Fishing Folsom Lake
Good Fishing in Our Own Backyard
By Todd "Toad" Crockett
Sacramento valley residents are very fortunate when it comes to available bass fishing waters. We have so many good locations to choose from. One of the most popular spots for water sport recreation is Folsom Lake. The Folsom Lake State Park is located approximately 25 miles east of Sacramento near the City of Folsom. The lake has more than 11,500 surface acres when full and almost 75 miles of shoreline. The spillway elevation is 456 feet above sea level. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation constructed Folsom Dam in 1955 as part of the California Central Valley Project. Folsom Dam was placed just below the confluence of the north and south forks of the American River. The primary purpose of the dam was to provide flood control, hydro electric power, and irrigation. The resulting benefit of this dam was the creation of one of the most popular parks in the California State Park Systems. Each year between two and three million people visit this area for camping, fishing, sailing, horseback riding, picnicking and other outdoor activities.
For the bass angler Folsom Lake offers some great fishing if you're willing to put in the time to learn the water. We have a good population of largemouth, small mouth and spotted bass in the lake. The largemouth bass in Folsom is a hybrid of Northern and Florida strain bass. Florida strain largemouths were originally brought to California from Florida in 1959 and planted in Upper Otay Reservoir. The Department of Fish and Game then planted the bass from there to Lake Hodges, near San Diego in 1969. From there they introduced Florida strain largemouth bass into Folsom Lake in 1972 through 1974 with some fish in 1974 coming from Rancho Seco Lake. These fish have taken hold in the reservoir and account for some trophy sized bass. The lake record for largemouth bass is better than fifteen pounds. Every year many ten pound plus fish come from the lake. Studies done by Fish and Game from 1988 to 1993 showed the population of bass to be somewhere near 60% small mouth, 30% spotted bass and 10% largemouth. Since these studies were concluded in 1993, they expect that the spotted bass population has increased significantly. Besides the black bass in the lake there is also planted rainbow trout in the cooler months, crappie, bluegill and some good sized catfish.
We can divide the lake into three sections, the main body, south fork and north fork. All three areas have good fish holding locations. In the main body several dams provide rip rap and deep water access. Coves provide spawning area and cover near Dyke Eight and at Beales Point. The peninsula that extends into the lake toward the dam offers large boulders, rock piles, and trees for holding fish.
Folsom Lake's North Fork has many good locations for fishing and is large enough that you can always find a secluded area. The stretch that runs upstream from Granite bay on the north side of the river has expansive bays filled with boulders that hold fish year round. Further up the arm on the south side is Anderson Island. Some of the biggest fish caught on the North Fork come from this area around the island. Further up the river near Rattlesnake Bar the terrain resembles a canyon type reservoir with steep walls and deep water.
The South Fork is the smaller of the two but contains, what is probably the best known area in the lake for lunker bass, New York Creek Cove. Many bass anglers visit this spot every day, especially during the spawn. This area holds more big bass than any other area it's size but be forewarned the fish here are wary. Some other good spots in this arm are Deep Ravine and Jacks Shack. This part of the lake holds a good population of largemouth bass all year long.
Folsom Lake can provide good action year round for the serious angler. Winter can be a great time to fish the lake without all of the traffic that summer brings. You can be on the water all day without seeing more than a handful of other boats. Winter patterns can vary with the water conditions but some methods produce day after day. Splitshotting worms in winter is a good bet. Some worm colors that work well at Folsom are browns and greens such as Witches "T", Green Craw, Green Weenie, and Summer Moss. Shad patterns also work well with Blue Ghost, Purple Ghost, Morning Dawn and small minnow imitating reapers catching fish. Fishing can be good with spoons in the winter with fish being found suspended off steep walls and by following creek channels out of the coves. Spoons can be any size from three eighths oz. when fish are shallow, say from 10 to 20 feet, or up to several ounces when they are found deep, to 60 feet depths. Another pattern that provides good fishing action from October through January is a spinner bait. Fish a white on white combination in a half ounce with white double willows and slow roll it past the rocks and boulders in the north fork around Anderson Island and banks with large rock between New York Creek and Jacks Shack.
The water in the lake can become extremely cold in winter due to the fact that it's supplied by snow melt from the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Take precautions when fishing in the winter and be prepared if you are ever unfortunate enough to fall into the water. One other hazard of winter fishing is fog. This reservoir can become "socked in" and you will have trouble navigating. When the lake is low in the winter months there can also be many submerged hazards that may or may not be marked. Use caution when boating in unfamiliar areas at low water.
