Lake Pillsbury is a true hidden gem in the Mendocino National Forest, filling out at 2,280 acres with a surrounding 31 acre shoreline. This lake resides in Lake County, Calif. The area is known for one of the best bass fisheries in the nation, Clear Lake.
The Scott Dam created the reservoir of Lake Pillsbury on the upper reaches of the Eel River holding a maximum capacity of 86,400 acre feet of water. While the Eel River itself holds legendary fishing for steelhead, Lake Pillsbury is somewhat a local secret. There are only two main roads into the lake, from Upper Lake and Potter Valley California. Scott Dam was completed in 1921 to maintain flow to PG&E’s hydroelectric plant further downstream at Cape Horn Dam.
Here are some good details on the lake and surrounding area, because while the lake is awesome, there is more than one way to have an adventure in the area. There are multiple campgrounds surrounding the lake, miles of trails, OHV, hiking, horseback and offers of other recreational activities. There are limitless amounts of wildlife in the area as well, including tule elk, deer, mountain lions, etc. Ca Dept. of Fish and Wildlife stocks the lake with rainbow trout annually. Hunting is fairly popular in this forest as well as Christmas tree gathering, stream fishing, backpacking and more.
Let’s get down to the good stuff, the downright awesome bass fishing. The north-end of the lake is arguably the best location for fishing, especially during the pre spawn and spawn. The north is basically one big flat with a creek channel and often is really shallow during low water months such as August and September.
Boating in this area can be sketchy at times, so stay aware.
There are a few small coves, an island of trees and bushes and small dock area but other than that and a few underwater logs here and there, that’s it. Fish here in the spring, bring a Huddleston and you won’t be disappointed. Often times, if you manage to find a good piece of structure such as an underwater stump with a small depression associated with it you can sit on that spot all day and catch a hefty limit of bass with a jig, Senko and swimbait.
My personal best fish, although not huge, came from Lake Pillsbury. I’ve seen ten pounders caught and multiples of 6 - 8 pounders. I can confidently say there are more five-plus pounders roaming the lake than there are of the smaller weight class.
The southern end of the lake is comprised of two river arms, the Rice Fork and the Eel River. Both sections prove good fishing throughout the year, deeper than the north end, the coves and arms still host bedding bass while maintaining fish of all life stages.
It is the safer bet to fish the south end for a consistent bite, however; most tournaments are won and majority of bigger fish are caught in the north end. Popular fishing locations in the southern end are rocky point, near Scott Dam, the mouth of the Eel, Salt, Bear and Horsepasture gulches.
There also is the Lake Pillsbury resort marina, which is a cool campground and has the biggest dock on the lake, which isn’t as big as you think. Go-to lures here are a jig, Senko and swimbaits. Want more detail? I suggest brown/purple jigs, black/blue Senkos and a Huddleston in a trout pattern.
Topwater lures such as a Spook or buzzbait is fun here during the right time of year. Fish are commonly caught on other various lures such as a ripbait, crankbaits and spinnerbaits as well as the aforementioned triple threat.
Tournament talk - well there isn’t much to it. There are a few local club tournaments each year, not to forget a couple trout derbies; but that is basically it. Tournament bags here go about 20 - 30 pounds on average. During the pre spawn they are a little on the higher end, but that goes without saying.
It is basically an untapped lake, a hidden gem, a Lake X to the bass fishing community. Lake Pillsbury is a great destination for families, friends or solo fishing trips to a beautiful high mountain lake. Day trips are possible, long, but possible. Multi-day camp trips are recommended as the drive from either Potter Valley or Upper Lake is a little over an hour pulling a boat. Dirt roads, potholes and washboards are commonplace out there. Just a couple campgrounds offer electricity and other hook-ups, while most are dry camps and there are a few boater campsites.
I highly recommend checking out Lake Pillsbury for yourself, the combination of unforgettable scenery far from cell service and everyday life, wildlife and a great bass fishery are hard to pass up. Bring along the triple threat, jig, Senko and a swimbait and have a relaxing, rod bending thrill of a weekend.