San Vicente Reservoir Fishing: Catch Bass & Catfish

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One of the largest and deepest reservoirs in San Diego County, San Vicente holds state record-sized fish. 

This reservoir is known for its largemouth bass fishing and catfishing, although it’s a bit under the radar compared to some other lakes in the region.

Crappie and sunfish also are regularly caught in these waters, which can plunge to 306 feet at full pool, although most fishing is in substantially shallower depths.

Located 25 miles northeast of San Diego, San Vicente Reservoir is popular among anglers and boaters. It’s also a great place to have a picnic.

Fishing is best from a boat, kayak or float tube.

Also known as San Vicente Lake, the reservoir has been around for decades but was more recently enlarged, which added lots of fish habitat but also resulted in steep banks that have rendered fishing from the bank especially difficult.

You are allowed to fish from shore where you can gain access, but also remember that wading and swimming are not allowed at San Vicente.

The lake’s impressive clarity (which can lower fishing success) is largely the result of invasive quagga mussels, which filter the water constantly.

Bass Fishing

Like many of the best bass lakes in Southern California, San Vicente Reservoir has been planted with Florida strain largemouth bass.

This basically means bass here have the potential to grow to an enormous size when given the proper conditions, and the San Vicente has proper conditions.

The abundance of food and underwater structure allows this reservoir to be such a high-quality bass fishing lake. In fact, we’ve included it among our rating of the Best Largemouth Bass Fishing Lakes in Southern California.

San Vicente has a lot of bluegill and other sunfish, plus an abundance of cover such as flooded bushes.

Fish it enough to learn its secrets, and you are reasonably likely to encounter 8- to 10-pounders at some point, but how do you get them to bite?

To catch bass in this crystal clear, steeply banked reservoir, finesse techniques are going to be critical.

Using a drop shot, ned rig, or other soft plastic rigs will give you the best chance of catching more and larger bass.

While a jig and spinnerbait are not finesse rigs, they can be good seeker baits and can be good options for finding the fish at times.

Bass will spend their time around depth changes, brush piles and rock piles. 

Because this lake was fairly recently enlarged, there are brush piles and flooded trees all over the lake. While this sounds great, it also means the bass have more options for cover.

You will need to figure out what depth and type of structure they relate to on the specific day you go fishing, but once you unlock those keys, catching should improve.

Bass will not only change their feeding habits from season to season but also according to the time of day.

Just because you caught them in a particular place using a specific lure earlier in the day doesn’t mean it will be the same at a later time of day, so be flexible with your locations and presentations.

Need more ideas for catching freshwater bass? Take a short tour through Bass Fishing: Simple How-To Techniques and Tips.

Catfish Fishing

As of this writing, San Vicente Reservoir has been home to the last two state record blue catfish … each weighing over 100 pounds! The reigning champion from San Vicente is over 113 pounds. (See California Game Fish Records.)

Channel catfish, which on average don’t grow as large as the blues, still can top 40 pounds in this lake.

Are you at all surprised that San Vicente Reservoir is among the elite locations we’ve gathered together in Best Catfish Fishing Lakes and Rivers in California?

To catch the biggest of these lake monsters, you will need heavy-duty rods and reels.

Here’s what we recommend: A minimum of 50-pound test line, 8/0 to 10/0 hooks, a heavy swivel, and a 1-ounce egg sinker rigged as a Carolina rig.

The bait of choice for catfish is live bait or cut-up baitfish. Chicken liver and nightcrawlers also make excellent catfish bait. If you’re in a pinch, hotdogs will work. 

Catfish tend to hang out along the edge of steep level changes.

Finding the creek channel will give you a significant advantage. Catfish use channels to get from place to place in search of food.

We have plenty for catfish fishing tips and bait suggestions for you.

More Fishing

If catching big bass and monster catfish isn’t your style of fishing, don’t worry. San Vicente Reservoir has other fish species for you as well.

