California's 2006 Trout Forecast

Good news! Trout anglers will see more fish this year than they did last year, and the long-term outlook is even better than that. (April 2006)

For the last decade, Californians have been forced to cope with fewer trout being stocked each year and a rising cost in license fees. The combination has been disturbing for anglers fishing lakes, reservoirs, streams and rivers for rainbow trout.

In what seems like a miracle to the state's trout seekers, help is finally on the way. Unfortunately, it won't arrive this year. With the passing of Assembly Bill 7 last year, the California Department of Fish and Game will be forced to allocate funds collected from fishing licenses to trout- stocking programs. For a change, anglers won't have to cope with fewer trout being stocked. In fact, it's likely that because of the legislation, trout stocking will increase in the future.

Fish and Game says that while a few more trout may be stocked in 2006, trout anglers will see a drastic increase in 2007. The DFG said that it takes a year of planning, time to buy more feed and to raise the trout, before they are stocked. Don't worry folks; this isn't a ploy. Agency officials are working hard to increase trout stockings. Hatchery folks are ecstatic about being able to produce and stock more trout.

Nonetheless, anglers can rest assured that great trout fishing will be available this year. The California Department of Fish and Game and more than a half-dozen private hatcheries will be stocking hundreds of waters throughout the state. Here's a handful of the best.

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

Southern California doesn't offer the best trout fishing during summer months. However, there are a few spots where anglers can tap into excellent action even during the late spring and early summer when trout plants expire in most waters.

Topping that list is Lake Cuyamaca, San Diego County's best trout water, which is benefiting from a great water year in 2005. Abnormally high water levels helped flush more food into the lake, thus enabling trout to grow faster. Boat and shore anglers can fish Cuyamaca.

Last year, according to head ranger Willard Lepley, the hot ticket was injecting Liquid Krill into night crawlers and casting bright Rooster Tails smeared in Gel Krill from the Lone Pine area. Trout fishing can be sluggish in August as surface temperatures warm. Plan your trip accordingly.

Moving north, don't overlook Big Bear Lake, which also benefited from last year's high precipitation levels -- the highest in a decade. The increased volume has allowed the lake's put-and-grow program to flourish as trout have been able to creep back into the tules and feed more actively. If last year's trick holds up, anglers will be dragging Luhr-Jensen Mini Speed traps from The Observatory to the dam and tapping into limits of pan-sized trout.

Ironically, warming weather patterns are greeted by improved fishing conditions for holdover trout at Diamond Valley Reservoir north of Lake Skinner and east of Sun City in Riverside County. If it's the easy, finless planters you're after, winter is your best bet.

Once the thermocline forms, as it does in late spring, the trout get boxed into a narrow portion of the water column and become easy targets for anglers with leadcore lines or downriggers. Depending on where the cooler, more oxygenated water is, anglers dragging Needlefish or working jigs can catch trout up to 10 pounds. The best method for catching DV's trout comes by imitating shad. Try running a Yakima Bait Timber Tiger, Bomber Flat A, Cotton Cordell Grappler Shad or a Mini Speed Trap, and the big trout will respond.

Lake Piru is likely the most overlooked trout water in So Cal. Piru offers the best year-round trout fishing between Santa Barbara and the San Bernardino Mountains. Piru doesn't get much hype because trophy trout aren't planted there. Fortunately, anglers with deep-water trolling gear can tap into consistent action near the dam and the buoy line by trolling Needlefish, small Rapalas and orange Cripplures. A word to the wise: Don't bother fishing on the weekends, or boaters will make your day miserable.

EASTERN SIERRA

If you are after planted rainbow trout, the Eastern Sierra offers some of the best fishing west of the Rockies. But with hundreds of planted waters, it can be tough to decide where to go. There are, however, a few waters in which anglers can pretty much be guaranteed action.

Topping that list are the Bishop Creek drainage's South Lake and Lake Sabrina. In late spring and early summer, anglers willing to either boat or hike to the inlets of each of these waters can expect to catch sure limits of trout. The South Fork of Bishop Creek pumps lots of food and oxygen into South Lake, while the Middle Fork feeds Sabrina. These draw large numbers of trout. Casting yellow, silver/black and red Panther Martins or flipping Orange Deluxe and Balls O' Fire Yellow Jacket salmon eggs outside of the main current is a sure way to quick limits.

