Fishing opportunities abound on California’s Central Coast

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From excellent saltwater action stretching from the Gold Coast to Big Sur, to beautiful coastal lakes and excellent foothill bassin’, this unique and wonderfully diverse region has myriad outdoor options to offer

BY RICH LINGOR AND ALLEN BUSHNELL

Any outdoorsman or woman who has made a welcome escape to the Central Coast will tell you this is a place rooted in an earlier time. The ocean teems with fish, some of the best rockcod and lingcod in the state. The area also offers outstanding salmon fishing and a rich maritime history, and occasional flurries of sought-after exotics such as white seabass and longfin. Inland, lakes nestle in the rolling, pastoral foothills, where an abundance of spotted and white bass and the more common largemouth tempt anglers.

Use this guide, now newly expanded to include the bountiful ports of Monterey Bay, to help plan your next Central Coast fishing trip. Please note that schedules and sportboat loads mentioned below are subject to change due local county health orders.

Central Coast Salt Scene

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Anglers looking for a getaway from the dense urban chaos of Southern California and the Bay Area have been enjoying the charm, relaxed atmosphere, and lighter fishing pressure of the California Central Coast for years. Sportfishing landings north of Los Angeles and south of San Jose are rooted in pleasant village and community-type destinations rather than merely being tenants wedged into an industrial complex. When you get there, you don’t feel like you are going to work. Parking is free and a short walk to the loading dock. Summertime fishing from these landings comes with the bonus of escape from oppressive inland heat. You may even need a jacket all day when nature’s thermostat is cranked over to extra chill.

California’s coastline makes a hard shift from south-facing to west-facing at Point Conception. The nature and personality of the fishery has a deeper singing voice and dances to a different tune for the landings up around the corner. The Morro Bay/Avila Beach area is famous for rockfish. While shallow gamefish are an occasional part of the mix, rockfish are the fuel that drives the angling machine. The anticipation of the April 1 opening fills the reservation logs of the sportboats each and every year.

Fish the Surf

Very good surf fishing is a little known bonus on the Central Coast, where barred surfperch can often reach up to 4 pounds. Carolina rigs with Gulp sand worms or live sand crabs are the standard approach. Rapala Scatter Rap minnows and Lucky Craft 110s also get their share. Halibut and striped bass are an occasional bonus.

The Gold Coast Landings

Channel Islands Sportfishing (CISCOS) is far enough north of Los Angeles to start to feel like you are getting away from the daily stampede. Its location gives anglers a taste of the blend of Northern and Southern California. It is 60 miles north of Los Angles and 35 miles south of Santa Barbara.

Halibut and rockfish most often fill out the angler’s sack, while yellowtail and white seabass, along with bass and barracuda, provide the seasonal adrenaline rush.

The CISCOS fleet is full of legendary sportboats that range far and wide including to the landing’s namesake Channel Islands. Classics such as the Gentleman and deadly fish hunters such as the Island Tak stand ready to help you fulfill your angling dreams. Of note, Capt. Rick Russell, formerly of the Chief, has taken ownership of the Pacific Islander. He’s lavished her with tender loving care and is offering an interesting array of overnight trips.

CISCOS headquartered Ranger 85 will host a 2-day Channel Islands WON charter Nov. 1-3, 2020. This is a great way to put a capper on the fishing season. Visit WONews.com and click on the Events tab for more info or to sign up for this great trip.

Heading another 7 miles north takes you to Ventura Sportfishing, an outpost that prospects the bountiful Channel Islands. Gamefish such as yellowtail and white seabass are always on target, but if these highly coveted species don’t show, there’s an abundant rockfish and lingcod fishery to tap.

The fleet is led by the 60-foot highly sought after overnight boat Endeavor operated by landing owner Capt. Tucker McCombs, and he’s as fishy as they come. It also includes the 65-foot well-equipped Island Spirit, the landing’s largest fishing vessel. Designed to accommodate 70 passengers, they limit their load to 35 for plenty of fishing room. Trips run from 5:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The Pacific Eagle is the other all day boat, running from 4:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. as well as three-quarter-day trips. The Pacific Dawn runs strictly overnight to the outer islands. Ventura Sportfishing: (805) 676-3474.

