The Stunning San Pablo Reservoir: A Quintessential Fisherman’s Experience

Reservoir fishing at sunset
Reservoir fishing at sunset

Updated December 05th, 2018

Like many people, I learned to fish as a kid. Some weekends, I sat between my father and grandfather in an old motorboat heading onto one of Minnesota's deep (and cold) fishing lakes. Sometimes my mother went along and spent more time talking and scaring the fish away than she did catching any. I enjoyed many early morning sunrises on Midwestern lakes and streams, but nothing quite prepared me for the beauty of the West and the love I now have for 14 miles of shoreline at the stunning San Pablo Reservoir. While I thought that fishing in the Minnesota wilds was fun, the beauty of the Pacific coast and its many inland waterways always inspires me to set time aside to get out into nature.

San Pablo reservoir fishing has become, for me, my quintessential fishing experience, and while I am grateful for the experiences I had as a child learning to fish, I am especially thrilled to employ these skills in a place that fills me with joy—and, of course, ensures that I have a full table set with delicious trout and catfish! Everyone who lives in the San Francisco region would greatly enjoy a visit to the San Pablo Reservoir and its adjoining landscapes.

San Pablo Reservoir Overview

The San Pablo Reservoir attracts a myriad of outdoor enthusiasts. Both veteran and amateur fishermen head to the area with their fishing permit in tow. It's easy to apply for a fishing permit if you don't have one at various locations near the reservoir. The San Pablo Reservoir is regularly stocked by the Department of Fish and Game with fish like trout and catfish. People also like to hike the area, canoe, or kayak. Although there are restrictions on swimming and waterskiing, it's the perfect place to enjoy a picnic near the water or an early morning fishing excursion—one of my favorite things to do when I have a day off.

Where Is San Pablo Reservoir?

If you're from out of town, you may not know where the San Pablo Reservoir is. The picturesque San Pablo Reservoir is part of East Bay and is situated in the San Pablo Reservoir Recreation Area. It can be conveniently accessed by the San Pablo Dam Road. The reservoir is located to the north of Orinda, California, a city that's about twenty miles from San Francisco. Although the cool, foggy conditions of the coast can affect the San Pablo Recreational Area, it remains well protected within its foothills from fog and other inclement weather that occurs in San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley. Sometimes the weather isn't so good at home, but by the time I reach the reservoir, it has cleared to reveal a beautiful day.

Many visitors like to wake up early on Saturday mornings before heading out to fish the reservoir. Heading east from San Francisco, I can typically make it to the reservoir in about a half hour. Though, to be honest, I prefer to stop off at my favorite coffee shop for a chat with the locals and my favorite brew. If you're driving from Berkeley, you can make it there even quicker.

San Pablo Reservoir Fishing

The fishing at the San Pablo Reservoir is superb. The regulars can't promise you'll always catch a whopper, but you'll likely be happy with your haul. As mentioned, the Department of Fish and Game ensures that the reservoir is stocked regularly with trout and catfish, but you may also reel in a largemouth bass, crappie, bluegill, or sturgeon. If you decide to do some internet research, you're apt to find some YouTube videos of lucky outdoor enthusiasts with their hefty sturgeon or rainbow trout catches. The average length of the rainbow trout in the reservoir is about a foot in length. I have caught several that are even longer. As you might expect, fish like that draw a crowd on weekends. If you head to the recreational area on a Saturday, you won't be alone as you take the San Pablo Dam Road toward the reservoir and your favorite boat launch. The best spots on the water tend to get crowded during peak intervals.

If you're scouting for some well-known fishing hot spots, I recommend either the Berkeley Tower or Sandy Point. Of course, these areas can get crowded on high-traffic days. I like to come on a week day when the area is less busy with other anxious fishermen. The fact is, though, when the weather is fine as it often is, anglers like nothing better than a day of San Pablo Reservoir fishing.

San Pablo Reservoir Restrictions

Keep in mind that when fishing at the San Pablo Reservoir, fishing boats are allowed, but this is an EBMUD Reservoir, so there are restrictions. If your fishing vessel is coming from what authorities dub a high-risk area, it won't be permitted for use on the water and will have to stay off the launch ramp. This is because invasive mussel species can contaminate the reservoir. We certainly want to keep this wonderful body of water well protected so I can fish there for years to come. Keep in mind that many fishermen have luck catching fish right at the shoreline. So, if your vessel doesn't pass inspection (and it won't if it's been in contaminated waters within 30 days of your visit), you might simply choose a cozy spot to fish from along the reservoir's 14 miles of shoreline. Also, don't forget to have your fishing permit at the ready! It's helpful to leave it in your tackle box where you'll have it handy.

Other Things to Do

San Pablo Reservoir fishing is the most popular pastime in the area, it certainly isn't the only one. Many visitors enjoy the picnic areas for lunch or will opt to do some hiking around the reservoir and dam. 

There are many postcard-worthy areas around East Bay that are ideal for exploring on foot or on horseback. Some people like to take photographs of the reservoir on an especially pretty day.

I often see horseback riders from my boat while I'm fishing. There are many trails in the San Pablo Reservoir Recreation Area that provide dazzling views of the water and surrounding terrain. Regulars like to walk them from time to time, but mostly I go for the great fishing. With nearby campgrounds, you can also spend the entire weekend at the reservoir, which is popular with many groups and families who visit. I frequently visit on my own and bring along my dog, an English bulldog who is fond of lounging in my boat. We've had plenty of fine days together there. He likes the gentle roll of the waves against the boat. I don't even mind when he snores so long as he doesn't scare the fish.

San Pablo Reservoir Visitor Center

Although regulars typically bring their own gear, if you forget anything or visit the reservoir on the spur of the moment, you can head to the visitor center where you can pick up items like tackle, bait, and even a fishing license. If you want to learn about the area and its trails, the visitor center is a great place to start your day, especially if you're a first-time visitor.

I am particularly fond of catching trout at the reservoir, but you may head here for the catfish or sturgeon as so many others do. If you live and work in the congested San Francisco region as I do, you'll likely be looking for ways to de-urbanize your soul without having to travel for hours. The San Pablo Reservoir Recreation area helps many visitors to de-stress and infuse their spirit with all that nature has to offer. So, grab your fishing rods and your dog and head out for some delightful San Pablo Reservoir fishing. Chances are, you'll want to keep coming back time and again. Hope to see you there!

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