Looking for June trout? It’s a great time to hit these Golden State waters.
June is a fantastic month for California trout anglers for a number of different reasons. For starters, most lakes and reservoirs are full or nearly full during the late spring and early summer season.
Lake and reservoir water temperatures are favorable during the month of June. High-country lakes are warm enough for good trout fishing, while foothill and urban lakes are still cool enough to keep the trout near the surface and within reach of both bank anglers and trollers working with toplines and leadcore outfits.
Access is never an issue at low to middle elevation fisheries, but snow can restrict high-country access in the early season. With the arrival of June most of our traditional high-country hotspots have thawed and snow melt has restored access.
In terms of river fishing, flows are often optimum during the late spring. The heavy runoff that blows out many rivers and creeks during late April and May have moderated by the time June rolls in. Yet the low, clear difficult conditions of middle to late summer are still many weeks away.
The final factor that makes June such an attractive month for trouters is trout planting.
While the California DFW plants trout every week of the year, the period from April through the end of June features a big spike.
As a result, when you hit your favorite water during the late spring, not only will you have a legion of hungry holdover trout that have survived the winter to target you’ll also have a contingent of new recruits swimming about that are eager to gobble baits and chase lures.
California offers a diverse array of potential trout fishing honey holes that includes hundreds of lakes and reservoir and seemingly thousands of miles of creeks, streams and rivers. In the late spring when the conditions are right and the fish are biting, choosing a fishing location can be tough simply because there are so many good options to choose from.
I’ve been playing the California trout game for more than 40 years. I haven’t fished every trout water in the state, but I’ve hit a lot of them. What follows are my top picks for late spring/early summer 2017.
1. LAKE ALMANOR
Lake Almanor sits practically in the shadow of Mount Lassen near the town of Chester at an elevation of 4,500 feet. The lake boasts robust numbers of both brown trout and rainbow trout. The average trout goes about 3 pounds. Fish that run from 4 to 6 pounds are common, and double-digit fish are caught every season.
At this point, Almanor’s browns spawn naturally in the lake’s tributaries. Rainbows spawn successfully too, but their numbers are also bolstered by DFW trout plants and a pen project that takes hatchery trout and holds them in pens within the lake for nearly a year. These fish are giving a high protein diet, and they grow fast. When the pen rainbows are released they are husky 2- to 3-pounders that are fully acclimated to the lake, so a high percentage of them survive.
Almanor is not a natural lake. It was first formed in 1914 when North Fork of the Feather River was dammed, inundating a meadow filled valley. A decade later the size of the dam was increased. This basically doubled the size of the reservoir and formed the 1.3-million-acre-foot lake we know today.
The lake boasts a maximum depth of less than 100 feet and extensive flats that range from about 15 to 30 feet deep. In terms of forage, Almanor features a robust population of pond smelt, big numbers of crawfish and extensive insect hatches, including hatches of huge inch-long hexagenia mayflies.
While Almanor is full of big trout, the availability of forage makes hooking the lake’s browns and rainbows very challenging.
During the month of June, the trout will be transitioning from feeding on baitfish to feeding on hex hatches. To hook fish consistently during this period subtle approaches are a must.
Trollers do best while slow trolling threaded mini crawlers near the bottom without the addition of flashers or dodgers. The goal here is to imitate a hexagenia nymph swimming upward from the bottom.
Anglers that are willing to anchor or drift score well while working either crickets or mealworms just off the bottom.
The Sacramento River from Keswick Dam downriver to the city of Red Bluff is one of the West’s great tailwater trout rivers, featuring huge numbers of wild rainbows that average 14 to 16 inches. And fish of 8 pounds or more are caught every year.
Three factors work to make the Sacramento an exceptional rainbow fishery. First, the river has ample cold water that comes out of Lake Shasta and the temperature stays very consistent throughout the year. This means that rather than going dormant in the winter the Sac’s trout feed and grow all season long. Second the river is home to a vast array of aquatic insects. Finally, the river has a strong run of king salmon. The trout feed on both high protein salmon eggs and smolts. A side benefit of the salmon run is the nutrients put back into the river by decomposing adult salmon carcasses that fuel the river’s insect population, thus bringing the food chain back full circle.
While the good news is that the river is full of big beautiful rainbows, the bad news is that access is difficult despite the fact that the river flows through two major cities and runs along Highway 5.
The river is wide, flows are often strong and the property surrounding the Sacramento is largely private. This means that jet boats and drift boats are really the only ways for anglers to access the fish.
With ample gravel bars, boulders and downed trees, the river can be a dangerous place for boaters that lack experience. For this reason, the best way to fish target the Sacramento’s trout is by hiring a guide.
