife to watch.
Fishing, swimming, water recreation and hiking are all available to keep everyone in the family entertained.
Boat and Shore Access
There are two marinas at the lake and several additional boat launches, so getting out on the water shouldn’t be an issue unless the lake is too low. Check water levels and ramp conditions before you head out, especially later in the season.
The Lakeview and Trimmer recreation areas have decent shore access to fish. However, the lake overall doesn’t have much shore access without a strenuous hike involved.
Most of the public access is along the north side of the reservoir, especially along Trimmer Springs Road.
Lodging and Camping
There are several campgrounds scattered around the area, with many of them having boat ramps. RV parking is available, so be sure to reserve in advance.
There are restaurants and hotels in the area if you don’t want to camp, though they aren’t lakeside. Expect a bit of a drive.
Pine Flat Lake is a bit of an enigma. One year it can have the best bass fishing around. The next, it can have fantastic kokanee and trout fishing. It seldom has both, but it’s certainly worthy of keeping an eye on … and often a line in.