The Fish Sniffer - Lower Bear River Lake: The Lake Is Full And The Trout Are Biting
Lower Bear River Lake: The Lake Is Full And The Trout Are Biting

Written By: Dan Bacher, June 5, 2014
Species: Trout Mackinaw
Location: Bear River Reservoir,

Lower Bear River Lake: The Lake Is Full And The Trout Are Biting
Lower Bear River Lake: The Lake Is Full And The Trout Are Biting

In spite of the drought, scenic Lower Bear River Reservoir in the Carson Pass Corridor is in great shape and the trout are biting. The reservoir offers an array of fishing options, ranging from shore fishing for planted and holdover rainbows to trolling for big mackinaw and brown trout with plugs, spoons and nightcrawlers.

The reservoir features 727 surface acres and a shoreline of about 9 miles when full. It is located along the Bear River, a tributary of the North Fork of the Mokelumne River, south of Highway 88.

The lake was 89 percent of full at press time. offering top-notch boating and fishing opportunities this year. The trout fishing really broke open on Memorial Day weekend after a series of trout plants.

These plants include a 500 pound load of rainbows averaging a half pound each by Pacific Gas and Electric on May 13 and 1,000 pounds of catchable rainbows by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife on May 20.

“The fishing was really good on the holiday weekend, when many bank anglers caught limits of rainbow trout,” said Robert Smalldon of the Bear River Lake and Campground. “The hot spot was the corner of the dam.”

 Just ask young Gabbie Gascon, who bagged a limit of feisty trout while fishing with her father and grandfather, who also landed limits of rainbows over the Memorial Day weekend. She landed the 10 to 12 inch rainbows while soaking orange Power Bait at the corner of the dam.

Other successful anglers included Gabe and Ethan Coleman, who landed six scrappy rainbows while fishing PowerBait and nightcrawlers near the marina

Trolling is also an effective method for enticing the rainbows. For example, Fred Solari of Lodi and I hooked and released 20 rainbows while trolling threaded nightcrawlers on lead core line along the face of the dam during a late afternoon trip in May 2007, the first time I ever fished the reservoir.

More excellent fishing is expected on the weekend of June 14 and 15 when the resort holds their annual Father’s Day Derby. The resort will stock 1,000 pounds of rainbows averaging 4 to 5 pounds and going up to 8 pounds, according to Jim Stewart from the resort.

The top three winners who catch the biggest rainbows will receive $700, $200 and $100. Others who catch fish will receive prizes, including fishing hats, rods, reels, tackle and other items.

The entry fee is $30 for one day and $45 for both days. Fishing licenses are also available for purchase to those who don’t already have them.

Located in Eldorado National Forest in the Central Sierra Nevada at an elevation of 5850 feet, Bear River is the first major lake you encounter when driving east of Jackson on the Highway 88/Carson Pass Highway.

When you fish Bear River, you are also on the way to other great fishing lakes, including Silver, Caples, Upper and Lower Blue, and Red lakes. Lower Bear River in the spring becomes free of snow before any of the other major lakes higher on Carson Pass.

While the majority of fish that anglers catch are rainbows, mackinaws and brown trout also swim in the lake’s clear waters. Mackinaw trout grow big and fat at the reservoir.

Chris Quimby set the lake mackinaw record of 30.4 pounds on June 17, 2005.  His huge fish measured 40 inches long.

While most anglers use big minnow and trout imitation plugs on downriggers to target big mackinaw, Rich Spears, manager of the resort, also slow trolls with nightcrawlers behind big Ford Fenders on 17 colors of lead core line for his fish.

The best time to fish for the trophy macks is in the spring right after ice out or in the late fall just before the lake ices over, but huge macks are caught throughout the season.

Spears’ trolling technique definitely works. Spears caught a 25 lb. mackinaw before the lake opened this year in his boat. His next biggest was a 23.4 lb. mack that he landed in January 2012.

However, the biggest mack ever put in his boat was the 26.4 lb. monster that Aiden McKinney of Pioneer caught and released while trolling with Spears on September 13, 2012.

 The fish measured 38 inches in length and 16 inches in girth. McKinney hooked the fish while trolling a Trophy Stick on 12 lb. test Maxima line on a downrigger at 85 feet deep at 4 p.m. that day.

The CDFW made an experimental plant of mackinaw in the reservoir in the late 1980s. Fishery biologists haven’t determined yet whether the fish are spawning successfully, but the fish are definitely growing large on the lake’s abundant forage.

The lake also hosts a healthy brown trout population, a combination of wild fish and holdovers from CDFW plants.  The biggest brown reported this year to date was the 6 lb fish caught by Tom McKinnon of Pioneer on the evening of May 26 while trolling a frog pattern Tasmanian Devil.

However much bigger browns swim the waters of the lake. Donna Schlageter set the lake German brown record of 15-1/2 pounds while trolling on June 30,1991.  

While McKinnon caught his fish on a Tasmanian Devil lure, other anglers top-line troll with big Rapalas, Rebels, Smithwicks and other plugs early in the spring or late in the fall.

The CDFW has historically stocked the lake with around 8,000 pounds of catchable rainbows and 2,200 pounds of browns annually. The agency stocked 17,400 pounds of trout in one year, 2010.

This was done because of the delay in plants due to the lawsuit by the Center of Biological Diversity, combined with the fact that Bear River was the only lake accessible to CDFW planting crews due to snow and ice on other lakes in the Carson Pass Corridor for much of that spring.  

The Bear River Resort is usually open from late April, depending upon snow and road conditions, through October 31. The lake freezes over for a couple of months during the winter and ice fishing is highly inadvisable because of hydroelectric power drawdowns during the winter.

Immediately above—and in high water separated only by the upper dam—is the smaller Bear River Reservoir that is often referred to as Upper Bear River Reservoir.

Slightly over a mile long, Upper Bear contains 166 surface acres and about 2.5 miles of shoreline surrounded by private, water management lands. The only boating access is for hardy anglers willing to portage small craft around and to the top of its dam.

For more information, contact the Bear River Resort, 40800 Highway 88, Pioneer, Cal, 95666, bearriver@suredial, net,, phone 209-295-4868 or fax 209-295-4585.    


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