Camp, Hike, Picnic or Boat on Lake Berryessa

photo courtesy

The largest lake in Napa County with over 20,000 acres, this reservoir is formed by the Monticello Dam, providing water and hydroelectricity to the North Bay Region of the Bay Area. The lake is approximately 15.5 mlles long, and only 3 miles wide. The lake has a seaplane landing area that is open to the public.

This is a great place for waterskiing, jet skiing, pleasure boating, kayaking and canoeing. Summer water temperatures reach 75 degrees. There are several ideal swimming beaches, picnicking areas and a number of hiking trails on the 165 miles of shoreline.

There are several resorts with marinas at the lake, as well as nearby Lake Solano County Park located west of Winters, California. Day use areas include Oak Shores and Smittle Creek.

Fishing is considered quite good on Lake Berryessa, including:

Sunfish are ideal beginner fish, exist in high abundance and are easily caught in nearly any shallow cove, weed bed, or dock area. They generally live in small schools, and feed on native flies and small minnows. Bluegill are best caught with a bobber and a small hook holding a piece of nightcrawler or minnow. Although they are most prevalent during the warm summer months, they can be found year-round in most shallow areas (less than 6 feet).

Crappie run in schools, making large crappie catches relatively common. Crappie are best caught in the spring, under coverings such as a dock, vegetation, or a fallen tree. For the best luck, try using a red and white mini-jig or a bobber with a minnow to lure these elusive fish. Trout and Salmon, while traditionally regarded as cold water fish, are inhabitants of the deep, open waters of Lake Berryessa, and can often reach “trophy” sizes of more than 10 pounds (the average size is 2-4 pounds). Best caught by trolling. During the spring, trout and salmon swim at depths around 15-20 feet. In the summer they are generally found below 40 feet. Another method used to catch trout or salmon is to drift a minnow, nightcrawler, or salmon eggs in open water using a bobber. Shore fishing has proven less successful for these fish, but it is possible during the spring when the water temperatures are still cool. Fly fishing is rarely practiced at Lake Berryessa, but it is possible in Upper Putah Creek, and is extremely popular below the dam in Lower Putah Creek.

Rainbow trout are the most common trout species; however brown trout and brook trout also exist. Landlocked steelhead are native to the region, and spawn in Upper Putah Creek during the spring months. All other trout are stocked annually. Several other types of salmon also exist in the lake: chinook salmon and kokanee which were recently introduced near Markley Cove.

Acorn Park at Lake Berryessa

Many anglers consider Bass to be the ultimate game fish of Lake Berryessa. The largemouth (15 – 20 inches) is slightly larger than the smallmouth (12-18 inches), and both fish spawn in the spring, when they can be found feeding in shallow areas for most of the day. In the summer, bass generally spend their days and nights resting in deeper water, but they move to shallow warm water to feed in the morning and evening. “It’s an awesome lake with huge fish. It’s got giants. There are bass in there up to 17 pounds,” claims professional bass fisherman Robyn Dobyns. “There are a lot of fish there, and it doesn’t get much pressure. It’s a fun place to go.”

Catfish, the bottom feeders of Lake Berryessa, are abundant and easily caught in nearly every part of the lake. The channel and bullhead catfish are the most common species, although the white catfish also exists. Dead organic matter is the normal diet of catfish. The average size for these fish is 2-4 pounds, however they can grow enormous in the deeper parts of the lake, often exceeding 20 pounds. The one tried and true method which nearly all anglers use to catch catfish is to simply sink natural bait to the bottom of the lake, keep the line taught, and wait for a bite. The baits most widely used include nightcrawlers, chicken livers, clams, hot dogs, or anything with a strong odor.

The Monticello Dam area at the southeast corner of the lake is one of the best local birding areas. The best time to visit for the best birding opportunities is in the early spring and late fall during migration and nesting seasons. The grassy hills dotted with oak and manzanita provide excellent opportunities to view eagles, hawks, songbirds, wild turkeys, and deer. Shoreline viewing opportunities may include canada geese, pelicans, great blue herons, western grebes, wood ducks, snow geese, and common loons.

The east side of the lake has a 2,000-acre (8.1 km2) Wildlife Management Area that protects wildlife habitats for such species as mountain lion, black-tailed deer, western rattlesnake, raccoon, skunk, osprey and golden eagle.

The resorts of Lake Berryessa are currently undergoing a renovation renaissance. Check for updated information about the unveiling of “an unparalleled network of marinas, spacious and comfortable lodging units, and RV and Camping sites that line the shores of beautiful Lake Berryessa.”