The Fish Sniffer - Rollins Lake Offers Top-Notch Spring Trout And Bass Fishing
Rollins Lake Offers Top-Notch Spring Trout And Bass Fishing

Written By: Dan Bacher, April 14, 2013
Species: Trout Bass Catfish Panfish
Location: Rollins Reservoir,

Rollins Lake Offers Top-Notch Spring Trout And Bass Fishing
Rollins Lake Offers Top-Notch Spring Trout And Bass Fishing

As I walked along the shoreline in the Long Ravine area of Rollins Lake on March 27, I saw one angler, Chris of Auburn, hook, battle and land a scrappy rainbow trout about 14 inches. He added that fish to his stringer of three fish he had caught earlier in the cove next to Rollins Lake Road.

“What are you using?” I asked.

“Orange PowerBait,” he replied. “The key is to use a short leader of about 14 to 16 inches long because the fish are holding about that far off the bottom. They’re trying to stay away from the birds that are looking for a meal.”

I walked down the water’s edge about 100 yards from him. Taking his advice, I put out a sliding sinker rig with a short leader baited up with orange Pautzke Fire Bait into the water. As soon as the line hit the water, it suddenly went slack, not hitting the bottom. I quickly realized that I had hooked a fish, set the hook and battled the 1 lb. rainbow to shore. 

Meanwhile, he, hooked up his fifth fish of the day. He went home with a stringer of rainbows ranging from 12 to 16 inches – and a big smile on his face. “Anglers have been doing well on trout in this spot for the past two weeks,” he noted.

It’s is quality fishing like this that keeps anglers going back to Rollins Lake. The fishing can be superb if you hit the lake right.

I experienced great fishing in wonderful solitude on a winter trip to Rollins several years ago. I hooked over 30 rainbow trout, keeping my limit of five fish in the 12 to 16 inch class, while casting out orange/gold Cripplures and Berkley PowerBait from shore. I was one of two anglers fishing on the lake that day.

Located on the Bear River in Nevada County near Colfax, Rollins is like two different bodies of water, depending on whether you fish it during the summer or winter.

In the summer, the lake is a maelstrom of personal watercraft, water skiers and recreational boaters. Fishing for the lake’s rainbow trout, German brown trout, largemouth and smallmouth bass, bluegill and channel catfish is best during the early morning and late afternoon hours due to the heavy boating traffic during the day. Concentrating on the more peaceful 5 mph coves is also highly advisable.

In contrast, during the winter and spring the lake is known as a place to find solid fishing for rainbow and brown trout, as well as bass and panfish, amidst solitude. Bank fishing and trolling are both effective methods at this time of year.

It was an early summer day back into 1971 when I first fished Rollins. A neighbor had a small aluminum rowboat on the top of his truck, ready to go fishing the next day. “Hey, Dan, do you want to come along fishing tomorrow?” he asked me – and I quickly replied, “Yes!”

It was the first time I had ever fished a California lake from a boat; all of my fishing up to that point had from shore on the Sacramento and American rivers and Folsom and Natoma lakes. After launching the boat, he rowed the boat around the lake.

We drifted nightcrawlers along the bottom and hit a cove where we caught an amazing array of smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, a couple of rainbows and a bunch of bluegill. We went home with a big bunch of fish for a fish fry.

Since that time, I have fished many times from both boat and shore at Rollins. Both Cal Kellogg and I like to use the lake as a place to test new baits and lures for trout, since your chance of getting trout is very good here during the winter and spring.

While rainbows can be taken at the reservoir year round, the months of April and May, when the water has cleared up from winter storms that often muddy the water, are the top months to target trout here. 

Fish Sniffer Publisher Paul Kneeland, who right near the lake, said his favorite time to fish Rollins is in May before the summer boat traffic shifts into high gear.

“I like to head into the Bear River arm and drift nightcrawlers for the rainbows in the flow of the river,” he tipped. “For browns, I like to troll with CD 5 and 7 Rapalas. The largest brown I’ve ever landed measured 24 inches long.”

Rainbows are the most abundant trout at Rollins. The Department of Fish and Wildlife stocks the reservoir with an average of 6,000 pounds of catchable rainbows per year. 

The agency also traditionally planted around 1,000 pounds of catchable German browns in the reservoir each year. In addition to the holdover browns, wild browns are also found in the lake.

There is no official lake record, but browns up to 7 pounds have been documented and fish in the 2 to 4 pound range are relatively common. The browns are known for being long and slender, with Cal Kellogg’s largest ever brown measuring 27 inches long and weighing 5-1/2 pounds.  

The failure of an attempt to establish a kokanee fishery at Rollins Lake is an unexplained mystery. The DFG planted 40,005-fingerling kokanee at the lake in 2005, 16,400 kokes in 2006, 24,286 in 2007 and 40,125 in 2008, but as in the case of Folsom Lake, the fish didn’t thrive. 

Smallmouth bass are the most prolific gamefish by far in Rollins, although they are not known for their size. Some largemouth bass are also found, though not in the same numbers as the smallmouths.  

Channel catfish offer a sleeper summer and fall fishery for shore anglers and boaters, particularly at night when the whiskered leviathans go into the shallows to feed. There are trophy-size fish in the 10 to 15 lb. range to be caught by anglers willing to spend the time, though most fish are in the 1 to 3 pound range.

The lake also hosts a fair population of bluegill and crappie that delight young anglers during the spring, summer and early fall.

Rollins Lake is situated at an elevation of 2,100 feet in the Sierra Nevada west of Colfax, California. The lake features a surface area of 900 and 26 miles of shoreline.  For more information, contact Long Ravine Marina, 530-346-6166,

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