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Trout Fishing Eagle Lake California

"The lake that time forgot"

By Sep and Marilyn Hendrickson - California Game and Fish Magazine

The wind was blowing, the snow was falling and icy cold pierced through our parkas. From the south came three foot rollers topped with white caps. The boat pitched from side to side as we slow-trolled our offerings, anticipating the inevitable strike. As the line broke free of the downrigger's grasp, six pound monofilament ripped from the reel at a stunning rate. A sparkling spray of water exploded one hundred feet behind the boat as a five to six pound brilliantly colored rainbow trout broke the surface and burst glistening through the air. One prolonged run and five minutes later...the fish slid grudgingly to the net.

It is the lure of the Eagle Lake Rainbow Trout (PDF) that brings outdoorsmen to this northeastern region of California. Known for it's exceptionally fast growth rate, trophy proportions, acrobatic drag-testing battles and excellent table fare, the Eagle Lake Trout is a highly sought after game fish. Eagle Lake Map

From Eagle Lake's Memorial Day weekend opener until the seasonal closure at year's end, anglers will discover exceptional opportunities for this rare species of rainbow trout. Anglers can expect to find trout ranging in size from recent planters of 14-16 inches, to the large holdover population of fish in the three to six pound range. There are even larger trout prowling the depths of the lake and each year 'bows from five to eight pounds are caught by lucky anglers fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time. The current lake record is an 11 1/4 pound rainbow taken in 1988. Native only to this prehistoric lake, this strain of rainbow trout has adapted to the highly alkaline waters.

During Spring and early Summer, anglers find the bow's feeding actively in the shallow, early season feeding ground, of the lake's north end where waters average only 15 feet in depth. As summer temperatures warm the shallows fish move to the deeper, cooler, spring-fed waters at the southern end of the lake. Downriggers or lead core line are almost a necessity for trollers to get offerings to the required depths this time of year. During fall and early winter periods some of the largest fish of the year are intercepted by anglers as trout begin to drop their defenses. Cooler temperatures alert the bows that winter is coming and they begin to feed heavily to store the needed reserves of fat to sustain them through the cold months ahead. They scatter to all areas of the lake concentrating off points and rocky areas where they can gorge themselves on the lake's population of natural food sources. Ideal water temperatures at this time of year give these fish a distinct advantage of extraordinary endurance which often testing the anglers skill, dedication and tackle.

Eagle Lake trout fight like no other trout. They are bright, colorful, alert, acrobatic and possess steelhead-like fighting qualities. Whatever technique an angler prefers to subdue one of these trophy fish, proper presentation and tackle are vital. Rods of six to seven feet in length designed for fish from 2-8 pounds are just right for the task. Whether your choice is spinning or casting reels, it is a good idea to use light line in the 4-8 pound test range. The water is very clear and fish become leader shy. For the first time angler, it would be prudent to hire a guide. These experienced individuals who can teach a beginner more in a couple of hours what it might take years to learn on your own. The lake takes awhile to learn because of it's size and of course, wind, weather and moon cycles play important roles.

Eagle Lake was created by the melting of glaciers during the last ice age and it is the second largest natural lake in California. It covers 22,000 acres with over 100 miles of shoreline. Located at an elevation of 5,100 feet, it is surrounded by dense towering evergreen forests of pine and cedars at the south end and rugged, high elevation desert scrub on the northern most portion. Five National Forest campgrounds are nestled in the forest at the south end of the lake. Campsites are a stone's throw from the shore and full facilities including RV parks, grocery stores, tackle shops, boat and cabin rentals and restaurants are nearby at Spaulding and Stones Landing.

Anglers utilizing the proven techniques of still fishing, fly-fishing or trolling will find their greatest success in many of the lake's usual "hot spots". The shoreline in many areas is dotted with tules and rocky areas that provide shelter to much of the natural food sources. Tui chub, red-side suckers, leeches, freshwater shrimp and aquatic and insect life find these areas ideal habitat and trout feed heavily both early and late in the day.

At Eagle Lake's north end, rainbows are routinely found near Troxel, Rocky and Bucks Points, but the heaviest fished areas are the Airport Tules, Lassen Youth Camp and Pelican Point. The Springs, Eagles Nest, and the breakwater at Eagle Lake Marina all produce good numbers of sizeable fish. Whether anchored or fishing from shore, the preferred tactic is casting a night crawler/bobber combination or simply letting a bare night crawler slowly drift and sink. Wildcat Point is another favorite for still fishermen. This rocky outcropping located along the southwestern shoreline holds an abundance of insect and aquatic life for the rainbows to feed upon. Shrimp Island is a rocky underwater peninsula that traditionally holds good numbers of big holdover fish. Trolling is the preferred method here as the area is dotted with natural springs that attract trout and baitfish to these cool, highly oxygenated waters. Rainbows can be caught in the early morning, tight to the shoreline in as little as two to three feet of water but as the sun rises they will move to deeper safer waters.

