No Hassle California Houseboating

by Howard Carte III

Like other mild weather states, California offers a choice of year-round houseboating.

Everyone in California has discovered houseboating! Fishermen houseboat so they can stay at the hot spots. Water skiers houseboat to get to remote areas. Families houseboat so Mom enjoys minimal amenities. So at times Lake Shasta and parts of the delta look like aquatic bumper cars. There's nothing wrong with that if you like crowds. If you do not, try a lesser-known lake, or consider an off-season, midweek visit or an extended weekend and you save money too. We most enjoy our old standby Delta, Shasta, Mead sites during the late fall and early spring when the fishing is best, the weather mild and crowds unlikely.

Since most houseboats come complete with bedding, cooking gear, and linen, and since marinas stock food, you need bring only clothing, fishing tackle, and incidental items. The happy result is a low-key vacation sans the dubious joys of packing and unpacking each night. We know, we find houseboating an ideal way for friends or several generations in the same family to share vacations in coddled comfort.

The sheer variety of houseboat experience in and near California grows each year. We have tried rental and private houseboats on the California Delta, Trinity Lake, New Bullards Bar, Lake Oroville, Shasta Lake, Lake Mead and other waters. Add trips on Lake Mohe,avethe scenic 1,000 Islands section of the St. Lawrence, Lake Erie, Florida's St. John River and tidewater, Lake Texacoma and a number of other spots in the United States, Canada and Europe and you enjoy a wide range of choices.

However, let's look at the Northern California options with special emphasis on the lesser-known spots. First, so Hal Schell doesn't picket my next fishing seminar, a peek at the delta.

Delta Delights

Delta houseboating is different. In the East Delta you can rent pontoon boats and enjoy scenic anchorages such as the Meadows as well as shore tours in Locke, the only rural Chinese town in America. You get to play tag with container ships and sailboats, visit developing waterfronts and marinas and explore thousands of miles of waterways. Look for good black bass and seasonal striper, shad and salmon fishing. You can even, if your interest and gas budget permit, visit Sacramento, Stockton or Rio Vista waterfronts.

In the West Delta, winds whip up summer waters so many houseboats are V-hull stern drives that take fishermen out onto flooded Sherman Island. Watch for bridges and cable ferries as well as strong currents and winds. Fall visits are tops for weather and fishing. Some even chug down under the Martinez Bridge to explore the old town delights of Benicia -- check with your houseboat livery.

It Hasta Be Shasta

Shasta Lake has more boats, more skiers, more everything. Enjoy it early in the spring when the lake is full. Stay in the Big Backbone and Squaw Creek arms and the Sacramento Arm up to the Antlers where the trout action is best. In the fall you need to watch for windy days, but can enjoy wonderful fishing and fine fall foliage. Shasta Caverns is worth a trip anytime! Do some shopping as a number of resorts rent boats. We haven't visited in the last few years as we have found lesser-known reservoirs closer to home.

We've heard that Lake Shasta is nearly full, and that the low water years that found shrubs and brush growing in now submerged areas should return more nutrients to the lake than has been the case for years. This means more algae and other critters for the little fish, and many more little fish for the bass, trout and other gamefishing species. So we expect improving fishing through 1997. 

A number of other area attractions offer reason to visit. Mt. Lassen isn't far, and one of the nicest little wilderness areas in California is just a short chip shot from Silver Lake east of Lassen Park. Seasonal salmon runs may be in trouble, but the trout fishing in the Sacramento River below Shasta deserves a try. Don't miss the outlooks at the dam and "the three Shastas" the dam, the lake and the mountain. The last is quite popular with the bead and sandals set as it has a long history of sightings of Lumarinas -- Pacific Ocean Atlantis for those not into foibles and fables -- crystal caves and other quaint bits that suggest chemical enhancement. A mycologist notes, "the red topped mushroom with white spots that grows on Shasta might have something to do with this. He also notes the "get high" dose is only 30% smaller than the "stone dead" dose. Maybe folks are licking frogs.

