By Chuck Giles
Variety is the name of game at California’s Lake Oroville State Recreation Area. The country’s largest earth-filled dam placed on the bed of the Feather River and rising 770 feet created one of the state’s best fishing and recreation destinations. This dam was once called the ninth wonder of the world and is comprised of more than 85 million cubic yards of earth.
The Feather River Fish Hatchery is part of this amazing recreational mecca and is open to visitors of all ages. This is where thousands of salmon and steelhead come to be “milked” after their incredible trek from the Pacific Ocean. Viewing is best in September, when the fish ladder first opens. Late December through early February is best for viewing these incredible travelers. Call 530-534-2306 for more information.
There is a 46-foot viewing tower and free telescopes to aid in your decision on how best to spend your vacation here. You can call for more information at 530-538-2219.
Just a short drive from the main lake is where General John Bidwell first struck gold in 1849 and is now home to the Feather River Nature Center. One can relax here next to the river in what was once a bath house for the miners. Call 530-533-5936 to learn more.
Many major magazines have labeled Lake Oroville the best bass lake in California for both the novice and professional angler. It is not uncommon during the spring season to hear reports of over 100 bass being caught per boat. The incredible variety of structure, from sloping gravel to sheer vertical cliffs provide largemouth, spotted and smallmouth bass more than enough area to bite whatever the angler is offering. Many professional bass tournament circuits come here to compete in contests year-round. Chances are, if you have a plastic worm in your arsenal, you’ll have a bass in your boat. Probably better known for numbers of bass rather than size possible for the novice angler, nonetheless, the lake record largemouth is 14 pounds 15 ounces caught in 1998. They’re in here.
Fortunately for the all-round fisherman, there are many other species to be found at this foothill impoundment; Coho Salmon are regularly planted by the Department of Fish and Game (DFG), catfish slide in and out of the many relaxing coves, crappie and bluegill dart around the submerged vegetation and the many docks and even the occasional sturgeon is hooked in one of the northernmost branches of the lake. In years past, rainbow and brown trout abounded here, but an epidemic of whirling disease virtually decimated this population. However, as of 2012, there have been many credible reports of a minor rebound of the browns and rainbows here.As mentioned, a plethora of water recreation awaits the visitor here. One may cruise the entire lake in a houseboat available for rent at two of the major marinas located on the north and south arms of the area. Patio boats and small fishing vessels are also available for the angler looking for a day of pleasure. There is no shortage of quiet, peaceful coves in which to anchor and make your camping headquarters. Water and jet skiers consider most of the main body or “slot” to be some of the finest waters around to slalom unimpeded for miles.
Like many of the California reservoirs, mountain snow and rain runoff are the source of Lake Oroville’s water. The lake is subject to drawdown at certain times of the year, but even then more than enough water usually exists for the majority of recreational pursuits.
Photos courtesy of the author, Bruce Johnson and Gary Miralles, Shasta Tackle Co.
For additional information about Lake Oroville, visit these websites: