Lake Sonoma Fishing: Great Catches in Wine Country

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Lake Sonoma is located in the coastal foothills and is surrounded by the wine country of Sonoma County.

Don’t let that image of tasting rooms and wine barrels discourage you: The fishing at Lake Sonoma can be some of the best around, though it gets overshadowed by other, larger waters in the area.

The reservoir, on a tributary of the nearby Russian River, offers miles of beautiful shoreline to hike, with the occasional spot to stop and fish, while boaters get to experience everything from waterskiing to serene backwaters. The fishing isn’t bad, either.

Lake Sonoma is full of fish species, including bass, channel catfish, perch and even some trout and steelhead. Submerged trees and other structures within the lake provide the perfect cover for fish. 

Water skiing and swimming are popular activities on the main lake, though there are several no-wake zones designed for anglers. That’s a great thing because the bass fishing at Lake Sonoma can be incredible, if at times under-appreciated.

Black Bass Fishing at Lake Sonoma

The structure found throughout the lake provides a fantastic habitat for big bass to hang out and feast on baitfish.

Largemouth and smallmouth bass both call Lake Sonoma home, which means you get more chances for good bass action.

Bass fishing here can be good from early spring through early winter. That helps with determining when you should come to the lake.

It gets super busy with boaters and other visitors as the weather warms, so go earlier in the spring or later in the year to get the best bass action and avoid the crowds.

Largemouth Bass

Largemouth bass fishing can be excellent at Lake Sonoma. They hold in several areas of the lake, with some being far more productive than others. 

Your best bet for finding decent-sized largemouth bass is by working the cover in the Cherry Creek, the Dry Creek Arm and Yorty Creek areas.

Early mornings call for topwater action.

As the sun gets a bit higher, you should start fishing a bit deeper. Plastics like watermelon flake Senkos are productive throughout the day here.

Search for points that have submerged rocks and trees for the best action.

These are easy to find here since there are large sections of the upper lake that have good bass structure also are no-wake zones specifically designed for fishing and recreating away from the power squad.

Fish the shoreline bushes and cover when the bass move shallower, such as during the spring spawn. Target the small bays around the north side of the lake as well.

The Warm Springs arm has some pretty great fishing around Picnic Creek and Madrone Point.

Note that the farther you go up Warm Springs, the more cautious you’ll need to be, due to underwater hazards like treetops that start to poke into the prop zone when the water is low. 

We are so confident in this lake’s largemouth bass potential, we’ve included it among the Best Largemouth Bass Fishing Lakes in Northern California.

Smallmouth Bass

Smallmouth bass are common in the Russian River and also are well established here in the reservoir, where they usually offer some reliable and occasionally spectacular action.

When the largemouth bite slows, take your baits a little deeper and target the rockier areas within sight of the bridge. 

Big bass can be found, and you just need to find the correct depth.

Throughout the winter and early spring, smallmouths hold in around 40-50 feet of water. As it warms, they move shallower but often will still be deeper than the largemouth bass. 

Mid- to late spring and early summer offer the best action, though fishing remains good for smallies pretty close to year-round.

Jerkbaits and jigs work well, with jerkbaits being the standout bass fishing lures at Lake Sonoma.

However, if these options aren’t working, go with finesse. Ned rigs will get even the most stubborn smallies to bite.

The shoreline has some excellent habitat for smallies, but foot access to the shore can be difficult. Boat fishing is far more effective than shore fishing for bass anglers here.

Find the Best Smallmouth Bass Fishing Lakes and Rivers in California.

Catch More Bass

Read up on Bass Fishing: Simple How-To Techniques and Tips.

Trout Fishing

Before you discount the trout fishing at Lake Sonoma, give it a try. Deep, clean water and an abundance of forage can mean big trout.

While you won’t necessarily find Lake Sonoma on the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s trout-stocking schedule, the lake does harbor a pretty good population of resident rainbows, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Each February, there is the annual Steelhead Festival that draws a big crowd, and trout fishing can be good at Lake Sonoma just about anytime the water is cold.

