Lake Henshaw


May 24, 2001|By AL KALIN, Special to this newspaper

The cool temperatures of Lake Henshaw come to mind when our local Valley temperatures pass the century mark. Without a jacket it's downright cold in the morning when fishing this beautiful, pristine lake.

Only a few miles from the Mount Palomar Observatory, Lake Henshaw is an excellent getaway spot for a peaceful day of fishing.

My friend Mike and I started making the early-morning trip soon after I got my driver's license. As we'd top the hill, Lake Henshaw could be seen shrouded in a light fog. After a quick stop at the general store to buy a fishing permit and rent a boat, we'd drive across the cattle guard and down to the shore.

My old outboard was legendary and never failed to start on the first crank. Tunney had sold it to me with a guarantee it was in excellent condition. It was so old the float in the carburetor was made from a solid piece of cork and many owners had depended on it during its life. There was a groove and notch in the top of the flywheel to wrap the starting rope around but we never used the rope.


Actually we didn't have a rope. It was lost it when I failed to pull the starting rope far enough to disengage it from the flywheel. When the motor started, it had yanked the rope out of my hand and flung it into the lake, where it promptly sank out of sight. With no starting rope we discovered by sticking a pair of needle nose pliers in the notch in the flywheel and cranking it around a few revolutions, the motor would come to life. We never bothered to get another rope.

Drifting slowly across the lake, meal worms stacked on a No. 12 Aberdeen hook and using 4-pound line with a few spit shot three feet above the hook, we'd catch 1-pound bluegill every few minutes. We also trolled yellow and white feather jigs for crappie. The ice chest would be brim full of bluegill and crappie at the end of the day.

We never lacked for food while fishing. Mike's mother was always gracious enough to send a large foam bucket full of three fried chickens and a loaf of bread. Thirty-five years later I can still taste it. By the time we started home we would be dipping into the bottom of the bucket, the choicest pieces long gone.

My wife, Patti, and I fished Lake Henshaw for largemouth bass shortly after we bought our first bass boat. The bass were plentiful and at the end of the day, Patti had caught far more than I had, including a whopping 8-pounder.

When we pulled up to the crappie dock an old man was fishing and asked how we had done. We showed him the lunker bass still in our live-well and told him we were going to release it. He begged us to let him have it, so we handed it over and he took off hobbling down the dock as fast as he could go.

After loading the boat we stopped at the general store for a sandwich. The waitress asked if we had heard about the monster bass an old man had just caught. She went on to say he had brought it in just before the monthly fishing contest had closed. As Patti and I looked at each other, the waitress went on to tell us the old man was pretty happy with his $500 check.

One year our fishing club voted to hold a tournament in April on Lake Henshaw. When we arrived before sunup a light frost coated the pasture around the lake and a heavy fog limited visibility to 35 yards.

Some guy with a brand-new boat was trying to launch. His boat was hooked to a motor home that didn't have a door at the back to push the boat off the trailer once it was in the water. Without asking for help he got mad and pulled the trailer out of the water in disgust. The boat slid off the trailer, and still connected to the trailer by the tow strap, bounced along the ground behind. The outboard plowed a mighty furrow in the frozen ground. The hull was badly scratched by rocks as he gunned the motor home, dragging the new boat up the hill while everyone yelled for him to stop.

Launching despite the heavy fog, my plan was to fish Monkey Island east of the crappie dock. It was only 400 yards to the island and wouldn't be a problem to find even in the fog without a compass. After running at 25 mph for 30 minutes, and both of us frozen solid, we realized something was wrong when the crappie dock came back into view. We had no idea how many circles we made around the lake before we spotted the dock where we had started.

The next week I bought a compass for the boat.

Outdoor Tales writer Al Kalin can be reached on the Internet at

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