Fishing and Boating

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General Location: Three hours north of Los Angeles and one hour northeast of Bakersfield, where Highway 178 meets Highway 155, the lake lies between two sections of the Sequoia National Forest at an elevation of 2,578 feet.

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Activities & Amenities

Land Sports

  • Camping - 30 campgrounds within the nearby Sequoia National Forest
  • Information available from Lake Visitor Center on southwest corner of the lake - (760) 379-5646
  • Fishing - trout, bass, bluegill, crappie, catfish
  • Golf - at a public golf course near the north end of the reservoir near Kernville
  • Hiking - 1,000 miles of hiking trails in surrounding mountains of Sequoia National Forest
  • Motocross Driving - on track at Cyrus Canyon
  • Photography - of wildflowers and wildlife (particularly at the South Fork Wildlife Area)
  • Snow Skiing - at nearby Shirley Meadows and Sugar Loaf Peak

Water Sports

  • On Lake Isabella: boating, sailing, water skiing, jet-skiing, windsurfing, and fishing
  • On the Kern River (preserved by Congress as Wild and Scenic): whitewater rafting, kayaking, and fishing


In 1953, the U. S. Corps of Engineers built earthen dams across two forks of the Kern River to create the Isabella reservoir, Kern County's largest body of water year round with a surface area of 11,200 acres. The communities of Wofford Heights, Lake Isabella and Kernville now bustle with outdoor enthusiasts: fishermen, boatmen, hikers and campers. Kernville, just to the north on Highway 178 beside the north fork of the Kern River, boasts a historic past as an 1850's gold rush camp. The town pays tribute to its rip-roaring past with its Whiskey Flats Days and the exhibits in the Kern Valley Museum.

Fees & Permit Information

  • For permit information, call (760) 379-2806
  • Boat Permits (Lake Isabella only) $45/year
  • Sailboard permits: $30/year
  • Permits are available at any marina and at several convenience stores in the Lake Isabella area including the mini mart located at Lake Isabella Boulevard and Highway 155 and at James Store in Kernville.

Emergency Information

A large Kern County Parks Department Patrol Boat with a red stripe traverses the lake from sunrise to sunset to preserve safety and issue citations, if necessary.

  • Emergency Numbers: To report accidents - 911
  • Citizens Band Channel 9
  • Kern Valley Hospital (760) 379-2681


  • Speed on the water should always be appropriate to weather conditions, the presence of water hazards and the presence of other users of the area. Speeding around trees is hazardous; buzzing people at 40 mph and wetting them down is cause for citation.
  • Unmarked underwater hazards, such as submerged fencing (particularly near the South Fork area), tree snags, rock outcroppings, sand spits and islands appear and disappear with Lake Isabella's ever-changing water level.
  • The Borel Canal, an eight foot deep concrete channel supplying water to the power plant downstream from the Auxiliary Dam, cuts right through the western part of Lake Isabella where the water may be deceptively shallow.
  • Lake Isabella has sudden gusts of 60 mph winds that often make crossing open water unsafe.
  • Jet-skiers should AVOID the Kern River channel and not endanger themselves and others.
  • The law limits boating to the daytime - one hour before sunrise to one hour after sunset.

Regulations & Restrictions

Also refer to the "ABC's of the California Boating Law," a booklet published by the State of California.

  • Speed Limit: 5 mph (no wake) within 200 feet of shore, within 100 feet of swimmers (other than water skiers), near docks, marinas or within South Fork Wildlife Area.
  • Alcohol or Drug Use: Alcohol or drug use is illegal while operating a boat and is a felony if such use causes death or serious injury. Conviction of intoxication while operating a boat may bring a $1,000 fine and six months in jail. Avoiding accidents requires 100% alertness.
  • Age and Safety Gear Requirements: Boat operators must be at least 16 years old. Each person aboard must have US Coast Guard approved Personal Flotation Device (PFD); water skiers and personal watercraft riders must wear PFDs at all times.
  • Towing Rules for Water skiers, Inflatables, Etc.: A tow boat must qualify to hold at least 3 people, including an observer at least 12 years old, capable of rescuing an injured water skier. The observer must raise a red flag whenever a line is out or a skier is preparing to ski or a skier is down.
  • Right-of-Way Rules: These rules apply to everyone on the water, including windsurfers. As with driving a car, passing is on the right, yielding at a crossing gives the go-ahead to the vessel on the right and overtaking another vessel requires a wide berth. Anchored and sailing vessels usually have the right-of-way. The law says that avoiding a collision takes precedence over insisting on a right-of-way.
  • Avoidance Measures: Water skiers, personal watercraft riders and windsurfers often seek the calmer waters near the Auxiliary Dam. These people may reach speeds from 35-70 mph, posing a hazard to each other as well as to boaters. Attempting to judge the speed of an oncoming person is difficult, particularly in a glare or mist; better to simply avoid congestion.
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