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Barrett Lake: Low water but great fishing

Barrett Lake Low Water

Each year the San Diego City Lakes department allows members of the media the opportunity to fish Barrett Lake before it opens to the public. Once my April 8th date was confirmed, I made a call to my good friend and bass geek, Gene Estabrook from East County Bait and Tackle. I barely got the words out of my mouth before he quickly replied “I’m there!”

It’s no secret that California is currently experiencing a drought of biblical proportions.

When we fished the lake last year, the water level was at sixteen percent according to lake officials. As sad as it is to see this awesome bass lake that low, it was really cool to see some of the structure I’ve fished over the years exposed.

When Gene and I arrived at the lake, I mentally braced myself for the lack of water. Despite trying to prepare, the view of the lake that low was like a punch to the gut. The lake is a mere puddle compared to it’s “normal” self. Laurie Gensler the lake manager informed us that the water level was now at eight percent of capacity and the lowest she has seen in her 22 years there. Hauser arm and Pine Creek arm area completely dry. It has to be close to two miles from the Barrett Honor Camp to the water. Laurie also reminded us that the dam spilled in 2011. That dam is currently 100+ feet out of the water.

Later in the week, I had the opportunity to fly a private plane over the lake and snapped these shots. As you can see the effect of the drought has been staggering.

The great news is, the fishing didn’t disappoint in any way. Gene and I began to pound the shoreline from the remnants of Hauser arm to the dam. The Hauser area was dead. In fact it took us over an hour to get our first fish. As the day wore on we more than made up for it.

Barrett Lake Low Water

The key to success was fishing the exposed structure. We found the most productive structure on the east side of the lake from the point that Hauser Arm begins to the dam. As the sun came out the fish became much more active and started to blow up on shiners all around the structure and points.

Despite them eating the small shiners, they had no issue with our bigger offerings.

Barrett Lake Low Water

We fished a variety of baits and caught fish on all of them but like last year the spinner bait stole the show. A 3/8-ounce spinner in chartreuse with silver blades was the hot ticket. When the fishing is this good, I try to stick with single hooks so we avoided the crank baits just to make de-hooking easier. Gene also caught several fish on the Alabama rig including a double!

Once things got rolling around 9 AM we really never went more than five or ten minutes without a bite. Doubles were commonplace as the fish continued to bite strong until nearly 2 PM.

When the dust settled we caught 170 fish for two guys by 4 PM.

Barrett Lake Low Water

The average fish was about 1.75-pounds with plenty of 2-3-pounders mixed in to keep it fun. The big fish of the day was an estimated 6.5-pounder that managed to escape next to the boat (mental note: bring net next year).


All in all we had an epic day of fishing what maybe the best bass lake in SoCal.

The water level really hasn’t affected the fishing at all but it will make it tough to find your own spot come opening day. The huge reduction is surface area for the lake is definitely going to make the structure spots crowded. Hopefully this winter replenishes this awesome lake and brings it back to its normal level.

Barrett Lake opens on a schedule so follow the link below for information:


Cost is $80 per boat with an $11.75 surcharge and $20 per person at the lake.

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Ali Hussainy caught his first fish, a trout, with his grandfather at the age of three, and that sparked a fire in him as he chased the next bite all over the sierras. When he caught his first bonito from the San Diego bait barge, his life changed again. Trout never had the same luster — he was on to larger fish. He now chases saltwater fish wherever they swim. His passion for fishing led to the creation of the fishing forum www.Bloodydecks.com, which he co-founded with Jason Hayashi in 2003. In the wintertime you can usually find Ali in the field or a duck blind, pursuing big game or waterfowl. Ali is president of BD Outdoors. To contact Ali send an email to [email protected]