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California Fishing

Trinity Lake Fishing Options

by John Higley   |  May 1st, 2012 0

On September 30, 2011, while trolling 85 feet down on the main body of Trinity Lake, Mike Elster caught this 8-pound, 2-ounce king (chinook) salmon. It now holds the inland record for the species in California. Photo by Mike Elster.

There are three lakes at the northern end of California’s Central Valley Water Project: Shasta, Whiskeytown and Trinity. All of them offer excellent fishing opportunities and Shasta, the biggest man-made impoundment in the state, is at the head of the pack. Located in Shasta County, Shasta Lake is a snap to get to because Interstate 5 goes right to it. Also in Shasta County, Whiskeytown, the smallest of the trio, is only a few miles west of Redding on State Route 299. Besides providing good fishing, it’s recognized as one of the best places in the region for sailing.

Meanwhile, Trinity Lake, situated in the heart of Trinity County, simply does not get as much attention as the other two. There is a fair amount of summer recreation activity, such as houseboating, water skiing and fishing, but it’s not as crowded as Shasta and Whiskeytown. It may be because Trinity is farther off the beaten path, and the winding mountain roads that lead there are not exactly freeways.

Trinity is more than a bathtub full of water. In existence since 1963, the lake is 19 miles long and has 145 miles of shoreline. Arguably the most scenic of the trio, Trinity, at 2,370 feet elevation, is surrounded by impressive, forested mountains. When the lake is full, as it was most of last year, it has the look — and feel — of wilderness.

As far as fishing is concerned, Trinity’s claim to fame came in 1976. That’s when Tim Brady, of nearby Weaverville, caught the former state-record smallmouth bass (9 pounds, 1 ounce) there. Even now, in the spring, a fair number of bass anglers head to Trinity to try their hand at catching a few bigger-than-average smallmouths and, perhaps, some respectable largemouths as well.

Bass fishing aside, what a lot of people do not realize is that Trinity also provides outstanding fishing for coldwater species such as trout, kokanee and landlocked chinook (king) salmon. Admittedly, I was one of those anglers who didn’t pay very much attention to Trinity, but last summer that changed for good during a fishing trip with guide Mike Elster (contact him at 916-215-6330 or He lured me to Trinity with tales of his recent success on scouting expeditions and a couple of productive trips with clients.

“You ought to give Trinity a try, Higley,” Elster said, when I called him to chat one evening. “It’s way better than I expected. We can pick between trout, kokanee and kings, or go for all three.”

“I opt for the triple play,” I said cleverly, and with that we agreed to meet in the town of Lewiston at 6 a.m. the following Friday morning.

I got there at 6:01. “You’re late,” Elster said, looking at his watch.

“Only a minute!”

“Yeah, but every minute counts,” he laughed. “C’mon, lets go get the boat wet. We’ll put in right behind the dam at the Fairview ramp.”

We launched Elster’s well-equipped 20-foot Duckworth 30 minutes later, and cruised a short distance to the Stuart Fork Arm, where we planned to start the day. It wasn’t long before we had four rods with lines attached to downrigger cables and a variety of lures running from 20 to 70 feet down. Trolling slowly, we settled back, coffee in hand, and waited for something to happen. We didn’t have to wait long.

“Fish on!” Elster said, as one rod bucked and the line jerked free from the downrigger clip.

Quickly, I grabbed the rod and started reeling in slack like mad. When the line was tight the fish was still there, and a couple of minutes later the first kokanee, a plump 13-incher, was in the long handled net.

“Wow,” I said, “that didn’t take long. Let’s do it again.”

The kokanee wasn’t a monster, but it was bigger than I expected. In the past Trinity kokes were overabundant and stunted. They spawned successfully in tributaries and were so numerous they practically ate themselves out of house and home. Small, landlocked sockeye salmon, kokanee feed mainly on zooplankton and Trinity, being relatively clean and cold, apparently doesn’t have all that much of it.

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