Lake Cuyamaca is a small shallow reservoir located about an hour east of downtown San Diego in the Cuyamaca Mountains. The 110 acre lake is San Diego’s most scenic reservoir, and offers unique fishing opportunities not available at any of the other local reservoirs.
Lake Cuyamaca sits at an elevation of 4,620 feet, so the entire climate is different. It gets considerably colder in the winter and stays cooler throughout the year – making it San Diego County’s only year-round trout fishery. The Lake Cuyamaca Park and Recreation District, which operates the lake takes full advantage of that, stocking some 45,000 pounds of rainbow trout annually.
Aside from the trout, Lake Cuyamaca offers a really underrated bass fishery as well. The lake is home to a ton of bass in the 7-11 pound range, and they see very little fishing pressure throughout the year. Because of the cooler temperatures, Lake Cuyamaca doesn’t offer the ideal growing conditions for largemouth bass, so they don’t reach the truly giant size that the other lakes see.
Cuyamaca also boasts the only legitimate population of smallmouth bass and sturgeon in San Diego County. Both species were stocked in 1995 and 1996 by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife in relatively small numbers. A small population of smallmouth bass still exist, but catches are rare.
Sturgeon have seemed to thrive a little more, and several sturgeon exceeding 20 pounds are caught annually. Most are hooked by trout anglers, and thus most sturgeon encounters result in only stories of lost fish. Of course some anglers beat the odds, like 14 year old Kameron Kane who broke the sturgeon lake record in November of 2014. Kane caught and released a white sturgeon weighing more than 50 pounds (the scale at the lake has a max of 50 pounds) and was 62″ in length.
The dam which formed Lake Cuyamaca was completed in 1888, making it the 2nd oldest dam in the state of California. It was created to store water to be piped down to San Diego to support the growing city. At that time, water was transported down to the city through a system of wooden flumes, above ground channels.
Fish were first stocked in 1891, but drought conditions and a desperate need of water in San Diego completely wiped out the fishery in the 1940s around the tail end of World War II. The lake was desolate until the 1960s when the Lake Cuyamaca Recreation and Park District was formed to create a more permanent infrastructure at the lake. They constructed a dike to create two sections; a deeper and more viable western side and a shallow and sprawling eastern end which only holds water during very wet seasons.
Lake Cuyamaca is located at 15027 Hwy 79 in Julian, CA.
Lake Cuyamaca is one of the few lakes around which offer lakefront camping, and its campground is one of San Diego County’s most desired. Tent camping is available on the lake’s north shore, and several lake view condos are available there as well. There are very few sites with hookups for RVs, but a larger campground exists a few miles away in Cuyamaca State Park.
There is a popular restaurant overlooking the lake on its western shore, a popular and much appreciated option for anglers at this remote reservoir. The lake also offers a small but suitable tackle store for bait and tackle, and a mini-mart style store for snacks and beverages.
A paved launch ramp is available for private boaters, and a boat dock holds a large rental boat fleet for other anglers to get out on the lake.
Shoreline access is tremendous at Cuyamaca, the lake has gentle sloping banks with limited obstructions and several access points. Several well designed jetties, fishing floats, and fishing docks are stationed around the lake to provide additional access. There is even a handicap fishing dock on the lake’s dike at the northeast corner of the lake.
Lake Cuyamaca is open daily from 6:00 AM to sunset year-round.
Daily Fishing Permit Fees
- Adults – $10
- Youths – $3.50
- Seniors – $6
- Boat Launch – $5 (plus additional boat wash fee, see below)
- Private boats must be a minimum of 10 feet in length to launch
- There is a strictly enforced “no wake” speed limit for boaters
- Canoes and kayaks are allowed only in the summer months
- Float tubes are allowed, but can only be used the last 3 hours of the day on weekends and holidays, or all day on weekdays
- Boats must be washed by the lake staff prior to launching, and there is a $10 fee
- Float tubes and waders must also be washed prior to entering the lake, a $5 fee
Water Level Trend
The following chart shows measured water level elevations (feet) at Lake Cuyamaca over the previous 12 months.
|Channel Catfish||28.3125||1998||George Noctha|
|Largemouth Bass||14.1875||1996||Jeff Phillips|
|Rainbow Trout||17.5||2015||Lukasz Szczedanek|
Recent and Future Fish Plants