Fishing Lake Tahoe: Patience and prized catches |

Fishing Lake Tahoe: Patience and prized catches

Tom Lotshaw
A man fishes in the Tenkara style on the Truckee River. Tenkara is a Japanese style of fly fishing with no reel and only a fixed amount of line attached to the rod tip.
Ralph Cutter |

Editor’s note: This story first appeared in the summer 2014 edition of Tahoe Magazine, which is available now throughout the Lake Tahoe and Truckee region.

With so much water in Lake Tahoe, you might think there’s some good fishing around and some big fish to catch.

You’d be correct.

“ To go out and catch five species of trout in a day is not unheard of. ”
Viktor Babbitt
owner, Tahoe Fly Fishing Outfitters

There are four widely targeted species of fish in Lake Tahoe: lake, rainbow and brown trout, and Kokanee salmon.

California’s record lake trout of 37 pounds, 6 ounces was pulled from Lake Tahoe in 1974. Lake trout, or mackinaw, continue to be one of the most popular species among anglers.

“Our average lake trout is 2 to 7 pounds. We catch a couple 20-pounders each year. I know there’s a 50-pounder down there,” said John Shearer, of Tahoe Sport Fishing.

California’s record Kokanee salmon of 5 pounds, 2 ounces, was pulled from Lake Tahoe just last summer, beating a 40-year record by 5 ounces.

‘Climbing Mount Everest’

There are a lot of good-sized fish to catch. But to newcomers, fishing Lake Tahoe can be daunting.

“To a lot of people it can seem like climbing Mount Everest because it’s such a huge lake,” said Joby Cefalu, of Mile High Fishing Charters.

Fish head into shallower water in the spring, but are deep in the warmer summer months. As large as Lake Tahoe is, the fish hold up in maybe 15 percent of the water, Cefalu said.

The challenge is targeting the underwater mountain ranges and shelves where the fish hold.

“It’s really being able to target those locations. Once you’re able to do so it becomes a very easy lake to fish,” Cefalu said.

Several charter companies are available to take people fishing. Some of those guides will offer friendly advice.

While fishing deep water in a big lake can be intimidating and a challenge, the average angler coming up can find great success with a spinning rod and light tackle and some 2-ounce weights.

“Many people are intimidated, but if you learn the terrain you can have great success,” Cefalu said.

Fly Fishing

For people wanting to get out and do some fly fishing, the Tahoe/Truckee area does not disappoint. The region has some great hatches and some great water.

“We call it our two-hour circle,” Viktor Babbitt, owner of Tahoe Fly Fishing Outfitters, said about the quality of streams and lakes within a two-hour drive of Lake Tahoe.

Somewhere in that circle, on any given day, the fishing can be about as good as it gets.

Small streams running into Lake Tahoe offer several months of fun and often solitary fishing starting in July. On the south side, that includes Trout and Taylor creeks and the Upper Truckee River.

“They’re always a fun, wild fishery,” Babbitt said.

To the north, the Truckee River flowing out of Lake Tahoe and down to Pyramid Lake offers miles of world-class fly fishing with some big trout.

Elsewhere, branches of the Carson River offer fishing “with all kinds of opportunity,” and the upper reaches of the American River offer good fishing for smaller-sized trout.

Dozens of lakes are sprinkled throughout the mountains. Some of the more popular for fishing are Fallen Leaf Lake, Echo Lake, Caples Lake and Red Lake.

“To go out and catch five species of trout in a day is not unheard of,” Babbitt said. “Three species is easy — rainbow, brook and brown. Throw the golden and cutthroat in and you have to put in a little more effort, but you can do it.”

Setting the hook

Not quite ready to brave the lake or wild rivers? Children have just the place to learn to fish in South Lake Tahoe: Sawmill Pond.

The two-acre pond sits in a park-like setting at the corner of Lake Tahoe Boulevard and Sawmill Road.

Stocked with rainbow trout each year by local service clubs, the pond is open for fishing only to children ages 14 and younger.

“It’s an incredible place to take young children or kids in general and a perfect opportunity for an adult to teach a child to fish hands-on,” Babbitt said.

The pond lets kids learn how to fish without having to compete with adults and find some success before venturing out into tougher areas to fish.

“There’s nothing better than watching a kid catch a fish and get that big smile on their face. It’s incredible,” Babbitt said.

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