Throughout the spring, summer, and fall, North Sterling is a popular warm-water fishery by shore or boat. Although best known for the excellent wiper, walleye, and catfish in the reservoir, North Sterling is also home to rainbow trout, smallmouth and largemouth bass, yellow perch, bluegill, crappie, northern pike, tiger muskie, drum, and carp.
Since North Sterling is an irrigation reservoir, the water levels can fluctuate up to 40 vertical feet during the irrigation season from April to September. The Inlet and Outlet water flows are controlled by the North Sterling Irrigation District, not the state park.
Fishing Laws & Regulations
All fishing laws and regulations are strictly enforced. See the Fishing Brochure for more information.
Shoreline Fishing Access
Fishing is not permitted in the swim beach, the ski beach, the South or Elks Boat Ramps, or the Inlet Footbridge. Boaters must obey buoy restrictions, and fishermen are not allowed on the marina slips unless they have a signed marina slip contract. Otherwise, fishing is allowed anywhere else along the shoreline or on the water on state park property. See the North Sterling Area Map for the park’s property boundaries.
The most common fishing areas include the following:
Balanced Rock & the Dam Outlet
This area is at the north end of the park, near the Elks Entrance. When the outlet is flowing, several species of fish are drawn to the current, including wiper, yellow perch, bluegill, and crappie. This excellent fishing area can be accessed from the shoreline below Balanced Rock or from the top of the dam. One preferred method of fishing in this area uses worm harnesses on the bottom, or other kinds of live bait (minnows, crawdads, etc).
The old boat ramp at Balanced Rock is closed to all boating access, and fishermen may park vehicles on the ramp or on the shoreline below the ramp once water levels drop (at your own risk). This area is popular with fishermen who have limited mobility and have difficulty walking long distances. Please be courteous and leave space for your fellow fishermen.
Marina Point & Elks Bay
This area is accessible from the Elks Boat Ramp and a footpath just north of the Visitor Center. Elks Bay typically has excellent walleye fishing by boat, and Marina Point is a great spot for wiper, walleye, and whatever else comes your way. Early in the season, rainbow trout are active in these waters, and the wiper fishing here is often best when the wind blows from the south. Once again, the primary tactics in this area include jigs, suspended minnows, and crankbaits.
The South Boat Ramp
Although fishing is not permitted directly on the boat ramp or courtesy dock, the shoreline to the left and right of the ramp can provide excellent fishing opportunities. The west side of the boat ramp generally has good walleye and wiper fishing with primary baits being jigs and nightcrawlers on the bottom. Large boulders on the west side may be below waterline, or may allow handy seating. Try the east side of the boat ramp in the cove for good catfishing due to the large gently-sloping flat.
North of Inlet Grove Campground and west of Cottonwood Cove Swim Beach, Sunset Point offers possibly the best catfishing on the reservoir. Fishing access is limited when the water is extremely high, but as the water levels go down, just park in the small dirt lot near the vault restroom, and a short walk through the trees brings you to the rocky point.
Fishing is not permitted from the footbridge itself, but this area allows great access to the deep inlet channel. Catfish are often found in the area, and when the water is flowing, wiper chase gizzard shad up the inlet canal.
The West Trailhead
The West Trailhead of the South Shoreline Trail can be accessed by driving south on County Road 33 (turn right when exiting either entrance) onto the dirt road, then turn right onto CR-44 and right again onto CR-29. CR-29 ends at an access road to the parking lot for the West Trailhead.
The shoreline near this parking lot has a gradual shallow slope, and the cove west of the parking lot is a prime area for catfish and frequently a good area for wiper and walleye. The large flats make a wonderful foraging ground for channel cats near dark or shortly after dark.
Fishing Access from the Water
Water level fluctuations at North Sterling constantly change the ideal fishing locations throughout the reservoir. A depth-finder is highly recommended for fishermen trying the Flats near Inlet Grove Campground or the Darby and Cunningham Arms. Watch buoys closely for shallow-area warnings at Darby Point, Rookery Point, and Goose Island in the Cunningham Arm.
Darby Arm offers excellent walleye and wiper fishing, particularly along the edges of the mouth and the first few curves.
Primary methods in this area include trolling rapalas or worm harnesses for wiper and walleye. Catfish are primarily caught in the upper arm with high water levels and where cover is available.
Goose Island and Rookery Point are the best areas to try here for walleye in the early part of the season. Walleye are generally caught by trolling bottom bouncers or crankbaits along the island and the point, or you may try throwing jigs and crankbaits to work the slope of Goose Island and the rocks of Rookery Point. The flats by the West Trailhead is a good area for beginning fishermen to troll worm harnesses for walleye and wiper.
Trolling Along the Dam
Fishermen trolling along the dam often bring in wiper, crappie, bluegill, and yellow perch. Be wary of the rocky shoreline at the dam, especially in high winds.