When you arrive at San Pablo Reservoir for a day of fishing, you’ll be amazed that it’s so close to Oakland and the rest of the Bay Area.
Millions of people live within 30 miles of this serene watershed, though this place can feel like a real getaway.
Unlike its neighbor Briones Reservoir, also a drinking water reservoir in the East Bay Municipal Water District, fishing is encouraged at San Pablo while Briones is a protected watershed reservoir with no public recreating allowed in the water.
Fishing San Pablo Reservoir gives you a shot at catching rainbow trout, several kinds of bass, channel catfish, crappie, common carp, and perhaps even lightning trout or sturgeon.
There’s good access from shore, and there’s a boat ramp, so getting on the water isn’t too tricky.
The San Pablo Reservoir Recreation Area offers a large playground for the kids, picnic areas, and excellent shore access for trout fishing.
San Pablo Reservoir is not to be missed with its beautiful setting and excellent fishing, all just a stone’s throw from San Francisco Bay.
Bring the family with you, and have a great day catching some big trout, bass and crappie. And who knows; maybe you’ll bring in a white sturgeon.
Trout Fishing at San Pablo Reservoir
Trout are the biggest draw for anglers here.
Hatchery-reared rainbow trout are planted in huge numbers for much of the year and can offer some fast action.
Monster rainbows have been brought to the net here, with the lake record a whopping 21.8 pounds. Lightning trout also have been stocked here at times.
As a trout lake, there aren’t too many better than San Pablo, especially so close to home.
A big reason for the lake’s excellence is fish management. It almost seems like their philosophy is to plant thousands of pounds of trout.
Sure, some of those end up feeding the bass, catfish, and bigger trout, but many fall to anglers’ bait and lures and some grow into hefty holdovers.
There are three spots on the lake where they plant trout. Starting at the southern end, they begin at the boat launch, then move up to the main recreation area, and finally at the north end just past the Sobrante Tower.
Starting soon after they are planted, trout will bite just about anything you throw out there. Shiny Kastmasters work well, as do PowerBait and worms.
San Pablo Reservoir’s season opens in February and a bit into November before shutting down for a few months in the late fall and early winter.
Check with the lake before heading up. Since they aren’t open all year, the trout get a few months to plump up with less pressure in cooler water they love.
In the late winter into early spring, the trout hold in the shallower waters around the sides of the lake.
Bait or lures from shore work great for bank fishing.
Start your approach north of the buoy line and fish along the western bank. From Big Point around to Big Slide can be productive.
If that’s not working, move on and try the area around Berkeley Tower and the gate area.
Just south of the Pines Picnic Area is some of the best shore fishing in the lake, regardless of the season.
There are trout in the spring and fall, then bass and crappie biting within casting distance through the warmer months.
From the Pines, head north, and anywhere along the shore should be productive.
Bait fishing from a boat can be great by the rock wall.
Trout go deeper in the summer, so trolling the depths can be excellent—head from Round Top Cove up and around to the Oaks Picnic Area.
Move through the little bay area and start up again from the main recreation area down to the Berkeley Tower area.
When the water starts to cool down again in the fall, shore action heats back up.
Standard trout fishing techniques will work well at San Pablo Reservoir.
It’s so often consistently good here that we’ve named it an honorable mention on our rundown of Best Rainbow Trout Fishing Lakes in California.
Over the years, bass fishing has fluctuated wildly at San Pablo Reservoir.
There are several areas in the lake to target, depending on the time of year. The Scow Canyon area is always a good place to try for bass.
Both largemouth and spotted bass call San Pablo home these days.
Bass fishing this lake can be anywhere from fantastic to sub-par.
There are some giants in San Pablo, with a few caught above 15 pounds.
With the amount of baitfish and rainbows swimming around, the bass are getting fat and happy, so you’re bound to have a great time if you can convince them to strike.
There is excellent cover throughout the lake, from the artificial structure in Scow Canyon to large trees and log piles around the west side.
Target the west side in the mornings and move to the east as the day warms up. Any shallower coves are perfect places to search.
Toss crankbaits in the morning, with some topwater near any debris piles.
Springtime will see the bass moving into spawning areas around the lake, so focus on flats and any clearings in the weed beds near shore.
Use either loud baits or finesse plastics that get in front of them while they guard their spots. Be sure to release any hens you catch to keep the bass population growing.
Throughout the summer, you’ll experience some epic days and some cold days throughout the lake.
The bass will move a little deeper as it heats up.
Heating up isn’t something this lake does too much of. Average summer temperatures are in the low 70’s, meaning bass never move too far from their regular fall and spring positions.
Boats work best for bass in the summer. Hit the points and cast at an angle toward shore. Quick retrieves often do the trick, but if not switch it up to slower soft plastic finesse tactics.
Target spotted bass on the southeastern side and along the edges of coverage throughout the lake.
When targeting largemouth, if the weather turns, go a little deeper, and you’ll be able to bring in some massive spotted bass. They are everywhere in San Pablo.
Spotted bass are going to hit the same lures and setups used for largies. Luckily, both species will hit a wide range of lures from spinner baits to plastics.
Keep at it and you’ll certainly land a few sizable bass at San Pablo.
Fall works well for bass in the shallows again, so hit the usual spots with the best coverage, and you’ll do well.
Some sources also report smallmouth bass in the reservoir, which if true will fall to similar types of bass lures, especially in rocky habitats.
