Story by Michael Schneider Photos by Jim Grant
Lake Tahoe has long been hailed as a place with both summer and winter activities.
Summertime is for water skiing, rafting, biking and fishing, while skiing and snowboarding are enjoyed in the winter.
But it’s also a place where the unconventional is tried first. How about doing summer sports in the winter?
That’s just fine, weather permitting, according to Victor Babbitt, owner of Tahoe Fly Fishing Outfitters. Babbitt and his team of guides offer fishing tours year-round within a couple hours of Lake Tahoe.
Most fishing waters are closed in California during the wintertime, but Nevada offers fishing when most people aren’t thinking of it.
Lake Tahoe, its surrounding watershed and even streams and lakes outside the Tahoe Basin can, in spots, be fished all year. Although Tahoe doesn’t freeze, several of the surrounding smaller lakes do.
Ice fishing for hearty anglers
Caples Lake, near Kirkwood, offers the wintertime angler ice fishing to rival the most solid lake in Minnesota.
The Caples Lake Resort rents augers to fishermen who wish to dig for their quarry. An auger is a hand-held manual drill used to make fishing holes in frozen lakes, according to Richard Harlan, the resort’s manager.
Harlan said no other special equipment is needed and, after experimenting to find the right kind of bait, anglers will hook fish in the 12-inch range.
The Caples Lake Resort can be reached at (209) 258-8888.
Other lakes that offer winter anglers ice fishing possibilities include Red Lake, Fallen Leaf and the various Blue Lakes.
The unfrozen lake
Lake Tahoe can be fished also during the winter and one does not need an auger to drop a line.
Babbitt said anglers are having success this year at Cave Rock and at Logan Shoals. The fishing waters, usually close to shore this time of year, can be accessed by shore, by float tube or by boat.
Several guides offer boating trips year-round on Lake Tahoe.
One such is Michael Nielsen of Tahoe Topliners Fishing Charters. Nielsen, who can often times be found at the Sportsman in South Lake Tahoe, has been catching fish all winter.
Nielsen typically trolls in a boat using various minnow-like presentations, according to Rick Muller, who runs the Sportfishing Tahoe guide service during the summer. Muller suggested trolling in 10 to 20 feet of water along the lake’s shorelines, especially in rocky areas, with Rapula or Flatfish lures.
Nielsen said the fishing has been great on the lake for the past few months save the past two weeks. However he expected it would pick up again and it did just that on Wednesday.
“It was just one of those days,” Nielsen said after fishing Wednesday. On that day he caught a 10-pound Mackinaw and another three-pounder and a four-pound German Brown and a three-pound Nielson said he had another bigger fish hooked until it broke his line.
Nielson also said, when he was dropping off a friend near the shore, he saw a 20-plus-pound Mackinaw under the boat. His friend stayed and fished for the monster and a few minutes later he reeled in a 22-pound monster, just a few pounds short of the Lake Tahoe record.
“It was a heck of a day,” Nielson said.
Streams in Nevada
Northern Nevada’s river system also can be fished during the winter.
Babbitt said there are three main channels to fish during the winter: the Truckee River, the East Carson River and the Walker River system.
The Truckee can be fished along Interstate 80 in the Verdi area west of Reno. There are special limits on this stream and others in Western Nevada so check fishing regulations.
The East Carson can be fished in the Carson Valley area about a half hour east of South Shore.
The Wilson and Hoye Canyon areas of the West Walker southeast of Gardnerville are prime fishing territory this time of year, according to Babbitt.
Babbitt’s best spot
Babbitt said the best winter stream fishing in the region can be found at the Rosachi Ranch on the East Walker River near Yerington.
“It is the premiere fishery in Northern Nevada for winter fishing,” Babbitt said.
The ranch had been private until recently when seven miles of stream were opened to the public. No fish can be taken from the stream and anglers must use artificial baits, but the fishing is reportedly excellent.
Babbitt said a 30-inch brown or rainbow is rare but attainable while 18-22-inchers are not uncommon.
The famed whitefish, the fishery’s only natural salmonid, can also be caught in the Rosachi waters.
For anglers who don’t want to spend the extra money for a Nevada fishing license, Babbitt said Indian Creek Reservoir, in the Markleeville area, offers year-round fishing.
“It’s within 45 minutes (of South Shore) and it’s worth a try,” Babbitt said. He said the reservoir has fallen victim to a lot of fishing pressure in the recent past but is stocked heavily in the fall and spring.
For those winter enthusiasts in search of the elusive cutthroat trout, Pyramid Lake north of Reno is the ticket. The lake holds only cutthroats, the trout species that was native to Lake Tahoe before others were introduced which outcompeted it.
Topaz Lake, south of Gardnerville on the California/Nevada state line, opened for fishing Jan. 1 and Mason Valley Refuge, in the Yerington area, opens the second Saturday in February for both trout and bass.
Most California streams open the last Saturday in April.
To hire a guide with Tahoe Fly Fishing Outfitters, call 530-541-8208.
1. Lake Tahoe Although all of Lake Tahoe can be fished (except within 100 yards of river mouths) year-round, local anglers have found success in the Cave Rock and Logan Shoals areas on East Shore. Various trout, especially Mackinaw, can be caught in shallow water from the shore, in float tubes or from a boat. This is a good time to fish the lake because most of the fish are in shallow water. Guide Mike Nielsen said when fish are hooked in deeper waters the change in pressure reduces the fishes fighting power.
2. Caples Lake If ice fishing is your thing, Caples Lake Resort will supply you with a drill to get you to the fish. Typically, Mackinaw trout can be caught
during the winter. Access from Highway 88.
3. Red Lake Another popular ice fishing lake for trout. Access from Highway 88.
4. Blue Lakes A series of frozen lakes with
somewhat difficult access. Access from Highway 88 with a long hike or snowmobile ride.
5. Fallen Leaf Lake A frozen lake on Lake Tahoe’s west shore. The gate is locked during the winter, so be prepared for a hike. Access from Highway 89.
6. Truckee River This river is closed in California
during the winter, make sure you’re on the right side of the border. This section is known for big browns. Access from Interstate 80.
7. East Carson Year-round stream fishing within a half-hour of South Shore. This river can be fished in Gardnerville and Minden for rainbow and brown trout. Access from Highway 88.
8. West Walker Both the Wilson and Hoye canyons produce various trout. The Wilson Canyon is described as a meandering stream with few rocks. Access from State Route 208.
9. East Walker This stretch of river is home to the Rosachi Ranch, a seven-mile stretch of premiere catch-and-release fishing. Access from state Route 339.
10. Indian Creek Reservoir Suffers the over-fishing strain of being only a half-hour from South Shore but it can be a good trout-producing body of water. Access from Highway 4.
11. Pyramid Lake The home of the famed cutthroat trout. Access from Highway 445.
12. Topaz Lake Similar to Lake Tahoe in that it’s on the California/Nevada border, this lake opened Jan. 1 and offers a variety of trout. Access from Highway 395.
13. Mason Valley Refuge Opens second Saturday in February for both bass and trout anglers. Access from State Route 208.
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