Most of the land around the lake is part of the Sierra National Forest. The U.S. Forest Service designated the lake an official Recreation Area and has developed campgrounds and picnic areas on the south shore of the lake. The north shore of the lake is primarily made up of private cabins and homes. It has a year-round population of 607.
Much of the area surrounding Bass Lake is devoted to the tourism industry. The lake is considered a "warm water" lake with water temperatures reaching 80 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer months. Fishing, swimming, water skiing, and use of personal watercraft are popular.
In the 1800s Bass Lake was not a lake at all, but a lush meadow surrounded by mountains and Ponderosa Pines. The Mono Tribe inhabited the area for centuries before a detachment of the Mariposa Battalion came across the valley in 1851 shortly after their discovery of Yosemite Valley. They decided to name the area Crane Valley after observing many Great Blue Herons, which they mistakenly identified as Sandhill Cranes.
Through Crane Valley flows Willow Creek, a tributary of the San Joaquin River. In 1895, a plan was devised to use the waters of Willow Creek to generate hydroelectric power for residents of the great San Joaquin Valley.
The San Joaquin Electric Company was formed and the first earthen dam was built in Crane Valley in 1901. Mule-drawn freight wagons carried machinery and supplies up the mountain and went down loaded with timber that had been cleared from the reservoir site.
What seemed to be a good project fell into ruin because of the work of a rival company. When the electric power from the plant was brought to Fresno, the owner of a rival gas company purchased land and water rights upstream from the hydro plant. The water was diverted onto a barren hillside so it did not reach the power house. This problem, along with the dry summer months, forced the San Joaquin Electric Company in bankruptcy.
In 1902 the San Joaquin Light & Power Corporation was formed to purchase the electric company and later the electric operations of the rival gas company. The dam was enlarged in 1905 and the present dam was built in 1910 (145 ft (44 m) high).
In early June 1923, the Sugar Pine Lumber Company began laying railroad track across the dam and up the mountain 10.8 mi (17 km) to Central Camp.
Built by 500 workers at a cost of $600,000, Central Camp was regarded as the largest and most advanced logging camp of its time. Crews harvested 100,000 logs per season between 1923 and 1931 when the logging operation came to a halt due to the Great Depression, which dried up the lumber market.
The lake was called Crane Valley Reservoir for many years but the name was eventually changed when a small lumber operation polluted the lake, killing all the fish. In addition to being fined, the lumber company was ordered by the government to replace all the fish that were lost. The chosen fish was Bass, hence the new name - Bass Lake.
In 1963, Bass Lake became a yearly destination for the Hells Angels Motorcycle Corporation (HAMC), attracting hundreds of bikers from across the state. A first-hand report of the 1965 Bass Lake Run was reported by Hunter S. Thompson in his first book, Hells Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Clubs.
Most locals viewed the run as an annual menace that brought crime and frightened tourists away. Each year roadblocks, curfews, and campground restrictions were enforced by law enforcement from throughout Madera County and its surrounding areas in an effort to block, or at least control, the Hells Angels activity.
The run peaked in the 1970s before slowly fading away altogether by the late 1980s.
The 1945 film Leave Her to Heaven (20th Century Fox) was filmed on location Bass Lake. The film's primary set, the 'Back of the Moon' cabin, was built on government-owned land on the lake's south shore and was removed shortly after filming.
The 1988 film, The Great Outdoors (Universal) starring John Candy and Dan Aykroyd, was also shot on location at Bass Lake. The film's 'Loon's Nest' vacation cabin built on the same site as 'Back of the Moon.' It too was removed after shooting.
The 2007 film Le Chevalier (Rough Cut Productions) a movie said to have been filmed at Bass Lake, starring Michael Barnes, Melinda LaRochelle, and Alex Davis. This film was directed by Wes Jackson and Cyle Moon. 
Ducey's Bass Lake Lodge is known for promoting the movies that were filmed in Bass Lake with posters in front of their restaurant.