Situated in an open basin on the southern end of Monterey County, San Antonio is a vibrant but brooding reservoir. Fishing here can be fantastic. It can also make you question whether there are any fish at all living in the lake at times. There are northern strain largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, striped bass, crappie, channel cats, bluegill, redear, squaw fish and carp. San Antonio also has a remarkable wild goldfish population which can be seen on occasion in the shallows. Huge, bright orange goldfish by the thousands are an odd sight to see in a California lake.
Water clarity at San Antonio ranges from muddy during the winter to over 10 feet in the spring through fall. Algae blooms are frequent, and turn the surface of the water a chewy green color. It reminds of Crowley in many ways if you have ever fished that Eastern Sierra impoundment. A result of the soupy water is a huge threadfin shad population. Lake levels fluctuate through the seasons, and may draw down quite low if dry conditions persist for more than a year or two. As a result, there are dead willow stickups around most of the lake. In the coves you will also find standing oak timber. The body of the lake as you can see on the map is straight and somewhat featureless. The coves look much more appealing but there are not many of them.
The river end of the lake is shallow and has expansive flats. On low water you might find yourself running over 4-10 feet of water for several hundred yards at a time. The dam end of the lake has steeper banks and bluffs with shale and chunk rock. This is also where you will find the cleaner water in the lake - typical of most California reservoirs.
Largemouth here are the healthy variety. An average bass as of this review (2007) will be 2-3 pounds and fat. Smallmouth are similar and seem to be increasing in size and numbers in recent years. Catching 3lb smallmouth is not uncommon here. The smallmouth are interesting because during some seasons it is as if there are none in the lake - and then in the spring they appear by the hundreds in the shallows to spawn. It's a wonderful bass fishery when it's on, but it can be darn tough too.
Popular bass gear here includes spinnerbaits, jerkbaits, spooks, poppers, small finesse jigs, drop shot, split shot, and carolina rig. When the fish get going on shad you can catch them good on reaction, but if the bite is tough it's a place where you need to have a 6lb rod with a drop shot ready to go. Expect also that when the bite is tough, you should be fishing in 20-60 feet of water. Fish here go deep.
The striper population in the lake varies from year to year. In the early 2000's there was a mix of large grade fish (15-30lbs) and smaller fish (2-6lbs). Now it seems that this smaller class of fish is coming on strong with large numbers of 4-12lb fish in the lake. The big ones are still there, but perhaps not quite as prevalent as before. The health of the stripers follows the health of the shad, which in turn correlates to the sequence of high and low water levels the lake experiences.
If you're fishing stripers, the deal is to look for shad or birds - or better yet both. Hair raisers, rattle traps, and small swimbaits all work. Anything that looks like a shad should work for that matter. Get to the lake early if you are after stripers and keep your eyes open. When they go on the bite, it seems to last a few weeks then peter out. The fish move around a lot day to day and even hour to hour, so trolling is a good method if you don't have anything obvious to go on. Watch your meter closely and cover water fast. They're in the lake somewhere.
San Antonio is a sleeper for catfish, but there is a healthy population of channels here. The cats follow the shad just like the stripers and bass do so don't be afraid to look for sign and fish in that area. There was a bite years ago by the dam where cats were hanging under shad balls in over 100' of water and guys knocked them dead fishing underneath the bait with flylined anchovies. Something to keep in mind if you like fishing cats there.
Crappie are boom and bust like the stripers. Fishing around the docks in the marina is a good place to start. Do that, or check the brushy coves. If you can find them, there's nice quality in San Antonio, but the lake isn't known as being a consistent, year in and year out crappie producer (few lakes are).
San Antonio doesn't get half the recreational boating pressure that Nacimiento does, but it does get busy in the summer time. With a straight, open shape, it's the type of lake that gets annoying when 20 or 30 water skiiers start circling the lake. There just aren't many coves to hide in. Best to go early in the morning if you're fishing in July. The lake isn't huge but it's big enough to get a little rough in a small boat. If you run out there in a 12 footer just keep your eye on the wind a little bit. If it comes out of the north-west and blows straight down the lake you can get some sheep in the pasture so to speak.
One last comment about San Antonio is in regards to location and wildlife. The lake is far from major population centers. It does get fished, but it doesn't get hit hard like the lakes to the north and south. If you enjoy a little peace and quiet, San Antonio is a great place to fish from fall through spring. On a weekday, you could have the lake to yourself in December. It's that kind of place. While you're out there you will see abundant wildlife. Fish eating birds, eagles, deer, wild pigs, etc. It's not the most lush landscape, but it is beautiful in its own way.