California Trout Forecast 2007

Massive trout stocking -- of a magnitude we haven't seen since the 1990s -- is coming to a stream, pond or reservoir near you. If you don't go trout fishing this spring, you'll likely miss the best season in years! (April 2007)

The state is spending a lot more this year to stock California waters. That'll mean more catches like these rainbows Salah Farrog nailed using a Needlefish at Pyramid Lake.
Photo by Chris Shaffer

For more than a decade, California trout anglers have lived through lean times. Budget cuts sliced the number of trout stocked around the state. The California Department of Fish and Game pulled popular waters off the allotment list. There weren't enough trout to go around. But anglers can now breathe a sigh of relief.

In 2005, the State Assembly came to its senses and passed a law forcing the CDFG to allocate more license-sales money to stocking trout and maintaining wild-trout waters.

After nearly two years of planning, anglers will see the results this year.

"Trout stocking will increase in 2007," said Dave Lentz, a senior fisheries biologist with the CDFG. "There will be many more fish stocked in lakes, rivers and streams."

The stocking increase begins now, and ramps up over time. By 2009, the goal is restore production on catchable trout to early-1990s levels -- about 5 million pounds of catchable trout.

"It's hard to say that at any given location, someone will notice there will be more fish," said Lentz. "But we know there will be more fish stocked this year." People who enjoy catching stocked, hatchery trout will reap the benefits, he said. "It's a huge increase, but it will take us a few years to reach that goal."

On the heels of that good news, here is a roundup of opportunities to catch Golden State trout right now.

THE NORTH STATE

Few lakes will be able to stand tall next to Lake Almanor, according to kokanee guru and tackle manufacturer Sep Hendrickson of Sep's Pro Fishing. Almanor has benefited from several years of excellent water conditions and will be dynamite again this year, he said.

"Almanor is phenomenal. It's kicking out great rainbow and brown trout. As soon as the water starts warming up and the sun hits it, the fish go on the prowl. They take off and go on a feeding binge in April and May," Hendrickson said. "After a lot of way-down years, we've had great water-years. The minnow populations and the food base are up, and everything is flourishing."

Larry Hanson, CDFG reservoir biologist, believes the increase in trout stocking will be evident in his region.

"This is going to bring stocking levels back to the early 1990s levels. We are going back to the numbers of fish that we used to stock," he added. "It's going to be across the board. But in the northern regions, where we stock more trout, you are going to see a difference."

The state's biggest wild card will be Lassen County and Modoc County, California's most overlooked fishing spots. This year, however, they have the potential to outdo the rest of the state. If high water remains, trophy rainbow, brook, cutthroat and brown trout will be available throughout the region.

"A lot of it is going to depend on the water year. We had great years in 2005 and 2006. And if we get another great year, those waters are going to explode in 2007. We get 6 inches a year of growth on those fish," Hanson noted. "If we can keep the ball rolling with high water, those fish are going to be huge." He said that if the area gets another good water-year, anglers will see three size-classes:

'¢ Three-year-old fish could push the mid-20-inch mark.

'¢ Last year's fish will be at least 18 inches.

'¢ This year's fish will measure 12 to 13 inches.

If water levels remain high, these six reservoirs should be on your radar: Fee, Reservoir C, Nelson Coral, Newlands, Delta and Bailey. The same can be said for Eagle Lake, where you will find trophy trout.

If you plan on targeting the Jefferson State, trout fishing will be good on the Upper Klamath River above Copco Reservoir and on the river below Iron Gate Reservoir. These trout are running from 12 inches to 22 inches and are plentiful. Trout and Bass Lake, Lake Siskiyou and McCloud will fish excellent, due to continued stocking.

THE NORTH COAST

Anglers living on the North Coast will be glad to know that many of the waters removed from the allotment list will be put back on the list this year. Those waters, including Dry Lagoon, Freshwater Lagoon and Dead Lake, will each be planted with catchable-size rainbow trout.

State biologist Hanson said he expects Ruth Lake to surprise anglers.

"It receives a lot of trout, and when we did our electro-fishing, the trout were awesome," he said. Ruth has the ability to yield limits of quality fish this year.

One of the biggest question marks is whether we'll catch the brown trout that were planted as fingerlings and sub-catchables at Trinity in recent years. Hanson doesn't expect browns to make a big splash this year, citing escapement, predators and the lake's size to bolster his prediction.

On the other hand, "There's a better brown trout fishery in the Trinity River than there is in the lake," he says. "When the salmon and steelhead aren't there, you can still fish the river for browns."

GREATER TAHOE REGION

For the last several years, Lake Tahoe has seen excellent spring action on rainbow and brown trout. Guide Mike Nielsen of Tahoe Topliners said 2007 will be the best year in a long time. He should know -- he's broken the lake's brown trout record two years in a row. There's high potential to see yet another new record this year.

"We are going to see stellar fishing in Lake Tahoe due to high water levels from the past year. The fish are going to be chunky, fat and full of spunk," Nielsen added. "The average weight of the fish is going to be better than in past years because there's been a ton of feed in Tahoe."

Brown trout action tends to be better in April and May, while rainbows turn on in June. Rainbows are spring-spawners and are often in lake tributaries spawning until late May.

Nielsen also predicted that more fish would be surviving the

spawn because the water levels are higher than when they spawned the last two years.

The browns and rainbows don't have to compete as much for spawning grounds because there is much more water in the system during the spawning times.

MOTHERLODE

For the last few years, the Motherlode Region has treated anglers well. In addition to excellent trout prospects at New Melones and Don Pedro Reservoirs, Tulloch and McClure have joined as some of the elite. There's no reason why this shouldn't continue through 2007.

