Bait fish, minnow population down in Lake Tahoe

By: George deVilbiss/Special to Gold Country News Service
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The largest freshwater lake in the United States is partly in California. We share that lake with Nevada. It’s Lake Tahoe.

People come from all over the world to see the lake. It's a beautiful lake, so pristine, so blue against the alpine-like mountains that surround it.

According to experts, much of the pristine-ness of Lake Tahoe has greatly diminished. It’s not as blue as it used to be. In great part, damage to the clarity of the lake can be blamed on the massive development throughout the region.

That decrease in clarity is what experts are claiming is the main cause for the decline in the lake’s native minnow population, which has decreased significantly over 20 years.

Scientists from the University of Nevada and Miami University in Ohio have tracked the minnow population since 1988, surveying 26 sites around the lake. The minnow population has taken a 58-percent hit in that period.

Two minnow populations exist in the lake, the Lahontan redside shiners and speckled dace. In 42 percent of surveyed shallow water locations, populations have decreased from 24 percent to 100 percent.

There is and has been for years a great fishery in Lake Tahoe. Introduced into the lake by anglers, first noticed in the 1970s, there has been a sustainable largemouth bass and bluegill fishery.

These fish primarily munch on minnows. Bass and bluegill are thriving in the near-shore regions, primarily because the lake temperature has been rising due to climate change, the invasion of aquatic weeds and pollution to the lake due to development.

A great many fish that cruise the water of Lake Tahoe depend on the minnow population for survivability – rainbow trout, mackinaw, kokanee salmon, bass and even big bluegill.

Current fishing

Local salmon: The American and Feather rivers opened to salmon fishing, but don’t get too excited. On the American River, only the waters between Nimbus and Hazel Avenue opened; and on the Feather River, only the upper part below Thermalito opened. Secondly, it’s the time of year when there aren't many salmon to try for.

American River: The river flows have finally been cut, making the river accessible and fishable. There are still shad hanging around and always a fair population of stripers. Shad darts run near the bottom, and a variety of lures could easily attract a bass bite. Most of the action is below the dam, downriver to Sunrise.

Camp Far West: If it’s fishing you want to do, it’s best to stay away from this lake on weekends. Just too many water recreationists. Early weekday mornings and late afternoons, however, you can do well. The lake no longer is full with downstream water demands to farmers, but there’s still a lot of water in the lake, especially for this time of year. Worming and cranks will account for a bunch of bass, but look for a whole lot of shakers in the mix. Catfishing is good now dunking the stinky stuff, cut bait and crawlers.

Englebright Reservoir: The lake looks more like a river, long and not very wide. If you beach your boat, use caution, as this is also big rattlesnake country. There are trout in the lake, but the fishery has only been fair. However, there are bass around the lake and nobody’s trying for them. Several play boaters on weekends, so if you can get there on a weekday, do it.

Lake Oroville: The bass fishery is outstanding. A variety of topwater gear will get you bit early and late, using and popping something like a small Zara Spook. The Middle and South forks and the main body of the lake are kicking out big numbers of bass. Hit the main points and coves with worms, Senkos and jigs.

Davis Lake: The lake level is only about 90 percent, but trollers are doing good hitting 'bows 14-16 inches. Most lures have been attracting a good bite. Just keep switching lures until you find one to their liking that day. What they bit yesterday they could snub today. The boatless have been successfully soaking bait around Eagle Point on Power Bait and crawlers.

Stampede Reservoir: Kokanee are deep, as much as 80 feet down. Get your downrigger there and you’re going to get bit. Use a kokanee imitating plug and drag it near the bottom, and getting bit by a mack is a good possibility. Hit the upper end of the lake — the Little Truckee or Sagehen arms — and you can get into a rainbow or brown bite. The browns will slam a Rapala while eggs and crawlers will primarily attract a 'bow.

Folsom Lake: It’s a tough bite. If you get your boat off the trailer at literally the crack of dawn and toss cranks or topwater gear, you could get bit. There are several submerged trees around the lake still, so toss plastics around them and you should get bit. The good ol’ backup of live bait – minnows and crawdads – will also do well.

Salmon: Pat and Karen Heaviside of the BRAGG-N at Fort Bragg tell me they’ve been doing well, mostly limits but one fish per person minimum with lunkers to 35 pounds. They tell me 30-knot winds are in the immediate forecast, which will not bode well for the boats wanting to troll. The bite at Bodega Bay and for the San Francisco Bay fleet has been overall tough. They’ve been picking up fish. You might be the lucky one to hang a fish, but it’s a boat ride for most.

S.F. Bay: The fleet has figured out that to make it successful for the anglers on board, they can’t target just one specie of fish. It will depend on factors such as the tides, but they’ll fish a while for bass, switch to halibut and switch again to rock cod. By the time the boat returns to port, you may not have a limit of any one species but you’ll have a good variety of fish. The good news is when the target is rock cod, there’s been a really good bite of one of the most preferred bottomfish: ling cod.

Contact George deVilbiss at