Early SoCal – Lake Henshaw

Lake Henshaw article from the February/March 1974 issue of American Bass Fisherman.

Lake Henshaw article from the February/March 1974 issue of American Bass Fisherman.

Recently I was reading a February/March 1974 issue of American Bass Fisherman magazine and was surprised when I saw a couple of articles about the west. What surprised me about them was; 1) ABF – or better known as the American-Florida Bass Fisherman – was based out of Florida, a continent away from the fledgling California bass scene and 2) one of the articles was penned by BFA contributor Bill Rice, while the other was about a pretty obscure reservoir just north of San Diego. This piece is about that reservoir, Lake Henshaw.

February

Lake Henshaw article from the February/March 1974 issue of American Bass Fisherman.

At first sight of the article my mind was brought back to my early childhood – the days of getting up at 3:00 am, loading the car and heading out for that two hour drive from my home to pretty much any lake. For a 10-year-old kid bitten by the bass bug, you could imagine the thoughts that streamed through my mind during those 120 long minutes.

The first time I went to Henshaw must have been about the time this article appeared in ABF. At this point in my life I’d been a subscriber to Western Outdoor News (WON) for two years – reading every word writers like Bill Rice, George Kramer and Bill Downey wrote. Up to that year, I’d pretty much only fished trout and catfish at the local “put-and-take lakes.” 1974 would be the year my passion of “just catching fish” would take a dramatic turn. That year marked the time I turned into a bass fisherman.

Lake Henshaw article from the February/March 1974 issue of American Bass Fisherman.

Lake Henshaw article from the February/March 1974 issue of American Bass Fisherman.

The article, penned by southern California writer Jim Putney, goes heavily into detail about the lake and what it offered for the bass angler. At the time it was one of the hottest lakes in the state, if not the west. Jack Ford owned the concession, campground and cabins located across from the launch facilities and rental dock. I can still smell the bait tanks – which held mudsuckers, waterdogs and crawdads – in the concession, I still remember gruffy old Jack and I especially remember the pictures of huge bass pinned to the wall near the door. Many times we’d head down to the lake for the weekend and stay in the old white cabins – complete with two rickety old twin beds and a small bath – located just south of the concession.

Enough of the memories, though.

Lake Henshaw article from the February/March 1974 issue of American Bass Fisherman.

Lake Henshaw article from the February/March 1974 issue of American Bass Fisherman.

I wish I’d had this article back then as it is the most complete piece I’ve ever seen on the lake – not that it would have mattered much. When we fished the lake in those days it was with rental boats, sans a depthfinder or the knowledge of really how to even bass fish. Still the article presented here would have answered a lot of questions we had.

The sad thing about this whole subject is I’m not sure if Lake Henshaw exists beyond a wet spot on the side of the highway anymore. Around 1983 the dam was deemed unfit to hold water and too expensive to fix. As fast as rejuvenating spring rains filled it, they drained it. This meant that the once large lake with ample shoreline cover turned into a barren mud puddle with only offshore structure to hold fish. I’ll have to rely on George Kramer to fill in the blanks.

Lake Henshaw article from the February/March 1974 issue of American Bass Fisherman.

Lake Henshaw article from the February/March 1974 issue of American Bass Fisherman.

Anyway, for those of you with fond memories of a once phenomenal lake, I’ve scanned and posted the article in its entirety for you to read. I hope you all enjoy seeing one of the lakes that started many young anglers in southern California down the bass track.

  • Bill Rice

    Putney did a great job on the Henshaw article. I remember fishing there several times, visiting with Jack Ford, and fishing with lake staffer Tom Randolph and catching lots of fish on “Bomber Ledge.”….and you had to find it by dragging the anchor along the bottom.. .many days before depth finders. Once you found the “spot” it was fish after fish.

  • Dragging the anchor to find the spot. That’s great stuff Bill. Imagine doing that today. 🙂

  • Carrie Austin

    Jack Ford is my grandfather. He has long passed but I have fond memories of him and the lake. I’ve been back only a few times since his and Carole’s retirement in 1987 and long for the way it used to be. Oh well, in my mind it will always be as grand as the article stated.

    • Terry Battisti

      Carrie,

      Thanks for the note and thanks to your grandfather for so many great memories.

      Terry