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The Reel Thing

A guide to the best fishing spots in the Greater South Bay

By Bobby McGill

The following list contains places to go meet fish. If you were standing in front of the Sharks Arena in downtown San Jose, none of these locations would be more than a 45-minute drive away.


Palo Alto Baylands
(415/329-2506). No facilities. Take 101 to Embarcadero and head east toward San Francisco Bay. On a good day, you're likely to catch assorted sharks and rays, depending upon the tides. Don't waste your time at low tide. The best bet for bait is squid or cut fish. You can try grass shrimp and maybe nab a sturgeon if you're lucky.


Coyote Creek
(Morgan Hill, 408/463-0711). Take Highway 101 south to Cochrane east, turn right at the base of Lake Anderson Dam. Coyote is the only stocked creek in the area. This is your chance to catch a rainbow trout in its native condition. This beautiful tree-lined stream offers great venues for fishers eager to experience what it was like going for trout 100 years ago. If you're adept at fly fishing, there are some nice little spots to wade and maneuver around the trees. If not, you can always use worms, Power Bait or salmon roe.

Pescadero Creek
(San Mateo County, 415/363-4201). Full facilities. Take Highway 92 east, then south on Highway 1, 13 miles to Pescadero. Though vastly depleted, steelhead still make their way up through here in the winter rainy season. If you're not quite the fly fisherman, you can try a bottom rig with salmon eggs. Play it smart and be mindful of your line, because steelhead, though genuinely great fighters, usually take the bait pretty "soft."

San Lorenzo River
(Santa Cruz, 408/355-4598). No facilities. Take any of the numerous pull-offs on Highway 9 between Felton and Ben Lomond. Steelhead leave the ocean here to start their journey up the river to spawn during the winter months when the rains raise water levels. Fishing for the nearly depleted steelhead is highly regulated, so it is best to call ahead. A sure rival to bass for a good fight, steelhead do well with fly fishing or still bait like salmon eggs.

Lakes and Reservoirs

Arastradero Lake
(Palo Alto, 415/329-2423). No facilities. Take Highway 280 to Page Mill Road west, then right on Arastradero until you see the signed parking area. After a roughly 20-minute hike into this lovely park, you will find a serene lake but not much in the way of fish. Throwing the line in with a night crawler or some power bait while you're picnicking is not a completely ridiculous idea, though. There are some small trout, blue gill and maybe bass here. During the summer months when the lake temperatures rise, you'd really be pushing your luck to catch anything.

Calero Reservoir
(San Jose, 408/268-3883). Some facilities. Take Highway 280 to Highway 87 south, then take Almaden Expressway to McKean Road; go left and follow to the lake. If this is not the best, then it's darn close to being the best fishing spot in the Bay Area. The value of a catch-and-release program is most evident at Calero. With the high mercury content of the water, you would have to be a fool to eat these fish. (Of course it was too good to be true!) For pure sport, this is your spot. The bass and crappie population thrive because of the lack of interest among most members of the fishing public, who like to eat their catch. So if you're looking to just pick a good fight with a good-size bass, here's the place. Use plastic worms, spinner baits or plastic lizards for best results.

Campbell Percolation Ponds
(408/ 358-3741). Full facilities. "I've never seen so many fish dropped in one place at one time!" swore the old guy sitting on the shore of the pond. He told me about the large trucks that come out and dump "thousands" of trout into the water every few weeks this time of year. Regional Park Ranger John Maciel says that throughout the spring the waters are stocked regularly with roughly a thousand pounds of fish per drop. The consensus here for catching trout is Power Bait or night crawlers. There is also a lovely view of Highway 17 to keep you company.

Chesbro Reservoir
(Morgan Hill, 408/463-0711). No facilities. Take Highway 101 to Cochrane east, make a right on Monterey Highway, then a left on Tilton Avenue and a final left on Willow Springs Road, which will take you right to the reservoir. Pretty slow here in the way of fishing, but still a chance to pull in a few bass or some crappies from time to time. If you've come this far, you might as well go a little further south to Uvas.