Spring is time to move into the coves and flats. The fish will move up and down on a daily basis and you must work to find the holding depth on any given day. Once you figure out the depth you can move from spot to spot and find the fish easily. Remember that a lake like this can have water temperatures that will vary 20 to 30 degrees from one end of the lake to the other. If you try an area and it doesn't produce bites try a different location. Running water in the backs of creek channels can help to locate spring bass. The warmer water temperatures that can be found from this running water can attract pre-spawn fish. Try throwing a spinner bait or a pig and jig into this water and look for big bites. Another benefit of this inflow is clearer water. While everything else is muddy, this fresh running water can have much better visibility.
Good choices for spring fishing at Folsom include rip baits such as a TD Minnow, Smithwick Suspending Rogue, or Rapala Husky Jerk. These lures can provide bites so forceful that they'll take a rod from your hands if you're not careful. Fish them around staging areas and creeks leading into spawning flats. Lizards are a popular spring bait and account for many good fish. Colors like cotton candy, pumpkinseed and watermelon are good choices, with or without a chartreuse tail. Spinner baits and worms will also put fish in the boat. Another lure that can catch good quality fish during pre spawn is a jig. A brown/orange three eighth's ounce jig with a small brown pork, plastic grub, or craw trailer can be very effective. Another jig to try is a one quarter ounce brown jig with black buck tail. Not many fish have seen this combination and it works well. Some days throwing chartreuse crank baits with a blue back or bright crawdad pattern in the muddy water for staging fish will be the hot ticket. Remember the afternoon bite can be exceptional during the early spring so don't worry if you over slept.
Summer on Folsom can be a trying time. The lake will get crystal clear and water temperatures and boating traffic can drive the fish deep. Some good lures to try are top water such as the Zara Spook, Splash-it, Pop-R, and Rico. These top water baits can bring fish up from incredible depths in this clear water. Crank Baits can produce around the dams and rock walls. Crank baits with crawdad patterns and chrome with blue back work well. Soft jerk baits like the Sluggo or Zoom Super Fluke will trigger strikes also. You need to experiment with the speed and action of these baits to find out what the fish want. Throw them around small rock piles and isolated bushes rather than large areas of willows. Try to find small shadows on the water created by trees on the bank or boulders. And finally work the edges of drop offs on the outside of flats with a baby bass Rattletrap to find small mouths.
Plastic worms take fish all year long and summer is no exception. When the fish are deep and uncooperative a Carolina rig can produce good fish. Long points with submerged structure on it will hold fish. If one side has a deep drop off it will be an even better spot. Use just enough weight to feel the bottom and adjust your leader to suit the fishes mood, a shorter leader for an aggressive bite and longer leader for reluctant fish. Another pattern that can work well in the summer is fishing grubs rigged on a darter head along the dams. Use salt and pepper, smoke and flake patterns. Skirted grubs will work well when rigged on a three sixteenth or a quarter ounce darter head.
One other thought on worm colors, try matching the worm color to the bottom that you are fishing. When the water is extremely clear there is no need for something to stand out like a neon sign. If you're working a reddish clay or mud bank rig up an oxblood and blue worm or something of a similar hue. When the bottom or cover is grass or willows, throw a green pattern worm or plastic bait. And when fishing rock along the dams try a salt and pepper or smoke patterns. These subtle baits will blend into the bottom and when moved will trigger a strike that something that stands out won't.
In the summer months it can be best to try and fish the first couple hours in the morning or late in the evening to avoid water skiers and personal watercraft. Of course weekdays are less crowded than Saturday and Sunday, but even on weekends there is normally plenty of parking and launching on all but the busiest holidays. Folsom Lake offers five facilities from which to launch a boat at. Granite Bay is the largest facility and has a multi lane launch ramp and several low water ramps for use when the lake is drawn down. Granite Bay can be reached easily from I-80 by taking the Douglas Road exit in Roseville and taking Douglas Road east to the park. There is a facility at Rattlesnake Bar which is off Auburn-Folsom Road near the town of Auburn. This launch is a two-lane ramp that is only accessible when the lake is high. Dyke Eight is the closest park and launch facility to the City of Folsom. This location has a four-lane ramp and allows launching until the lake gets very low. Browns Ravine features a Marina with a store and boats slips for rent. There is a two-lane ramp at the Marina and a two-lane ramp around the corner at Hobie Cove. The fifth site is at the Peninsula camp ground and it offers a single lane for launching.
Water conditions and launching information can be obtained by calling the California Department of Parks and Recreation - Folsom Lake office at (916) 988-0205. Fishing information is available from Fran & Eddy's Sports Den in Rancho Cordova at (916) 363-6885 or Wild Sports in Orangevale at (916) 988-5375.