Trinity, Berryessa and Coast Range Lakes

Trinity Lake has state record smallmouth and lovely trout fishing with fewer boats than Lake Shasta. We find spring an ideal time to visit when the full lake is at its most scenic. Lake Berryessa is so near the Bay Area it is easy to overlook. It may have the best trout fishing in California between November and March whenever the water remains clear. In the summer it is infested with jet boats and water skiers. The variety of other attractions is quite mind-boggling! A good choice with teen-agers in the group!

In the Coast Range, Lake San Antonio should get a lot more attention from Bay Area residents. Its superb fishing, super water-skiing on protected waters and convenient location near Paso Robles would be lure enough even without possible sidetrips to nearby San Luis Obispo or a visit to Monterey. Masochists can take Highway 1 back up past San Simeon. The weather is particularly nice in the fall and mild all winter. With all sorts of campgrounds and the usual services it's definitely a fine choice when the delta fogs in!

Fun In The Foothills

In the Sierra foothills Lake Oroville offers 167 miles of shoreline (lots less this year!) with outstanding landlocked salmon and brown trout fishing and decent black bass action. Bassmasters recently claimed this is "California's best bass lake." I'd vote for Clear Lake even though the new 12" to 15" slot limits have radically improved results and the spotted bass fishery is now perhaps the best in California.

Oroville does feature an attractive bridge and several lovely arms of the Feather River. It's a good choice for two or three days in calm weather. Boaters will find dandy boater's only sites here and those with self-contained craft who have outlets sealed and inspected by a ranger and use floating campsites. In the fall visit the nearby fish hatchery! There's salmon fishing in the Feather River that, between the dam and Afterbay outlet, can be the only clear water in Northern California after big storms. 

Foothill waters

New Bullards Bar has at least three new houseboats for rent. Since this long, skinny alpine lake's 4,600 acres and 55 miles of shoreline is only 40 minutes from home we visit often on two and three day trips to enjoy the wonderful rocky banks, below the pines and exceptional fishing.

The only trick is finding it. The quick route from Marysville is via Highway 20 and Dobbins. The scenic route from the Bay Area leaves I-80 for Highway 49 through Grass Valley and Nevada City and then winds a few miles along Moonshine Road at the Middle Fork of the Yuba. This lake may have the best kokanee fishing in California. Limits are possible all year if you troll deep, and easy in November, December and January when kokanee come up to within 20 feet of the surface. Big brown trout, bass and panfish hit too. You can catch as many as nine different kinds of fish on small plugs here in one trip! Water-skiers appreciate the sheltered upper arms. Shore camps are best in spring. A sleeper! Such is especially the case when you combine a visit with a trip to historic Nevada City or the many Northern Mines parks and exhibits which celebrate 49er days.

Further South, New Melones, in the Mother Lode near Sonora just off the scenic and historic wonders of Highway 49, offers over 100 miles of shoreline and decent fishing. We especially enjoy some casual gold panning at the mouth of inlet creek and the many attractions nearby such as historic Columbia and Angels Camp. An excellent choice for groups that want to combine houseboating with sightseeing an easy couple of hours run from the Bay Area via Oakdale and Highway 120.

Lake McClure out of Modesto offers 82 miles of nifty coves and 25 miles of open water for skiers. This is a wonderful lake for fall trout fishing. Spring visits offer delightful wild-flowers with nice bass action. Since the lake is further from population centers it collects fewer crowds than most foothill impoundments.

With an eye on storms, all of these locations and other locations we haven't tried offer quality year-round boating. Anglers enjoy low fall and winter lakes that concentrate fish. Scenery buffs find spring's full lakes -- at least lately --and green banks a treat. Winter means isolation, a chance to have a cove, even an arm of a lake to yourself. Summer suits water skiers and works for those who can't make other seasons.