On Aug. 13, Ventura Sportfishing will offer the WON Rockfish Rumble, a 2-boat duel for a combined jackpot. The trip price is $115 which includes the $10 individual jackpot entry. The money will be split by the 3 anglers catching the heaviest fish. To sign up or for more information visit WONews.com and click on the Events tab.

THE STARDUST AND CORAL SEA out of SEA Landing, Santa Barbara, are a gateway to the bounty of the Channel Islands and the local Gaviota coast. Jason and Jamie Diamond run an excellent, angler-focused operation.

SEA Landing in Santa Barbara Harbor is the last sportfishing destination with a taste of Southern California style before turning further north. The Stardust and Coral Sea half- and three-quarter-day trips regularly focus on rockfish but are ready for surface action when opportunity knocks. Sea Landing claims the Channel Islands as its playground and the rockfish they bring in are generally a larger grade. Lingcod, whitefish and sheephead are regular additions to the fish counts. White seabass, halibut and a variety of surface fish such as bass, bonito and barracuda are often targeted on the same trip with the rockfish. There are also times when they tell you to bring your yellowtail gear, as sometimes the yellows are just outside of the harbor. Reservations: (805) 963-3564; After hours: (805) 886-0454.

Morro Bay & Avila Beach

Virg’s Landing has been the cornerstone of Central Coast saltwater sportfishing since 1954. Virg’s fleet includes the Fiesta and the Rita G that both run ½- and ¾-day trips. The Black Pearl runs overnight trips and “reverse” overnight trips. Reverse overnight trips leave at 11:00 a.m. and return at 4:00 p.m. the next day, an unusual innovation that lets the angler bring home two limits of fish.

The Black Pearl will surprise you with home-style cooking and their special occasion restaurant type menu. You will have full fish sacks and a full belly. The boat has refrigerated fish holds and runs albacore trips when the longfins come knocking.

The Black Pearl will host a WON charter scheduled for Aug. 7-8, 2020, and it will be a reverse overnight if local health regulations permit. Visit WONews.com and click on the Events tab for more information or to sign up.

The landing also features the largest tackle store on the Central Coast with all of the right top-notch gear for your trip, including apparel from deck boots and sunglasses to hoodies and shirts. They have leadheads and weights by the ton and thousands of ready rockfish rigs and jigs.

They are serious about surf fishing too with the right tackle. Their experienced, helpful staff can help with rigging and local knowledge from surf fishing to deep-water rock fishing. Budget some extra time to check it out.

Virg’s: (805) 772-1222.

Patriot Sportfishing features a trio of sportboats at Avila Beach: the Patriot, the Flying Fish and the Phenix and 3 boats at Morro Bay (Morro Bay Landing) that specialize in catching rockfish.

Trips range from half-day 6-hour runs to extended 12-hour full-day trips.

Rockfish are the main focus during the April 1 to Dec. 31 season. The abundance of nearby rocky bottom high spots give the passengers and crew plenty of spots and zones to drop in on without hitting the same group day after day.

A 12- to 16-ounce sinker below a couple of rockcod flies tipped with a chunk of squid is about as close as you can get to a guaranteed hook-up. A single fly above a jig is a good choice on the shallower rock piles. Plenty of lingcod get invited to dinner by heavy swimbaits too.

Full boat limits of assorted rockfish is usually the standard fishing report. When salmon are in the area, the landing adjusts the schedule to meet the demand. Trolling is the preferred approach here. Albacore seem to show up here even when they have bypassed Southern California’s long known migration routes. Late summer and fall have been the previous pattern. If and when they make an appearance, expect the trips to be scheduled pronto.

Avila Beach: (805) 595-7200; Morro Bay Landing: (805) 771-5500.

Morro Bay Landing is hosting a multi-boat full-dau combined jackpot WON charter on Friay, Sept. 18. All three boats are participating. Sign up now at WONews.com to secure your favorite. The trip is $120 which includes jackpot buy-in.

