The heat getting you down? I’m okay as long as the mercury stays in the double-digit range, but I lose it when the temperature breaks the century mark. Anything over 100 degrees and all I want to do is hang out in a bath tub full of ice, drink about 10 gallons of Gatorade and eat Peppermint Patties all day long with the air cranked down to minus 30. When it’s hot enough to melt your hair to the top of your head, it’s hard to think about fishing. However, there’s a place you can go to beat the heat, enjoy some amazing scenery and have some excellent fishing this time of year: Lake Tahoe.
Gorgeous Lake Tahoe is a lot closer than some people think. In under an hour and a half you’re in High Sierra paradise, where the weather is in the much more hospitable 70’s to 80’s range. Combine that a really majestic setting, that incredible blue color of the water, plenty of outdoor and indoor activities and great fishing and you have a wonderful place to spend a hot summer weekend.
In the summer months, mackinaw trout and kokanee salmon are the primary targets for anglers at Tahoe, though some big rainbows and browns are also available if you get out on the water at first light.
Mackinaw trout (they’re actually char, but that’s a story for another day) in Tahoe average 3-5 pounds, though there have been more fish over 20 pounds taken this season than in any year in recent memory and 30 pounders are caught each year. The lake record is a 37-pound, 4 ouncer and I’m sure there are 50 pounders out there somewhere. Mack fishing is a pretty specialized sport since they often hold right on the bottom in water that’s 80-400 feet deep. Downriggers, GPS and a good fish finder are required if you want to have success and some information from the local tackle shop and a healthy dose of good fortune doesn’t hurt, either.
If you can find some fish and have the means to get down to them, troll plugs like Rapalas, Rebels, Thundersticks, Kwikfish and Flatfish for them. Nightcrawlers and minnows with flashers will also work well at times. My best suggestion for hooking a few of these tasty bottom dwellers is to hire the services of a local guide or charter boat and learn the ropes for a day before heading out on your own. You’ll learn a lot from the pros and the information you gain will go a long way towards hooking up in your own boat. Charter rates run about $80 to $85/person for a half day trip on Tahoe.
If you have a small boat not really rigged for mackinaw fishing, you can always troll for kokanee. Tahoe has a good population of these little salmon and the fishing is often red hot along the south end of the lake from now until the end of August. The fish school in tight bunches from Rubicon Point south, especially straight out in front of Ski Run Blvd., the Tahoe Keys, Baldwin Beach and Camp Richardson. Look for them in very deep water (300 to 1,200 feet deep) and anywhere from 20-90 feet below the surface. All the usual kokanee lures work up there, though Mack’s Red Magic spoons are a local favorite. Use any color lure you like on Tahoe…as long as it’s fluorescent red! Tip your lure with a piece of white corn, run a small dodger or set of flashers ahead of it and you’re in business.
Just remember that Tahoe can get really nasty in a hurry when the wind kicks up, so small boats should get off the water in the late morning when it’s still calm. At 22 miles long and 11 miles wide, Lake Tahoe is a big lake that looks a lot like the ocean when conditions get rough.
Rainbows & Browns
Big rainbows and browns also cruise the shorelines in the early mornings and small boaters can get at them by fishing 100-200 feet off the bank and trolling Rebels and Rapalas tight to the shore with the help of sideplaners. The charterboats troll with big industrial strength sideplaners, but Sep’s makes an effective little guy for about $10 that clips directly to your line — so outriggers aren’t necessary.
The rainbow and brown trout are very skittish in the shallow water, so you’ll need to chase after them at the crack of dawn and then again as the sun begins to set behind the mountains. Look for “scum lines” along the shoreline. These rafts of floating pollen attract lots of insects and minnows which, in turn, drawn the big trout out of hiding,
The wind often blows on Tahoe in the afternoons. While it can get too rough to fish the big lake, there are many other options available to you. Fallen Leaf Lake, which is just southwest of Tahoe between Emerald Bay and the Tahoe Keys (roughly), holds all the same species as its larger neighbor but in a much smaller package.
North of Tahoe about 30-45 minutes away are several other lakes, including Stampede Reservoir, Boca Lake and Prosser Lake, all of which hold trout and kokes. Martis Lake near Truckee is a fine stillwater fly fishing destination and big water anglers can head over the hill to Pyramid Lake near Reno and try for the lake’s giant cutthroat trout.
Stream fishing fanatics also have many choices. The Truckee River flows out of Lake Tahoe right in Tahoe City and holds populations of rainbows and a few big browns. Take a look off Fanny Bridge in Tahoe City and you’ll get a good shot of inspiration — big schools of monster trout live (protected) below the span and will gobble up any piece of bread you throw at them. The Little Truckee River between Stampede and Boca reservoirs is also a good trout fishery (check the special regulations before you go), as is Prosser Creek below Prosser Lake.
Tributaries to Lake Tahoe host runs of big spawning trout from the lake in the spring, but they don’t open to fishing until July 1, at which time the jumbo trout have usually all dropped back to open water. Still, there are some nice resident rainbows, browns and brookies available in the streams that have water…finding one this season may be difficult. On the south shore, the Upper Truckee River and Trout Creek are probably your two best options.
High Country Waters
The Desolation Wilderness Area lies just to the west of Lake Tahoe and there are many small alpine lakes and streams that adventurous hikers and backpackers can reach. Most hold pan-sized rainbows or brookies, but a few also have browns and cutthroat. Pick up the Desolation Wilderness Fishing Guide by Jerome Yesavage (Frank Amato Publications; 503-653-8108) for a detailed look at the fishing opportunities there.
There are several boat launch ramps on Tahoe and most are pretty expensive — $15-30 round trip. On the south shore, you can launch at the Tahoe Keys Marina, Ski Run Marina and Timber Cove Marina. On the Nevada Side, there’s a nice public launch at Cave Rock. Up the west shore, try Meeks Bay, Sunnyside or Obexer’s near Homewood. The north shore has a ramp at King’s Beach, Sierra Boat Company in Carnelian Bay, Lake Forest ramp, and the Tahoe Boat Co. in Tahoe City.
For charter services, contact Mile High Sportfishing (530-541-5312).