The Fish Sniffer - Silver Lake: From Abundant Rainbows To Huge Mackinaws
Silver Lake: From Abundant Rainbows To Huge Mackinaws

Written By: Dan Bacher, July 16, 2014
Species: Mackinaw Trout
Location: Silver Lake,

Silver Lake: From Abundant Rainbows To Huge Mackinaws
Silver Lake: From Abundant Rainbows To Huge Mackinaws Silver Lake: From Abundant Rainbows To Huge Mackinaws

Silver Lake, located in the Central Sierra Nevada off Highway 88, offers the best of both worlds – lots of rainbows for families to catch and the chance for big fish enthusiasts to nail trophy mackinaw and brown trout.

Silver is a surprisingly fertile fishery, in spite of being located in a large, high elevation granite basin surrounded by conifer forests. The lake drains into the Silver Fork of the American River. 

“It is a typical west slope lake with some unique features, such as the marsh at the lake’s south end that adds nutrients to the food chain,” Stafford Lehr, Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist, told me after my cousin, Tom Mulderrig, made our first trip to Silver in the summer of 2000.

The rich food chain is sustained by zooplankton, primarily daphnia, as well as tui chubs and Lahontan redsides that were illegally introduced.

It was a festival of rainbow trout catching when I arrived on the shore of Silver Lake, since the Department of Fish and Wildlife had just evacuated trout from the American River Hatchery in Silver, Caple and other lakes. Al Lund of Minden and Bob Brinton of Garderville were just taking their boat out of the water when I arrived.

“How was the fishing?” I asked.

It was a good day, “ said Lund. “We must have caught 30 fish. We released the majority of them and only kept a few.”

The anglers were trolling with Needlefish with 2 to 3 colors of lead core line. “A week ago we landed a 7 lb. mackinaw here,” said Lund.

Bank fishing was also great. For example, Hunter and Mike Caudillo and Sandy and Oly Oliphant teamed up to catch limits of rainbows in the afternoon. They were using an array of PowerBaits by the dam.

Other successful bank anglers I talked to included Fred Ahboltin of Eureka, Tyler Smith of Camino and David Hooker of Ione.

I also enjoyed excellent action, catching three rainbows on three casts with yellow Power Bait. I kept two and released one before I headed to Caples Lake to finish out my limit.

I’ve always experienced excellent fishing on my trips to Silver. On my first-ever trip to Silver, I landed four beautiful brown trout in the 14 inch class while soaking bait along the ledge across the lake from the boat ramp. All of the fish hit inflated nightcrawlers.

On an afternoon trip in May 2007, just after the lake iced out, I found top-notch action on beautiful holdover rainbow and brown trout while tossing out nightcrawlers near the dam, which was one of the few areas that wasn’t knee deep in snow. Everybody else around me was also celebrating ice out by catching rainbows and browns.

The trout are concentrated in that slot of darker water between the launch ramp and the dam,” advised Jay Warren of Roseville that day, as a stiff, steady wind hammered the clear, icy cold waters of the lake. “If you cast short of that, you’re missing the fish.

I landed my first fish, a 13 inch brown, near a snow bank adjacent to the Silver Lake Resort. “Look at its tail,” he noted.

I suveyed the tail and sure enough, there were telltale teeth marks from a mackinaw around the tail’s base. The fish was an escapee from a big fish but he didn’t escape me!

While Silver provides anglers with an abundance of browns and rainbows in the 10 to 18 inch class, some monster mackinaws also lurk in the lake’s clear waters.

Dave Mettler of Lodi set the Silver Lake mackinaw trout record, eclipsing the previous 22 lb. record set by Mark Wiza in 2002, when he nailed a 25.22 lb. beauty in June 2008.

“I was top-lining a J-11 black and gold Rapala when the fish hit about 5 minutes into my trip,” said Mettler. “I was by myself and it took 25 minutes to land. It was the biggest mackinaw I have ever caught; I think I would have to go to Flaming Gorge to catch a bigger mack.”

The excited angler brought the fish into Plasse’s Resort first and then weighed it on a certified sale at a fruit stand when he got home to Lodi, where it weighed 25.22 pounds. The monster measured 37-1/2 inches long.  

It was right after ice out on May 12, 2002, that Mark Wiza set the previous lake mackinaw trout record of 22 pounds while he trolled a no. 11 black and silver Rapala.

While drifting in a canoe after his motor failed as the wind came up, Wiza landed the biggest fish of his lifetime – and the largest fish of any species ever taken out of Silver up to that point. His fish beat the previous mackinaw record of 18 pounds set in 2000.

Wiza recommended trolling large rainbow pattern A.C. Plugs, Rapalas and Rebels for the mackinaw in the spring. “Start top lining over 10 to 20 feet of water first thing in the morning,” said Wiza. “Then switch over to lead core line and troll at 30 to 40 feet later in the day.”

For the browns, he advised trolling rainbow and silver and gold plugs – smaller and slimmer versions of the mackinaw lures - tighter to the shoreline, generally in less than 15 feet of water.

Located off Highway 88 between Bear River Reservoir to the west and Caples Lake to the east, Silver Lake is often overlooked by anglers and vacationing families on their way to Lake Tahoe and other destinations.

Silver is a natural lake augmented by a dam that expanded the size of the lake. It has been a resort location for over 100 years.

Maurice and Caraletta Platte, the descendants of pioneer Raymond Peter Plasse who established a trading post on the Emigrant Trail in 1853, have operated Plasse’s Resort for decades.

Since the lake is located at an elevation of 7200 feet in the headwaters of the Silver Fork of the American River, the water temperature stays relatively cool throughout the summer and fall. Downriggers and lead core line are advisable if you want to target mackinaw, but top-line trolling is productive for rainbows and browns most of the year.

The CDFW stocked mackinaw in the early 1990’s – and the fish have grown quickly. The Department has historically stocked around 10,000 pounds of rainbows and 1800 pounds of German brown trout annually, although the agency suspended the brown trout plants in recent years.

While at Silver, you can also explore other lakes on the Carson Pass Corridor, including Lower Bear River, Caples, Upper and Lower Blue and Red lakes. Lower Bear features rainbows, browns and mackinaw, Caples hosts rainbows, brookies, browns and mackinaw, Upper and Lower Blue feature rainbows and brookies and Red hosts Lahontan cutthroat and brook trout.

For lodging and facilities information and fishing licenses, call Kit Carson Lodge at 209-258-8500.

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