Private boaters

Santa Barbara Harbor has a public launch ramp with free parking on the street or metered parking in the lot, with a maximum fee of $12 per day. Payment by bills, coins, debit card, MC/Visa. Tip: Sometimes you can load up on bait with Sabiki rigs just outside of the harbor.

Morro Bay has a launch ramp with a $5 parking fee. The parking permit machine is designed to accept bills or credit cards but the bills are almost always rejected so be prepared with a couple of different cards because the machine is difficult before it has had its coffee. The salt air may have made it cantankerous and grouchy.

There are 42 vehicle-with-trailer spaces, so get there early. There is a single lane, coin-operated washdown for flushing your boat and motor that runs on quarters. Bring your own hose. Rubber boots would be handy since there is a big puddle in front of the machine like a big dog blocking the refrigerator.

Avila Beach has a hoist with a sling known as Port San Luis SportLaunch. They launch skiffs and boats up to 35 feet. Hours of operation are currently 6:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. on weekdays and 5:30 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. on weekends, but this may be different due to COVID restrictions. Be back in plenty of time for them to pluck your boat back out and put it on the trailer. There are 35 spaces. Call for pricing and details at (805) 595-7895.

Monterey Bay

Monterey Harbor nestles into the protected southernmost corner of Monterey Bay. A hub for both commercial and sportfishing, Monterey Harbor continues to host a few large purse seiners that bank on tons of anchovies, sardines and market squid in the bay each year. Trailer boats can launch at the west end of the harbor next to the Coast Guard Pier for free. Parking costs $12.00 per day. The harbor also has a public boat hoist available 24 hours a day with a minimal charge arranged through the harbor office. Anglers head out past Point Pinos and fish the rocky headlands of Carmel for a healthy variety of rockfish and lingcod. Larger boats are able to travel to the Big Sur Coast, where the fish are bigger and more numerous due to lack of pressure. In the bay itself, the whole gamut of species can be targeted from rockfish, lings, California halibut, Dungeness crab and king salmon. The southern area of Monterey Bay occasionally hosts more “exotic” species including calico bass, opaleyes, white sea bass and Pacific bonito.

Charter operations operate year-round from Monterey Harbor. Chris’ Sport Fishing, (831) 375-5951, owned and operated by Monterey native son Chris Arcoleo sends out three big boats: the 56-foot Check Mate, the 56-foot Caroline and the Star of Monterey, a 65-foot twin screw fiberglass sportfisher. J&M Sportfishing was formerly known as Randy’s, and has two large boats of their own. The New Horizon is a 55-foot vessel that can fish up to 30 people, and the Chubasco, a 63-foot vessel that accommodates 40 anglers comfortably.

At the apex of the Monterey Bay Marine Canyon sits Moss Landing Harbor. The canyon is the defining feature of Monterey Bay, plunging to nearly 12,000 feet deep some 95 miles offshore. Branching from the main canyon are the Soquel Hole to the north and the Carmel Marine Canyon to the south. These deep waters host a stunning variety of life, and upwelling from the canyons fuel an abundance of feed for sport species. A few big net boats operate out of Moss, which also hosts a good number of smaller salmon trolling boats. Slip fees are quite reasonable at Moss, which is considered a more commercial harbor. Private boats can launch at the public ramp for an $18.00 fee.

HOW’S THIS for a Central Coast exotic? White seabass are caught in the region more often than most people know. This one was roped by Josh Larsen in Capitola.

The sandy flats to each side of the marine canyon are fantastic for flatfish including halibut, starry flounder, petrale sole and sand dabs. Salmon schools feeding voraciously while on their spawning journey gravitate towards the canyon edges, taking advantage of the upwelling food chain. Kahuna Sportfishing, (831) 633-2564, is the sole sportfishing charter in the harbor. Owner Carol Jones runs a high-level operation specializing in “long-range” trips to the Big Sur area, mooching for salmon while in season and traveling offshore chasing tuna during the albacore years. The Kahuna is a 50-foot Delta with impeccable maintenance, and Kahuna has a devoted following.

The Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor has slips for 1,200 boats. Located on the northern tip of Monterey Bay, the harbor provides refuge for sailboats, sport fishing boats and a healthy fleet of commercial salmon and crab boat operators. Just around the corner to the north stretches over 30 miles of “wild coast,” rocky and reefy and teeming with rockfish and lingcod. Some of the largest halibut brought into Santa Cruz Harbor are caught from the sandy areas between these reefs. Santa Cruz has a large public trailer launch ramp capable of handling four boats at once. Daily launch fees are $17.00 and cartop launch or all day parking costs $13.00.

Stagnaro’s Sportfishing, (831) 427-0230, is the area’s oldest and most famous charter operation. With two big fishing boats that also double for whale-watching, full and half-day trips are available. The Velocity, a 60-foot modern aluminum craft and the smaller 56-foot Legacy fish year-round. Typically, these boats can handle 30-35 fishing passengers. A few six-pack operations also call Santa Cruz home.

Go Fish Santa Cruz, (831) 234-6155, is owned and operated by John (JT) Thomas, a lifelong resident and fisherman from Santa Cruz. The 30-foot Island Hopper Miss Beth has a 12-foot beam, over 100 feet of open cockpit area, and a brand new engine as of 2019. These guys are quick and exuberant and willing to take chances hunting for more elusive prey such as white sea bass and albacore. They also run crab combo trips in the winter, with Dungeness crab and rockfish or sanddab limits being the norm. The Mega-Bite from Monterey Bay Charters, (831) 818-8808, is also a fixture in Santa Cruz, with skipper Tom Dolan at the helm.

SURF FISHING in Monterey Bay rivals anywhere, with big surfperch and nice stripers such as this one caught by John Del Rosario off the beach at Monterey.

Surfcasting for surfperch and striped bass is another year-round activity on Monterey Bay. With 99 miles of shoreline around the bay, it’s easy to find an uncrowded spot for casting at dawn or dusk. Striped bass are most prolific in the spring and summer months, after the Pajaro and Salinas Rivers break out to the saltwater. Late summer features bigger stripers feeding their way down from San Francisco Bay. Finding a beach near one of the rivermouths improve the chances of hooking a nice striper, and anglers have a good shot at surfperch from any beach on the bay.

Central Coast Lakes

California’s Central Coast lakes are another pleasant prescription for clearing the hussle and bussle of city life from your psyche. California’s Central Coast lakes are lower elevation, warm-water reservoirs with a variety of species to provide diverse angling opportunities along with camping and related outdoor adventures, recreation and family-friendly activities. These lakes are all nestled in rural “out in the country” settings where wildlife can be abundant, so be sure to bring your camera for more than just the fishing memories.

Nearby coastal communities offer wine tasting, entertainment, beaches and a full range of services and supplies for out-of-town travelers. The Central Coast Lakes are generally larger than the Southern California lakes and offer room to explore, ski or fish. Each of these lakes has its own personality with variations of fish activity, structure, camping, wildlife, facilities and general outdoor experience. Park staff offers scheduled programs and some guided activities during the summer months. Each one of these lakes has spent at least some time on the top of my list of favorites. My priority checklist for my favorite lakes always starts with the fishing, but each lake has more to offer. Plan a trip to the region and you might just find a new favorite lake of your own.

Lake Nacimiento

Nicknamed “The Dragon” for its mystical and unique dragon-looking shape, Nacimiento is located about 17 miles northwest of Paso Robles. As the map suggests, it has a lot of fingers, coves and shoreline and is a very popular water skiing destination, shifting the atmosphere from a nature lover’s getaway to a “Spring Break Gone Wild’ destination in the summer months. Weekdays and early mornings can be a viable strategy for anglers during summertime, as well as seeking out the coves with 5 mph restrictions. Be aware of the centerline buoys and adhere to the counter-clockwise traffic pattern, as safety rules are aggressively enforced.