Small flashers, a threaded night crawler or bright colored lures are the preferred method for trollers. Small minnow imitating lures like Needlefish, Pro Secrets, and Triple Teasers in pearl white, flame red, bright pink, or silver are good bets for the big bows. Large trolling flies in red and black, cinnamon, white or olive are remarkably good producers. They imitate the lake's natural baits and fool some of the largest fish caught each year. Fast trolling (2-3 mph) Rapalas or Speedy Shiners is another effective technique. Fly fishermen and float tubers should work the tules and shallows on the western shore. Wooly buggers in brown, black or olive produce well.

The above average rainfall and snow pack of the past two seasons have made the Eagle Lake basin lush and green once again. No longer are there exposed shorelines, extended beaches and shallow boat launch facilities. The lake has returned to it's scenic best and any outward signs of California's recent drought have completely disappeared.

Venturing to Eagle Lake any time of year requires advanced preparation and is not to be taken lightly. Weather conditions are very unpredictable and can turn a fun fishing trip into a horror story. It is vital to dress for cold and to have waterproofed raingear. Winds at Eagle Lake demand respect and white caps can appear without much warning. However, the discomfort created by winds and cold does have a benefit. As the wind and waves churn the surface waters, baitfish and minnows become increasingly disoriented and the food chain begins. Veteran anglers at Eagle Lake know from years of experience...the rougher the water...the better the fishing. The fish will continue to feed heavily before winter's extreme cold slows the action. Where else can anglers spend quality time, catching and releasing two to six pound rainbow trout with regularity?

Limits: Two trout per day and no more than four trout in possession at any time.


Eagle Lake RV Park - Spaulding - (530) 825-3133  Email: info (at) eaglelakeandrv.com
Eagle Lake Marina (530) 825-3454
Mariners Resort - Stones Landing - (800) 700-5253  Email: mariners (at) citlink.net

Professional Fishing Guides:

Dick Mason: Dick's Guide Service  (530) 256-3317   Email: dcmason (at) frontiernet.net
Bryan Roccucci: Big Daddy's Guide Service  (530) 283-4103   Email: bryan (at) bigdaddyfishing.com
Rick Kennedy: Tight Lines Guide Service  (530) 273-1986 
John Godwin: Aerotech Guide Service  (530) 825-3251

Cabin Rentals:

Eagle Lake Rentals: Accommodations to fit almost any need (one, two, and three bedroom units)
(December to May 15) (707) 928-4917 (May 16 to December 1) (530) 825-3105 Email: tbrent (at) citlink.net

Eagle Lake Retreat: Vacation in a 4 Bedroom, 3 Bathroom, Lake Front Home, or Cozy Guest House

Eagle Lake RV Park - Spaulding - (530) 825-3133  Email: info (at) eaglelakeandrv.com

Boat Rental and Repairs: J & L Boats (530) 825-2135

Facilities: There are several stores, resorts, restaurants, RV parks, launch ramps and public campgrounds around the lake with over 340 fully developed Campsites. Full services are available in nearby Susanville.

Real Estate For Sale

Eagle Lake Homes and Land: Local resident Jim Bush, Broker/Owner.  Specializing in the Eagle Lake area. Vacation Homes & Land - IRA Investments - 1031 Exchanges - Lakefront - Lake View & Wooded Properties. (530) 310-0261

Heritage Land Company: Specializing in Eagle Lake Properties. 530-825-2131 or 530-877-6256 Email: heritageland (at) citlink.net

OUTDOORS: Trout worth the effort at Eagle Lake

By Tom Stienstra San Francisco Examiner

When it comes to big fish, some people will do anything and go anywhere. When it comes to the biggest trout in the West, that is exactly what is required.

Do anything and go anywhere? That can mean an unbelievably, long road-grinder of a drive, frigid temperatures and cutting winds, and a chance of getting zeroed despite your best efforts.

This is how it is at Pend Oreille Lake in Idaho, Lake Paulina and Klamath Lake in Oregon, and Twin Lakes in the eastern Sierra, which have produced the biggest trout across the West in the 1990s. And so it is as well at Eagle Lake in Northern California, set at 5,100 feet in remote Lassen County, where the average trout is bigger than that at any of the state's other 850 lakes and stream with trout.

