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Lake Almanor, and its trophy fishing, beckons

By: George deVilbiss/Special to Gold Country News Service
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As a youngster, I remember often getting away with the family. Mostly it was weekend trips, but occasionally, a week outing occurred. You’d find a likely spot and, with the vehicle unpacked, create your campsite, perhaps far away from even the nearest camper.

Those camping experiences are pretty much long gone. Nearly everywhere, camping is only allowed in designated campgrounds with neighbors generally nearby.

Such is the way of “progress.”

In our tours of just about all the major lakes and reservoirs in the north state, we literally fell in love with Lake Almanor, at 4,500 feet elevation at the foot of Mount Lassen.

There are several towns nearby: Chester, nearly on the water on the north end; Greenville, down the hill about 10 miles away; and Westwood, to the east. Susanville is less than 30 miles to the east.

There are plenty of shopping options and dining, from fast food to upscale, and stores for restocking food and bait.

There is a great deal of development around the lake, a great many private residences. There are a couple of RV resorts on the east and west shores, and along the northeast shore, there are RV resorts and resorts that offer cabins and a boat dock.

A good portion of the western shoreline is the PG&E campground area. Some are in the woods, and others could be near the water. There are many campsites, and about the only time they may fill is during the ever-popular holiday outing.

Lake Almanor is the second largest man-made lake in California to Lake Shasta. In a way, it’s two lakes separated by the peninsula.

Because it’s so large, it can be intimidating as to where to fish. I hired a guide a couple of times. He provided me with the knowledge of how to properly fish this large lake — and be successful.

There are places to find fish and places you just won’t find a fish.

The east side of the lake is always popular. Before the most recent storms disrupted everything, there was a really hot bite for mostly German browns along the shore. Most of the rainbow action was found at the far northwestern corner, around Almanor West and limited action along the western peninsula near Rec 2.

Today, you only let out maybe three colors of lead-core line and drop the downriggers mainly to 10 feet. When the weather and water warm up, you can get out up to nine colors of lead core and drop the downrigger balls 30 to 35 feet.

Only in the old river channels, especially in the area of the dam, will you find water in perhaps the 80-foot range. Mostly, the lake is 40 feet deep.

And, while the catching of anything big right now is extremely tough, there’s a ton of smaller rainbows and brown trout being caught, fish in the one- to 1½-pound range. The Lake Almanor Fishing Association raises rainbows in pens throughout the winter in the Hamilton Branch. The rumor is that 50,000 rainbows will be released this week, and those fish will be two- and three-pounders.

To date, our largest fish caught in this lake is a 5¾-pound German brown and a 6½-pound rainbow. About three years ago, a guy fishing off the rock jetty along the western shore near Plumas Pines Resort — in February — netted a 14-pound brown.

This lake provides the possibility of big, big fish, and most guides here will tell you this is one lake that is seriously under-fished.

Besides rainbows and brown trout, there is also Chinook salmon. They’re small right now, but two- and three-pounders will be the rule soon.

There’s a small population of largemouth bass in the lake and a large population of smallmouth. I’ve hooked smallmouth to three pounds trolling for trout. Bass boats can be seen all around the lake along with numerous tournaments held on this water.

For trout, many lures will work, and they seem to prefer metal over meat right now. Rainbow Runners, Speedy Shiners, Needlefish and the Cyclops by Mepps are popular. Some will use small dodgers, but we’ve done best running the lure bare. A threaded-on night crawler generally attracts a strong bite, again, with or without a dodger.

Speed — or lack of it when trolling — is important. We generally move the boat at 1.2 mph.

There are a couple of places where boats will anchor or drift and pick up big brown trout: A-Frame on the east side of the Peninsula, a couple of coves at the north side of the lake, and around the Dorado Inn on the east side. A night crawler or crickets do wonders for the big fish.

Big Springs attracts large numbers of fish during the heat of the summer, and those anchored do well with a crawler, eggs or cast-retrieving crickets with the cooler weather the springs provide. It’s mainly an early morning and late afternoon fishery.

The fish get big quick in this lake, and it’s pretty much because of a baitfish introduced into the lake many years ago. There is a large population of the Japanese Pond Smelt, and if you know what you’re looking at on your scope, you’ll see huge schools, generally being guarded by fish nearby.

They’re a small, minnow-like fish that are devoured by the game fish.

Want to get into some great fishing with trophy-sized trout? Go to Lake Almanor. Learn the lake, and you’ll be just as impressed with it as I am.

Current fishing
Sacramento River:
There are stripers throughout the river system, from Rio Vista to Colusa. However, you’ll have to haul considerable bait. There are a ton of shakers happy to relieve you of your bait, so you have to wade through several undersized fish before finding a keeper. Nights will be best. Seems the little ones go to sleep after dark, and when you get bit after dark, it’s going to be a keeper.

Folsom Lake: Many hopefuls opted for the better choice of staying away with last week’s stormy weather. Wind and rain don’t equal great fishing for bass. However, when the weather was fair enough, the upper end of the lake provided great catching opportunities, along the North Fork and in the numerous coves around Rattlesnake Bar. Just about anything you could toss at them was being grabbed.
American River: Shad fishing generally is going gangbusters now. However, they prefer water a few degrees warmer than what they’re finding in the American. They come up because it’s time. You can put some on the stringer, but you have to work hard to get bit.

Contact George deVilbiss at GeorgesColumn@aol.com.