Fishing can be very difficult on Lake Tahoe, located on the border between Nevada and California. It isn’t the fish’s fault. It’s just hard to concentrate on what you are doing out on the water because of the panorama of surrounding mountains and everything else going on in the area. It’s located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and is known for the popular ski resorts in the mountains and the beaches around the shores. It is estimated that Lake Tahoe was formed about two million years ago as part of the Lake Tahoe Basin, with the modern extent being shaped during the ice ages. It is known for its deep, clear waters, and oh yes, for its fishing.
How big is Lake Tahoe? Well, spanning between Reno, Nevada and Sacramento, California, it’s easily visible from space, if that answers your question. To be more specific, Lake Tahoe itself covers 122,200 acres of surface area. It is 22 miles long and 12 miles wide. And it is deep. The maximum depth of the huge body of water is 1,745 feet! That’s why it is such a challenge to angers. Lake Tahoe and some of the basin lakes like Boca and Stampede reservoirs and the Truckee and East and West Carson rives are also good fishing waters.
Within the lakes and rivers, anglers pursue Rainbow Trout, Brown Trout, Brook Trout, Mackinaw (Macks) and Kokonee Salmon. Many areas can be fished from the bank, but the most popular angling is by boat, where trolling is the best way to cover the water. Top lining is a key technique, where fishermen troll the top of the water column without a down rigger or heavy weights used to go deep. Trolling very slowly with rigged night crawlers or minnows is enhanced by the use of flashers. Trolling faster with diving plugs, swimsuits and spoons is also popular. A commonly accepted rule when it comes to fishing artificial lures is that the bigger the bait, the bigger the fish. This certainly applies to trolling in Lake Tahoe. You catch more fish with smaller lures, but the biggest ones usually only hit big baits.
In the deeper areas of the big part of Lake Tahoe, the main focus is on the big Mackinaw trout most of the year, and Kokanee (sockeye) salmon later in the summer during their run. Charters run all year for these. Charters are a good bet because the old rule that 90 percent of the fish are in 10 percent of the water certainly applies here.
One popular area is Emerald Bay, which is somewhat protected from the big lake and has accommodations like Eagle Point Campground and Emerald Bay Boat Camp on the southwestern part of the lake. Popular river areas include the Truckee River on the western shore where the water flows out of Lake Tahoe at the famous “Fanny Bridge”. It was named that because so many people go there and bend over to watch huge protected trout swimming in the pool there. The East and West Carson rivers on the California side are smaller streams that have easy access and are stocked during trout seasons. To the south, the Echo Lakes offer good fishing for trout. They are regularly stocked for anglers. Caples Lake is another hot spot where fishermen make good catches. To the north, Donner Lake has become a go-to destination for big Macks, many over 30 pounds in recent years.
Some basic and proven fishing tips and techniques for all these areas include using smaller lures and nightcrawler for Rainbow and Brown Trout. Rainbows are best September through November and in the spring. Brown Trout are usually best late in the evening. Brook Trout are also caught using dry flies in some of the streams and rivers flowing to and from the main lake.
Cutthroat Trout like nightcrawler or salmon eggs, and the Mackinaw trout seem to like large flashers that attract them to the bait. Early spring and late summer provide some of the best fishing for Kokanee. Seasons and limits are very strict in this area, so be sure to check the regulations before keeping a catch. There are also areas with strict regulations when it comes to equipment and techniques, such as barbless hook requirements. It’s up to anglers to make sure they have the proper licenses and know the regulations before going out on the water. Some areas require any live bait for trout – like Lahontan redside shiner, Tui chub, Tahoe sucker, mountain sucker, Piute sculpin and Lahontan speckled dace – to come from the specific body of water that you are fishing. And remember this lake is at a high altitude, so even a “warm” day may be pretty chilly and windy. Plan to dress accordingly.