Lake San Antonio Fishing: Your Guide to Bass & Beyond

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Lake San Antonio fishing offers a variety of great fishing near the Central California coast.

Largemouth and smallmouth bass are readily available, as are striped bass, channel catfish, crappie, bluegill and carp. There are a lot of carp, so bring a beefy fly rod and have some fun.

Lake San Antonio is in the mountains of southern Monterey County, around 10 miles or so north of Lake Nacimiento.

While it is a popular place for boating, it doesn’t see near the crowds it’s more popular neighbor to the south. That means there’s a possibility of fishing the lake with few other boats on the water, especially during the cooler months.

If you’re interested in catching big cats, carp, and plenty of bass, Lake San Antonio is not to be missed.

Plan on a visit when the water levels permit, as this lake is known to fluctuate widely throughout the year. Be sure to check current conditions and any regulations or restrictions before venturing out.

Black Bass Fishing

Large and smallmouth bass are found in good numbers throughout Lake San Antonio.

There are times when the fishing will be epic, only to be followed up the next day with little to nothing. The fish in Lake San Antonio are finicky.

Largemouth Bass

First and foremost, searching for largemouth bass in Lake San Antonio ultimately depends on the water level.

Due to the wide range seen each year, there are willows that grow and become an excellent cover for baitfish, drawing in the bass when the level rises.

Bucket mouths are usually found in the canyons and coves around the dam.

If you’re not finding them, try going deeper. Bass at Lake San Antonio can hold deeper than most other waters.

When the bite is difficult, target deeper water. It’s not uncommon for them to be holding in 30 feet to even 60 feet of water.

Work the coves with spinnerbaits and buzzbaits in the morning and evening. Once it warms up, switch to more finesse techniques like Senkos, Ned rigs, and drop-shot rigs.

Getting into the coves is the best opportunity to catch largies here. The abundance of cover from submerged oak trees in these coves will give you plenty to target throughout the morning.

The best bass fishing here is in spring through early summer. The bass are more likely to be shallow and will snap up almost anything.

The summer months find them hiding in deeper water, so try the main lake around the Chalk Cliffs and across the lake from Cemetery Cove. You’re likely to find them stacking up around any of the rocky points in the area. 

The fall brings bass shallow for a short time while they binge-feed to prepare for winter, so timing a trip in there is a good option.

Once bass move deeper again, in October and November, you’ll be better off targeting them along with the points in 40-60 feet of water.

The largemouth bass here are northern strain fish and aren’t likely to break any state records, but the excellent numbers of good-sized bass can be impressive when this lake is on.

Lake San Antonio has earned a spot on our rundown of Best Largemouth Bass Fishing Lakes in Northern California.

Smallmouth Bass

The smallmouth bass in Lake San Antonio can be hard to find. You could have them perfectly dialed in at 8 a.m. and by 9:30 a.m., be positive there aren’t any smallies left in the entire lake. 

While these bass don’t get the same pressure as the fish in Lake Nacimiento, that doesn’t mean they aren’t wary of anglers. These fish have seen some things.

Be sure to use the lightest tackle you can manage when targeting smallmouths to keep from spooking them away.

The main lake should be your focus throughout the summer and fall. Winter finds them scattered and holding in deep cover.

Spring, on the other hand, brings them to the shallows to spawn. If you catch it right, you might have a solid day of catching 3- to 4-pound smallies before they scatter throughout the lake again in early summer.

Finesse fishing is the best way to go here.

A square bill crank might do well, though not consistently like finesse. Toss a wacky rigged Senko, and you’re bound to bring a few to the net.

Find the Best Smallmouth Bass Fishing in California.

Catch More Bass

Read through our straightf-forward guide, Bass Fishing: Simple How-To Techniques and Tips.

Striped Bass Fishing

Most Lake San Antonio stripers hang around closer to the south end near the dam.

The Pleyto Boat Launch is a great place to investigate. Three Fingers Creek, Harris Creek, Twin Creek, and Laguna are all popular for stripers.

The best route to target these fish is by trolling the area from South Shore Marina down to Harris Creek and back.

