Fishing at Irvine Lake: All You Need To Know

California is well known for its vibrant fishing scene, where surf and pier anglers can catch monster saltwater gamefish with little more than a solid pole and a piece of bait. Many California anglers are so enthralled with the prospect of landing a saltwater trophy that they forget that California offers incredible and abundant freshwater fishing a bit further inland. 

Today, we’ll take a closer look at Irvine Lake, one of California’s best destinations for wildlife, fishing, and hiking. 

Where Is Irvine Lake?

Irvine Lake is situated about 25 miles directly north of the Dana Point Pier in Silverado, California. This Orange County lake spans 700 acres and offers miles of fishable coastline for anglers to enjoy. 

The lake sits 1,424 feet above sea level and has a water volume of 28,000 acre-feet. At its deepest point, Irvine Lake is 145 feet deep.

Getting to Irvine Lake

Irvine Lake is centrally located in Orange County, and it’s easy to get to by car. Here’s what you need to know about getting to Irvine Lake to enjoy a beautiful fishing day. 

Directions

Irvine Lake is straightforward to get to when traveling by car, and there are several ways to travel to the lake. 

From Points South and West

  • Take Jamboree Road East to East Santiago Canyon Road
  • Turn right onto East Santiago Canyon Road
  • Turn left on Blue Diamond Haul Road
  • Follow Blue Diamond Haul Road for one mile and enter the parking lot on the right

From Points North and East

  • Take the Riverside Freeway (91) westbound
  • Exit onto CA-241 South towards Irvine
  • Take the Santiago Canyon exit
  • Turn left onto Santiago Canyon Road
  • Follow the road two miles and turn left onto Blue Diamond Haul Road
  • Follow Blue Diamond Haul Road for one mile and enter the parking lot on the right

Opening Times

Irvine Lake keeps some fairly stringent hours and is only open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Therefore, it’s essential to arrive early if you plan on doing some Irvine Lake fishing. The parking lot for Irvine Lake opens at 6:30am with access to the lake beginning at 7am.

There’s a tackle shop on-site at the lake, and the hours of operation are the same as the park.

Irvine Lake Rules and Regulations

Irvine Lake is a jointly controlled venture of Orange County and the Serano Water Authority, so it’s essential to familiarize yourself with the lake’s rules and regulations since there are a few more regulations here than at many other bodies of water in California. 

  • Irvine Lake is open Friday through Sunday from 7am to 4pm.
  • Access to parking opens at 6:30am
  • No fishing license is required to fish Irvine Lake
  • All California Department of Fish and Wildlife regulations apply
  • Five fish limit per day
  • All bass fishing is catch and release
  • All catfish over 24” must be released
  • Boating and recreational water sports and float tubes are prohibited 
  • On-site parking is available for $5 per day. Parking on Santiago Canyon Road before the park opens or while the park is open is prohibited
  • Camping, hiking, and biking are prohibited
  • One rod per person maximum 
  • Live bait is prohibited, except for worms

Fishing at Irvine Lake

Now that we’ve covered how to get to the lake and what to know before you begin fishing, let’s cover what you can expect from fishing here at Irvine Lake. 

Best Times To Fish

The best times to fish at Irvine Lake depends primarily on what you’re hoping to fish for. The life cycle of different species in the lake makes certain times of the year more productive than others. 

Late Spring and early Summer provide the best fishing for anglers hoping to target largemouth or hybrid bass. Anglers targeting sturgeon will have much better luck fishing in the winter months than during other seasons. As the water begins to warm in early Spring, sunfish species seek out shallower water, and the fishing remains hot for these species into Fall.

Best Places To Fish

Irvine Lake offers two primary shoreline fishing areas, the west shore, and portions of the east shore. 

West shoreline fishing is much more abundant and can accommodate many more anglers than the small section of the east shore that’s open to fishing. But, shoreline fishing on the east side provides the most productive fishing grounds. As the adage goes, the early bird catches the worm, and you’ll need to show up right when the park opens if you hope to commandeer a spot on the east shore. 