The park features a full-service marina with gas, supplies, boat and water play rentals and slips. There are full hook-up and primitive campsites as well as cabins for rent. There is also a store and a restaurant.

A special distinctive feature of this big beautiful lake is the chance to regularly see American bald eagles in and around the tall trees. In addition, feeding and nesting sites can be spotted around the edge of the lake.

“Naci” is a terrific fishing lake with an abundant population of spotted bass and white bass. The lake has lots of rocky walls, points and channels to fish. Species also include largemouth, smallmouth, crappie, catfish, bluegill, redear and carp. Smallmouth have become very rare in recent years, however, as I have only caught one there in the last ten years. Largemouth had nearly disappeared too, but they are starting to show up again every once in awhile. I catch one or two about every third trip now.

The spotted bass is the most willing-to-play member of the bass family. It can be reasonable to expect to catch and release enough of them to easily lose count. They are a very active fish and can be seen chasing shad in any part of the lake or water column. Spotted bass readily respond to lures that fit the size and color of the feed. Try shaky heads, drop-shots, small swimbaits, Kastmasters, topwaters and any small minnow-imitating lure. Some of the spotted bass will cough up crawdads or bluegill. Worms, jigs and Hula grubs can be effective when the shad are scarce.

White bass feed nearly exclusively on shad, limiting lure choices to reaction baits. Spoons, inline spinners, crankbaits and topwater are top choices for these hard fighters. Casting and trolling are both popular methods. When the white bass and spotted bass find the same school of shad, anglers can catch big numbers as they compete for the feed. There is no limit on white bass, but it is illegal to keep them alive. So cut their throat or pull a gill before putting them in a livewell to bleed. Be sure to put them on ice as soon as they have been bled and be prepared with an ice chest.

Nacimiento has been a good bluegill lake in the past and the panfish have made a big recent comeback. The catfish have been showing up more frequently than in the past too, falling for lures intended for bass and crappie. Anchovy and mackerel chunks dipped in Bite-On scent have been bringing much success for the bait-and-wait crowd.

Boat inspection bands for Nacimiento and Lake San Antonio are honored at either lake. Ask for one when you turn in your inspection certificate on the way out.

Lake San Antonio

San Antonio and Nacimiento are next-door neighbors. They are close enough that an inter-lake tunnel has been in the plans since 1991. The last update of the plan was in July 2018, illustrating a 10,490-foot tunnel and the potential additional water that could be captured in wet years. This 16-mile long lake (when full) has a completely different personality than its sister lake. The camping at San Antonio is in large spaces with lots of shade, and there are hilltop sites with great views. Sites within walking distance of the water and waterside beach camping are available when the water is at normal levels.

Eagles, wild hogs and deer are regular visitors to the lake and even a few elk are also spotted now and then. San Antonio features picnic areas, hiking and ample shoreline fishing access.

Catfish are abundant and reliable, responding to most organic baits. The catfish are often caught on a variety of lures intended for bass or crappie as well. I have caught them on crankbaits, spoons, jigs and plastic worms. They feed from the same menu as most of the other game fish. Try these lures along the rocky banks, points and steep walls for bass and you may be surprised with a bonus cat. Another bright note is that the bluegill have come back in large numbers. A lot of terrestrial cover grew up during the drought and the bluegill seem to have successfully spawned and taken advantage of the new protection afforded them by all the relatively new vegetation.

San Antonio has had a long reputation for being a great fishing destination. Striped bass fishing has been terrific in the past, but striped bass seem to have disappeared since the massive algae bloom in 2017, exacerbated by the catastrophic drawdown conducted without regard for the ecosystem by Monterey County Water Resources Agency. They have resumed the destructive drawdown schedule at three times the seasonal historical rate. There have been rumors of stripers spotted and missed hook-ups but no confirmed catches. Formerly widespread striped bass surface boils have not been part of the picture. The good news is there is now a huge amount of shad in the lake for all of the game fish to fatten up and grow on.

