Lake Cleone, nestled between the mighty Pacific Ocean and famed Pacific Coast Highway 1 in MacKerricher State Park, makes an ideal setting for any fisherman. Small crowds, cool temperatures, nice sea breeze and some great freshwater fishing. That is if you hit Lake Cleone at the right times. I will share my secrets to success at Lake Cleone but I am confident that even with my hints this fishery will test even the best fisherman.
What Lake Cleone lacks in size, more like a large pond at approximately 5-6 acres, it makes up for in idyllic scenery and setting. Many cannot believe Lake Cleone is a mere 100 yards from the crashing surf of the Pacific Ocean, yet is a vibrant freshwater fish factory. Yes, fish factory. The main species of interest for anglers at Lake Cleone is planted rainbow trout, by the Department of Fish and Game, largemouth bass, bluegill and brown bullheads.
Now I know what you’re thinking. Lake Cleone is strictly a put-and-take fishery for rainbow trout, fabricated by the Department of Fish and Game. Well you are partly true. The stocker rainbow trout at Lake Cleone do draw the “bait dunker” crowd who is content with a chair, Powerbait and beer, hoping that an unsuspecting hatchery raised rainbow will…well take the bait. The Department of Fish and Game mainly stocks Lake Cleone for the many campers and if you are planning a weekend getaway with the family for some camping at MacKerricher’s many beautiful campsites, then by all means dunk all the Powerbait you wish. We all started fishing somehow and what better way to introduce kids to fishing than with catching the famed rainbow trout? If you do plan to try your hand at catching the abundant numbers of rainbow trout while at Lake Cleone, there are a few things you should be sure to come prepared with. Due to the color of the water I have found that yellow colored Powerbait is an absolute KILLER on Lake Cleone for the stocker rainbows. Second to yellow would be the rainbow colored Powerbait. For you traditionalist bait fisherman, night crawlers work equally well for the stocked trout as well as for the abundant bluegill population. Besides the bait, the key to catching rainbows in Lake Cleone is the lightest line you can possibly get away with. I’m talking about 4-6 pound test maximum! These fish, although dumb at first, wise up really quick, because of the campers fishing here with heavier lines, and spook easy. Do yourself a favor and use lightweight tackle for these trout. Another peculiar, to me at least, aspect of the Lake Cleone trout is that during the summer they tend to school. You can visibly see these massive schools swimming near the surface as you sit on shore. Be watchful of these. You may want to have an extra rod handy with a Roostertail, in addition to your bait rod, to toss to a passing school of trout.
You’re thinking, ‘Didn’t this guy mention bass? What’s all this talk about a fish factory when he’s only talking about trout?’
Well if you’re looking for bass then look no further. Lets do some simple math here folks and if you’re a diehard bass fisherman you’ve probably been salivating already. Why you ask? We have stocker rainbow trout + ABUNDANT bluegill and mosquito fish populations + large amounts of frogs + the added bonus of some of the best bass cover you’ll ever lay eyes on. So what do you think Lake Cleone has the potential of being? If you said awesome bass fishery, then you are correct!
Lake Cleone does have a large population of largemouth bass, but not large enough to seriously stunt the growth of these fish. However I personally seem to be stuck with catching many, many bass but none more than 3 pounds. I have yet to get lucky enough to catch the lunker bass these waters can yield. I have heard stories from Department of Fish and Game electrofishing program, and from local anglers, that Lake Cleone has produced many 4-8 pound largemouths with several reportedly being over 10 pounds. Not bad for a lake, well more of a pond, that is 100 yards from the Pacific Ocean.
Lake Cleone has a primitive boat launch on the northwest end at the main parking lot. The catch is NO MOTORS are allowed on Lake Cleone, not even electric. Bust out the oars. Why do I mention this? Well now for the fun part.
These bass at Lake Cleone need to be hunted down and to do so you NEED, I repeat, NEED a small craft or float tube. Reason being is that shore fishing for the bass is next to impossible due to the vast lily pad beds. The areas, maybe two or three, that you CAN fish from shore are heavily fished by bait fisherman and I have only caught very small bass in these regions. The obvious location is the main area when you pull into the parking lot. Many fish can be caught here, but they are small. Another shore spot I’ve caught bass is just east of the parking lot where the boat “launch” ramp is. There is openings in the cover that will net some small bass. The southwest side and southeast side of Lake Cleone also has similar areas for shore bass fisherman. If you are content with catching half to one pound bass then by all means try these shore locations but many want something a wee bit bigger out of Lake Cleone, yes?
The best times for these bass is, you guessed it, spring, summer, and fall. The usual times for California largemouth bass fishing clocks. Spring time yields dozens of small largemouths so seeking out the big toads will require a bit more probing into the many areas of cover in Lake Cleone, especially the deeper center of the lake. A word to the wise, there is a small creek that flows into Lake Cleone from the east during the spring and early summer months. It brings in nutrient rich water, which is cool, that will attract baitfish and, in turn, attract the largemouths.
The summer mornings are either red hot on top water or dead as can be. Usually Lake Cleone topwater action heats up when the skys are overcast. Again, typical bass fishing 101 here folks. The bass will move in to the shallow shelfs Lake Cleone has along the shoreline to feed in the early morning and early evening. I’ve had really good luck with frog patterned surface plugs and chartreuse buzzbaits. Cast them along weed beds and near cover and hang on. During mid-day however, the bass will get out to the center of Lake Cleone where there is “deep” cover. “Deep” being relative due to the fact that Lake Cleone is no more than 25 feet at the deepest. This is where slow fishing dark colored worms, whacky or Carolina rigged work best, can pay off to those who brave the mid-day slowdown. A local tip for those seeking the larger bass is to throw bluegill and trout immitation baits and rip them along weedbeds, log jams, and along the other forms of cover.
The best overall bets on Lake Cleone for bass fishing is overcast mornings and evenings in the spring, summer, and fall. Mid day on Lake Cleone, whether sunny or overcast, puts the bite off immediately. River otters, native to the region, as well as many ospreys, call Lake Cleone home and are always on patrol for the unlucky bass or stocker rainbow that shows themselves during daylight hours.
MacKerricher State Park has several campgrounds catering to campers of all walks from basic tent campers to RVers. There are numerous picnic tables, fire and BBQ pits, as well as food storage lockers available at the campsties. There is fresh drinking water available as well as flushing toilets, WORKING coin-operated showers, and an RV waste dump station. If you are in need of re-supply, or restaurant food, then Ft. Bragg is just a 5 minute drive south on Highway 1. There you will find dozens of restaurants and many supermarkets, some of which sell fishing supplies. If you plan on fishing for the day, access to MacKerricher State Park and Lake Cleone is free. Inform the ranger at the toll booth that you are a day fisherman.
Contact information for MacKerricher State Park is (707) 937-5804 or (707) 964-9112
I hope you enjoy your fishing experience at Lake Cleone, as well as your visit to this beautiful state park. I assure you, whether the fish are biting or not, you will not walk away from this experience disappointed. Leave a comment to share your fishing story on Lake Cleone! Happy fishing!