September 29, 2010
Along the western edge of the northern Sierra Nevada sits a county that's simply overflowing with coldwater fisheries.
By Tim Goode
It's a good thing there is only one stoplight in all of Plumas County. That leaves little to slow you down when moving from lake to lake and stream to stream in search of angling excellence in one of California's most productive fishing areas.
Plumas County has more than 1,000 miles of rivers, streams and creeks and over 100 lakes of various sizes that offer chances at rainbow, brown, brook, Eagle Lake and mackinaw trout as well as king salmon, kokanee, smallmouth and largemouth bass, catfish, carp and assorted panfish.
To make matters better, despite myriad options regarding both destinations and species, rarely will you find a crowd. Even now, near the peak of vacation season, there are Plumas County hotspots you can fish in near solitude.
For those who have never been, Plumas County offers the stunning scenery of Mount Lassen, numerous camping opportunities and excellent hiking. Add gold panning, swimming and other water sports and you have an ideal family destination.
It's quicker to get to Plumas County - less than 300 miles from the Bay Area - than to the Tahoe Basin, and the fishing possibilities are far greater. It's easy to access from the west, via Highway 5 and Highway 36, from the east on Highway 80 (Truckee) to 89 west, or from the south on scenic Highway 70 through the Feather River Canyon. You could also cut through Chico and drive up Highway 32 into Chester and the shores of Lake Almanor, the centerpiece of Plumas County.
Photo by George Barnett
One of the largest manmade lakes in California, Almanor was created by damming the North Fork of the Feather River for generating electricity. Because it is a power source rather than a water supply, the lake usually stays full during summer and doesn't start dropping in earnest until the fall.
That's good news for summer anglers. Despite warm surface temperatures that make float tubing downright pleasant, trout and salmon are catchable in deeper water near underwater springs and in the vicinity of river inlets. Fishing also is permitted at night, a favorite time for the pursuit of brown trout and smallmouth bass renowned for attacking surface lures.
LAKE ALMANOR Given the amount of time he's spent on the water, Doug D'Angelo probably knows more about the fish at Lake Almanor than most biologists. He's been fishing the lake since he was an 8-year-old boy; this year marks his 40th as a guide here.
D'Angelo caught the lake-record brown trout (16 pounds) in 1988 and the lake-record king salmon (11 pounds, 13 ounces) in 1991. His largest rainbow, 9 pounds, 14 ounces, is just a tad smaller than the 10-pound, 4-ounce lake record and his 6-pound, 7-ounce smallmouth is one of the largest of that species pulled out of the lake. None of these fish measure up to state records in their respective categories, but few other individual lakes are known for producing that many types of fish of that quality.
"I believe the fishing at Lake Almanor has reached its peak," D'Angelo says. "It can't get any better, and you have to make allowances for normal fluctuations in populations."
Almanor not only receives ample plants of trout through the fishing season, it also has a wildly successful pen-rearing program in place near the Hamilton Branch in front of Lassen View Resort. This year about 60,000 king salmon grown to 10 inches were released instead of the usual 150,000 fingerlings. The hope is the larger fish will display a higher survival rate and fewer will become bird and fish food. Another 55,000 rainbows also are pen-raised and released prior to Memorial Day.
The key to fishing Almanor is understanding the primary forage fish, Japanese pond smelt. The smelt were planted more than 40 years ago and effectively eliminated Almanor's kokanee fishery because they are algae feeders, same as kokanee. The smelt now serve as primary forage for trout and salmon. If you're lucky, you'll witness boiling fish indicating the presence of attacking game fish underneath. Otherwise, a popular technique is using jigs, tube lures and silver spoons while vertical-jigging off points and over springs.
It's a simple tactic, but one of a number of easy methods that can be successfully employed here. In fact, there's little need to get too complicated while fishing Almanor. One of the best ways to fill a stringer is simple bait fishing with a spinning outfit and 4-pound-test tied to a hook with no leader. D'Angelo uses roe, crickets, mealworms, baby night crawlers, red salmon eggs or single white eggs to catch most of his fish.
"I stay with the same thing all the time," D'Angelo says. "It works. Last year I took 243 trips and caught 3,100 fish."
D'Angelo believes fishing is as good in summer as at any other time of the year. In fact, the fish may feed more aggressively in the summer as they prepare for fall spawning runs. "This lake has seasons," D'Angelo said. "There's a good anchovy bite for the salmon in the spring, then rainbows take over. By the third week in July we get both rainbows and browns. At that point in the summer, when people are downrigging and using leadcore over the springs, it seems everyone is catching fish."