Big? Trout measuring 18 to 20 inches are average, 4- and 5-pounders are common, and it takes a 6-pounder or better to get a local to even raise an eyebrow. Not only that, but the techniques used are simple, most using a night crawler under a slip bobber, and there are good prospects from shore, that is, for those without boats. The lake also has several excellent campgrounds and cabin rentals.

But all this comes with a price. As we pointed our boat north out of Spaulding Tract, with whitecaps with chop slowing our speed to a crawl, I thought about how disappointed some people could be. For starters, the drive can seem endless, about 320 miles from San Francisco (a check of a lodge registry showed that most of the visitors were from the Bay Area), and the wind typically howls by noon, with a frigid bite to the air that can petrify the soul.

But people put up with this for a chance at the biggest trout of their life. Many get it.

To get out of the wind, we anchored our boat behind a shoreline point, ducking in amid some tules, in just 6 feet of water. We then followed the prescribed procedure for catching the big trout here: You rig by placing a tiny plastic bobber stop on your line, adding a red bead and a slip bobber, then tie on a No. 4 hook, adding a split shot about 12 inches above the hook. You then use a night crawler for bait, hooking it with a worm threader so it lies perfectly straight in the water, as natural looking as possible. For those new to the game, the operators at the lake's shops and marinas will demonstrate this rigging.

Then I cast along the tules, the bobber floating about. The big trout like the tules, and sometimes they will cruise in and out along the edge of them looking for food.

About 20 minutes passed, and I started thinking about how cold it can get at Eagle Lake - so cold that even with its immense size, 100 miles of shoreline and 27,000 surface acres, the lake usually freezes over solid by Christmas. But the best fishing is when the cold weather arrives, from mid-October through early December, so anglers put up with it.

Then, suddenly, the bobber started dancing for a few seconds, then a moment later, was pulled under the surface. In a flash, I reeled the slack out of the line, then set the hook hard: Got him!

The trout ran off on a curving arc to the left, about 40 feet, and I just hung on, and listened to the reel clicker as the line was pulled out. A good fish, to be sure, a big one. I managed a few cranks on the reel, but then the fish tore off again, this time straight out, about a 10-second run. In my mind, I began asking myself: Good knot? New line? Strong hook? How well hooked?

The answers came in the next five minutes, as the fish was slowly brought near the boat, only to take off on yet another run, but everything held. The fight was a good one, the sensation absolutely mercurial. Then, with the fish near the boat again, it zigged instead of zagged, and it darted right toward us. With a knifelike jab, my partner John Korb netted it, and we had it. The trout measured 22 inches and weighed a shade under 5 pounds.

Believe it or not, this is just another typical Eagle Lake trout. At the Eagle Lake General Store, they didn't even bother taking a picture of it to post on their wall. After all, a youngster had just brought one in a few minutes earlier that made mine look like a guppy.

It turned out that at the rock jetty at Eagle Lake Marina that morning, there was a 45-minute siege when just about everybody there caught one as big or bigger, by shore or by boat, according to marina manager Todd Amrein.

There are many good spots at the lake. The tules adjacent to the airport runway and the deep spot adjacent to Eagle's Nest are the top spots by boat. By shore, the best spots are the rock jetty at the Eagle Lake Marina and the shore adjacent to Highway 139 at the northwest end.

The best catches are usually with night crawlers for bait, but as the very cold weather arrives, some do well trolling Needlefish (bikini colored) along the many stretches of shoreline lined with tules. Four of us in two boats tried everything, and in two days, caught five trout, with three going better than 20 inches.

But yeah, the cold weather is arriving. It was 10 degrees on a recent Sunday morning, and with a north wind, the tops of your ears felt like they could break off. No problem. It's just another thing you put up with when there are big fish to be caught.

 Eagle Lake Trout spawn at Pine Creek

Lassen County Times
19 April 2005

Anthony E. Larson, Staff Writer

In the spring, a young trout's fancy turns to ... spawning ... naturally. At least, that's what's going on at Pine Creek, a primary water source for Eagle Lake and a preferred spawning ground for the lake's rainbow trout. And California's Department of Fish and Game is there to see that things go smoothly.

Paul Chappell, a fishery biologist with the department, said the agency's role in this natural spawning process is "to augment the sport fishery out here. The demand for the fish is so high that Pine Creek is not capable of producing enough fish on its own to provide the local sport fishing the people have come to expect."