Watch the water to see where the birds are hanging out.

If birds find a shad bait ball, they will go crazy on it. So do the stripers. Toss anything that remotely looks like a shad, and you’ll have a good chance of catching a few striped bass. 

Swimbaits and rattle traps work great, particularly if they imitate shad.

Be sure to cover as much water as you can, searching for them. They are in there; you just have to find them.

What you shouldn’t find here are white bass, which are found in Lake Nacimiento.

These are an invasive species biologists would like to keep out of Lake San Antonio and especially the San Antonio River system, whose inhabitants include protected steelhead trout.

Find the Best Striped Bass Fishing in California.

Channel Catfish

The catfish at Lake San Antonio love shad. They follow the bait around the lake and can usually be caught just under a schooling ball of shad.

Drop your line down and jig it below the shad, and you’re sure to bring in a few cats, potential some over 10 pounds. Even bigger ones are cruising around in there. 

During the warmer months, the channel catfish are planted with regularity, meaning there is always a good population to be found.

Shore fishing with some chicken liver, shad minnows, or stink bait can be super productive in the evening through the very early morning.

Learn about the best baits and methods in our Catfish Fishing: Simple Techniques and Tips and find the Best Catfish Fishing Lakes and Rivers in California.

Crappie Fishing

Lake San Antonio’s crappie are most prevalent throughout the coves with brush cover.

There are good numbers here, but the bite is anything but consistent.

Try to find a school and drop some Robo worms or nightcrawlers.

Tip a crappie jig with a nightcrawler, raise your rod 2-3 inches, and then drop back down. Repeat. If you aren’t getting bites, move on. Try the docks as well.

Learn more about the best crappie lures and fishing tips and find the Best Crappie Fishing Lakes in California.

At the docks and elsewhere, you might also bring in some healthy-looking bluegill or redear sunfish as well. 

Lake San Antonio Carp

Bring out the bread ball and catch your weight in carp.

Be sure to use a rod that has enough backbone to handle a 30-pound carp, and you’re in for a treat.

The old days of carp being nothing more than a nuisance are over. Anglers have finally admitted that carp put up a fight that’s worth chasing.

When out on a boat, set out a line with a bread ball and leave it be. Continue fishing for bass or crappie but keep an eye on that rod.

You’d be surprised at how widespread the carp are in Lake San Antonio. 

Planning Your Trip

Lake San Antonio is in the mountains along the Central Coast, just far enough from population centers that it feels more like a getaway than many other lakes on the west side of the state.

It’s a little closer to San Francisco than Los Angeles but in reasonable reach of both.

A roughly 2.5-hour drive from Santa Barbara, Bakersfield or Fresno will get you there.

Those few hours behind the wheel will take you to a place that feels like a different world. Much like its neighboring lakes, wildlife can be seen everywhere. 

Bald eagles and osprey are seen regularly snatching fish from the water’s surface before heading home for dinner. Deer, foxes, and wild pigs are known to frequent the water’s edge throughout the year, and even majestic golden eagles make an appearance.

Boat and Shore Access

The lake provides good shore access from any of the campgrounds and marinas. There are plenty of spots along the coves and the main lake to keep bank anglers busy. 

Boat access is readily available from one of the four ramps around the lake.

The southern marina has gas and amenities for anything you need. When the water is low, watch out for submerged trees and any rock outcroppings that might damage the prop.

At full pool, Lake San Antonio has over 5,700 surface acres, but as with many reservoirs, the water levels can drop precipitously here, especially during drought years.

Lodging and Camping

There are hundreds of spaces at the campgrounds around the lake. Be sure to reserve ahead for the best options.

Several campsites have direct lake access, though they tend to fill the fastest. 

RV hookups are readily available throughout the area. There are also hotels and the resort to stay at if you choose. Vacation rentals are available through private owners and can be a great option for groups to stay in the same place. 

There are several options for food in the area if you aren’t planning on cooking at camp.

The store at the marina has most of the essentials you may need, along with all sorts of things you might want to use for fishing.