Barrett Lake: A Hidden Gem for Bass, Crappie, and Catfish in San Diego’s East County

When you arrive at Barrett Lake, you will discover a beautiful, 811-acre lake set in a remote valley. Except for one gated road, which crosses private property, there is no public access. Access will be permitted as long as there is no abuse of private property, such as littering, trespassing, or petty damage. If you witness any wrongdoing, immediately try to correct the situation, or the rare chance to fish Barrett Lake will again be taken away.

Along with Upper Otay Lake, this is one of only two reservoirs in the region operating under highly restrictive rules. One of the reasons for this is to protect the last significant local population of northern-strain largemouth black bass. The Florida-strain bass has replaced these fish in nearly all of Southern California.

Other species include bullhead and black and white crappie. Threadfin shad and silverside minnows have been planted for forage. They are reproducing successfully, resulting in healthier and bigger bass.

The lake is in chaparral-covered hills. It offers good fishing structure, including rock piles, sunken timber and brush, and dropoffs—and the result is that you can catch bass regardless of your preferred style. For instance, submerged rock piles are available for those who like trying for monster-sized bass using pig-and-jig or plastic worms. There are plenty of sunken brush piles for those who like casting spinnerbaits. And there are also plenty of coves with midwater fish for anglers who prefer throwing crankbaits. Got it? You can do just about anything you want?…

Just about. Fishing is catch-and-release, with barbless hooks on lures or flies. All parties must be escorted to and from the lake.

All the lake needs is years of high water, and it fills with bass, bullhead, bluegill, and black and white crappie. Set in a remote valley near the California/Mexico border, Barrett Lake was closed to the public starting in 1969; it then reopened in the summer of 1994 with a genius-level fishing program. Talented anglers on good days have caught more than 100 bass. Even in slow periods, the average catch is 10 bass per day.

You can go to the best reservoirs in Mexico, like El Salto, and not have a better experience. Under the reservation system, Barrett continues to have the highest bass catch rates, and because the number of anglers is controlled, it is a far more enjoyable experience than at crowded areas, and the high quality of the fishery is maintained.

Access is controlled through a reservation system (see Contact) and special fishing rules. The only problem has been the lake level. It really suffers in the dry years, and the fishing with it.

Barrett Lake is open Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday. Access days have been up for debate. Check for status of water levels and access days. You cannot see the lake from the road.

Facilities, fees: Rental boats with 4-horsepower motors are provided. Visitors are allowed to bring their own outboard motors (up to 25 horsepower). Vault toilets are available, but drinking water is not. Garbage must be packed out. No glass containers or pets are permitted. No more than two vehicles per group and no more than 100 persons per day are let in, and RVs are not permitted. Access is by reservation only through Ticketmaster. A fishing package fee (boat rental included) is charged. Arrangements for lake escort are made after reservations are complete.

Directions: From San Diego, take I-8 east about 30 miles to Japatul Road. Turn south (right) on Japutal Road and drive 5.6 miles to Lyons Valley Road. Bear left on Lyons Valley Road and drive six miles (just past milepost 12) to Barrett Lake Road and an unsigned entrance gate. A ranger will be waiting to check your entrance pass. The lake is approximately 2.5 miles beyond the gate.

Types of Fish You Can Expect to Catch at Barrett Lake:

  • Largemouth Bass:
    • The prized catch of Barrett Lake, these feisty fighters lurk near submerged trees, rocky outcrops, and weed beds. Crankbaits, jigs, and spinnerbaits fished strategically during spring and fall will get you hooked. Be prepared for a fight, as Barrett Lake bass can reach up to 8 pounds!
  • Crappie and Bluegill:
    • These scrappy panfish are perfect for an afternoon of light fun. They teem near brush piles and shallows, readily attacking small jigs tipped with live bait. Be prepared for an arm workout, as they’re relentless fighters! Both crappie and bluegill are abundant in Barrett Lake, making it a great spot for families or anyone looking for some fast-paced action.
  • Channel Catfish:
    • These whiskered wonders offer year-round action, especially during the summer months when they become more active at night. Look for them near the dam and deeper sections, enticed by cut bait, nightcrawlers, and stink baits. Channel catfish in Barrett Lake can reach up to 15 pounds!

History of Barrett Lake:

Nestled in the foothills of the Cuyamaca Mountains, Barrett Lake has a rich history that adds to its allure. When the lake reopened to the public in the summer of 1994, it introduced a genius-level fishing program that transformed it into a haven for anglers. Despite being closed to the public for over two decades since 1969, the lake has maintained its reputation for offering the highest bass catch rates.

Operating under highly restrictive rules, Barrett Lake aims to protect the last significant local population of northern-strain largemouth black bass. This strategic approach has preserved the unique ecosystem of the lake, ensuring that talented anglers can still catch over 100 bass on good days, making it a superior experience compared to crowded areas.

Top 5 Tips for Anglers Fishing at Barrett Lake for the First Time:

  • Familiarize yourself with the reservation system and special fishing rules.
  • Practice catch-and-release with barbless hooks on lures or flies.
  • Be prepared for the controlled access days—Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday.
  • Stay informed about water levels and access days to plan your trip accordingly.
  • Respect private property and report any wrongdoing to preserve access for all.

Top 5 Strategies and Tactics to Maximize Your Fishing Experience:

  • Seasonal Awareness:
    • Plan your visit during the spring and fall for the most active bass. Adjust tactics for catfish during the warm summer days.
  • Time of Day Matters:
    • Early mornings and evenings are golden times for trophy catches, especially in the hot summer months.
  • Versatile Fishing Styles:
    • Explore various fishing styles based on the lake’s diverse structure. Try pig-and-jig or plastic worms for monster-sized bass, spinnerbaits near sunken brush piles, and crankbaits in midwater coves.
  • Catch-and-Release Mastery:
    • Hone your catch-and-release skills with barbless hooks to contribute to the lake’s sustainability.
  • Escorted Fishing Experience:
    • Understand and comply with the escorted fishing system to and from the lake.

Top 5 Recommendations for Fishing Gear:

  • Rods:
    • Opt for medium-heavy to heavy-action rods for the potential of larger bass.
  • Reels:
    • Choose baitcasting reels with a high gear ratio for effective lure retrieval.
  • Lures:
    • Pack a variety, including crankbaits, jigs, spinnerbaits, and plastic worms for versatile presentations.
  • Check Our Gearlist:
    • Explore our gearlist account for exact gear recommendations to maximize your fishing experience.
  • Respect the Rules:
    • Ensure your gear complies with the catch-and-release, barbless hook, and escorted fishing rules.

Check out our Gearlist for the gear we for trips like this

Our Gearlist account lists all of the gear we use. Discover our top picks, where to snag them, and stay informed with our regular updates.

With its diverse fishery, stunning scenery, and abundance of wildlife, Barrett Lake promises an unforgettable fishing adventure. This hidden gem in San Diego’s East County, nestled in the tranquil foothills, is a testament to the success of conservation efforts and sustainable fishing practices. As you cast your line into the pristine waters, remember to respect the rules, preserve the environment, and contribute to the legacy of Barrett Lake. So, pack your gear, secure your reservations, and embark on a journey to experience the magic of this exclusive fishing destination.