Fishing for Big Brown Trout at Stampede Reservoir - August 15 - 16, 2005

My primary goal was to catch a Big Brown Trout (over 6-lbs) and a Big Mackinaw Trout (also over 6-lbs). As usual, I had a hard time finding guides to fish with. I was looking for a guide who would fish for the fish I wanted and on a single-person basis, not as a member of a 6-10 person charter. At North Lake Tahoe, I found only one single guide who was available and I got a reservation for 2 days of fishing at Stampede Reservoir.

At South Lake Tahoe, again I found only one available guide and I got him for 1 day of fishing. Weather-wise, it was a good trip. It got cold in the early pre-dawn hours, but never miserably cold. In the afternoons, it got warm but never really hot.

I left 3312 (home in Sacramento) at 5:00 AM in pre-dawn light for the 100-mi (2-hour) drive to Truckee. I arrived at 7:00 AM and spent some time finding my motel and surveying the route to the boat-ramp at Stampede Reservoir where I would fish early the next morning. I located a market (a 7/11 in this case) and a gas station near my motel. On the drive up Highway 80, I stopped for a look at the Donner Roadside Rest and took a quick walk through a memory-lane of 32 years – I was on the team that designed and built the rest stop.

By 9:00 AM, I was at Stampede Reservoir and I took another 2-hour survey of the shoreline from the dam to the boat-ramp. I wanted to find the best place to spend the afternoon fishing. By 11:00 AM, I had found a spot just west of the 1st Dam. It was warm now and I had to look for a spot in the shade. I put out my 2 rods both with 8-lbs reels, ½ ounce egg weights, and setups of TW6/TW6 with combo baits of single, double, and triple crawlers. I was primarily fishing for Browns so I used their favorite bait.

I fished for 6 ½ hours (11:00 AM – 5:30 PM) thinking about the stories I had heard about big Browns at Stampede. In the morning, it was warm and muggy, but not Sacramento-hot. With little breeze, I was able to fish open bale which is my favorite way to fish. However, in the afternoon a breeze blew-in, which cooled things nicely but also required me to either close my bales or go to rock—holders - I tried both. About 2:00 PM, it began to cloud-up and at almost 6,000’ I wondered what might come next.

Throughout the next 2 hours (2:00 - 4:00 PM) I heard roars of thunder and saw at least 6 strong strikes of lightning. I debated with myself about taking down my poles and quitting but I didn't. When I finally decided to quit at almost 6:00 PM, the results were somewhat gruesome and depressing. I snagged off 4-times (2 on each pole) and had to switch from egg weights to 5-shots, I offered baits of single-double-triple crawlers, and I got just 2 bites that were definite but no fish. Some of my worms were chewed off, but mostly they went untouched even at open bale. Where were the big Browns that Stampede is famous for???

By 7:00 PM, I was back at my Truckee Tahoe Inn motel after stopping at the local 7/11 for Ice and Ice Cream. It didn't have a single postcard. Then, it was my regular motel routine of cleanup, shower, dinner, and preparation for the next day of fishing. As usual, I didn't get to bed before 11:00 PM, which gave me only 4-hours of sleep - this would leave me very tired on the boat the next day.

Day 2

I was up at 3:00 AM and left the Motel at 4:15 AM to meet my guide at Stampede at 5:00 AM. After my surveying the route yesterday, I knew the route pretty well and the signing was OK, even in the black of night. I made it to Highway 80 east OK, and then made the turnoff at the Boca off-ramp. After that, it was a straight shot to the turnoff to Stampede. It was still pitch black when I parked my Ford Focus at the top of the Ramp at Stampede. Everything was pitch-black, not a single light anywhere. If I hadn't of brought my flashlight, I'd have probably have walked right off the end of the ramp into the lake — it was that dark. My guide was there with his Boat and I climbed aboard.

Despite the very high altitude and the early hour, it was cool but never really cold. We had a little light rain later in the morning, but the boat had a top so I never got wet. My guide claimed he was one of the very few guides who regularly fished the lake and I think he was probably telling the truth. He tended to exaggerate a lot but he said he had caught a 12-lbs Brown at Stampede and a 26-lb Mackinaw.

In a short time, he had us setup with 4 poles out, 2 on downriggers and 2 near the surface. For the next 7-hours (5:30 AM – 12:30 PM), we trolled all over the big lake hoping for "Big Fish". He used 8-lbs line and trolled from 20' to 40' near the surface to 80' to 100' deep. He used a variety of lures (some he had made himself). However, with just 4 hours of sleep the night before, I began to nod-off after staring at the rod-tips for 2 hours with no action. I gulped down a couple of NoDoz (Actually 3 of them) to snap me out of my drowsiness.

On this Tuesday morning in the middle of summer, I was surprised that we saw only 3 other boats all day. The Guide had a very old dog who slept under one of the seats nearly the whole time, and the only action we saw before 8:00 AM was when the dog sneaked out to steal part of the Guide's breakfast snack.

We didn't start catching fish that morning until after 8:30 AM, which meant 3-hours of staring at the rod-tips with no action. Eventually, we began to catch a few. Our 1st fish was a small 15" Eagle Lake Rainbow that had been planted by DFG. It was small but had nice markings that were typical of the Eagle Lake variety.

Over the next 4 hours (8:30 AM – 12:30 PM), we caught 5 nice Mackinaw Trout ranging from 18" (2-lbs) to 21.5" (3.5-lbs). They were much smaller than the 7-pounder I was hoping for, but a lot better than 3 more hours of nothing. Then, almost back to the ramp at l:00 PM, we caught our 1st and only Kokanee Salmon (14"). Our total catch for the morning was 7 fish which wasn't bad, but not one of them was a big Brown. The Guide said he hoped to do better on the following day, when we would fish together again.

