San Luis reservoir sits about 15 miles west of Los Banos off of Highway 152-on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley in central California. The huge 2 million acre foot reservoir sits in the Pacheco Pass-and is the largest off stream reservoir in the world. The large upper lake located behind the dam is actually a huge water holding tank-where water from the Delta is transported south by the California Aqueduct to the lower and much smaller San Luis Forebay – which is then lifted up into the main lake by huge pumps. When the need for water arises, the same pumps expel the water back into the lower Forebay where the California Aqueduct now moves the water farther south- all the way to Los Angeles.
The drought has affected the big lake, but since the lake is so large- there are still alot of productive areas to fish. The lake is probably in the best shape of any Valley reservoir this season-and the fishing has been good for us. Many folks have heard that the lake is empty-but the truth is its’ in pretty good shape with lots of fish.
The large upper main lake, as well as the smaller Forebay, have good populations of striped bass that anglers have pursued since the late 60’s. Several striped bass WR’s have been set here, including Hank Ferguson’s WR striper of over 67 pounds back in the 1980’s as well as several line class flyfishing WR’s over 50 pounds . A monstrous 70 pound striper was caught by a local angler in 2013 that was weighed on the local Baitshops scales-but the fisherman who didn’t care about records-took the fish home and ate it! The scales proved to be pretty accurate-so it would have probably been the first freshwater striped bass to break the 70 pound barrier-as well as being a new WR!
Most anglers opt to fish the big upper reservoir since it has a lot more deep structure and various fish holding areas -giving them more options for fishing. At full the lake is nearly 300 feet at it’s deepest. The preferred methods for catching stripers here seems to fall into several main categories. Trolling or downrigging lures, dunking minnows, soaking bait, throwing topwater plugs and casting the shoreline with ripbaits all work at times. Since the lake is closed to boats at night, there is also a cadre of anglers who cast lures from shore in the darkness. These nocturnal anglers catch many of the bigger and very wary stripers that come in shallow to feed -when its quiet and dark.
Sitting in a pass between the coast and the central Valley-San Luis is known for it’s wind, as well as it huge waves created by the gusting breezes. Cool weather on the coast, and warm hot rising air in the Valley creates a northern wind that can howl through the pass and lake areas. Fall and winter months are much more moderate-with winds that are also milder overall than the summer months. Carefully watching out for rising windy conditions is part of fishing at San Luis. Planning your trip so you have calmer conditions is key here.
The Forebay is a very shallow reservoir and rarely exceeds 30 feet in depth. Home to a good number of stripers-the fish tend to be smaller than the upper big lake fish on average. The winter months seem to be the best time to fish for the Forebay stripers-although fish can be taken year round. The bigger wary fish are usually harder to catch here since the water is so shallow.Deepwater structure, good numbers of all sizes of fish, islands, bays as well as lots of areas to explore all work to make the big lake the main choice for most striper anglers visiting the reservoir. It’s reputation for producing lots of huge trophy stripers precedes it, making it a destination of choice for many serious striper fishermen. It’s your turn!