As a result, Chappell and his staff work diligently to preserve the Eagle Lake fish populations for the many sportsmen who flock to the pristine vistas and excellent fishing that the area provides. They take anywhere from 1.5 to 3 million eggs each season in order to have a guaranteed supply of fish and eggs every year.

The process is rather simple: amass the fish in a trap, hand process them to remove the eggs and fertilize them, then return the fish to the lake and send the fertilized eggs to the hatchery.

"Those eggs," Chappell said, "are reared at the hatch­ery and brought back 14 to 18 months later, depending upon which hatchery it's from."

Capture and collection during spawning season is the order of the day at Pine Creek to preserve the unique, genetic nature of those fish.

"The only thing that goes into Eagle Lake are those fish taken from Eagle Lake Trout : eggs," said Chappell. "Nothing goes into Eagle Lake that isn't native to Eagle Lake. There are no brood stocks kept for Eagle Lake rainbow trout. So, we take essentially wild fish ... we take eggs right from those just like it was naturally spawned."

The trout are not allowed to migrate upstream, a certain death sentence for most of them in years of low runoff. A weir or fish fence is constructed across the stream during spawning season to block upstream access to the trout for their own good.

"This is essentially a door­way that opens and closes as we need fish to come in and out;" Chappell said. "Right now the door is closed. It doesn't allow any migration upstream or downstream. We want all the fish between the weir and the trap to immigrate on up into the trap where we collect biological information and then transport them to the south end."

Chappell explained the rationale for preventing upstream access. "If we allowed the fish to go upstream at this point, the flows are so low they wouldn't make it to the spawning grounds. So, essentially, we would loose thousands of fish upstream," he said. "They wouldn't successfully spawn and reproduce. They wouldn't make it back to the lake. So, those fish would be taken out of the angling population to no avail whatsoever. By taking the eggs here at the trap, we go ahead and take the eggs that we need, and we will return the fish back to the fishery.

"Additionally," Chappell said, "you've only got about five to seven miles of perennial habitat up there where those fish can make it through the whole year. And so, they can only produce about 1,000 fish per mile. That means, we can only produce 5,000 to 7,000 fish in the head­waters of Pine Creek. We're stocking 200,000 fish a year down here (in the lake).

So realistically, there's no way we can have the kind of fishery we have out here without maintaining the hatchery program with it."

Every spring, Pine Creek has what Chappell calls a "false start," flowing briefly, and then subsiding only to resume its normal spring flows. This false start always causes some fish to start upstream early, before conditions allow placement of the weir. DFG personnel and inmate crews move in as soon as weather permits to rescue those stranded fish.

"We do a rescue up here every year. It's not just an occasional thing," said Chappell. "We rescue the fish that are in there and get them back out into the lake if we can. We took, roughly, 2,800 fish out of Pine Creek and 1,200 fish out of Big Merrill Creek this year that were stranded when the flows receded. They would have all died."

The average fisherman knows nothing of these heroic efforts to maintain Eagle Lake as an excellent fishery.

"I just hope they enjoy the fishery and they enjoy all the efforts we've gone to," said Chappell, knowingly.

He also has a word of caution for anglers: "catch and release," a popular program to preserve fishery levels, is not always the best practice at Eagle Lake.

When the lake is full and we have optimal water conditions, it's fine," said Chappell. "But during the warmer months when the pH is high and the temperature is high and the dissolved oxygen is low, we will ask the public to please `catch and keep' the first two fish they get.

"These fish are capable of living in pH of up to 9.8. They're under extreme stress, they're swimming around in an alkaline solution. If they (anglers) release those fish, even though you see them swim away and they look fine, they will undoubtedly die within a matter of minutes to 48 hours. I can guarantee that probably 85 to 90 percent of those fish will die."

Chappell also said the growth of the fish - and hence its size - depends upon water pH, which goes alkaline in droughts when water levels in the lake drop dramatically. This, he maintains, accounts for generally smaller fish in recent years.

He also said he believes the Eagle Lake program is a good one. "I don't think it's anything but an unprecedented success," said Chappell, adding that people from all over the world come to fish in Eagle Lake. "It's a very, very popular fishery; it's grown more and more popular over the years."

An angler opinion survey taken in 2000 found 89 percent were either "very satisfied" or "somewhat" satisfied" with their experience at Eagle Lake. From that, Chappell takes the message: "If it ain't broke, don't, fix it."

Call Chappell's office at 254-6363 if you have questions. Though he spends most of his time in the field, "I do return the calls when I get back in the office."