I had the rest of the day free now to fish on my own, so I headed back to the 2nd Dam to try my luck at the next best site I had scouted out on the previous day. This site was on a small peninsula-like location that projected out into the lake and I was hoping for better luck than I had on my solo fishing on the previous day. By 1:30 PM, I was set-up and fishing just like I had tried the day before. I stressed my TW6/TW6 setup on both poles again hoping to find a hungry Brown. After 3 hours (1:30 -4:30 PM) of no action or snag-off, I was ready to quit since the fishing was lousy. I wanted to use my valuable time at the north end of Lake Tahoe to see some of the things I had missed in the past.

The 1st thing was a quick survey of Old Town Truckee to look for interesting photos and/or a good shop with postcards (I like to use postcards in order to capture memories of things that I may have not been able to photograph on my own). So, far I hadn't found a single postcard to buy. The 2nd thing was to get a photo of the attractive Emigrant Statue near Donner Lake. It was erected in memory of the famous Donner Party of emigrants who passed this way almost 160-years ago. Following my busy fishing schedule, this would be my only opportunity to do these 2 things.

Old Town Truckee turned out to be a "Dud". There were no postcards and very few interesting photos; however, the Emigrant statue was very nice. I got to Donner Lake just as the setting sun was lighting the statue and it made for a great photo. Over 45-years ago in 1959, I had helped do some of the initial survey work to erect the famous statue (I was an Architect and Delineator for the State).

By 7:00 PM, I was back at my motel again after another stop at the 7/11 store for both ice and ice cream. Then it was a rush to cleanup, shower, dinner, and prep for another day at Stampede with the Guide. I still had a chance to catch my Big Brown.

It was bed at 11:00 PM and another 4-hours of sleep before a 3:00 AM wakeup. Unfortunately, it didn't work out that way. Moreover, I still hadn't found a single postcard to buy.


Page Summary

Fish Caught

Kokanee Salmon
Mackinaw Trout

Places Fished

Stampede Reservoir

Bait Used


Places Stayed

Truckee Tahoe Inn

Sights Seen

Pioneer Monument

First light of day with Highway 80 in the foreground. A view of Highway 80 near Emigrant Gap. Morning shadows on the highway caused by tall conifers on both sides.

Heading up into the Sierras on Highway 80
First light of an August morning. I was off on my 3rd major fishing trip of the year.

Daylight near Emigrant Gap
The halfway point of my drive to Truckee. Traffic was light on this Monday morning.

Morning shadows on the road with thick forests of conifers on all sides
I had made it into the high Sierras.

The A-framed building at Donner Summit's rest stop. A view of trucks through trees at Donner roadside rest.

The rest stop at Donner Summit
It was almost 7:00 AM by the time I reached the roadside rest and parked the Ford in front of the attractive A-frame building and took a quick walk around.

A stroll down memory lane
Almost 32 years ago, I worked on a team of Architects and Engineers that designed this facility at 7,227’ up in the Sierras.

My chair set-up at Stampede Reservoir. A view of Stampede Reservoir.

Stampede Reservoir
It was 9:00 AM by the time the Ford and I arrived at my first major stop of the trip. This was rated as prime Brown Trout water and I was there to catch a big one.

My shady spot at Stampede
I set-up my 2-rod style of Trout fishing. I fished for 6.5 hours using a favorite bait of the Brown (Crawlers), but I got only 2 definite bites and neither produced a fish.

Stampede Reservoir on a cool and cloudy morning. Bob and an 18" Mackinaw Trout. Bob and a 15" Eagle Lake Trout.

Predawn light at Stampede Reservoir with a guide
It was a cold and overcast morning – this weather persisted for most of the day. It was another day of fishing at this reservoir that is famous for its big Brown Trout. I was at approximately 6,000’.

18” (2.5-lbs) Mackinaw Trout
It was a nice fish, but definitely was not a big Brown.

15” Eagle Lake Rainbow Trout
This was our first fish of the day. The photo came out gray and overcast, just like the day’s weather.

Bob and a 14" Kokanee Salmon caught at Stampede Reservoir.

14” Kokanee Salmon
Our last fish of the day. They are a popular fish with many fishermen who rate them as one of the best fish for eating.

Bob and a nice Mackinaw Trout.

21.5” (3.5-lbs) Mackinaw Trout
We fished for approximately 4 hours on this gray morning and caught a total of 7 fishes. Five of them were Mackinaws and the one above was the largest. We were trolling with lures from near the surface down to 20’. The bite was fair but not great and not a single big Brown – not even a little one.

Close-up view of a 14" Kokanee Salmon. A close-up of a 21.5" Mackinaw Trout.

A close-up of the same Kokanee Salmon shown to the left

A close-up of the same Mackinaw Trout shown to the left

A 14" Kokanee Salmon caught at Stampede Reservoir. A 21.5" Mackinaw Trout caught at Stampede Reservoir.

14” Kokanee Salmon
Caught at Stampede Reservoir - see below for more details.

21.5” (3.5-lbs) Mackinaw Trout
Caught at Stampede Reservoir - see below for more detail.

Pioneer Monument near Donner Lake.

Pioneer Monument at Donner Memorial State Park
The Monument marks the general area where one of the earliest pioneer wagon trains, the Donner Party, was stranded by the harsh winter of 1846/1847. Many members of the Donner Party died. The Monument reads:


Fishing for Big Browns at Stampede Reservoir

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