Puddingstone Lake is a quick drive for millions of people in Southern California, yet for a few months each year it offers some of the same types of trout fishing you’d expect from far-away Northern California.
For a quick escape from the everyday hustle and bustle of life around Los Angeles, break out the light spin tackle or even a fly rod for your shot at rainbow trout, which are stocked at Puddingstone each winter.
The fishing doesn’t end when the weather gets too hot for trout, as Puddingstone Lake also can have good fishing for a range of gamefish including catfish, largemouth bass and panfish.
Nestled just south of the Angeles National Forest in Los Angeles County, Puddingstone Lake (also commonly known as Puddingstone Reservoir) offers more than just excellent fishing. It may be a suburban lake, but the backdrop of the mountains is an incredible sight.
As a result of the reservoir’s location and the large county park around it, locals and even vacationers flock here. Weekends are the most congested, especially in warmer weather.
However, with 250 acres at full pool, there is ample room for everyone to spread out, especially from fall through spring when the fishing is better than the water skiing.
It might seem unfathomable that a lake in the most densely populated region of Southern California would have a robust rainbow trout fishery.
But for a part of the year, there is a decent trout opportunity here, though to be honest we don’t rank Puddingstone Lake among the best rainbow trout fishing lakes in California.
In this climate, though, trout fishing is a decidedly seasonal pursuit, and trout are only stocked during the winter months when the waters are cool enough.
The most common way to catch freshly stocked trout is by still-fishing with bait. Nightcrawlers, salmon eggs and artificial baits such as PowerBait are all popular because they work.
For more active angling, try casting spinners or spoons or trolling small lures.
Even fly anglers can get their fix without needing to escape to a faraway mountain stream, as hatchery trout still have the instinct to feed on flying and swimming insects.
In the cool weather of winter, fishing near the surface can be effective with bait or artificial flies and lures. They should be within casting range for bank fishing.
If conditions allow, trout will naturally feed at the surface if there is food, and you might see them breaking the surface to snatch a floating insect or chase a minnow.
If you can tell which direction trout are heading while hunting for food, try casting your offering out ahead of them.
Trout need colder water than most Southern California game fish, so they will be quick to retreat to deeper areas of the lake as the weather warms.
Boaters will be able to reach more trout by fishing deep with bait or trolling lures closer to the bottom.
Most trout stocked here are pan-sized, but there are reports of larger trout being caught.
Lake Puddingstone features an excellent channel catfish fishery.
Channel cats are not only strong fighters but also make great eating.
When focusing on catfish, think down. These bottom dwellers will be scouring the lake floor, looking for their next meal.
At its essence, the simplest catfish tackle is a bait hook with enough weight to cast and sink to the bottom, though there are fishing techniques and baits that will improve your odds of catching catfish.
Catfish prefer baits with strong scent. Chicken livers, cut fish such as mackerel, and prepared stink baits are all effective. Catfish also love worms, but you’re likely to also attract other bait-stealing species.
The key is patience. It may take a bit for the catfish to track the scent to your baited hook, so let it soak a bit while keeping a sharp eye on the rod’s tip for signs of a bite.
Catfish can be caught at any time of the year and any hour of the day, but generally warmer weather and lower light conditions like early mornings and evenings produce the best results.
Bass fishermen looking for local fishing holes are in for a real treat at Puddingstone Lake. They don’t always have to travel a little north to Castaic Lake or a lot north to Clear Lake to catch a bucket mouth pushing near 10 pounds.
The lake is known to hold largemouth bass topping nine pounds.
Largemouths simply love structure. Look for bass around rocks, docks, fallen trees and weedy areas.
The type of structure fished will determine the kind of presentation.
Around weeds, try rigging up a soft plastic wacky worm and toss the lure in openings and along the edges. The same goes for fallen trees and rip rap.
Some boat anglers will troll for bass to cover lots of water. Try to work them near the bottom where most bass hold.
Crankbaits slowly dragged along the shore or over rocky bottoms produce explosive strikes that are sure to double over a rod.
Casting and retrieving all types of bass lures can be effective, and many anglers will try to mimic the natural forage such as smaller fish and crayfish.
Once the largemouth is hooked, be prepared and hold on because some of these lunkers will become airborne with dramatic leaps out of the water.
More: Find out our picks for best bass fishing lakes in Southern California and then learn how to catch more bass with the most effective techniques.
While largemouth bass and rainbow trout are the most highly sought-after fish in Lake Puddingstone, don’t overlook crappie fishing.
The lake holds a significant population of crappie at times.
Break out the crappie fishing favorite lures like jigs and light spinners and focus on areas where cover is fully submerged in the water.
Schools of crappie may hold along weed edges, sunken branches, docks and other structure.
Crappie are aggressive eaters and will strike jigs cast from the shore or boat and slowly reeled back or live minnows presented under a float. When you find one, you will likely encounter more in the same spot.
Look for crappie to move into shallow water near cover during the spring spawn. They will often hold deeper for much of the rest of the year but still will move up to feed on schools of small fish.
You’ll likely find bluegill willing to bite in warmer months as well.
Bluegill also like structure such as weed beds and the shade of docks and are easy to catch with simple bait and lure presentations.
Besides the occasional monster catfish, the biggest fish you are reasonably likely to catch at Puddingstone Lake are its common carp, which somewhat commonly can top 10 pounds and fight like a freshwater tarpon.
Just don’t expect them to taste as good as trout or catfish!
Planning Your Trip
Puddingstone Reservoir is in San Dimas roughly a half hour’s drive east of downtown Los Angeles just off the San Bernardino Freeway ( U.S. 10). Coming from the other direction, Puddingstone is about 20 minutes west of Ontario.
The lake is the centerpiece of Frank G. Bonelli Regional Park, which offers a variety of amenities in three square miles.
Note that Puddingstone Lake is extremely popular with water skiers and other power boaters, especially from Memorial Day to Labor Day when the water temperature peaks.
If you fish during the summer, it might be wise to beat the early birds to the worms and get to the lake at sunup and fish until the powerboats get rocking at about 10 a.m.
Fishing is better when the water is a bit cooler anyway, so plan to target bass and catfish in the spring and fall and go after trout in the winter, once the stocking begins for the year.
While many anglers here many are day-trippers, the opportunity exists to plan an extended stay at a lakeside campground in a tent or RV. You don’t have to be in a rush back home when you can stay a while.
The shoreline offers plenty of space to spread out; however, if you’re equipped with a boat or other watercraft that fits the specifications of allowable watercraft, bring it along, whether for fishing or water sports.
Boat ramps are available. Expect to pay a boat inspection and launch fee.
There are some rules designed to help both anglers and power-boaters enjoy the water, including certain times of day and locations for higher-speed watercraft and personal watercraft. See the park’s boating rules for details.
Lodging and Camping
The reservoir features a regional park with all of the amenities and activities that a person could ask for when visiting for the day or an extended stay at the campsite.
Bonelli Park has many recreational opportunities along the northern end of the lake.
It has two boat ramps, camping, bank access, hiking and bike trails, golf, a water park and more. Plenty of entertainment is available for the entire family.
Campers can go the old-fashioned route by pitching a tent or travel in luxury and pull up in an RV. It’s wise to book your spot well ahead of time because the lake is popular.