It is no secret that Collins Lake is one of the Golden State's best angling destinations and why not? Collins Lake boasts one of northern California's most aggressive rainbow trout stocking programs in addition to providing solid populations of brown trout, spotted bass, Florida strain largemouth bass, channel catfish and panfish.
Last season a total of 28,000 pounds of rainbows were released into the lake. As if that weren't enough trout, the folks at Collins tried a new pen trout venture this year in cooperation with the DFG, Project Kokanee and Kokanee Power.
A total of 8 large pens were constructed over the winter and the DFG provided planter rainbows to be placed in them. The plan was to keep the trout in the pens until May when they would be two or three times larger than when they originally arrived a the lake. It was projected that this would add an additional 10,000 to 13,000 pound of rainbows to the lake.
With the warm spring conditions we have been experiencing the lake's surface temperature crept into the 60's sooner than anyone had expected. As a result the pen trout had to be released about a month early, but more about that later.
A couple months back Allen Bonslett, the Fish Sniffer's Publisher, was looking for a destination near the Sacramento area where he could take his wife Nicki and kids, Elizabeth and Derek for a spring fishing get away and he asked me what kind of facilities Collins Lake offered. Naturally, Allen already knew about the outstanding fishing the lake provides. When I told him that in addition to camping and RV sites the folks at the recreation area also rented cabins, it didn't take him long to book one of them for Easter weekend.
With a cabin secured Allen asked me if I would like to head up to the lake on Saturday, April 7 and join him for a day out on the water. Since Collins Lake is one of my favorite places to fish during the spring, I agreed and we started making plans to split the day fishing for bass in the morning and trout in the afternoon.
When I rolled up to the Bonslett's cabin at 7 o'clock Saturday morning, Allen was standing on the porch with Elizabeth waiting for me. Allen told me that they had spent a little time trolling the evening before and had picked up one small rainbow. Within a few minutes Allen had his gear in my truck and we headed off on a short drive to the marina where Allen had his boat birthed. I tried to convince Elizabeth to come with us, but she said she'd rather go back to bed!
After pulling out of the marina Allen and I headed up the river arm and pulled into a cove where I'd caught some bass working plastic worms about two weeks earlier. Since Allen's Proline doesn't have a trolling motor our plan was to anchor and pitch out some minnows and plastic baits.
I rigged one rod with a slip bobber, baited up with a frisky shiner and pitched it to the back of the cove. I set my other rod up to fish a minnow on the bottom and casted it toward the mouth of the cove into about 14 feet of water. While Allen worked a Senko, I waited for something to suck in one of the minnows. After 30 minutes passed with a bite, we moved out to try fishing a point. When we got blank there we headed into a small brush chocked cove that had a rock bottom and still we couldn't get a hit!
"It's about 8:30," Allen observed. "Nicki said she'd have breakfast ready for us by 10 o'clock. I don't want to go back skunked. Let's try trolling for trout." Not wanted to get skunked either after giving Elizabeth a hard time about not coming along I was all for it.
As Allen cruised toward the swim beach, I rigged up two rods with Cripplures and one with a white Sep's grub. Once we reached the area near Elmer's Cove, Allen slowed us to 2 miles per hours and I put out the rods. Generally, I have no trouble picking up trout between the swim beach and dam, but on this day the fish were playing hard to get. A small low pressure area was moving through and I was starting to wonder if that was why we were struggling.
It was nearly time to pull the lines and head in when Allen hooked a fish on a chrome and blue Cripplure, but quickly lost it. A few seconds later a second fish hammered my white grub. I like to troll with a long line so it took me a few minutes to work the trout up to the boat. It felt like a husky fish. When it finally came into view I was pleased to see that it was a handsome 2 pound planter rainbow. After releasing the fish we figured we might as well quit while we were ahead, so we went in for breakfast.
When we arrived back at the cabin Nicki had prepared us a delicious meal of pancakes and bacon. With breakfast out of the way Allen and I watched a little T.V. and then headed back out on the lake. This time Elizabeth decided to join us.
Once again we started out trying for bass, this time on the east shore. Allen picked up a small spot, but the bite was very slow. After investing more than an hour in bass fishing we decided to go back to trout trolling.
The highlight of the afternoon came when a fish slammed the rod on the starboard side. Pulling the rod from the holding, Elizabeth started working the reel and a beat later I saw a fish jump twice in quick succession about 250 feet behind the boat.
Taking her time with the light kokanee rod, Elizabeth gradually worked the fish to the back of the boat. When the trout was nearly within net range it made two more wild jumps and I was pleased to see that it was about a 16 inch brown. She had never landed a brown before, so both Allen and I took several photos of Elizabeth with her prize.
We spent another 30 minutes or so trolling. When the starboard rod went off again I managed to beat Allen to it and picked up another 2 pound rainbow. The bite wasn't red hot, but Allen had a couple trout for dinner so we decided to head in for the day.
Nearing the marina I could see a lot of activity on the shoreline. As we got closer it became clear that people fishing off the bank were pulling trout after trout. As we secured the boat one of the guys from the recreation area walked by and I asked him what was going on. He related that the water temperature had risen to 62 degrees and that had prompted them to release the pen fish early, fearing increased mortality due to the warm temperatures.
After taking my gear to the truck, I headed down to the shoreline to get in on the action. Using a Cripplure I hooked and released a half dozen trout in about a dozen casts. The trout were in beautiful shape with well defined tails and a lot of girth. Most of the fish I caught were between 2 and 2.75 pounds. A little while later, Elizabeth and Derek joined me and began hooking trout too.
Project Kokanee and Kokanee Power have pen projects at various lakes. We all know the pen project fish enhance those fisheries, but it is rare to actually see folks catching fish you know came from the pens. It was a treat to see joy and excitement that the pen trout generated at Collins Lake.
Most of the fish released undoubtedly made it into deep water where they will get even bigger. Those that were caught made for some really happy anglers and as Sep Hendrickson observed when I shared the story with him, that's what the pen projects are all about!