Canyon Lake, CA
With all the time I’ve spent on the water, a lot of people like to joke that I’m part fish by now. Maybe they’re not wrong. I’d like to think there’s a little bit of crystal clear creek waters mixed in my blood, a little bit of salt crusted on my lungs, and all these fishing experiences stacked up in my mind. It all keeps me going, and in a lot of ways keep me rooted where I am. It’s the waters of Canyon Lake that keep me stuck tight to Orange County, at least.
Canyon Lake is special. I must have fished it 100 times if I fished it 10, and there’s something deep that connects me to it. Hell, I have my boat out there on it.
It’s about an hour drive out to Canyon Lake from my home in OC, but when the wheels get turning and I hit the highway, I feel that giddy rush of excitement. There’s a connection to the memories and feelings of my childhood, something that brings me back to midwest lakes where you could just boat or swim, relax and fish, and really just make the most of being by the water.
It’s elemental that way, feeling one with the water. I find myself waking up early on weekends or even Fridays around 4am just so I can get out there in time to catch the sun creep up over the dark horizon. There’s a stillness to the world, a lack of motion even in the wind. It’s like everything is waiting, holdings its breath. The only thing making ripples on the water is me on my boat, bobbing gently with a little wake that spreads on for hundreds of yards. Watching. The water is dark glass, until the moment the sun explodes, bringing the world to life for a new day. I can fish for a couple hours and still be home in time to go to work.
Maybe that’s the secret of Canyon Lake. Maybe it’s the wilder side of a human spirit that in our culture gets caught up in work and politics and the humdrum of day-to-day life. Canyon Lake is split in two just like our lives, divided by a causeway down the middle that creates an east bay on one side and a west bay on the other.
The east bay, where I keep my boat, is shallower waters with fingers and coves popping in and out of the landscape, all with pockets of healthy fish populations that make it difficult for me to even know where to start. If I go under the bridge to the west side, however, the main body of the lake opens right up and feels like a different place altogether; sometimes it’ll have crystal clear waters when the shallower east side was murky. The complex character, the different sides and varied fishing…it starts to feel relatable.
At the end of the day it is all about how we relate to other things and other people. I love my wife and I am blessed beyond measure, and one of the greatest joys I have is sharing my passions with the ones I love. We’ve rented houses on the lake countless times with my family, out of town guests, friends from all walks of life…it’s a home away from home that way, and maybe Canyon Lake is where my spirit fuses perfectly to become one with the natural world.
It’s a desert lake, after all. It struggles with water sometimes but it has a healthy fish population. The massive shad ultimately support the bass population, so at the end of the day the fishing is superb. The catches on average range from 4-8 lbs, but I managed to snag a 9lb 14 oz and a 10lb 4oz over my years. Every catch is special, and every experience changes with the seasons.
And maybe that’s the real reason I’m stuck on this worldly connection to Canyon Lake. More so than most places I get to fish, Canyon Lake changes into totally different lakes depending on the time of year, like it has a life of its own.
The Seasonal Life
To some degree all bodies of water change with the seasons, and it’s true that every ecosystem does have a life of its own, but the changes on Canyon Lake seem to be truly transformative.
In Winter, the lake feels totally deserted even though you have houses all around, dotting the shoreline like little toys. All these empty homes, from gorgeous mansions to fixer uppers looking for a little love, there’s something there for everyone. Even the birds.
With less people around, Winter brings a menagerie of migratory birds. The lake is bustling with feathered life from huge pelicans to cormorants, ducks, herons, and more. The water drops to mid-50 degrees with an air temp of 70 or so, and there’s a crisp quality that fills your lungs with a fresh bite. It’s invigorating.
By Spring the fishing picks back up and you see more boaters out on the water. That brisk chill from the winter winds can carry over into these sunny days, but the temps start creeping back up towards their summer peak.
The lake starts to morph before your eyes into the Summer party spot, where you get tons of events, music rolling over the waters from no less than 10 spots on the shore, water skiers roaring and flicking up spray that catches the sunlight just like you’d thrown some diamonds into the sky. The water gets into the 80s and the air up past 100. You have to fish the mornings before the heat drives you back, and during the day you can just lounge around, hang out with good company, have a drink or two and just unwind. Of course, by evening you’d be ready for fish again (if you’re like me). Pro tip: in the evenings, it’s topwater biting all day. You’ll catch the best haul with no issues.
Of course, as the summer parties fade back and Fall rolls through, the fishing calms down a little bit as the lake transitions back to its Winter self. You can sit there on the still waters without a breeze to even ruffle your hair, and you look around and see the memories all around you. Just like the morning hours when I sit in the stillness waiting for sunrise, it’s a type of rebirth. Life is beautiful.
I guess my point is that Canyon Lake is unique and very dear to me, but you probably have your own Canyon Lake somewhere nearby. At least, I hope you do. Everyone needs a place to appreciate the dual aspects of our own identities and the seasonal, cyclical transformations we undergo as part of life.
And just as important is having a place where you don’t have to think too hard about all that if you don’t want to. Where you can just push a button from the dock and launch your boat out on the still waters, drop a line in, and just sit there totally content. A place where the only guarantee you need is that there will be more of this to come. Because life is good.
That’s what Canyon Lake is to me. If you haven’t yet, I hope you find yours.