Both rainbow trout and steelhead (or steelhead trout) can be caught in fair to sometimes good numbers throughout the winter months.

In the summer they are more difficult to find.

Search the deepest waters near the dam, and you may find them. In the spring, they make their way up the creeks.

Search out the steeper drop-off points around the lake before the water gets too warm. Standard trout gear works well for casters, as does trolling.

The marina offers some good shore access, but for trout, you’ll most likely want to use a boat. The marina offers boat rentals if you plan ahead. 

Trolling for trout works especially well in colder weather. low troll a worm harness and plan on catching at least a few trout.

Try tossing a Kastmaster tipped with a nightcrawler, or throw a spinner.

Some reports of trout fishing over the last few years indicate that catch rates can average as high as a fish every 30 minutes. Wherever you’re fishing, that’s not a bad catch rate.

More information: Trout Fishing: Simple How-To Techniques and Tips and Best Rainbow Trout Fishing Lakes in California. There’s also the Best Steelhead Fishing Rivers in California.

Channel Catfish

Channel cats are commonplace on Lake Sonoma, and some of these fish will hit the 20-pound mark.

The cats cruise in the shallower bays around the lake. Use a strong rod with something smelly, and you’ll do well. 

The shallow inlets and coves around the Yorty Creek Recreation Area are a great place to focus your search for catfish. Shore access there is good, with the best time to catch big fish being at night or at least lower-light times early and late in the day.

Try using different well-scented baits like chicken liver, catfish nuggets, anchovies, and the like.

Channel cats are surprisingly active hunters, and you’d be surprised at the number of cats that are caught on rattle traps. Tip one of those lures with some chicken liver or shrimp and get ready for a good fight.

Get the full scoop on how to catch catfish as well as the Best Catfish Fishing Lakes and Rivers in California.

Crappie, Bluegill and Sunfish 

Black crappie are abundant throughout the lake and offer a great time on light tackle.

A 2-pound crappie on a 3 – 4 lb. test line is a fight that you’re going to remember. These hearty fish can be found throughout the lake. 

The best approach is to look for cover, and that will increase your odds of finding and catching crappie.

Small jigs and lures are great for crappie and are your go-to option here.

Set up your kids with a crappie jig tipped with a mealworm and watch them catch crappie and bluegill all day.

Redear sunfish and bluegill are plentiful and can be easily caught around the marina.

There also are some yellow perch around as well. These are a modest-sized but tasty schooling fish, like crappie, so when you find a perch, stick around to find his hundred cousins.

Planning Your Trip

Lake Sonoma Recreation Area is easily accessible. It’s located close to populated areas but far enough away to provide a feeling of solitude in hills studded with oak trees.

San Francisco is an hour and a half away, but Santa Rosa is only a 30-minute drive and Healdsburg and other communities are just down Dry Creek Road and will have everything you need close by.

Bring along the family for a fun weekend with waterskiing, hiking, fishing and more.

The lake also makes a good base camp for fishing in the heart of the state’s famed wine country, with the bass fishing mecca Clear Lake about an hour away in one direction and Bodega Bay is about the same distance in the other direction.

Shore and Boat Access

Shore access is pretty tricky here. Lake Sonoma has several areas that can be accessed, though many of those will require a strenuous hike.

Lake Sonoma Marina has some of the easiest bank-fishing access, with the upper lake having a few more accessible walk-in points.

Boating is the ideal way to access the lake. The marina has a good launch, and there is another public boat ramp across the bridge. Pay close attention to speed zones. 

Where To Stay

There are several campgrounds around the lake. Booking in advance is recommended.

The marina has rental boats that you can use to get to some of the remote boat access campgrounds as well. 

There are resorts around the lake with different levels of service, along with hotels that are found in the surrounding communities. 

Restaurants also can be found in the region, as can wineries and other attractions.

The marina has a market and tackle shop for any baits or snacks you may need.

Take your time to get to know Lake Sonoma and its fishing, and you’re sure to have a great, relaxing vacation with some epic fishing memories to bring home.

Find More Fishing Spots in Sonoma County