Small Lakes, Fall Colors And Fantastic Trout Fishing

Written By: Cal Kellogg, March 13, 2012
Species: Trout

Small Lakes, Fall Colors And Fantastic Trout Fishing

Fall is such a wonderful time, perhaps the best time of the year for anglers and hunters. For starters the weather here in northern California is generally fantastic with cold nights, chilly mornings and comfortable afternoons. Sure we usually get a storm or two during October and November, but we also get plenty of blue bird days.

“I wish fall was six months long”…I’ve made this statement many times because with the outstanding trout, bass, striper and lingcod fishing that takes place during the fall combined with deer, bear, quail and duck hunting there simply isn’t enough time to sample everything!

To be truthful with all the angling options that the fall months provide, it was pretty hard settling on a subject for this issue’s how to column. After a bit of thought and having written a good amount of material about striper and black bass fishing over the past two issues I decided to focus on trout fishing this week.

Fall trout action is great for both trollers and bank anglers, because the holdover trout that spent the summer months lurking in the depths of our lakes and reservoirs move to the surface spurred on by cool water temperatures and an abundance of bait. On an instinctive level at least, the trout know they’ve got to take advantage of the feeding opportunities offered during October and November if they are going to survive the lean winter months. This being the case, fall trout feed heavily, making them prime targets for anglers.

One of the quirks and really wonderful things about fall trout fishing is that bank anglers do as well if not better than boaters. Fall trout gravitate to the shoreline and often the hot fishing zone is within a few yards of dry land. This territory is tough to work for boaters using standard trolling tactics, but for bank anglers it’s home sweet home.

Excellent fall bank fishing can be had at any of our large reservoirs including New Melones, Don Pedro and Shasta and I’ve written about these opportunities many times in the past. Yet, in many ways I think the most satisfying fall bank fishing opportunities take place at the scores of small lakes that dot the upper foothills and lower Sierras. Whether you are talking about Scotts Flat Reservoir near Nevada City, French Meadows Reservoir on the Foresthill Divide, Spicer Reservoir off Highway 4 or Kangaroo Lake way up north near Mount Shasta, small lakes offer the bank bound fall trouter excellent fishing, solitude and inspiring scenery. If you want to get away from it all for a day or a weekend during the fall, a small lake foray is a great option.

Bank fishing for small lake trout can be as simple or as complicated as you want to make it, but for me part of the charm is keeping things simple. You can do well by driving up to a lake, walking a short distance, plunking down in a chair and staying in that location all day long. I’ve done plenty of this, but as a general rule I like to stay on the move when working a small lake. For me exploring a bit is part of the fun of the small lake fishing experience. This being the case I like to travel light.

My bank fishing gear consists of two spinning rods, a daypack or large fanny pack and hiking boots. Just about any sort of spinning rod will work for bank fishing, but the right rod will enhance both your enjoyment and effectiveness. A 7-foot fast action rod rated for 4 to 10 pound mono is the way to go. The rod should be matched with a decent quality reel capable of holding about 200 yards of 6-pound test line.

What you are really looking for in the reel is a smooth drag. A sticky drag will hang up and that’s the last thing you want when you hook a large trout. There was a time when 4-pound test was my line of choice, but these days I mostly use 6 pound and I haven’t noticed a decline in the number of fish I catch.

I keep all my terminal bank fishing gear and lures in a single plastic compartment box and never find myself wanting for anything. Bait fishing is the corner stone of bank fishing success, so let’s start there. The most effective offering for trout most of the time is a bait that floats up off the bottom. For presenting these types of baits nothing works as well as a simple sliding sinker rig. To set one up you’ll need ¼ ounce egg or bullet weights, some small swivels, a spool of 4 or 6 pound test fluorocarbon leader material, a selection of No. 8 and 10 octopus and baitholder style hooks and some ¼ inch plastic beads.

Take your main line and pass it through a sinker, slide on a bead and then tie on a swivel. To the swivel attach 18 to 24 inches of leader material and tie on a hook. At this point you’re ready to bait up. For using Power Bait or salmon eggs teamed with marshmallows, I go with octopus hooks. When using inflated night crawlers or baby ‘crawlers, my favorite all time bait, I lean towards bait holders. Don’t forget to pick up a “worm blower”!

In terms of lures, you want to carry a selection of both spoons and spinners, but you don’t need a bunch of either. For spoons models that cast well such as Kastmasters, Cripplures and Krocodiles are great choices. Everyone seems to have their preferred line of spinners such as Panther Martins, Roostertails, Mepps or Blue Fox spinners. Spoons and spinners come in a wide range of colors. The basic must have colors are brass, chrome, brass/red or orange, chrome/green or blue and a bright color like firetiger.

In addition to metal lures you might want to include a couple small count down Rapalas in minnow or rainbow trout colors. These lures cast well and like your metal offerings can be counted down to cover a range of depths.

In addition to terminal gear and a selection of Power Bait, salmon eggs and a pack of worms your pack should include some drinking water, a stringer, knife, pliers and snacks.

Okay your rods are ready for action and you’ve donned your pack, what’s the fishing strategy?

When fishing from the bank you won’t have sonar to locate fish, so you’ve got to read the terrain to pinpoint areas where you are likely to find trout. Over the years I’ve found features like points, narrows, steep banks adjacent to flats and inflowing tributaries to all be excellent producers. Basically you’re looking for changes in terrain or any feature that can concentrate fish.

When you walk up to a perspective hot spot, rig up one rod with bait, cast it in and prop it up. I like to take a small bobber and hang it on the line between the guides of the rod. At that point I pull about 3 feet of line out of the reel to allow the bobber to hang below the rod. This gives the trout some slack to take the bait without feeling resistance and the bobber serves as a strike indicator.

While your bait soaks, rig the other rod up with a lure and start fan casting. Work the surface water first and then start counting the lure down to work the water column.

Typically I give a spot 30 minutes to produce some action. If nothing turns up, I pack up my gear and burn shoe leather to the next potential hotspot.

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