Santa Margarita Lake

This is an excellent fishing lake with hiking trails and it offers a good camping experience. It is a “no body contact” lake so the fishing experience can be extra peaceful without the recreational boat traffic. The lake has primitive campsites (no hook-ups) and boat-in campsites. There are private campgrounds about a half-mile outside of the park entrance with hook-ups, cabins and a swimming pool. The park’s hiking trails offer some great nature views. The marina has an assortment of boats for rent. Bears are part of the wildlife mosaic here, so be bear aware.

Fishing can be very good for largemouth bass, redear, crappie and bluegill. Bass can sometimes be found chasing the shad only in one end of the lake, and when you come back next time, they all seem to be at the other end. Topwater presentations can be hot items in the warmer months. But when winter chill comes to this lake, the fishing can sometimes be extra challenging to nearly futile. But when the bite is on here, it can be downright awesome. Santa Margarita’s bass can be real moody. Sometimes it seems the pig and jig combo is the only thing they want, and other times they’ll only hit plastic worms. Since this lake gets trout plants, secretive bass fishermen can occasionally be seen tossing the big trout-imitation swimbaits. I have had some good days with crankbaits and spinnerbaits. This lake responds well for anglers that can adjust to the available targets and conditions.

Catfish grow large at this lake. Locals prefer chunks of mackerel for whiskerfish bait. Try targeting the catfish near the trees in the upper river channel for your best shot at a big cat. For many years, smallmouth bass and striped bass were listed as available species, but they just haven’t been reported being caught in a very long time.

Lopez Lake

Lake Lopez is about 10 miles inland from the town of Arroyo Grande. The ocean breeze weather cools this recreation area to comfortable levels when the other inland Central Coast lakes are at furnace-like summer temperatures. The ocean influence also keeps the winter temperatures more stable, contributing to angler comfort and year-round fishing success. Camping is excellent at this lake with plenty of shade. Summer weekends can require reservations at this deservedly popular destination. They offer cabins for rent, there is a waterslide park, zip-line, hiking trails, rental boats, marina and bait store. Besides fishing, Lopez is popular with windsurfers, jet-skiers, stand-up paddle boarders, wake-boarders and water skiers.

Wildlife is abundant around the campgrounds. Turkey, deer, raccoons and foxes are among the critters that make themselves at home as they wander through the campgrounds. Keep your camera handy and don’t turn your back on your food or bait. Bears are becoming more and more common around the park, so be bear aware. Mountain lions are often sighted too.

Lopez is located between oak tree-covered hills and fills a system of fairly steep canyon creek beds. Coves, points, humps, flats, rip-rap, canyon walls, and flooded trees all have their turns holding their share of fish. Fishing can be very good for largemouth, smallmouth, catfish, bluegill, redear sunfish and crappie.

Lopez sometimes forms weed beds that are a favorite for largemouth bass anglers who like to toss hollow-bodied frogs. The primary forage base includes shad and crawdads. I like to fish small jigs to replicate crawdads. Small jigs can produce a lot of action from the smallmouth bass that might refuse the larger jigs designed for largemouth. Jigs and Kastmaster-type spoons produce all year. Summer patterns will find me tossing topwater, cranks and a variety of soft plastics.

I sometimes make Lopez a destination with panfish as my primary target because they can be abundant and nice-sized here. I use the same presentations I list for Cachuma Lake below. A couple of tips: 1) Jumbo mealworms are the easiest to use but when they are not biting these, switch to redworms or home-dug garden worms. 2) Anchor your boat at both ends when you find the panfish.

Cachuma Lake

In the mountains and wilderness above Santa Barbara, Cachuma is an excellent fishing lake. Camping here is comfortable with diverse scenic settings available. If you want to pack light, they also rent cabins and yurts. There is no swimming or water contact allowed in the lake, but they do have a pool.

Largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, redear sunfish, bluegill, crappie, catfish and trout are all worthy targets here. One way to overcome the quagga quarantine is to take advantage of the ample rental fleet available at the marina. A new same-day launch inspection program has gone into effect for ‘simple boats’ with no compartments, so getting on the water should be easier for some folks. The 30-day quarantine has reduced the fishing pressure to nearly private pond status. So at least the folks that go the extra mile to get out on the water at Cachuma are having extra reasons to smile.