This may be a turn off for some, but I urge these folks to reconsider. If you’re a trout angler, the incredible bounty of the Sacramento is something you should experience at least once.
Both fly and conventional tackle anglers prosper while fishing the river. Drift boaters working with fly gear dead-drift nymphs and egg imitations for their fish. The jet boat crowd typically fishes with spinning gear, back-trolling plugs or side-drifting with roe, salmon eggs and egg imitations such as glow bugs or beads.
3. CAPLES LAKE
Some trout fishing destinations offer superb angling, others offer exceptional scenery, still others boast both. Caples Lake, sitting near the crest of the central Sierras, is near the top of this list, providing both lights out fishing and breath taking high- country views.
Caples Lake encompasses about 600 surface acres when at full capacity, sitting at an elevation of 7,806 feet near Carson Pass.
Unlike many of the Sierra’s high-country trout lakes that require stout hiking boots or four-wheel drive vehicles to access them, Caples offers easy access to both bank anglers and boaters.
Highway 88 traces the entire northern shoreline of Caples, offering bank anglers excellent opportunities mere feet from the pavement. For the boating fraternity, the lake boasts a pair of launch ramps, one is private at Caples Lake Resort and the other public administered by the U.S. Forest Service. You’ll find that the deepest parts of the lake register little more than 60 feet on your sonar unit.
Caples features rainbows, browns, brook trout and mackinaw. Trollers score using a variety of different lures and approaches. Day in day out, it’s tough to beat a threaded night crawlers pulled behind a set of flashers or a small dodger. Wobbling spoons and minnow plugs produce results too.
Bank fishing is outstanding at Caples in the late spring, with the dam area being a particular hotspot. Floating dough baits work well as do inflated nightcrawlers. For a more active approach try soaking bait on one rod and tossing a spoon or spinner on you second rod.
4. FOLSOM LAKE
Folsom Lake is one of Northern California’s most fascinating destinations. The lake is just minutes away from Sacramento, and it is regularly hammered by legions of anglers and recreation watercraft enthusiasts. Yet it is capable of providing top-notch fishing for quality rainbows and big landlocked kings. The late spring/early summer transition is one of the best times for trollers to pay the lake a visit.
While the trappings of civilization can be found in all directions, the recreation area that surrounds Folsom is home to animals such as mountain lions, black bears, blacktail deer, turkeys, birds of prey and rattlesnakes that are most often associated with rustic rural settings and the backcountry of the Sierras.
When at full capacity Folsom encompasses 11,500 surface acres. The lake was formed in 1955 when both the South and North Forks of the American River were dammed. In terms of coldwater species Folsom has a population of holdover and planted rainbows, a smaller population of natural American River steelhead that were caught above the dam when the lake was completed and a strong naturally reproducing population of king salmon. The wild rainbows/steelhead commonly reach weights of 4 to 5 pounds, while kings up to a beyond 6 pounds are landed every season.
In terms of forage, both pond smelt and threadfin shad are available. The trout and kings prefer to feed on pond smelt, but they gobble down shad too.
The trout and kings at Folsom tend to stay in deep water. During May and June, you can expect to find fish scattered from 30 to 50 feet deep.
Find the bait and you’ll usually find the gamefish. Minnow plugs work well, but spoons work better. Speedy Shiners are a local favorite that do a great job of imitating ponds smelt. Keep your speed above 2 miles per hour and you’ll soon be yelling, “Fish on!”
When you visit the Eastern Sierras, it seems like there are great trout fisheries everywhere you turn, but Bridgeport Reservoir is one of the best.
The lake is located north of the town of Bridgeport and gets its water from the East Walker River, Robinson Creek, Swauger Creek and Buckeye Creek. The lake features two marinas, two launch ramps and ample shore access.
To the casual observer, Bridgeport Reservoir doesn’t look like much more than a shallow pan sitting in the sagebrush.
You’ll notice the lake appears to be murky. The lake looks murky because it is stuffed with nutrients that support a rich array of insect life. Trace the food chain up the line and it leads to big well fed trout. The lake record brown weighed in at 22 pounds, and rainbows beyond 7 pounds are common.
Fly-anglers, boaters and bank anglers all score well at Bridgeport.
Fly guys do best while slow stripping streamers from float tubes and kayaks. Trollers round up limits of trout on threaded worms, Rapalas and needlefish.
Shore anglers at Bridgeport often employ traditional baits such as Power Bait, Zeke’s Sierra Gold and inflated worms.
Casting and slow rolling streamer flies paired with water filled clear plastic bobbers is a deadly approach for bank anglers. If the trout don’t respond to your flies employ the same rig with a tiny Dick Nite Spoon or a 1-inch section of threaded nightcrawler.