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Written By: Dan Bacher, May 11, 2014
Location: Eagle Lake,
One of my fondest fishing memories is of the trip Chris Dunham, former Fish Sniffer staffer, and I made on Eagle Lake in November 1989 with the late master fishing guide Jay Fair.
We got on the lake at first light, bundled up for the chilly morning air in heavy winter clothes. We began trolling Jay Fair flies on the north end around the tules and quickly hooked up a big trout.
Over the next couple hours, we hooked over a dozen rainbows, keeping our two fish limits of fish in the 4 to 6-1/2 pound range. These were all robust, hard-fighting trout that often leaped out of the lake’s forage-rich, alkaline water.
Anglers are gearing up for another good trout opener at Eagle Lake on Saturday, May 24 – in spite of the current drought. There are thousands of this natural lake's beautiful, hard-fighting trout awaiting anglers’ offerings on the opening weekend.
Eagle Lake, located in northeastern California at an elevation of approximately 5100 feet when full, is California’s second largest natural lake after Clear Lake. The unique species of rainbow trout found in the lake are pretty, robust fish that adapted to the lake’s alkaline waters over the years. They are such a popular strain of fish that the Department of Fish and Wildlife has planted them in many other reservoirs throughout the state.
“The fish are gorgeous,” advised Paul Divine, California Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist, in a news release from the California Inland Fisheries Foundation (CIFFI). “I would invite anglers to come and enjoy the lake as it does have water, there are ample fish in the lake, boat access, plenty of rentals and campsites available and most important, lots of fun to be had spending time in the great outdoors while catching beautiful Eagle Lake rainbow trout!”
Divine noted that water level at Eagle Lake is not much different from the end of the season last year. The low-water boat ramp has been improved by the Forest Service’s removal of high spots at the end of the ramp and the CDFW staff were able to launch boats for the egg take without any problems.
The 2014 spawning process took place in an unusual way, due to the current drought conditions. The egg-take station in Spalding was idle due to lack of water flow in Pine Creek at the trap.
Divine and local volunteers handled the net trap and electro-fishing boats out in the lake. The CDFW, in an effort to preserve Eagle Lake rainbow trout genetics, created a new protocol for spawning and record keeping. It involves spawning one female with one male and collecting fin tissue for genetic analysis to insure trout are not inbreeding.
“In the long term, we will be able to trace which pair future progeny have descended from, as well as be able to tell which brood year the progeny are from,” said Divine. “Over the next five to seven years, fin clips or breeze brands may no longer be needed.”
Spawning at Eagle Lake is done annually to provide trout eggs for CDFW hatchery programs for re-stocking Eagle Lake and maintaining broodstock for planting other waters in the State. A total of 1,184 Eagle Lake trout were captured, and 313 females were spawned with an approximate egg count of over 800,000.
Rick Kennedy of Tight Lines Guide Service, who has fished Eagle Lake for over two decades, is excited about the fishing prospects for opening weekend.
He plans to be on the lake at the first legal light, probably outside Pelican Point in the lake’s south end, on the opener. He hopes to fish the Bockley Tree and Shrimp Island, trolling at 4 to 6 feet deep until the sun hits the water. Then he plans to drop down in depth and slow down to 1 mph off the rockpiles.
“Orange is the color at Eagle Lake,” he advised. “I find my best action while trolling with orange grubs, including Berkley Power Grubs, Berkley Jigging Grubs and Sep’s Grubs, behind watermelon dodgers. Orange spoons such as Dick Nites, Sep’s Pro Secrets, and Rocky Mountain Tackle lures also work well. Black perch Uncle Larry’s spinners, tipped with a piece of nightcrawler or grub, are also effective.”
He also experiences solid action while trolling Denis Pierce’s Arctic Fox, Sep’s and Jay Fair Trolling Flies.
“Fly fishing is also very productive,” he said. “I like to use a floating line with a Jay Fair fly or rust colored Wooly Bugger.”
“Everybody is bummed out that the lake is low, but the reality is that the fish are still there. They didn’t fly south,” he quipped. “The first two days of the season generally produce some of my favorite action of the season. The fish average a healthy 2-1/2 to 3 pounds.”
Bryan Roccucci of Big Daddy’s Guide Service was also looking forward to a good trout fishing season on Eagle Lake, particularly in the late fall. He experienced great fishing last fall on while trolling and fly fishing.
“In October, the fishing was decent, not great or poor,” said Roccucci. “However, once we got the first cold snap the first week in November, the fishing just lit up. The action was as good as it gets.”
While the 5 to 6 lb. fish caught 20 years ago are no longer as common, probably due to the ph level of the lake, the fish were big and heavy, according to Roccucci.
“The fish averaged 2-3/4 to 3-3/4 pounds and every day we put trout over 4 pounds in the boat,” said Roccucci. “Fly fishing was the most effective method. Some fly fishermen who have fished all over the world said it was good as any place anywhere.”
“The guys who really knew how to fly fish could catch and release 40 to 60 fish and even the novices were hooking 20 or more fish. In addition to getting fish over 4 pounds every day, we also released some fish over 5 pounds and pushing the 6 pound mark,” he revealed.
“We caught most of our fish while fishing Jay Fair Wiggle Tail patterns in rusty orange, olive and brown tight to the rocks along the shoreline in shallow water. Trolling with the same flies 150 behind the boat along the shoreline was also productive. The fish were feeding on tui chubs, daphnia and other forage.”
Mike Arnold of the Eagle Lake RV Park reported that the only boat ramp where you can launch is the low water ramp on the south end – and the U.S Forest Service has been cleaning and preparing the ramp to get it ready for the opener. “You can expect to see quality fish and quality fishing on the opening weekend,” said Arnold.
“I expect to see outstanding fishing on the opener,” added Dave Leroy of Heritage Land Company, “since the CDFW saw a good number of fish in the 5 lb. range when they did the spawning. Although the lake level is down 14 to 15 feet from full, we still have a lot more water than a lot of lakes in California.”
With its beautiful rainbow trout and high country scenery, Eagle Lake is a definite “go-to” location this year.
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