Fishing tips: Trout are a big part of Cachuma’s attraction and the rainbows get star billing in the spring for the annual derby. Some are very nice, big trout and usually as quality of a rainbow on average as you’ll find anywhere. During the cooler months, trout can be caught near the surface with small Rapala minnow plugs, spinners, spoons and a variety of prepared baits from little jars. Once the summer gets into gear, expect the trout to be as deep as 60 feet. When they are deep, if you want to focus on trout, you will need to have good fish finding sonar and let your bait sink down to the level they are holding. This finesse technique works when the wind is calm because then you can use small split-shot size weights and be able to keep the line in the feeding zone. Another method to get your bait in the zone would be to deploy trolling gear designed for the depths (i.e. leadcore line and/or downriggers).

Bass fishing for largemouth and smallmouth can be very good here as well. Summer bass fishing with surface poppers, buzzbaits and Spooks can be a great way to start the morning. Once the sun gets bright, all of the standard soft plastic presentations produce action. A lot of brush grew up during the drought, so exposed hook rigging will keep you busy tying new rigs on — go weedless when you can.

The forage in Cachuma includes shad, bluegill and an abundance of crawdads, so colors that fit into those patterns all have their place. Because of the crawdad population, bass often respond well to jigs. When the strong winds get going, the bass at Cachuma will find the current and respond to reaction baits. I have had big days when I find a wind current that is creating a feeding chute. Spinnerbaits, swimbaits, underspins and lipless cranks are some of the things that have worked well for me over the years. Mix it up until you get the key to the day’s puzzle. Big bass get after the trout in the spring, and dedicated tossers of trout-sized swimbaits will put in the hours to get these oversized bass.

Crappie can be good sized and abundant at the lake. Crappie jigs around brush are the standard tactic in the spring. After the spawn, they can be roaming the flats picking off shad, so slowly swimming a jig over expansive flats sometimes can get a bunch of them. Later in the summer, find them in front of deep points and work your jig slowly and patiently.

Catfish are most active in the summer. All of the standard cut baits will get them. Fishing tip: use as little weight as you can — a very small sliding sinker or a small split-shot works best for me. Secret bait: part of the Cachuma cats’ diet includes crawdads, so shrimp is a very effective catfish bait here.

Bluegill and redear sunfish: These abundant, hard-fighting panfish flock to the shallow, flat zones to spawn in the late spring. I use three different rigs to find them. 1) A #6 baitholder snelled hook on a short leader attached to a dropper loop about 10 inches above a 3⁄16-ounce drop weight, baited with redworms or jumbo mealworms. 2) A #6 baitholder hook tied to the end of the line with a small split-shot about 12 inches above the hook, using the same baits. 3) A small jighead with a #6 hook. Thread a jumbo mealworm on the same way that you would put on a crappie skirt.

In the late spring, keep moving and pitching these rigs to shallow shoreline zones until the fish tell you to put the brakes on. After they have moved from the spawning zones, they usually move to about 10 to 20 feet deep but not far from where they were. They will still be bunched together and you can find them with your sonar (fish finder).

NOTE: Santa Margarita and Cachuma do not allow body contact, so swimming, water-skiing, windsurfing or any other body contact with the water is prohibited.

BEFORE YOU GO: All of the Central Coast lakes have a quagga muscle inspection requirement for vessels. Bands for boats leaving both Lake San Antonio and Nacimiento are honored at either lake. Similarly, bands from Santa Margarita and Lopez honor the bands for those two lakes. Cachuma has a mandatory 30-day quarantine program. A new “simple boat” same-day launch program started June 15, 2018; Call (805) 686-5052 for questions about qualifying.

If you are traveling to these regions, pick out a least a couple of these destinations for a road trip and enjoy the beauty and diversity that go along with the joy of fishing.

Tight lines, and enjoy all the beauty and sporting opportunities the Central Coast has to offer…

 

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