Rainbow, German brown trout can get trophy big at Lake Almanor

Fishing report: Warm water slowing many fisheries
By: George deVilbiss/Special to Gold Country News Service
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Lake Almanor. What a tremendous body of water.

It’s the second-largest manmade lake in California to Shasta and the largest manmade lake in the state with an earthen dam. There are many miles of shoreline, but as most anglers learn, there are only certain areas the fish tend to be in, depending on the time of year.

Besides the brown bullhead catfish, there’s a good bass population, primarily smallmouth. Anglers can be found parked along the Highway 36 causeway to fish the shallows for catfish in the evening, and bass boats can be seen roaming every inch of the shoreline and summer islands.

The lake is planted each year with thousands of excess King salmon from state hatcheries. They don’t get anywhere near as big as their ocean counterparts. A good keeper salmon might hit three pounds, and occasionally, you might get one to six. They’re scrappy when they get hooked.

While some anglers are content to troll or dunk bait at anchor for the smaller salmon, rainbow and German brown trout can reach trophy proportions.

Big numbers of rainbows and browns also are put into the lake. Many trout that are introduced into the lake each year are raised through the winter in holding pens in the Hamilton Branch and managed by the Lake Almanor Fishing Association.

All are of immediate catchable size when they’re released in the spring, and many anglers are content with a limit of the smaller, pan-size trout and salmon.

Many years ago, Japanese Pond Smelt were introduced into the lake as a forage fish for the game fish. Most fish munch on the smelt year-round, and because of this food source, the trout grow big and fast.

The lake is choked with smelt right now, and if you know what you’re looking at on your scope, there are massive clouds of the tiny fish.

You’ll generally see your targeted game fish hanging close by the school of smelt. It’s not unusual to see smelt flying out of the water trying to escape the gaping jaws of a trout or salmon.

The more you fish Lake Almanor, you come to realize there are much bigger fish to be had. Perhaps not limits, though.

Linda and I spend the majority of the summer at Lake Almanor, and we’re joined for a week in May and September by Brian Richter and his wife, Lucy, of Pilot Hill.

Sometimes, our boats are fairly close together; sometimes, we’re half a lake apart. We’re all after big fish. While some anglers are bait fishing at anchor in Big Springs, Lake Cove and around A-Frame, we’re trolling.

In May, Linda managed a 5¾-pound German brown. She lost a massive brown just before that. It rolled once on the surface, and after a 15-minute battle, the line finally broke. When it broke the surface, it looked like a log.

In September, I matched her brown with my 5¾-pounder. We caught numerous rainbows from 3 to 3½ pounds.

The Richters trolled the east shoreline in the Dorado Inn region. They had three rods out, one on a downrigger and two lead-core rigs. One lead-core rig lit up. Brian was reeling it in when another rod took a dive. Lucy announced, “You’re snagged.”

Lucy brought in a small salmon with the one rod while Brian thought he was snagged with the other rod. It quickly dawned on him that snags generally don’t move at about the same speed as the boat.

As the boat continued its trolling motion, so did whatever was at the end of the line. All of a sudden, it became a tug-of-war. This was no snag. It was a fish.

Pumping the rod, Brian would reel in a color. The fish pulled out three.
Eventually, the fish got tired and Lucy slipped it into the net.

We stay in constant contact with FRS radios, and once Brian’s heartbeat settled down, he announced on the radio: Seven pounds, 11 ounces.

It’s the largest trout we’ve taken from the lake but well short of the Almanor-record 14 pounds-plus brown trout.

I’ve converted Brian from using live nightcrawlers to rubber worms. Trim them down, thread them on a hook, and they’ll generally out-fish a live crawler. This lunker had no problem gulping down a rubber worm.

I’ll be hearing that story from Brian for some years to come, I’m afraid.

Current fishing

The warm waters are affecting most fisheries, but a cooling trend might be coming.

New Melones: Limits of trout are the rule, but only downriggers will get to them. You need to drop down up to 80 feet in the main body. There’s a big shad population so haul a lure that has a shad pattern. A small dodger also helps to attract.

San Pablo Bay region: There’s launching at the mouth of the Petaluma River, at Black Rock off Highway 101. Turn left and stay in the river without going into San Pablo Bay. Striper action is blistering. Bullheads will do the trick. Further east, the Napa River is holding a large number of sturgeon, and there’s easy launching near the mouth in Vallejo. I’ve done well anchored just up from the Highway 37 bridge around Buoy 1.

San Francisco Bay: The halibut bite has been good in the usual areas — Angel Island, Crissy Field, the Berkeley Flats. However, you want a fast tide for stripers and a slow tide for halibut. It will be a pretty fast tide this week. That will bode well for salmon triers inside the bay around California City.

Folsom Lake: There isn’t much competition on this lake, but the trout and salmon bite continues. Again, downriggers are necessary to get down 65 feet or so, where they’re hanging out in the main body along the old river channel. A small Speedy Shiner will work. However, you might need to tweak the lure. If you troll too slow, you won’t get the action from the lure you need. Bend it slightly, and it will work wonderfully at slow speeds. With the hot weather, bassing continues to be slow.

Contact George deVilbiss at