"With the health of Don Pedro and the health of Melones, it will be a tossup which one you want to go to. They are both kicking out great rainbows," said guide Danny Layne of Fish 'N Dan's Guide Service. "It'll be a great time to fish Central Cal because all of our lakes are healthy. For whatever reason, the shad population has come back strong in both lakes. The football rainbows are here again. You can't go many other places and catch quality fish like this."

Guide Fred Thomason of Last Cast Guide Service believes that reservoirs to the north in the Crystal Lakes Basin are primed for another great year of trout fishing. He said Union Valley, Loon and Icehouse reservoirs saw good water levels last year and are maintaining super populations of trout.

EASTERN SIERRA

Hands down, the Eastern Sierra will still be the best place to catch trout in California. The general season here opens the last Saturday in April, and all indications point to another banner year, says Mike Haynie the Eastern Sierra's deputy regional manager for the CDFG.

"We haven't reduced any of our stocking numbers, and we are looking at some increases. I expect all the lakes in the region to be very good because of the precipitation we had in 2006," Haynie said.

Most anglers will target the Bishop Creek Drainage, Convict Lake, Rock Creek Lake, The Mammoth Lakes Basin, June Lake Loop, Lee Vining Drainage and Bridgeport Region. Those will be great choices again this year.

"I think Crowley is going to be really good early and late in the season," Haynie added. "In the spring, it's great for bait-fishing. In the fall, it's become a renowned fly-fishing water." He said lake levels in summer 2006 remained high and in very good condition, and he expected waters in the June Lake Loop to be very good.

Basically, all the waters on the east side should be very good. "I think the hardest thing out there is to make a decision where to fish," Haynie said. "There's going to be so many great opportunities this year."

On a side note, cutthroat will again be planted in the region. They weren't planted in 2005. However, they were put back on the allotment in '06 and will be planted in June Lake, Grant Lake and Silver Lake this year. There is also a plan to resume stocking brown trout in the region. Catchable browns will be stocked in Crowley this year.

WESTERN SIERRA

Last year, the Kern River proved to be the state's best stocked-river trout fishery, and all indications are that this year will be no different. Salmon eggs took trout to 8 pounds. The Kern is best fished in March and April, and then again from July through the fall. Water levels can be too high to fish during peak runoff months.

Lakes in the heart of the Western Sierra should be on tap for another great year.

"Nothing is going to be any different around here. The trout fishing will be great, but we are seeing a trend back towards downriggers," said Jeff Huth of Valley Rod and Gun in Clovis. "Anglers are getting more serious about trolling and are going away from the lead-core line. Guys are getting more technical in their trout fishing."

Huth believes that while Florence, Edison, Shaver, Wishon, Courtright and Huntington reservoirs will still kick out excellent trout, Pine Flat might be tops in the region.

"We are going to see the Pine Flat fishery blow up. I think the extra water and stability we've had in recent years is going to drive the trout population," said Huth, adding that anglers caught many 2- to 6-pound 'bows here last year.

"You are going to see lots of nice trout being caught. Pine Flat is going to be a slam-dunk. Guys who are serious trout trollers are learning how to go after those bigger trout. Guys are starting to target bait balls instead of just fishing on the depth finders and are doing really well."

Most exciting for trouters this spring is the resurgence in the brown trout population of the high mountain lakes east of Fresno.

"We are seeing a ton of browns coming out of Edison and Florence. Things look good for this spring," Huth said. "Guys can't believe the number of browns that they caught in 2006. The numbers are way up."

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

There will be changes in store for the greater Southern California region this year, mainly in San Diego County, where the county has chosen not to plant trout in San Vicente, Murray and Miramar. These waters have attracted San Diego County residents for decades. This lack of opportunity will force more anglers to fish Jennings, Poway, Dixon, Wolford and Morena.

If you're looking for pure numbers rather than big trout, fish April and May at Lake Jennings. By that time, more than 25,000 trout will be planted into the dinky 160-acre lake.

"Trolling is a slam-dunk in April," says Hugh Marx of Lake Jennings. "Usually the springtime is when our fish really turn on. I think as the water starts to warm and the trout have overwhelmed the amount of shad in the lake, the bite gets good. There isn't as much food as there is early in the season, so they need to bite."

Willard Lepley, of Lake Cuyamaca in the hills above San Diego County, predicts his lake will get more attention than ever.

"City Lakes isn't going to stock trout, so we thought about stocking Alpers and we are going for it," Lepley added. "It's going to make our lake a much higher-quality trout fishery for Southern California."

Alpers are privately raised trout that actually look wild, pure and have vibrant colors. They are far superior to the Mount Lassen trout that are stocked by most lakes — and more expensive, which is why more lakes haven't gone down that path.

"We are going to see stellar fishing in Lake Tahoe due to

high water levels from the past year. The fish are going to be chunky, fat and full of spunk," said guide Mike Nielsen, who has broken the lake's brown trout record two years in a row.

In winter and spring, a few hundred Alpers between 2 and 8 pounds will be planted at Cuyamaca. April and May are good months here. Trout are up on the surface and can be caught from the bank or boat.

Pushing north, Big Bear's trout population remains intact and will provide SoCal anglers with a rare opportunity to catch trout in the spring and summer months.

The lake is loaded with trophy trout that were planted for derbies last year and have yet to be caught. There are also the standard loads of state-planted rainbows.

Still, the region's top trout fishery remains Diamond Valley Reservoir. Last year, state biologist Mike Giusti was proud to announce that browns were planted here. Unfortunately, those fish won't yet be of catchable size. But healthy populations of holdover trout will provide anglers with deepwater trolling gear a wonderful trophy-trout fishery. 

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