If you don't mind crowds, Convict Lake is one of the most heavily stocked waters in the Sierra. This natural lake is small and you'll likely be shoulder to shoulder with others, but action normally is good in its clear water. Head to the back of the lake near the Convict Creek inlet and toss Power Bait, Green Label salmon eggs or night crawlers and you'll catch planted trout and much larger Alpers.

Mammoth Lakes is a trout Mecca during summer. Lakes George, Mary, Mamie and Twin attract mostly Southern California anglers to come and soak Power Bait. These aren't the smartest stocked trout, making them great prospects for newcomers and anglers who love to try new colors of dough baits and cast spoons and spinners from shore. A boat isn't needed here, just a processed bait or a red and gold Thomas Buoyant. On the other hand, float- tubers are beneficial to anglers wanting to strip in flies.

Bridgeport Reservoir always fishes well through June and into July during most years. It all depends on how quickly the weeds grow. Once they do, you'll be out of luck until the fall. Beat the weeds and you'll find that fat rainbows and some browns will grab an inflated night crawler or a Thomas Buoyant. Boaters here are fond of dragging floating Rapalas.

Heading up into the hills, Twin Lakes (Bridgeport) is one of the state's best brown trout fisheries. But unless you stumble upon a winter storm in late spring, you'll likely catch only rainbows. This can be a great shoreline fishing lake once the snow melts and the resorts open. Upper and Lower Twin will provide consistent action to anglers casting Kastmasters and Krocodiles from shore.

You can also troll. Working a night crawler and a set of Cow Bells or Ford Fenders are sure bets, but don't overlook dragging a B

omber Long A in the deeper water. There's always the chance of catching a big trout. If you have patience and want to catch a big fish, drop a 9-inch Castaic Soft Trout down on a downrigger at least 75 feet and you may get lucky.

CENTRAL CALIFORNIA

Heading into the mountains above Fresno for the day, week or a weekend camping trip? There's no shortage of trout hotspots to go around.

Trout are always available at Shaver Lake. During summer, they can be taken from boat or shore, although most folks troll. Water temperature will dictate the depth you'll locate the trout, but chances are that 15 to 35 feet will harbor most of these fish. One thing is for sure: At Shaver, trout never go much deeper than 50 feet. Keep your troll positioned between Shaver Point and the dam. If shoreline fishing is your gig, you'll have to find steeper drop-offs. Don't expect trout to be in a shallow cove this time of year.

Courtright and Wishon are two of the region's most overlooked waters. Use that to your advantage. This simply means there's a ton of trout available. For the bait dunker, you don't need to steer far from the boat ramp at either reservoir. The ramps offer quick access to deep water and also put you right where trout are stocked. Tossing worms, cheese or dough baits or large Mepps and Bangtail spinners is a sure way to success. With a boat, action is almost a guarantee if you fish during the early morning or late evening.

At Courtright, troll the south shore or fish alongside the huge granite boulder. At Wishon, there really isn't a bad spot, although the dam and main lake points always hold trout. Your ticket to catching them is based on your gear. And in these reservoirs, you want to make sure that you're dragging small lures such as a Dick Nite spoon, the smallest broken-back Rebel Minnow you can find, or a bite-sized Hum-Dinger.

Pushing north, Mammoth Pool Reservoir isn't far from Yosemite National Park and offers excellent rainbow fishing. From shore, you'll be restricted to casting bait off the dam. If you have a boat, you can tap into some of the best still-boat fishing on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada.

Scooting up The Narrows to the San Joaquin River inlet awards anglers with exceptional action in the mornings and evenings. Here, you are protected from the boat traffic that suffocates the rest of the lake, while taking advantage of the cold water and food that the river brings in. Casting silver or gold Panther Martins or white Rooster Tails is good. Folks also soak Power Bait here.