Cottonwood Lake
(San Jose, 408/358-3741). Full facilities. Take Highway 101 to Hellyer west and Hellyer County Park. More like a pond than a lake, but worth a look if you live nearby or if you're planning a place for a family picnic. It's stocked in the spring, but during the summer months forget about it--the trout go into the deeper areas in search of cooler waters. Try salmon eggs or Power Bait.

Coyote Reservoir
(Morgan Hill, 408/358-3741). Full facilities. Take Highway 101 south to Gilroy, then Leavesley east, left on New Avenue, right on Roop Road, then left on Coyote Creek Road. Coyote is a truly beautiful place to spend the day looking for a nice trout to take home for dinner to meet the family. It is generously stocked throughout the spring by the state with 10- to 12-inch trout. Since it is located at the base of Henry Coe State Park, you can--if the fish aren't treating you too well--head up to the many trails that traverse the lovely park. There is a great museum that has all sorts of interesting relics from the Coe family that settled there years ago. There are also a number of original, unrestored old horse-and-buggy carriages in an old stable near the museum parking lot. Pretty neat stuff if the fish aren't cooperating.

Guadalupe and Almaden Reservoirs
(New Almaden, 408/358-3741). Some facilities. Take Highway 17 to Camden south, then go right up Hicks Road--after a few miles, Guadalupe Reservoir will be on your left; drive a few more miles and Almaden will be on your right. These lakes are even more contaminated than Calero. The old mercury mines nearby have left us a legacy of terrible pollution. There are plenty of fish to be caught here. But unless you're really into heavy metal, don't eat anything out of these spots. Still, a nice area to hike for the day.

Lake Anderson
(Morgan Hill, 408/ 358-3741). Full facilities, boat ramp. Take Highway 101 south to Cochrane east and the base of the dam. The closest of the treasures that nearby Morgan Hill has to offer us, Anderson is a large reservoir with boat access and something unique--a self-sustaining bass fishery. Even though the state doesn't stock bass or trout here, there is still great bass fishing to be had at the north end of the lake. Try a plastic worm or your own proven bass lure. With the grace of the fish gods, you might pull in one of the best "fighting" fish that fresh water has to offer.

Lake Cunningham
(San Jose, 408/247-4319). Full facilities. Take Highway 101 to Tully Road east to White Road. The lake is right next to Raging Waters. For those who long to fish in a place to get away from it all, to commune with the pristine beauty of nature--well, this is not it. This is urban fishing at its finest. Though a relatively small body of water, Lake Cunningham is generously stocked by the state Department of Fish and Game throughout the spring with up to 1,000 pounds per drop. As with most lakes in the area, you're best off going after the trout with Power Bait and night crawlers. There are blue gills here, but as usual they're pretty small. The chances of catching trout are pretty darn good before the summer heat sets in. And, hey, how many places can you catch the bus to go catch a fish?

Lake Vasona
(Los Gatos, 408/358-3741). Full facilities. Take Highway 17 to Los Gatos. Look for the signs for Vasona Park. When I say full facilities here, I'm not kidding--there's even a train for the kids to ride around the park. Not much in the way of fishing, though. In the early spring, when the water is still cool, you might want to toss in a night crawler on a small-gauged hook and try for a blue gill. Just don't expect to bring back any stories or much in the way of fish.

Lexington Reservoir
(Los Gatos, 408/358-3741). Some facilities, boat ramp. Take Highway 17 south till just beyond central Los Gatos, then exit on Alma Bridge Road. This is a perfect example of a good thing gone bad. This large, lovely lake nestled in the lower Santa Cruz Mountains has the potential to be a fantastic fishing and recreation area. But with what seem to be endless "refurbishing" projects in and around the lake, it has never had a chance to develop into a good fishery. Trout stocking is back in a regular rotation this year and should produce some good results.

Loch Lomond
(Ben Lomond, 408/335-7424). Full facilities, boat rentals. Take Highway 17 south to Mount Hermon Road west, go left on East Zayante, left on Lompico Road, left on West Drive, then right at Sequoia Drive, which goes straight to the dam. If you have ever done any fishing up in the High Sierras, you have no doubt been mesmerized by the beauty of the redwood-lined lakes and streams of that area. Well, Loch Lomond will make you feel just like you're back in the Sierras again. Loch Lomond, in my opinion, is the hands-down most beautiful place on this list. There are good-sized redwoods skirting the entire shore and countless birds singing throughout their limbs. It is stocked with rainbow trout from time to time.