The majority of the fishing takes place during the early morning. Aside from being the time of the best bite, getting off the water before 10 a.m. helps avoid the water-skiers and the regular wind that kicks up.
"You can catch browns right through the summer but you have to get out early," D'Angelo said. "A lot of guys like to fish in the evening but the fish are active and eat twice a day."
D'Angelo works the deep water of formed by creek channels, particularly the Hamilton Branch and Feather River channels. The area near Canyon Dam also is productive because the deep water attracts so many fish.
For rainbows, a popular method is to troll with downriggers or lead core. The lake averages 35 to 50 feet in depth so most of the time the fish will be found down 25 to 28 feet. Night crawlers, blades and 'crawlers, and spinners will bring in fat and sassy rainbows between 1 and 3 pounds.
The highlight of summer fishing at Almanor is the legendary Hexagenia hatch, which begins in late June and goes into early July. The evening hatch begins a feeding frenzy that attracts hordes of feeding fish and anglers never know what will be on the end of the line - trout, salmon or bass. The key to cashing in is being mobile enough to get to the hatch when and where it occurs.
Salmon are usually caught near the underwater springs or in the deep water near the dam. Any of the methods used to catch trout will bring in salmon, but jigging with anchovies, anchovy tails, or white jigs near the springs are the best ways to go.
Smallmouth fishing is worth pursuing during summer. The deeper water along the east shore and the west side of the peninsula are good spots, as well as the shoreline from Plumas Pines to the dam. A cricket suspended with a split shot 18 inches up the leader is a standard setup, but trout spinners, such as Mepps or Panther Martin, also will attract bass. A lot of anglers fish for smallmouths at night, when the fish are prone to hit surface plugs.
|WARMWATER FISHING TOO!|
Plumas County visitors will quickly discover that trout and other coldwater species aren't the only game in town. There's plenty of bass, bluegill and other warmwater fishes in places like these:
Lake Bidwell -- Also known as Round Valley Reservoir, Bidwell is the water supply for the town of Greenville, situated about three miles outside of town. It's also the best place to take the kids for a day of bluegill fishing.
This warmwater impoundment is packed with bluegill that will eagerly attack jigs, nymphs or a piece of red worm. There are also large golden shiners to keep the kids' lines dancing, and a decent population of largemouth bass, but panfish are the predominant catch.
There are picnic areas and a small resort for RVs and campers.
Antelope Lake -- Just outside of Taylorsville, Antelope Lake is another warmwater option in Plumas County. The catfish run huge, with fish near 30 pounds recorded here. Many cats of 10-plus pounds will chase plugs meant for the plentiful 2- to 4-pound largemouth bass. Crappie and bluegill fishing also is worthwhile.
By this time of the summer, weed growth makes trout fishing difficult at Antelope Lake. The only chance at its rainbow or brown trout is to troll right down the middle of the lake or anchor near the dam. -- Tim Goode
ALMANOR-AREA CREEKS The Hamilton Branch and the Upper North Fork of the Feather River are both good bets during summer.
The Upper North Fork of the Feather flows into the lake near Chester and holds populations of rainbows and browns.
There are fishable stretches from the town of Chester west to a bridge five miles from town. Just upstream from there, Warner Creek meets the Feather. Bait anglers, spinners and flyfishermen can have a day catching 8- to 14-inch rainbows and the occasional brown. Running spinners past undercuts and near large boulders is particularly effective. There are plenty of deep pools along this stretch of creek.
The Hamilton Branch runs into Lake Almanor near the Powerhouse next to Lassen View Resort. There are days when hundreds of bait anglers line the shores of Hamilton Branch downstream from the river's confluence with Almanor and nary a soul is upstream on the creek. If you want to beat the crowds, walk a couple of hundred yards upstream and you're on your own. It's rainbow trout here, but the fishing is good for the first two miles before petering out. This creek is ideal for fly anglers, because there is little brush to impede casts.
BUTT LAKE Located below Almanor, Butt Lake formerly produced trout of epic proportions. When the turbines were turned on at Canyon Dam, thousands of pond smelt would be sliced, diced and washed down to Butt Lake and its waiting trout. It was not uncommon for trout in the 10- to 15-pound class to be taken by anglers throwing small white jigs into the frothy outlet.