Pinecrest Lake, off Highway 108 on the western side of Sonora Pass, is another fishery that's often overlooked. Pinecrest is a heavily stocked summer lake that stays quiet and gives anglers the option of using just about any method to catch small, planted trout. Trout larger than 16 inches are rare, but loading a cooler with trout headed for the skillet isn't out of the ordinary.

In that it's located in a heavily pined and popular tourist area, Alpine Lake is a lot like Pinecrest. On the other hand, Alpine is susceptible to high winds, but when the trees aren't swaying from side to side, action can be attained from shore with bait or by trolling. The great thing about Alpine is that anglers have the opportunity to catch trout to 7 pounds. To promote tourism and draw anglers, the Alpine County Fish and Game Commission stocks the lake with trophy fish. Even with that great stocking program, crowds are still rare.

NORTHERN CALIFORNIA

Donner Lake can be a nightmare for trollers during summer. Wake boarders pretty much own the place, yet shoreline anglers aren't bothered by their wakes. The summer bite can be fantastic along the north shore. The downfall? Fish and Game normally plants trout smaller than 10 inches. The good thing? These fish hug the shoreline to avoid becoming growth pills for the big browns and lake trout. Try soaking inflated night crawlers off the bottom, or cast spinners or spoons.

The lake is normally stocked every other week. Come the week of the plant, and you could catch-and-release two dozen trout.

Lake Davis has received bad press since pike were discovered what seems like a century ago. Ironically, the fishing isn't that bad. If you can arrive early in the summer, you can catch trout up to 5 pounds with bait from shore or by trolling flies and spoons in Mallard Cove and around the island. Once the water warms, though, the trout move deeper. Only a few locals who know the lake well seem to catch them.

Bucks Lake has always been a great family lake, but recently has received more plants of brown trout to help crop a population of bite-sized kokanee. Whether the plan works still remains to be seen, but there are more brown trout swimming around than before. Add those to the huge population of rainbows and you can't go wrong. Anglers find success in dragging small offerings like a Sep's Pro Grub with a Sep's Flasher or Dodger. There isn't a bad place to troll. For the most part, the entire lake maintains populations of trout.

Eagle Lake is a great summer destination where anglers can catch big trout by trolling and soaking bait. Most likely, though, none of the action will come to shore anglers. For trollers, stay 100 yards offshore and target the area in front of Eagle's Nest. A watermelon Sep's Pro Dodger or a Needlefish is productive. Otherwise, anchoring in front of and in the vicinity of Eagle's Nest and soaking night crawlers will get the job done. Other anglers will locate submerged tules to fish threaded night crawlers underneath slip bobbers. Eagle is likely the best lake for anglers to catch quality trout in the early summer in California.

The funny thing about Lake Shasta is that few trout anglers fish it during the warm months. Surprisingly, Shasta's best trout angling comes in summer when the lake is infested with houseboats, power boaters and half-naked women.

Anglers catch trout using downriggers in front of the dam, Dry Creek, the main channel near the Interstate 5 Bridge, Bridge Bay and several other spots. Year after year, the hottest summer lures are Cripplures, Koke-A-Nuts and Hum-Dingers fished with a Sling Blade. Check with local experts before heading out. Trout can be 50 or 250 feet down, depending on water temperatures.

Medicine Lake is one of the state's most overlooked waters, but that's not because the fishing is bad. Historically, the road to Medicine opens between Memorial Day and July 4th, and once it does, fishing is fantastic. This water is far enough from civilization that it never gets overfished. True, it doesn't offer many trophy trout, but action is normally part of the gig -- as long as the wind isn't howling.

Boating anglers often jig with Buzz Bombs, Crippled Herrings and Gibbs Minnows in 40 to 60 feet of water, or they troll Woolly Buggers or small spoons anywhere on the lake. From shore, fish the downwind side. As bait gets pushed to one side of the lake, the trout move to that side quickly.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Award-winning writer Chris Shaffer is the author of The Definitive Guide to Fishing in Southern California, The Definitive Guide to Fishing in Central California and The

Definitive Guide to Fishing in Northern California. His books can be purchased at www.fishingcalifornia.net.

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