Get in touch with nature while fishing

What better way to clear our heads and get some fresh air after months of our COVID-19 lockdown than by getting out and doing some fishing? Parks and fishing areas require you to be socially distanced, but that’s not difficult when you’re out on the water. Just check ahead of your venture to make sure the park you plan to visit isn’t closed for business.

Even if you’re a beginner, fishing is a great stress reducer, for its leisurely pace and quiet, natural setting. Those over the age of 16 will need a fishing license, but it’s easy to obtain one online (go to Keep this with you at all times while fishing.

Thankfully, you can fish year-round in California. Sturgeon prefer colder waters, so they’ll be abundant in winter. Spring and early summer are best for trout, and bass bite all year long.

Certain rivers and fish species require you to fill in a report card, which you can do at For example, if you’re fishing for steelhead trout or sturgeon, or if you’re trying to catch salmon in the Klamath, Smith or Trinity rivers and their tributaries, report cards are required.

Even if you didn’t catch anything, you need to submit a report card. The information you provide helps biologists monitor and manage fisheries so they can continue to breed healthy populations of fish as time goes on and conditions change.

To help you reap the benefits of being surrounded by nature, here are our favorite fishing (and general outdoorsing) spots in Sonoma County.

Lake Sonoma

Lake Sonoma offers a wide variety of recreational activities for the avid angler and outdoor enthusiast. Here you can go horseback riding, biking or trail running through dense woodlands and over rolling hills and enjoy breathtaking views from the vistas.

Make your way down to the lake where you can kayak, swim or fish. Anglers can choose to fish on the lake or in one of the creeks, which include Brush Creek, Cherry Creek, Dry Creek and Yorty Creek.

Anglers can cast a line to catch largemouth bass, channel catfish, black crappie, redear sunfish and rainbow trout. It would be best to either hire a boat or bring your own boat, as fishing from the shoreline is limited.

If you do want to fish from the shore, head to Yorty Creek Recreation Area, as this is one of the most accessible places for shore fishing. Because of the vast array of things to do and the easy access to fishing, this is a great spot to introduce kids to fishing.

Lake Ilsanjo

With meandering routes, fast-paced biking trails and lake fishing, Lake Ilsanjo surrounds visitors with the tranquility of nature. Nature lovers and anglers can enjoy the beauty of the wildflowers that bloom from late March until the end of May.

The lake is home to a variety of fish, including black bass, bluegill and largemouth bass. Anglers who are going to fish here need to have a California fishing license with them. This lake isn’t stocked, but it does maintain a healthy population of bass and bluegill.

Lake Ilsanjo provides fishing opportunities year-round, and some anglers also may want to cast a line in the nearby Ledson Marsh for a different experience. The marsh is packed with interesting flora and fauna, which also provide an opportunity for kids to see wildlife, including the endangered and federally protected California red-legged frog. The marsh can dry up in late August or early September.

Different fish are attracted to different baits because of the variety of insects they eat. To catch both bluegill and largemouth bass, try using Carolina rigs or a beetle spin. If you’re just targeting bass, it’s best to use jigs, plastic worms or spinnerbaits.

Your local fishing shop should have all of these baits, so you can compare them side by side and decide. You’ll need to use your rod to make the bait move in the water, but each bait is designed to mimic an insect or small fish, so do your research depending on the fish you want to target.

Santa Rosa Creek Reservoir

For a quiet escape away from the hustle and bustle of city life, head to the rolling hills lined with oaks at this reservoir in Spring Lake Regional Park. You can hike or run the trails, have a picnic or cast a line for fish.

Anglers can fish from the shore or a kayak and try to catch bass, bluegill, black crappie or sunfish. If you’re planning to fish here, make sure you have your fishing license if you’re 16 years or older, as it’s a requirement.

But it’s worth it, as you could catch a bass weighing between 11 pounds and 24 pounds in this water! To catch the fish, you can try using lipless crankbaits, jerkbaits or jig baits with grubs or crawfish. These are artificial baits (not live fish baits) that look like the food bass eat, so when they see them in the water they’re likely to bite.

Salmon Creek

There’s so much to do around Salmon Creek, from ziplining in tree tops with Sonoma Canopy Tours to cycling to paddling in a canoe. Take a short drive to Doran Beach, where you can ride a horse on the beach with Horse N Around Trail Rides or explore some sea life with Sonoma Coast Divers.

Anglers can head toward Salmon Creek for some inshore fishing (inshore fishing is generally considered to be fishing in any water not on the coast, but it’s most often in water less than 30 feet deep), where they can catch a variety of fish such as surfperch, rainbow trout, calico bass and steelhead. Make sure you have your fishing license on you before you set out on your fishing trip.

If you’re going to target surfperch (a great cooking fish found year-round in inshore waters), it’s best to use marine worms, mussels or mole crabs as bait. This is live bait, which you can find at your local bait and tackle store or simply in the waters and on the rocks around you. Using a live anchovy should get the attention of the calico bass, while powerbait or “mouse tail” artificial baits should attract the rainbow trout.

If you’re planning on cooking your catch for dinner but aren’t sure how to clean and prepare it, your local fishmonger (fish butcher) can do that for you. But if you fish often, it’s a great idea to learn how to do this on your own. You’ll need a special fish filleting knife, and you can learn by asking and watching your fishmonger or by simply watching a few YouTube videos.

Responsible Fishing

Fishing is a great way to be one with nature, but if you’re not fishing responsibly you could be doing more harm than good. Fishing responsibly means enjoying your hobby without harming the environment.

Here are some tips to help you fish responsibly.

Practice catch-and-release: Whenever possible, release the fish you’ve caught back into the water without harming it. In some places, this is a legal requirement, so research the spot you’re going to beforehand.

Be very gentle when handling the fish: Fish can be slippery! Try not to drop the fish when handling it, and don’t squeeze it too tightly when you hold it. We don’t want to injure the fish before releasing it.

Clean up after yourself: Practice the “leave no trace” principle and take your trash with you.

Prevent spreading invasive species: Clean your fishing gear thoroughly before leaving your fishing spot. Animal and plant species like the red imported fire ant (Solenopsis invicta) and European dune grass can easily hitch a ride with you to your next destination if you don’t clean your gear and remove any trace of them before leaving. Check sites such as before a trip to stay up to date with which species you need to be aware of.

Use nontoxic fishing gear: In some areas, using lead weights on your fishing line is illegal, due to the toxicity of the lead. Try to use aluminum instead. Check your fishing line, baits and other equipment to make sure they don’t contain materials that could be toxic to the environment.

Whether you choose to fish in a quiet public lake by yourself or take the family to a regional park, there’s a way to get up close and personal with the outdoors, and it’s not hard to find.

Kenneth Reaves writes about fishing and other outdoors topics. For more fishing tips, visit his website at

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