Unfortunately, the lake was drawn down for dam repairs and stump removal, and since then there's been no sight of the big fish. That's not to say it's not worth hightailing it down to Butt Lake when starts moving from Almanor. Instead, expect browns and rainbows in the 2- to 5-pound class with an occasional bruiser to 8 pounds.
BUCKS LAKE This lake may rival Almanor in productivity, but it is best fished in the early spring and fall. Monster mackinaws and lunker browns share the water with rainbow, brook trout and kokanee salmon.
Mackinaw can range is size from 10 to 15 pounds if you're lucky, and since the lake isn't very deep, the fish are more accessible. Troll J-Plugs or vertically jig with large Kastmasters, Buzz Bombs or similar hardware.
The inlets, especially Haskin Valley inlet and Bucks Creek inlet, are good places to fish for rainbow trout.
The usual bait offerings such as Crave, Power Bait, crickets or inflated night crawlers will bring fish to those who are patient.
Come back in the fall for kokanee. Most vacationers disappear after Labor Day, leaving unbeatable fishing in near-solitude
|PLUMAS COUNTY RESOURCES|
The Sportsmen's Den, Quincy - Allan Bruzza has up-to-date information on the Feather River, Bucks Lake, Davis Lake and other less-visited waters; (530) 283-2733.
Lassen View Resort - Boat rentals and launching, lodging, camping and dining are available at this resort near the Hamilton Branch; (530) 596-3437.
Doug D'Angelo - This guide has fished Almanor for 40 years and specializes in catching brown trout; (530) 259-2051.
Plumas County Visitors Bureau - 1-800-326-2247.
Chester-Lake Almanor Chamber of Commerce - 1-800-350-4838.
Plumas National Forest - (530) 283-2050. -- Tim Goode
DAVIS LAKE Davis Lake was once one of the top trout lakes in the county until the illegal introduction of northern pike forced the poisoning of the lake in 1997. There was hope an aggressive stocking program that put more than 900,000 trout back in the water would return Davis' reputation as a top destination. But the pike problem not only hasn't disappeared but has instead exploded.
Last year the DFG trapped and killed more than 17,000 pike, up from 600 just two years ago. The larger population of pike puts a cloud over the future of this lake and explains the drop-off in trout fishing last year despite the enormous numbers of fish planted in the lake.
NORTH FORK FEATHER RIVER, BELDEN Located off Highway 70 and Caribou Road, this is the best stream fishing option in the county. Because it is heavily stocked through early summer, the fishing stays decent through July.
The water directly below the forebay is the best place to start, but access is good downstream past the campgrounds. Bait or spinners best attract these planters. This is a good spot to bring the kids because of the number of fish in the river. For a more challenging task, head down Highway 70 to the Middle Fork of the Feather.
MIDDLE FORK, FEATHER RIVER Flyfishermen consider this one of the best trout streams in California. It's not easy to get to because the best stretches are in the Feather River Canyon. But those who do the extra work to get to this federally designated Wild and Scenic River will be rewarded with beautiful wild rainbows to 20-plus inches and larger (and rarer) browns.
Any type of water is available on this river. Whether it's pocket water, pools, riffles or deep runs, you'll be able to take your best shot at it with little competition from other anglers.
Be careful of rattlesnakes and give yourself enough time to scramble out of the canyon.
GOLD LAKE BASIN There's no more picturesque setting in the northern Sierra than Lower Sardine and Upper Sardine lakes below the Sierra Buttes in the Gold Lake Basin. The fishing is also pretty good at Lower Sardine and a number of the other lakes in the basin, particularly Gold Lake.
The lakes are accessible from Highway 49 and the roads to many of the lakes are excellent. There are also numerous backcountry options here.
Lower Sardine is fishable by boat, shore or float tube and is best fished with bait or spinners. The part of the lake where the waterfall from Upper Sardine enters the lake is a top spot. Boat rentals are available.
Upper Sardine, less than a half-mile above Lower Sardine, is best used as a hiking and swimming destination.
PACKER LAKE Packer Lake is an ideal lake to take the family to for a picnic-fishing outing. There are planted rainbows, and rumors of brown trout. Boat rentals are available.
Gold Lake has the biggest fish in the basin, specifically mackinaw and browns, to go along with a good population of rainbow and brook trout. The problem is you need a boat and trolling equipment to have a reasonable chance at success here. Wind consistently bedevils efforts at fishing from float tubes.
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