Looking for Big Brown Trout in Lake Tahoe - August 17 - 18, 2005
It was my last day to fish at and around the north end of Lake Tahoe. I was supposed to be on the same morning schedule as the previous day, but a complication popped up - I over slept. It is a rare event for me, but this time I did. I was supposed to get up at 3:00 AM, but when I woke-up it was already 3:30. My schedule is always tight and I don't have 30 minutes to spare. However, by skipping breakfast I was able to get things back on schedule. When I left the Hotel at 4:15 AM, I checked out since I would not be back that night. In the afternoon, I'd drive down to South Lake Tahoe for the rest of my trip.
I met my guide on time at 5:00 AM at Stampede and we spent another morning fishing. This time our full efforts were directed toward catching a Big Brown. We were still trolling, but now much closer along the shorelines in shallower water. The guide said that was where we would most likely hook a Big Brown. The weather was about the same as the previous day but for some unknown reason the fish bite was way off.
Throughout the entire morning of fishing (5:30 AM – l:30 PM) we caught only 3 small Rainbows (12", 13", 14"), but not even a glimpse of the Brown. Needless to say, I was really disappointed. Throughout 2 full mornings of fishing at Stampede, we never saw a Brown Trout. Many expert Trout fisherman rate this lake as one of the best in Northern California for the Brown, but after 2 tries, it has not produced for me.
I said goodbye to the guide at 1:30 PM and headed back to Highway 80 (this time heading west to the turnoff at Highway 89). It was the main highway along the west side of Lake Tahoe and it would take me to South Lake Tahoe for the rest of my fishing. It was approximately a 50-mile drive from the north end to the south end of the big lake, and I allowed lots of time for photos along the way. I still had not seen a single postcard to purchase and I needed more photos to tell the entire story of my trip. I didn't see too much to get excited about until I got to the Vista Point near the southwest corner of Lake Tahoe over looking Emerald Bay.
Suddenly, I had all the photos I could ask for. For several years I've planned to stop and get photos of Emerald Bay on my "next trip" to Tahoe, but for some reason I never got it done. However, now I took the time to get all I wanted and the conditions were great. The day was clear, the sky was blue, and I had the western sun behind me. This was summer-vacation time and the Vista Point was crawling with people and everybody had a Camera. Approximately 95% of them were digitals, but I was hoping that my old Minolta would come through again (like it has thousands of times, before) and it did. I got some great shots of the Bay and its island that were gouged out by a glacier some 10,000 years ago.
I arrived at the intersection of Highways 39 and 50 at approximately 3:15 PM. I turned east onto Highway 50 because it is the main Highway through South Lake Tahoe. Highway 50 is also Casino Row and it operates 24-hours a day and 365 days a year. It is just a short 5-mile drive east on Highway 50 to Stateline and the casino area. On the way, I had to locate 2 important locations for the following day. First, I needed to find the local Motel 6 near the Tahoe Keys Marina. That night, I would stay at the Motel and the next morning I would fish out of the Marina. The second thing I needed to find was the Heavenly Valley gondola ride near the Marriott hotel where I plan to take the ride up the mountain to get a great overlook view of the entire shoreline of South Lake Tahoe. This is another one of the things I had planned on my "next trip" to Tahoe and now I was going to do it.
I parked the Ford Focus in the parking lot at Harrah's and took a hike around the famous strip. It was after 4:00 PM now and I spent the next 2-hours just hiking around and remembering times in the past when I was here with Dad and Bet. One time, we actually met Pat and Dot (2 other older sisters) here and had a big spaghetti dinner with them sitting at the window of one of the Casinos/Hotels overlooking the strip. I had good memories of a time long-past. On my hike, I finally found postcards to buy. I hadn't found a single one at the north end of the big lake. It had been close to 20 years since I was here before and there were many new things to see and much more construction.
It was close to 7:00 PM by the time I drove back to my Motel 6. I checked in for a 2-night stay and asked for a 3:00 AM wakeup call. I had an early-morning reservation to fish with a guide for Mackinaw Trout. Apparently, this was not the time or place to go for Browns. My target fish now would be a Mack over 6-lbs. Thirteen years ago in 1987, I caught 2 nice Mackinaw at the north end of Tahoe, and now I was back to try to catch a bigger one. I lucked out for ice and ice cream this time.
There was a Long's Drugs right across the street from the Motel 6 and it had both those items and postcards to boot.
Once again, it was cleanup, shower, dinner, and prep for the next day of fishing. It had been a long day beginning at 3:00 AM in Truckee and the 2 high points were getting my photos at Emerald Bay and my “memory-walk” around the Strip at South Lake Tahoe.
