The top fishery on the West Coast and number three overall best lake in the country comes with a fascinating past almost as compelling as its record bass. -Joe Sills
Blast off on the waters of California’s Clear Lake and you’ll be boating over nearly half a million years of geologic history. The fishery here is that old; and though largemouth bass didn’t make their way into this transfixing Northern California hotbed for hogs until the 1890s (making their way across the country on railroad cars, like most travelers of the day), they’ve made an impact in just a short time.
In 1990, Jerry Basgal brought in an astonishing 17.52 bucket mouth on Clear Lake; and largemouth in the eight to ten pound class are still almost common here. A 2023 B.A.S.S. survey revealed six of 11 recent tournament winners taking bringing in bass of five pounds or greater. Four of those fish clocked in with double digits.
The lake is a popular pilgrimage point for West Coast anglers making their way north from the Bay Area and south from nearby Oregon; but the stunningly productive waters of this natural, volcanic masterpiece are worthy of a trek for even the most staunch advocate of the TVA. So pack your bags and crank up the Beach Boys, Metallica, Tupac or Red Hot Chili Peppers and make for the “best coast.” When you get there, you’ll find a Bassmaster-approved itinerary to help along the way.
Set Up Shop at a Campsite, Apartment or Lakeside Cottage
Sprawling Clear Lake State Park serves up four campgrounds capable of hosting campers and trailers up to 35 feet in length. An on-site boat ramp makes this park a hive of activity on tournament days. And Kelsey Creek campground even offers lakeside fire rings to accompany breathtaking views. Several Bassmaster Classic competitors cut their teeth here, pitching up tents for the night before their wallets were wide enough for a more luxurious evening perch.
Campers be warned: Clear Lake State Park has no onsite water. Stock up if you plan to spend the night beneath the stars.
For travelers on a more liberal budget, Bassmaster recommends booking an apartment in Kelseyville. Suites on Main supplies travelers with fully furnished apartments just a short drive from the Clear Lake State Park Boat Ramp. Across the lake, Konocti Harbor Resort welcomes guests to a luxury experience inside a golf retreat-like compound at the base of the dormant volcano.
Looking for a middle ground between roughing it and luxury? The Clear Lake area is blessed with a smattering of national chains like Best Western and Travelodge; but our nod for a happy medium goes to Clear Lake Cottages & Marina. The two-star waterfront retreat offers boat slips, a ramp, laundry services and stunning views of Mount Konocti.
Satisfy Your Taste Buds in Town(s)
Fried pickles with pepperoncinis and jalapeños, ahi poke nachos and hand-battered fish and chips await at Kelseyville’s Saw Shop Public House. The creative menu here includes lots of vegetarian-friendly options like black bean burgers, and crispy cauliflower with gochujang chili sauce (because, hey, California).
Down the street, Pogo’s Pizza dishes out ultra-casual, crispy pies from a vine-covered storefront that’s been fueling bass angling day dreams around the lake for decades. The no frills pizza parlor offers up wings, sandwiches, salads and pizza pies ranging from meat lovers to Mexican and bacon lovers.
Anglers looking for a south of the border fix can scratch their itch at Carmelita’s Cocina. Abundant baskets of tortilla chips, bowls of salsa, burritos and street tacos all come hot, fast and cheap from a staff that’s as friendly as they come.
Kelseyville isn’t the only options for Clear Lakes eats, though. Just seven miles up the road in the quant town of Lakeport, the patio of Park Place Restaurant is home to daily specials like Atlantic salmon linguine seasoned with artichoke hearts and sun-dried tomatoes, pork tenderloin parmesan on house made marina and Jamaican jerk rubbed salmon with pineapple salsa.
Tap in to That Old Lake County Spirit
Lake County might be adjacent to the storied vineyards of Sonoma and Napa, but the vibe here is decidedly more casual than much of the scene further south. The wine, though, remains excellent—as one might expect from an elevated region just a stone’s throw from the California coast. Swing by Boatique Winery for a celebratory tasting after your big catch. Visitors there can not only indulge in their pick of rose, white or blended reds; but can also book an onsite loft or cottage for an overnight stay.
Aspiring chefs may want to take a gander at Kelseyville’s captivating Chacewater Winery & Olive Mill, which offers a rare opportunity to study up on winemaking as well as the secrets of craft olive oil—a real game changer for your next family meal.
About 20 miles south of Kelseyville, near the town of Lower Lake, Six Sigma Winery hosts tastings on the site of a Gold Rush-era stage coach house. Six Sigma allows its club members (anyone can join) to bring a camper and pitch a tent on the ranch and offers vineyard tours in a military-grade Austrian off-road vehicle.
Wine isn’t the only spirit carving out a niche at Clear Lake. Kelsey Creek Brewing Co. serves up playful favorites like the Other Brother Darryl IPA and Sunday Morning Sidewalk session ale.
Enjoy Land Lover Recreation
Mount Konocti lords over Clear Lake like a Targaryen prince over a dragon’s egg. Hikers can make a seven-mile trek to the top of Mount Konocti to soak in Clear Lake from a dragon’s eye view. The hike traverses dense oak forests, the ruins of an old homestead and the remains of a small plane crash before topping out after 1,700 feet of gain.
More leisurely excursions await at Anderson Marsh State Historic Park. The historic farm dates to 1855 and includes a family friendly walking trail that doubles as an excellent site for bird watching and a crash course in the area’s indigenous inhabitants like the Lake Miwok and Southeastern Pomo peoples.