Lake Chabot, a pretty reservoir nestled in the tree-studded foothills east of San Leandro in the unincorporated area of Castro Valley, is now a popular location for anglers to pursue largemouth bass, rainbow trout and channel catfish, but it wasn’t always that way.
Built in 1874-75 as a primary drinking water supply for the East Bay, the 315-acre lake was closed to fishing and other recreation for most of its history, 91 years. The lake finally opened for controlled recreational uses in 1965 after legislation was passed in the 1960’s. The lake now serves as a standby emergency water supply.
This past year has been an interesting one due to the prolonged drought that has brought the lake level down to very low levels, according to Joe Sullivan, Acting Fisheries Program Manager for the East Bay Regional Park District.
The low water levels and the toxic blue-green algae blooms that occurred at Lake Chabot this summer definitely had an impact on park attendance. Because of this, the park district reduced their fish plants during the very warm summer months.
The good news is that the largemouth bass and other naturally reproducing fisheries appear not to be affected by the toxic algae and low water level.
“I haven’t had a chance to analyze our annual monitoring data that we collected this past spring and summer, but a first glance shows that fish numbers are staying pretty steady compared to previous years,” said Joe Sullivan of the East Bay Regional Park District.
“We even had a largemouth bass caught a couple months ago that was just shy of a lake record, and there’s a lot of other monster bass out there,” he said. “Now that the weather has cooled and we’ve received some rain, we are back in full swing with the trout plants. Lake Chabot received 1200 lbs. this week and will receive another 1000 lbs. next week.”
The bass population at Chabot has improved in recent years, due to a habitat project conducted from 2003 to 2006 by Jon Walton, the former owner of Walton’s Pond, and the park district in coordination with the Black Bass Action Committee and Alameda County Fish and Game Commission. Volunteers organized by Walton put 250 Christmas trees each year in Chabot to create habitat for largemouth bass, bluegill, crappie and other species.
Before they started the project, Chabot was essentially a “big gravel bowl“ with little fish habitat. The lake’s bass fishery was characterized by a population of a few big bass that gorged upon each year’s juveniles, since there was little habitat for the smaller fish to find refuge from the larger bucketmouths.
“This type of habitat project allows us to build the food chain from the bottom up,” said Walton. “The trees harbor plankton life and attract juvenile fish to use them as fish hotels. As the bass grow, they will use the fish hotels as ambush sites for forage fish.”
The catch rates and the size of fish have improved since the habitat project was started. “The lake has a very good population of bass, as evidenced by our spring bass surveys,” Pete Alexander, the former EBRPD fisheries program manager, said in 2009. “For example, in the spring 2008 survey we caught a total of 132 fish with a minimum fork length of 8 inches, an average fork length of 15 inches and a maximum fork length of 27 inches.”
The bass in the lake are northern strain/Florida strain hybrids. The park district first stocked Florida-strain largemouth bass in Chabot in 1972.
Luis Vazquez set the lake largemouth record in 2002 when he landed a 17 lb. 10 ounce fish. He enticed the fish with a Castaic bass lure in Bass Cove.
On September 25 of this year, Ian Cornelius of Castro Valley caught and released a 16.6 lb. largemouth bass, the biggest bass caught at the reservoir in over a decade, while using a Robo Worm according to Stan Wong of the Lake Chabot Marina and Café.
The major forage minnow for the bass is the inland silversides while crawdads are also abundant.
The lake management recommends the practice of catch and release to preserve the bass fishery.
As trout plants continue and the water continues to cool down, anglers can expect trout fishing to improve. Chabot regularly produces fish in the 8 to 10 pound class and fish over 20 pounds are possible.
Ed Evans of Millbrae landed a 22.40 lb. rainbow, the lake record and largest-ever trout to come out of an East Bay lake, while trolling a fire tiger Rapala in April 2007.
The big trout potential of Lake Chabot is made possible by the park district’s aggressive trout planting program. The lake is stocked regularly from September through June with a combination of Mt. Lassen and Desert Springs trout, funded by the park district fishing access permit. The CDFW plants catchable rainbows in the lake also.
Although both shore fishing and trolling are effective methods for subduing the lake’s big rainbows, Wong prefers to troll. Since the lake is a back up water supply, only electric motors may be used.
One of the most productive methods is to troll a nightcrawler behind a set of flashers or dodgers. Another effective trout trolling method is to use a rainbow trout pattern lure such as a Rapala.
“Let your lure out about 75 feet with no weight on the line, “said Brian Wong of Lake Chabot Marina and Café. “If you get a hit, be sure to double back over that spot for a second shot at what could be a school of trout. Top trout trolling spots include Half Moon Day, Bass Cove, The Dam, Coot Landing and Alder Point.”
Bait fishing is also a popular method for hooking trout at Chabot. Use a sliding-sinker-rig with a small treble hook for PowerBait or for nightcrawlers use a size 6 or size 8 snelled hook.
Although Chabot’s rainbows are hatchery fish, some native landlocked steelhead from Upper San Leandro Reservoir upstream of Chabot are occasionally washed down into the reservoir during high water years
The construction of Chabot Dam and subsequent construction of Upper San Leandro Dam on Redwood Creek in 1926 created a unique landlocked population of steelhead that has maintained its genetic integrity and is genetically similar to the native coastal California steelhead.
In this time of declining salmon and steelhead runs in California, the steelhead population may be of significant value to restoration efforts due to its genetic integrity, since they have not been mixed with hatchery trout. In fact, 615 San Leandro Reservoir trout were used in the steelhead reintroduction project conducted on Wildcat Creek in Tilden Park in 1983.
During the summer months when water temperatures are too high to plant trout, the park district stocks channel catfish.
George Goveia of Castro Valley set the lake catfish record of 35 pounds when he fished chicken liver at an “undisclosed” location on the lake in 1981. This fish remains the largest of any species ever captured on the reservoir.
For more information, contact Lake Chabot Marina and Café, 17930 Lake Chabot Road, Castro Valley, CA 94546, (510) 247-2526, http://www.lakechabotrecreation.com.