Dispatch from trout-rich Caples Lake

By: J.D. Richey Journal Outdoors Columnist
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Since hearing of all the jumbo trout that got dumped into Caples Lake last year, I’ve been jonseing to get up there but I just haven’t had the time. That all changed this week when pal Vince Thompson of Penryn and I made a quickie run up there Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning.
Sadly, the monster trout were nowhere to be seen — but what we did find was a gorgeous lake full to the brim with both water and “catchable” sized browns and rainbows.
If you’ve never been to Caples, you should go. Bound by snowy crags of granite and lush stands of aspen and evergreens, it’s really one of the nicest little lakes in the North state. It’s right on Highway 88, just east of Kirkwood ski area.
You can stay in cabins at Caples Lake Resort ( or go the $22/night route and camp at the U.S. Forest Service’s Caples Lake Campground just across the street from the resort. The campground is fairly small, but it does have several long enough sites to park RVs or boat trailers. I’m not sure, however, I’d count on getting one on a weekend — it was pretty crowded mid-week.
The Fishing
We got on the water around 3 p.m. on Wednesday and fished until dark. Trout were rising all around us, sipping some small tan midges that looked to be about the equivalent dry fly size of about No. 20.
For the first couple hours, we trolled along the dam, Woods Creek and Emigrant Bay with only a 9-inch rainbow and another missed grab to our credit. Our offerings included flasher/crawler rigs, “naked” nightcrawlers, small Rapalas, spinners, spoons, hootchies and grubs and we dragged stuff in the surface and down around 20 feet, where we spotted some marks on the meter.
Around 6 p.m. the bite turned on suddenly and we couldn’t go 100 feet without a strike. After much trial and error, we found that the number one thing the fish wanted was a threaded nightcrawler dragged with no weight behind a silver Sep’s Sidekick Dodger at 1.2 to 1.5 mph.
Oddly enough, we caught primarily browns near the mouth of Emigrant Bay and rainbows exclusively near Woods Creek. After a nice hour plus flurry of action, the fish quit biting all at once.
It was like a switch had been thrown, and from then until 8 p.m., we never got a bite. It was kinda bizarre, considering the evening “magic hour” often produces the best fishing.
Day Two
We got to the gate at the newly completed and super nice El Dorado Irrigation District ramp ($10 to launch) at 5:30 a.m., only to find that it opens at 6 a.m.
Once we got on the water, the bite (or lack thereof) picked right back up from where we left off the evening before. We trolled around without incident right through the heart of what normally is the peak morning bite and then, around 9:30, the fish turned on and we quickly caught about a dozen rainbows and browns.
From my limited fishing time there this week, I’d have to say that the best fishing right now is taking place in the late morning and then again in the late afternoon. Kind of banker’s hours, really.
All the trout we caught (and saw caught) were 10 to 12 inches, though I did have about a 5-pound something chase my crawler to the boat and another 2 to 3 pounder take a swipe at my spinner. The quantity of the fish didn’t exactly live up to my visions of grandeur, but we had a really nice time none-the-less.
If you don’t mind quantity over quality, check out Caples soon – you’ll be glad you did. Just be sure to pack the bug dope because the mosquitos are thick! Also, think about bringing some foul weather gear. Wednesday afternoon, we had a downpour for about an hour.
I’ll post some pics on my website soon:
J.D. Richey is a 1986 Placer High graduate whose outdoors pieces have been published nationally. His column runs Fridays in the Journal.