More Bass Fishing Resources
Check out a great starter guide, Bass Fishing: Simple How-To Techniques and Tips, as well as our popular Best Largemouth Bass Fishing in Northern California.
Channel catfish are common and get big in San Pablo Reservoir.
There are so many foraging options for them that it’s not uncommon to catch a 10- to 15-pounder. The lake record is 31.2 pounds, though that record was set a few decades ago. Old records have to fall sometimes.
The cats here are pretty active all year round. Better bites exist in the late spring and fall, though you can get your limit on any given trip throughout the season.
It’s not rare to catch a quick limit of catfish, including some 5- to 10-pounders, throughout the lake.
Focus on the shelves above the drop-offs into deeper water. Target them with chicken livers or anchovies.
One of the best areas in the lake is near the boat launch. If shore fishing, cast out along the launch and sit your bait on the bottom.
If in a boat, head straight across from the launch and do the same. These areas hold big fish.
San Pablo Reservoir has earned a spot in our Best Catfish Fishing Lakes and Rivers in California.
If you want to learn to catch more whisker fish, including some more excellent bait options, check out our Catfish Fishing: Simple How-To Techniques and Tips.
Several areas around San Pablo Reservoir offer good to great fishing for these popular panfish, with both black crappie and white crappie reported by some sources.
Find some shade under bushes or trees, cast a redworm or crappie jig under a bobber, and maybe twitch it a few times. You’ll be surprised at how these slabs can fight.
The biggest trick to crappie is finding them. They are a schooling fish but tend to aggressively bite baits or lures, especially lures like jigs that resemble small minnows.
Crappie populations also tend to wax and wane no matter where you fish for them, with excellent age classes of fish often followed by sub-par years.
When you find out the crappie fishing is good at San Pablo, come back to it several times that season and you should keep catching them.
Crappie tend to move into shallow water with cover during their spring spawn but often will be in somewhat deeper water at other times of the year, though finding structure like submerged branches is always going to increase your odds.
Once you find them, just keep at it, and you might catch your limit right away. It might take a little bit of hiking to find them, so don’t give up!
For more suggestions, read all of our best crappie fishing tips and techniques.
Also, check out the hot spots in our Best Crappie Fishing Lakes in California.
Bluegill and Redear Fishing
Bluegill and redear sunfish both do well here.
It’s pretty common to bring in sunfish in the 1½- to 2-pound range at San Pablo Reservoir. The entire western shoreline has ample coverage and houses good numbers of these feisty and tasty panfish.
Use standard fishing approaches for bluegill and redear sunfish in San Pablo. Mealworms, small lures, and jigs should be productive.
Target them in shallower waters in the warmer months of spring through fall. They will hold in the weeds near shore.
As the water warms up, they’ll go a bit deeper to the edge of the weed lines above deep water, especially the larger ‘gills and shell-crackers.
White Sturgeon Fishing
There is a small but healthy fishery for white sturgeon in San Pablo. A few anglers target sturgeon in the lake and occasionally do well, but it’s a challenge. Keepers are available.
Focus your attention on Scow Canyon, and you might find them. Standard sturgeon baits work great here, but don’t expect to have a 5-fish day. You’ll do well to catch one.
Want to get more into this fishery? Read about the Best Sturgeon Fishing in California.
Planning Your Trip
Located just 20 miles from Berkeley and Oakland along San Pablo Dam Road, reached from Interstate 80 and Highway 24, San Pablo feels worlds apart.
The reservoir is surrounded by a watershed and is protected from development, keeping it serene compared to the hustle and bustle of East Bay just over the hills.
Schedule a few hours or even a few days and visit San Pablo Recreation Area.
The fishing can be epic, the scenery is beautiful, and the location makes this destination incredibly accessible.
There are activities available for you and your family to enjoy. Everything from fishing and hiking to laying out in the sun and relaxing on sandy beaches makes this lake a family favorite.
Check the San Pablo Recreation Area website for lake hours, entry fee and other details that are subject to change.
The area offers other types of outdoor recreation such as hiking trails and wildlife watching for bald eagles, wild turkeys and more.
Boat and Shore Access
At a bit over 800 surface acres at full pool and about 14 miles of shoreline, the lake is large for the Bay Area though moderate in size compared to some of California’s giant reservoirs.
Boat access is readily available here and will help you reach more fis, but it’s not necessary to catch fish here.
There is a decent boat launch on the south end of the lake and a marina at the park on the northwest side.
Boat rentals (deluxe motor boats) are available but are limited, so snapping up a reservation is probably a good idea.
The lake has boats and often has had kayaks for rent at the marina, if you’d like to try out kayak fishing, though availability is subject to change.
Shore access is mainly limited to the west and north sides of the lake, though that is a substantial area. Shoreline fishing will give you options to target a variety of species at the same time. The park has some pretty reliable shore access points.
Where to Stay
Camping isn’t available at San Pablo, which is open for day-use only.
There are a variety of overnight options if you don’t live nearby, including several hotels and RV camping areas within a short distance in any direction and other campgrounds in the wider region.
Conveniences are everywhere around the lake. From a store at the main park to full grocery stores in any nearby town, you can quickly find what you need.
Whether you’re looking for fast food or fine dining, you’re sure to find some local fare to enjoy.
San Pablo is a well-managed fishery that should keep getting better as time goes on. Don’t sleep on this fishery.