Crappie Fishing

You will be hard-pressed to find a better way of spending the day than crappie fishing.

Not only are they fun to catch, but crappie are also delicious table fare. Both black crappie and white crappie are available.

Use small jigs and minnows (as allowed) on light gear for the best results when crappie fishing.

Generally, crappie are often located around cover, of which there is plenty in San Vicente.

The trick here might be finding them, so cover plenty of spots until you find biting fish. Once you do, stay put while the bites are coming, because these are a schooling fish and catching one often leads to catching many.

Wait, there’s more: Crappie Fishing: Simple How-To Techniques and Tips and Best Crappie Fishing Lakes in California.

Bluegill and Sunfish Fishing

Bluegill are often thought of as only a good time for the kids. While kids love to catch bluegill, they can be a great addition to the table and fun for adults to catch. 

The reservoir also has produced some of the largest redear sunfish in San Diego County, perhaps thanks to the quagga mussels, which are a food source for redears. There also are green sunfish, a smaller related species.

Nightcrawlers, small jigs, and insects such as crickets are sure to catch bluegill and sunfish all day long.

Casting small lures or even artificial flies can add extra fun and challenge to catching bluegill, which are pleasantly great fighters on light tackle.

Fishing for these species might be among the easiest types of angling you can do, but we give you the full scoop to improve your odds in our guide, Fishing for Bluegill and Sunfish: Simple Techniques and Tips.

Don’t forget to reference the regulations for size limits and the number of fish you can bring home.

Carp Fishing

Considered a trash fish by many, carp are incredibly fun to catch and, at least to some, surprisingly good to eat. However, they are bony fish and labor-intensive to clean. 

You can catch carp on corn, cereal soaked in soda, and bread balls. Be prepared for a fight with medium-heavy fishing gear!

Trout Fishing

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife somewhat irregularly has stocked the San Vicente with trout during the winter months.

When trout are available, which hasn’t been too common in recent years, fishing here will suddenly get quite popular during what otherwise would be the off-season.

Stocked trout are most easily caught by still-fishing with bait, either beneath a float or just above the bottom.

Nightcrawlers, salmon eggs and a variety of prepared baits such as PowerBait are all popular for catching trout.

Casting and retrieving lures and fly fishing are popular, and boaters often do very well trolling with small lures or bait, often behind a set of attractors that bring trout to investigate and find your lure or bait.

Use the resource links below before planning a trout fishing trip out to the lake, because this type of fishing will be far more successful fairly soon after planting.

Improve your odds at catching trout by brushing up on Trout Fishing: Techniques and Tips and finding the Best Rainbow Trout Fishing Lakes in California.

Planning Your Trip

San Vicente Reservoir offers many recreational activities only a half hour from San Diego and just past El Cajon and Santee and before you get to El Capitan Reservoir, another popular fishing spot in the region.

The lake is open four to five days most weeks, but check the schedule before solidifying your trip plans. There are day-use and launching fees.

The rules aren’t quite as restrictive at this city of San Diego water storage reservoir as they are in some other reservoirs in the region.

Besides fishing, you can do several water contact sports such as water skiing and wakeboarding on weekends, and some additional days during the warmer months, so check the schedule.

Swimming and paddle boarding are not allowed.

Other boating options include kayaks, canoes and rowboats, and picnickers will find tables and barbecue grills. There is no camping, so come for the day.

You can bring your dog, but pets must be on a leash and cannot enter the water or a boat.

There is a bait shop to purchase fishing tackle as well as snacks, drinks and ice for your cooler.

There are plenty of specific rules and schedules here, so whenever you are planning a trip to San Vicente Reservoir, read the latest information on San Diego’s website.

Bank and Boat Access

The banks around the lake are steep, making it difficult to access the water to fish from the shoreline. Changing water levels can impact access as well.

There is a boat ramp and marina open to the public. You can bring your own watercraft, or rental boats and kayaks are available from the marina.