I got to bed that night at an "early" 10:30 PM for 4-hours of sleep.
Day 4 -Fishing South Lake Tahoe with a Guide
I was up at 3:00 AM and ready to leave for fishing at 4:30 AM, but the procedure was a little different this time. My guide would meet in front of the Motel at 4:45 AM take me to his boat at the Tahoe Keys Marina nearby. He was right on time, and by 5:00 AM we were aboard his boat and moving slowly out into the black waters of the Lake. It was very dark and I often have wondered how the guides can see to find their way. However, they seem to know how to maneuver in the black of night with no problems.
Eastward down the shoreline, I could see the sparkling lights of the casinos. It was cool at 6,200' but not cold. I was dressed warmly and felt good. We fished from 5:30 AM to 10:30 AM (exactly 5-hours). Once again, the guide put out 4 lines. Two were deep on downriggers, the other two were drift-fished at the surface, we were using live minnows for bait - they were slightly larger-than the size I use for Cat-fishing.
The guide hooked them on two treble hooks, mostly hooked through the lower body of the minnow - they stayed on the hook well without tying. In the 1st hour we caught 2 4-lbs Mackinaws (22" and 23"). Both were on the drift-lines - they were strong fish with very large teeth. When the downriggers didn't produce a fish, the guide and I began jigging using the same live-minnow bait. It was much like the way I jigged for Salmon; only the hook/bait was kept up about a foot off the bottom. Throughout the next 2 hours, we caught 2 more Macks by jigging – they were 26” (6-lbs) and 25” (5-lbs).
The guide then said that we had to stop fishing for Macks because we had reached our limit (2 for each of us). We then fished for the rest of our time using only the downriggers, but now used a much smaller #8 hook/lure with a kernel of corn on the barb. The guide now used large flashers to attract the fish to the hook/lure. We hooked and landed 4 Kokanee but they were much smaller fish compared to the Mackinaws (12” and 16”). The guide said the Kokanee were much better eating than the Macks, but I preferred catching the larger and stronger Macks. I had hoped for a Mack over 6-lbs, but the 6-pounder was the best I could do. I asked the guide if he caught many Macks in the 10 to 15-lbs range and he said it was a rare catch. Most were now in the 4 to 6-lbs range.
It was predawn light about 6:30 AM and a nice sunrise at about 7:00 AM. We were back at the Marina at 10:30 and the guide gave me a ride back to my motel where I packed my 8 fish (4 Macks and 4 Kokanees) in ice in my cooler. Actually, I had illegal fish for the day. The limit for each person is 5 fish in combination of Trout and Kokanee per day of fishing.
I said goodbye to the guide and hustled into my motel room to cleanup. I always need to "cleanup" after a session of fishing. It was about 12:30 PM by the time I was ready for action again. Time was running out on my trip, and I still had 3 important things to do that afternoon. First, I had to take the Heavenly gondola ride and hopefully get my overlook photos. Second, I had to scout out a nearby lake called Fallen Leaf Lake for a possible session of solo fishing. Third, I needed to scout out a 2nd lake called Echo Lake off Highway 80 at the very top of Echo Summit at 7,500’. It was famous for Big Brook Trout and I wanted to try to catch one bigger than the 12" 1-pounder I had mounted on the wall.
At 1:00 PM, I was at the strip for my gondola ride. I had some doubts about how worthwhile it would be but it turned out great - a real highpoint of my trip. The gondola climbs about 2/3rds of the way up the mountain to an elevation of about 7,000’ where it stops for people to take great photos of the entire south end of Lake Tahoe. It is almost a 10-mile stretch of shoreline from Nevada in the east to Emerald Bay in the west. I got some great shots with my 25-year-old Minolta. Then, the gondola takes you the rest of the way up the mountain to the top at 9,136’. There is no view from the top but you can spend the day up there hiking around if you want to; however, I wanted to go back down to more fish.
By 2:00 PM, I was back down at lake-level and off in the Ford Focus for a look at Fallen Leaf Lake. It turned out to be a disaster. The place was crawling with big RVs and campers, and everywhere I looked there were people (not a good fishing situation). I never did find an attractive spot that looked good for fishing.
It was 3:30 PM by now, as I made the long climb up Highway 50 to Echo Summit still hoping for some late-afternoon solo fishing. It was another disaster. I got to the summit and took the turnoff to Echo Lake and followed the signs to the Lake. When I got to the Resort that was supposed to be on the shoreline of the lake, there was no lake??? Somewhere I made a wrong turn, but by now it was close to 5:00 PM and no more time to find the lake and fish.
I then had to head back down the hill and to my Motel 6. It was 6:30 PM and then 7:00 PM by the time I shopped at Long's Drugs for ice and ice cream. Then, I had a lot of packing and re-packing to do to get ready for my drive back to Sacramento the following morning. Needless to say, I still had 2 more solo fishing sites to visit on my drive home. When I filled up the Ford for the drive back, the cost was $2.96 per gallon - it was the most I'd ever paid for gas. Back at my Motel at 7:30 PM, it was cleanup, shower, dinner, and then a long session of pack/repack to get ready for the long drive back.
This had been a day of Highs and Lows. The 2 Highs were the great Mackinaw Fishing in the early morning and the spectacular gondola ride up the mountain above South Lake Tahoe. The 2 lows were a disaster at both Fallen Leaf Lake and Echo Lake. I got to bed that night at l:00 AM and slept for a good 5 hours. With no early morning guide fishing, I was able to lounge in bed until 6:00 AM – the longest stretch of sleep of the entire trip.
Next ---- >
Mackinaw Trout: 25" (6-lbs)
Mackinaw Trout: 24" (5-lbs)
Mackinaw Trout: 23" (4-lbs)
Mackinaw Trout: 22" (4-lbs)
Eagle Lake Rainbow: 15"
Rainbows: 14", 13" and 12"
Kokanee Salmon: 16"
South Lake Tahoe
Fallen Leaf Lake
South Lake Tahoe
My 4 best Mackinaw Trout of the trip
We caught 2 of them using driftlines at the surface and 2 by jigging near the bottom with nothing on the downriggers. These were caught on the 4th day of my trip - see below.
At Emerald Bay after a disappointing morning of fishing
The beautiful sight that was Emerald Bay managed to snap me out of a bad mood after a bad morning of fishing. I also had to remember that there was a lot of fishing ahead that could turn out to be great.
A beautiful day at Emerald Bay
For years, I have planned to stop and take some photos of the world-famous Emerald Bay. This was the first time I did, and it was very worth the time. Some rate it as the most beautiful part of the shoreline of Lake Tahoe and I have to agree. The Bay and its island were gouged out by a glacier that passed this way some 10,000 years ago.
Highway 89 with Lake Tahoe in the background
By 2:00 PM, I was en-route south on Highway 89 along the west side of Lake Tahoe headed for my last 2 days of fishing at the south end of the big lake.
South Lake Tahoe
One of the first signs I saw as entered South Lake Tahoe.
Caesars on South Lake Tahoe's strip
The strip is also known as Highway 50.
Two guys trying for a handout
They claimed that they were not bears but the horns looked phony to me.
The strip at South Lake Tahoe
This was my 1st time back in almost 20 years. The last time was with Dad and my sisters Pat, Dot, and Betty – things looked much the same. This time I did not do any gambling.
First light of day off South Lake Tahoe
We were maneuvering towards our 1st fishing spot of the morning.
Fishing with a view of the casinos
As the sky lightened, I could see the casino strip along the south end of the lake. Weather-wise, it turned out to be a very good morning.
Mackinaws more likely than Browns
The guide put out 4 lines baited with live minnows, but he warned me that I would likely catch more Mackinaws than Browns.
My first bite of the morning
Suddenly, I had a good bite and the first thing the sucker did was head under the boat. They seem to know that is their best chance to escape, but I got him and he was soon safe in my freezer.
24" (5-lbs) Mackinaw Trout
23" (4-lbs) Mackinaw
This was my biggest fish of the trip – a 25” (6-lbs) Mackinaw Trout.
In addition to the 4 Mackinaws, I also caught this nice 16” Kokanee Salmon.
Another view from Heavenly
On this clear blue-sky day, I could not have asked for more. However, at the top I had to budget my time because I still had 2 more possible fishing lakes to fish later that day.
After the morning of fishing, I had to hustle to get in the rest of my scheduled day. My first stop was at the Heavenly Valley gondola ride. It was another long-planned event that I finally got to do.
From the shoreline of the lake, you were taken up to approximately 7,000’ for overlook photos of Tahoe’s southern shoreline. Then up to the top of the mountain at 9,136’ for a short or all-day stay.
A unique way to see one of the world's most spectacular alpine lakes
The view from 7,000’ looking west at the SW corner of Lake Tahoe. The city of South Lake Tahoe lies below.
My guide's boat
By 10:30 AM, we were back at the Tahoe Keys marina to end our morning of fishing. This was our boat. I did not catch a big Brown, but it was still a nice morning of fishing.
Fishing with a guide at Lake Tahoe for Mackinaw Trout - August 2005
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