Bank Tactics For High Sierra Trout Lakes
Written By: Cal Kellogg, March 13, 2012
The lake had only been accessible for a week or so and there was still plenty of snow to be found in the shady areas beneath the trees.
It wasn’t going rain or snow, at least not much, but the overcast made for a low light level and the breeze created a moderate chop. I knew the combination of low light and a ruffled surface would draw the trout up into the shallows looking for an easy meal…The conditions were perfect!
I really wanted to toss plugs and spoons, but since my license sported a second rod sticker, I armed a light Fenwick spinning rig with a sliding sinker set up adorned with an inflated mini crawler. I pitched the worm out about 25 feet and wedged the rod butt in the rocks, allowing a few feet of slack line to blow in the breeze.
After threading the line through the guides on my second rod, I was trying to decide between tying on a quarter ounce gold Kastmaster or a small rainbow pattern Rapala when I noticed that my first rod had fallen over.
Sure that the breeze had knocked down the rod I walked over to it thinking that it was a good thing I noticed the rod had fallen, since if a fish took the bait with the line trailing along the ground it would easily be cut by the rocks.
Often times I’m not too quick on the uptake, so even when I saw that the line was suspiciously tight I still didn’t have a clue. It wasn’t until I picked up the rod and felt a very firm tug that I realized there was a trout on the other end of the line!
Looking down at the spool that was now about a quarter empty I realized that the trout must be pretty large since it had taken quite a bit of line. It was pure luck that the line hadn’t snapped or the rod hadn’t been pulled into the water.
The trout must have tired itself considerably with it’s first runs, since all I felt now was a heavy weight determined to move parallel to the shoreline.
I followed the unseen trout down the shoreline, gently pumping the rod and edging the fish closer and closer to the bank. When I first caught sight of the trout’s golden flanks and large black spots, my heart raced. It was a dandy brown. It took some doing to land the fish without a net, but in the end I was able to slide the handsome 5 plus pounder onto a patch of gravel. I was elated!
The spring is the best time for targeting trout, both large and small trout in high sierra lakes. The sooner you can hit a lake after ice out the better. Some guys specialize in using 4 x 4s or even snowmobiles to access lakes just as the ice is breaking up, but the rest of us have to wait until roads are cleared of snow before we can access the high country. That’s okay though, because excellent fishing will continue for some time after a lake frees itself of winter’s icy grip.
One of the nice things about fishing high Sierra lakes during the spring is the fact that you don’t need to fish from a boat to find outstanding action. The water will be cold, likely in the upper 40’s and the trout as well as their forage will gravitate toward the shallows in search of the warmest water they can find. This puts hungry trout firmly in the sights of bank anglers.
I’m gearing up to hit some of my favorite high elevation trout lakes over the next few weeks so this is a perfect time to talk about the tackle and tactics required for success. In reality high country trout aren’t the most sophisticated fish you’re apt to come up against and that’s because they can’t afford to be.
The feeding season is short in the high country and trout have to feed when they can on whatever is available in most cases. As a result a simple approach is generally the best approach when it comes to catching them.
When bank fishing high country lakes, I prefer to catch my trout while plugging, but there are times when the fish are most responsive to bait. This is why I always pack a pair of rods on high country trout fishing adventures. I toss one out with bait and plug with the other until I figure out what the trout want.
I prefer rods that are in the 7’ to 7’6” class. My current arsenal consists of a soft 7’6” Berkley Tactix ultra light action rod that I use for bait fishing and a 7 foot Fenwick HMX fast action rod rated for 4 to 10 pound line that I use for tossing lures. Both rigs are balanced with Abu Garcia spinning reels loaded with 6 pound monofilament line.
For bait fishing you’ll want some fluorocarbon leader material, a selection of octopus hooks in sizes 8, 10 and 12, a few swivels, some plastic beads and some bullet weights ranging from 1/8 to ½ ounce. These components are used for setting up sliding sinker rigs for fishing baits just off the bottom.
I always carry a bottle or two of PowerBait with me, but most of the wild and holdover trout I target at high elevation prefer inflated worms and red or orange salmon eggs.
My selection of lures isn’t very extensive. You can’t go wrong with a few 1/8 and ¼ ounce Kastmasters in gold and chrome, ¼ ounce black and yellow Panther Martin Spinners or dark colored Rooster Tails, Cripplures in chrome and brass colors and 3 or 4 small floating and countdown Rapalas in black over chrome, firetiger and rainbow trout finishes.
Catching trout from the banks of high country lakes or any lake for that matter is all about location. I like to set up in spots that feature structure in the form of rock piles and points. Areas that feature depth variations like where deep water meets the shallow water of a flat are attractive. I give any location where a stream enters or exits the lake special attention since these areas tend to be hubs of trout activity.
High country trout tend to be aggressive; so don’t spend a lot of time in a location that isn’t producing action. Typically I cast out my bait rod and thoroughly fan cast the area with my plugging rod working a variety of depths. If nothing happens within a half hour I pack my gear and try another location.
One mistake you want to avoid making, especially early in the season is casting your bait out into deep water past the fish. Most of the time you’ll find the trout tight to the shoreline, so I seldom start out casting my worms or salmon eggs out much further than 25 or 30 feet. I’ve seen some monster browns and rainbows caught at Lake Almanor by guys casting worms without additional weight no further than 8 or 10 feet off the bank.
These guys pitch out the worm, prop up their rods with the reel open and set a small stone or similar object on the line to keep the line under control. They then back off 20 or 30 feet from the rod and wait for a big trout to swim by and suck up the worm. These anglers look pretty silly until you see them jump up and battle a trout pushing double digits!