Shoreline fishing along the east side features a long point that juts out into the lake, allowing anglers to target the broadest range of species that inhabit the lake. If you can’t manage to carve out a spot on the point of the east shore, there’s still excellent fishing to be had on the west shore. 

Types of Fish

Irvine Lake fishing offers a diverse range of fish species. In past years, the lake was heavily stocked with different species, and stocking operations were funded by fees collected from anglers. The lake is no longer heavily stocked today, and there’s no longer a charge to fish here. Still, there’s a thriving ecosystem of different species thanks to past stocking initiatives. 

Bluegill, crappie, largemouth bass, and trout are among the most abundant fish in the lake, and they’re also among the easiest to catch when shoreline fishing. Most anglers at Irvine Lake target these species when fishing here. 

The lake is also home to thriving populations of blue catfish, carp, and sturgeon, representing the best action you’ll find on the lake. These larger fish fight hard when hooked and represent the most fun you can have fishing light tackle at Irvine Lake. Anglers rarely catch sturgeon from shore, as they hang in deeper waters that shore anglers can’t reach. 

Keep in mind there is a five fish limit for all species, and fish limits apply year-round. All California Department of fish and wildlife fishing regulations apply when fishing at Irvine Lake. 

Baits and Lures

While you don’t need a lot of specialized gear to enjoy Irvine Lake fishing, you’ll need a few critical pieces of tackle to maximize your time fishing. 

For bass fishing, all your standard bass lures are in play at Irvine Lake. Soft plastics rigged on jig heads or bare hooks are always productive, and crankbaits and spinnerbaits should yield a quality bass bite. 

Anglers targeting trout will want to fish with baits such as worms or salmon eggs and artificial baits like Gulp or Berkley PowerBaits. For catfish, live worms, cut mackerel, and Berkeley’s artificial dough baits and stink baits are most likely to yield a catch. Dough baits are also effective when targeting carp.

Anglers targeting panfish and crappie should have good luck fishing with pieces of nightcrawler or tiny spinner and crankbaits. 

Frequently Asked Questions

When anglers are researching Irvine lake, they usually have some common questions. We’ve rounded up the answers below to help you find all the information you need in one place. 

Why was Irvine Lake closed until 2019?

Orange County and the Serrano Water District control Irvine Lake’s fishing access in a joint venture. While the lake was once a bustling destination for family fishing, boating, and float tubes, disputes over recreational rights arose in 2016 and weren’t resolved until 2019. 
Irvine Lake reopened to recreational fishing in 2019, but boating and watersports have yet to be restored. 

Who owns Irvine Lake?

The lake was formed in 1931 due to the Santiago Canyon Dam being built by the Irvine Company and Serrano Water District. Recreational access rights are currently owned by Orange County, the Irvine Company, and Serrano Water District, with the county and the Irvine Company controlling 75% of the rights, with SWD controlling the remaining 25%. 
Recreational fishing is managed by the James Events company, which also operates the tackle shop on site. 

Are there nearby attractions close to Irvine Lake?

Irvine Lake is situated north of Irvine, California, a bustling city full of exciting attractions. Near Irvine Lake, you’ll find Oak Canyon Park, Limestone Canyon Regional Park, Irvine Spectrum Center, Tanaka Farms, the Museum of California, and Orange County Great Park. 

How deep is Irvine Lake?

Irvine Lake spans 700 acres for a total surface area of one square mile. At its deepest point, Irvine Lake is 145 feet deep. 

How much does it cost to fish Irvine Lake?

There is no charge to fish at Irvine Lake, and no fishing license is required to fish at Irvine Lake. There is a $5 parking charge, and parking on the roads leading up to the park is prohibited. 

Where can I fish without a license in Orange County?

All anglers over 16 must acquire a fishing license to fish most of California’s waters, including when fishing from the beach or surf. But there are a few bodies of water where licenses aren’t required. No permit is required for Irvine Lake fishing or fishing the Santa Ana River Lakes or any piers controlled by Orange County.

Tommy Bull