OLD DAM is suspect...

JUST UPDATED: BassFishingArchives.com just sent a couple of Henshaw photos from the old California Lunker Club files.

As much as I might look at my early club fishing on Lake Henshaw as “the old days,” this once prolific reservoir was actually built in the early 1920’s. For decades before I was born or ever heard of a black SuperFloat worm, it had a reputation (heck, I saw some of it) for productivity that probably rivaled the best of the TVA lakes.

While I got a taste of it in the 1970’s and again in the El Nino 1980’s, those days are gone for good. The lake’s huge basin (it would stretch out to over 6000 surface acres at high water) used to flood annually, producing great spawning areas criss-crossed by ditches and drainages in addition to the main channel of the San Luis Rey River.

NORTH SHORE landmarks dry...

It was better than any hatchery. But no more. Places such as Monkey Island or Bomber Ledge are respectively, Monkey Hill, while the “Ledge” is now the east shoreline. Wow.

I went there yesterday, alone (who else would spend money on a trip down memory lane that costs $4.11 a gallon?) but two things became evident. It was great to reminisce, but you can’t fish in the past; you have to fish what’s in front of you.

MONKEY HILL (background) was once an island...

And for that, I got a couple on spinnerbaits–not coachdog Sonics or 500 Bombers. And I spent a good portion of time looking at Structure Scan. Like Custer could have used a Gatling gun, how I would have liked to have had the new electronics back when!

And so another thought came to mind as well. Enjoy what you have to fish now. The fishing may not always be epic down the road. Today, Henshaw can never go over about 1200 acres, the dam doesn’t meet earthquake standards. It will never have a massive bass population again.

QUAGGA WASH ($5) now part of the new days...

And who knew? The rockpiles that topped out in 8 to maybe 18 feet at one time will never be flooded again. Heck, I could only find 19 feet of water yesterday–and that near the buoy line at the dam. They say 10 feet higher (see the water line on the dam) is all it will be allowed to reach.

Thus, it remains quite true; it will never be the 1970’s (or the 2000 and teens) again, but I liked what I found at Henshaw–so I’ll probably go back. But just to the lake–not back in time.


14 Responses to “Henshaw: A couple of nostalgia lessons”

Where is Lake Henshaw? How come they don’t fix the dam so it will be earthquake safe? Yeah, I know…money! Southern California needs more reservoirs as we are always in a drought. One would think that the powers-that-be would see that investing in a new dam to preserve water would be a good thing to do, but no, they’d rather buy water at exorbitant prices instead of investing that money into a new dam or reservoir to hold free rain water/runoff or to create power.

by George Kramer

Highway 76 east, through two Indian Reservations. Connects downstream to Lake Wohlford in Escondido, which also is low due to earthquake concerns with its dam.

As is Lake Perris

Isn’t earthquake repairs to the dam the reason that San Vicente is closed?

by George Kramer

Actually, at San Vee they are just raising the dam about 100 feet to increase its water capacity. It won’t be a great deal bigger in surface area, when it reopens, but it will spread out some and be significantly deeper (and brushier all around).

Back in ’69 I wrote a letter to the editor at WON regarding what we call today as catch & release; the modern bass anglers could over harvest the small SoCal bass lakes if we didn’t start releasing the larger spawner’s. The lake I referenced was lake Henshaw!
It was common to see stringers of 4 to 6 lbs bass and a few 7 & 8’s mixes in at the “cleaning tables”!
You can blame seasonal weather periods and droughts, but extreme fishing pressure may have killed Henshaw.
I had my 550 Lowrance paper graph on the Astro Glass back then and could fish the “alley rocks & ledge” with a real jig & pig and catch bass all day long and only had to share the water with the troller’s working the area, unless Abney or Jack showed up.

by George Kramer

Tom: Not so in this case. Low water and extreme weather conditions year after year have changed the environment since mid 1980’s. Most small bass lakes could be stocked with a couple hundred adult bass–maybe less–and replenish in three years or so. The annual (or nearly so) fish kills at Henshaw in the winter go unreported–because nobody goes up there anymore to notice. Besides, a 3- to 7-pound bass likely spawned two to five times before it was caught, easily offsetting the harvest from a pure numbers perspective. But since the lake level has been held down, young-of-the-year don’t survive where the mean depth is probably 4 feet and the water temperature drops below 40 degrees many winters.

by Gary Furman

Hello George, it’s been a long time since we have communicated. I used to fish WON & West Coast Bass. Henshaw is where I learned and grew to love bass fishing in the 60’s and what a great fishery it was (crappie also). I have not been back since leaving the San Diego area in 1972, but have many fond memories of Henshaw, and had wondered what had happened to it. Thanks for the post and by the way I would have gone with you.

by George Kramer

Yes, Gary, I do recall from my days covering the weigh-ins. Hope you’re doin’ good. It’s interesting the responses to the piece. There was no biding cause to write it; I just went down there because Memorial weekend was always a banner time to fish there for the guys in my club, Saddleback Bassmasters. I also got some other responses that came privately rather than through the blog. It’s funny what we remember. When I first got married, we couldn’t get away. But a year later, someone donated their Henshaw Resort stay and boat rental to me from a CLC event…so we had our belated honeymoon at the lake. It was the most brutally cold day I ever spent fishing one December–Diana never fished with me again…

George we need to agree to disagree on the boom & bust big bass cycles; I believe bass anglers can and do over harvest big bass, you believe it’s water levels and recruitment…the odd thing is lakes closed to public fishing seem to miss those cycles.
FLMB were planted into Henshaw and they can’t take sustained water temps below 45 degrees and that was the case at Henshaw during the low water periods. Big bass with fungas swimming around like zombies during the late 70’s when the population crashed. Maybe it’s time restock with NLMB at Henshaw, nothing wrong with aggressive bass in the 7 to 8lb range!

by George Kramer

The CAN over-harvest, and they have. But now we release everything and produce stunted bass on every catch and release-only lake in the state. I have photos of hefties from as recently as last spring at Henshaw–but the environment at that elevation will never sustain a fishery without water. Bass anglers just not a factor there for decades.

In it’s heyday Henshaw was a good fishery, the crappie fishing was second to none and that was a big draw back in it’s prime. The fishery was well balanced, not just a bass lake.
Thank you posting your trip, it brought back a lot of good memories.
PS; Jack was the late Jack O’Malley

Hi Tom,

I heard Jack was still alive? Are you sure he passed and if he did, when it was?



Terry after contacting a few people that knew Jack I could not confirm if he passed away. Everyone remembers he had a heart attack in the late 80’s, so lets hope you are right and he is alive and well!