Although the landscape and wind are often harsh at Quail Lake, shore fishing can be excellent, especially for striped bass and catfish.
Quail Lake is a holding reservoir for the California Aqueduct System, connected to nearby Pyramid Lake and other Southern California water and electricity supply facilities.
The water pumped into this reservoir, typically at night, brings in both gamefish and plenty of food species such as shad, allowing stripers, cats and other gamefish to reach impressive sizes despite the unimpressive setting.
Let’s take a closer look at Quail Lake’s fishing opportunities, based partly on my own experiences.
Where To Fish
Most of the fishing takes place near the inlet when water is being pumped in, which often happens at night.
Unfortunately, the inlet on the northeast end of the lake is a substantial walk from the only sanctioned parking area on the western end along the Lancaster Freeway. Quail Lake is over a mile long and up to a quarter mile wide.
The second-best option is fishing near the outlet, which is closer to the parking lot. It’s a good area mainly because of the water current and ever-present winds push threadfin shad down to the western end.
Make sure you don’t try to fish in areas marked as off-limits. The combination of steep banks and strong currents has proved deadly in these areas in the past.
Quail Lake Striped Bass Fishing
Quail Lake is best known for its large population of stripers. Most of the striped bass here aren’t giants, with an average size I’ve seen in the 3– to 5-pound range, but there are plenty of that size and occasional lunkers.
The best method for stripers here is bait fishing. Cut baits like mackerel or anchovies work the best, and some anglers swear by liver.
Consider fishing baits without weight or beneath a float such as a slip bobber, because the rocky bottom here will snag up your lead weights in short order.
Striped bass also will hit crankbaits, swimbaits, and other lures that mimic shad and other forage fish.
More: Where is the best striped bass fishing in California?
Quail Lake Catfish Fishing
The catfish fishing here is hit-and-miss in my experience, with the best odds coming at night.
Since the water moves in and out of Quail Lake at all times, there’s a consistent source of food available for the catfish here.
As with striped bass fishing, the main problem here when it comes to catching catfish is that the bottom of the reservoir is made up of rocks of all sizes.
The bottom-fishing tactics you probably use to catch catfish in most places is not a good idea here because you will get snagged all the time.
Instead, fly-lining your bait is the best bet.
The idea here is to use little to no weight. Don’t set the pole down, keep working the line to keep it up a bit off the bottom, and the catfish will come get it.
The majority of catfish you will catch at Quail Lake using this method will be channel catfish, but the rare (and potentially large) flathead or blue catfish comes through the aqueduct system. Bullheads also are here.
Baits include anchovies and mackerel (and even liver) that also catch stripers. Nightcrawlers will also catch catfish and many of the other gamefish in the lake.
More: Check out the best catfish fishing lakes and rivers in California as well as our favorite techniques, tips and baits for catfish fishing.
Other Quail Lake Gamefish
While largemouth bass play a starring role at nearby Castaic Lake, Pyramid Lake, and other top Southern California bass lakes, they are more of a secondary catch here. Some smallmouths may also be in the lake.
The usual bass tactics should work, especially mimicking the natural baitfish and other food sources. And bass here are so accustomed to being delivered freshly killed or wounded fish coming from the inlet that cut baits also will tempt some of them.
Other species found here include various panfish, including crappie and bluegill, as well as carp.
A strong rod like a long surf casting rod works best at Quail Lake. Since you’ll always be fishing from the shoreline here, you must get the bait out just a bit.
If using cut baits, you should wrap black cotton thread to secure the bait to the hook. This will keep your bait from falling off. And by using thin cotton thread, you can simply break it with your hands, with no cutting involved.
Remember to use light or no weight on your rig and don’t set the pole down. They hit that fast, and sinkers will lead to more snags than strikes.
Quail Lake Conditions
At about 3,300 feet in elevation, the weather here can be brutal all year round.
Let’s be honest: There is no shade, no trees, no structures, no picnic tables, no barbecue grills, just a completely barren and rock-filled shoreline. You may even see short rock walls stacked up to help shield the angler from the wind.
At Quail Lake, it’s not about the setting. It’s about fishing.
Planning Your Visit
Where is Quail Lake?
Despite its desolate character, the Quail Lake Recreation Area is super easy to find.
Quail Lake is in the far northwestern corner of Los Angeles County, a couple miles east of Interstate 5 along State Highway 138, otherwise known as Lancaster Freeway (or Lancaster Road on some maps).
It’s a short distance north of Pyramid Lake and a few miles south of Gorman.
What to Bring
Be sure to bring plenty of food and water, sunblock, and appropriate layers of clothing for the time of year you plan on going.
The only facilities at this lake are vault toilets, at least they were available the last time I was there.
Bring everything else you will need. You might even need to pack out garbage, depending on the availability of trash cans.
Hours and Guidelines
The lake is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There is no entrance fee. You’ll need the usual fishing license.
There’s only a small parking lot, and angling pressure can vary from very light to busier when the word gets out about a strong bite.
No boats, float tubes or watercraft of any kind are allowed on the water. In fact, you also can’t swim or wade as this is strictly a no-water-contact reservoir.