Parkway Lake
(San Jose, 408/629-9111). Full facilities, fee charged. The second largest trout in Bay Area history--at just over 16 pounds--was nabbed here. This is the most consistently stocked lake in the area, and 2,300 pounds of rainbow trout were recently released! A generous amount of catfish and sturgeon also are dropped regularly. Unlike the trout stocked by the state, the trout in this privately owned lake are in the 16-inch and above range. The average day should bring about three fish per rod. The only downside is that Highway 101 is within a stone's throw from the shore, thus eliminating the natural "feel" that most of the other area waters offer. But you will not find better-sized fish as consistently as you will here. The private company that runs the place also supplies everything you need. This is truly the urban fisherperson's paradise.

Sandy Wool
(Milpitas, 408/358-3741). Full facilities. Take Highway 680 to Calaveras Road east, follow to Ed Levin County Park. A small lake that offers decent trout fishing in the spring. But as the weather heats up, so does the water, forcing trout to go deep looking for cooler temperatures, thus making them a tough catch. Better off going for a picnic or a horseback ride.

Stevens Creek Reservoir
(Cupertino, 408/867-3654). Full facilities, picnic areas, boat ramp. The California Department of Fish and Game, in conjunction with the Regional Park Service, stocks this spot with thousands of trout in the 10- to 12-inch range during the spring. The fish who manage to avoid getting caught can get a bit larger over the years, but the poor design here makes for a poor trout habitat. Stevens Creek Reservoir also is one of the few places where German brown trout have managed to adapt well and achieve decent sizes.

Uvas Reservoir
(Morgan Hill, 408/463-0711). No facilities. Take Highway 101 to Cochrane east, make a right on Monterey Highway, then a left on Tilton Avenue. Take Willow Springs, which skirts the north end of Chesbro and turns into Oak Glenn Avenue, and then follow Uvas Road south to the reservoir. When talking to Tony Vizzusi, a local fisherman, you would swear that God had come down and made Uvas Reservoir the crappie capital of the world. According to him the fishing here is "fantastic." Though generally a small fish, the crappie can get up to a pound and a half. Tony recommends using wax worms, mini-jigs or minnows. There are also bass and trout here.


Capitola Pier
(408/462-2208). Full facilities; no license needed. Capitola offers a good variety of seagoing fare. If you like anchovies, this is a good spot. Catch assorted perch using a shrimp fly jig with a little piece of shrimp attached. Halibut season starts getting good in early May. If the baitfish come inshore in abundance, look for the salmon to follow right behind them.

Dumbarton Bridge Pier
(East Palo Alto). No facilities. Take 101 to University Avenue east through East Palo Alto; keep driving down University until you get to the Bay. You'll see the bridge, and the pier is right next to the bridge. As in most spots on the South Bay, the main fish here are mackerel, rays, sharks and sturgeon, which can get very large. One of the nice traits of the shark is its lack of diet discrimination. Any cut fish will do--even cut shark on the hook works great. If you get lucky, you might catch a striped bass or a salmon in the early winter, but don't bet the house on it.

Santa Cruz Pier
(408/423-1739). Full facilities; no license needed. The fishing here is spotty. You're better off spending a few bucks renting a boat and dropping a line out near the reef just offshore. There you can pull in a few good-size rockfish, rubber mouths, jacksmelt and lingcod.

Seacliff State Beach Cement Ship
(Santa Cruz, 408/685-6442). Full facilities; camping. Take Highway 1 south to the Seacliff State Beach exit and head west. Spotty fishing here, but the perch and mackerel are year-round staples. With most shoreline ocean fishing, the chance of catching the bigger fish such as halibut or salmon depends on the influx of the sardine schools, upon which the larger fish feed. Best bets for bait are whole sardines, shrimp or grub worms.

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From the May 1-7, 1997 issue of Metro

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