Not the star of Africa, the largest diamond in the world, or even something you see with “your friends at the diamond center.” Many refer to Lake Sonoma as one of the hidden gems of Northern California. The Lake has many coves on the 2,700 surface acres of water.
Lake Sonoma is without a doubt a sportsman’s paradise. The lake is managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and is located just north of some of the finest wineries in Sonoma County.
Lake Sonoma is the ideal destination for the sportsman that perhaps has a wife who also wants to visit Northern California’s enchanting wine country. One of the wineries I discovered on my travels to Lake Sonoma is RUED Winery. Their slogan goes, “Six generations. Working the Sonoma County Soils Since 1882. Handcrafted Wines that Define a Family.” Their passion and love for wine making is readily apparent in your first taste.
A sportsman visiting California can drop his wife off letting her explore the Sonoma wine country while he takes a short one or two day excursion hunting Lake Sonoma. It is what I call a win-win for both the hunter and his spouse.
This article isn’t necessarily about one of the best-kept secrets in Northern California being Lake Sonoma, nor is it about the beautiful scenery and wineries on the way to the lake. It is about what I’ve discovered over the years at Lake Sonoma and what has turned a great hunting opportunity into possibly the hunt of a lifetime.
I call it hunting hard, the easy way.
Many of us know how much work, preparation, and physical effort a demanding hunt can take. Lake Sonoma is rich with opportunity from early fall to spring for dear, wild hogs, and turkey. As beautiful and enchanting as Lake Sonoma can be, it is equally difficult and even arduous. Many hunters come to Lake Sonoma with dreams of success, knowing how much wild game abounds there. But these hunters are quickly reminded of the difficulties upon meeting its steep rolling hills. I can’t remember a hunt outside of Sonoma where a big game animal didn’t just plummet or charge down the deepest brush choked creek or gorge when it was taken.
Retrieving a big game animal from the bottom of a canyon is quite normal for most of us. That’s why I hunt Lake Sonoma the easy way.
Hunting hard the easy way is with a boat, or better yet, a fleet. What a few friends and me have stumbled upon is the usefulness of water crafts on such a hunt.
My hunting partner Evin suggested that we rent a patio boat from the marina and use it as our mothership as we hunt the many coves and hillsides with my canoe. This turned out to be such an incredible idea that I felt I had to share it.
If you were to pay for an outfitted luxurious camp, food, and access to prime hunting ground, it could cost you thousands. Hunting Lake Sonoma with a patio boat and an additional small boat or canoe makes an unbeatable team. I’ve found that you can rent a patio boat for a fraction of a top-rated outfitted hunt. We use the patio boat as our mothership for camping, cooking, glassing for animals etc. I use my canoe, which is set up with a 55-pound thrust electric motor, to cover the many acres and seemingly hidden coves of Lake Sonoma.
We are not hiking in for miles and then trying to drag our game back out. We are not waking up at o’dark thirty, fighting the boat launch, and then enduring the 30 to 60 minute boat ride to the good hunting grounds. Most of those hunters resemble popsicles due to the long and frigid boat ride. We simply wake up, have a quick breakfast, and are already in the prime hunting area before sunrise.
Because of the drought that California has experienced over the past few years, you will be seeing the lake in a way that has not been seen for quite some time. The water is so low that it has exposed the submerged oak timber the lake is famous for, which enhances its bass fishing, and it is a sight to behold. It makes you feel like you’ve stepped back in time as you travel through a prehistoric land. Even if you don’t get the opportunity to hunt the lake in the condition shown, you will still be rewarded with some fantastic scenery. If you do get a chance to get out this year, you will be treated to a view of the lake that will be etched into your memory. If you’re like me, you will cherish it forever
Here’s a perfect example of the comfort that the patio boat can provide.
This is a photo of a rack of lamb cooked to perfection that we served ourselves over red currant sauce, Cajun rice, and fresh picked broccoli. The meal was complemented with two wines, a Sauvignon Blanc and a Pinot Noir. RUED Winery was good enough to help pair the wines for the meals we planned to cook, which turned out to be an excellent call. I don’t know many wineries where you can share your menu and they will help you select the perfect wine, but that is what RUED Winery does daily. Pretty cool.
Sorry, I digress. Let’s get back to hunting hard the easy way. One of the other advantages of the patio boat is that we simply laid out some sleeping pads and bags and had a great night’s sleep on the comfort of our mothership. Other hunters were dealing with camping in mud, or rocky and non-flat services, while erecting tents and other gear.
Now it’s time I introduce you to the staff at Lake Sonoma Resort Area that can make this happen for you. Janet Folk, Marina General Manager and Tim Bass, Dock Manager.
2. 707-433-7485 fax
Janet and Tim couldn’t be nicer. The staff wasn’t busy and even offered to return the patio boat while I packed for my trip home. This was well worth the tip I was eager to give. Again, this is just one of the many advantages of renting your boats in the fall and winter. It is not normally the marina’s busy season and customer service is something that is readily apparent.
The deer hunting opportunities are provided through Fish and Game with a special draw for either sex throughout the month of October. Hunt days are normally Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.
This season Pig hunting starts November 22, 2014 and closes March 26, 2015. There are plenty of pigs like this running around the shoreline for you to take.
Turkey in the spring is through Fish and Game as well.
If you’re simply hunting a single day, the marina rents small boats as well. Most of the scouting is done from boat at Lake Sonoma. It’s kind of like road hunting from a boat, except way cooler. Once you spot your game you normally plan your stock, beach your boat, and proceed with the hunt. Some hunting opportunities may even present themselves right from the boat when game is grazing at the water’s edge.
Remember, hunting in California from a boat has specific regulations regarding propulsion. You may not be under any momentum provided by your motor when you attempt to take a game animal; I always lift mine out of the water so there will be no question. You are allowed to paddle or use oars however. Being an accomplished canoeist, I was able to get within 12 yards of a pig similar to what you see in the photo. The stroke I use is one I learned from an American Indian. The paddle never leaves the water and is stealthy. The stroke I am referring to is the Indian stroke or Canadian-J stroke. When performing the Indian stroke, the paddle simply rotates as you move though the water silently. You can learn this particular stroke in just a few minutes and it pays off when approaching game along the shore.
Imagine minimal movement, the paddle never leaves the water, there is no dripping on the water from the paddle, and you silently approach your target.
If you are fortunate enough to get your trophy while hunting Lake Sonoma, transporting the animal is an absolute dream. I can’t think of a situation where it isn’t downhill. You simply clean your animal and bring it to your transportation waiting at the shore. I’ve also learned in the past that if you bring a small piece of folded up cardboard, it can be laid under the animal and will allow it to slide over the normally dry grasses of the fall like ball bearings (use with caution, you might end up going for a ride).
Lake Sonoma is not only a treasured hunting spot, but a fantastic fishing spot as well. On our most recent trip, we were there just for the hunt, and but fished occasionally. The bass fishing can be superb at Lake Sonoma. If you’re feeling really energetic, throw out the catfish rig as you sleep. Make sure you have some type of alarm for the rod, a bell or buzzer for example, and that you tie down or secure your rod because the catfish get quite large. If they’re really biting, you may not get a chance to sleep. But there are worse reasons to be woken up in the middle of the night.
Being a recurve shooter, my distances are considerably shorter than other archers. I also have high standards on what I consider a prudent shot. With these factors, I don’t always bring home the bacon, or venison as in this case, but I was able to have another memorable trip at Lake Sonoma. So remember on your next trip to Sonoma, hunt as hard as anybody else, just do it the easy way!