Denis Peirce: Winter lake fishing report |

Denis Peirce: Winter lake fishing report

Denis Peirce

The recent wet weather bodes well for fishing in the medium to long term. On a day to day basis it is hard to get motivated to go out fishing in the rain. Lake Oroville has been coming up nicely. The lake bottomed out at the first of the year at elevation 696 feet and is now at 714 feet and rising. At the lowest levels the only boat ramp open was Bidwell Marina. Now that the lake is above 710 feet the Lime Saddle ramp is functional again.

Oroville has been getting its share of bass anglers pre-fishing for tournaments that occur almost every weekend in the winter. The standard winter bass pattern is for the fish to spend most of their time at depths from 40 to 50 feet with their bellies on the bottom.

Following the schools

Occasionally a few individuals will swim up to the 25 foot depth to feed. Then they drop back down and seemingly hibernate.

I have reports from anglers unsuccessfully targeting the deep fish. They locate the schools with their electronics and work them over with jigs and spoons. These bass will not respond. It is not until they move up that these bass will hit a bait.

Ed Everhart fished an Oroville tournament earlier this month. He pre-fished for weeks and found a good school of bass at the back of the south fork arm. On tournament day there were eight boats in the same bay working the 25 to 35 foot zone. Ed was not the only angler to see the pattern. The tournament was won at that location with a five pound bass. The majority of fish were the smaller “cookie cutter” spotted bass.

The food source the bass have been looking for is pond smelt. These minnows were widely scattered early in the month.

Recently anglers have been noticing these smelt schooling up. The best presentations have been slowly fished pond smelt imitations. As the smelt concentrate, bass not near smelt will turn to crawdads as a food source. Clay banks are good crawdad habitat, particularly where there is adjacent rock.

The recent rains have stained the lake water giving the predators a bit of cover. Ed Everhart is now fishing baits with a bit of chartreuse or other hot color to make them more noticeable. After a few days of dry weather, incoming creeks will be running clear. The transition between the clear and stained water is another good place to spend some time.

Muddy waters

Justin Leonard has been fishing a number of local lakes. He has had his best success at Collins and Englebright. Both of these lakes have “colored up.” Depending on recent weather it is possible to find the water at the main tributaries either clear or muddy. Where either of these conditions transitions into the main lake water has been productive for him.

On a recent trip to Collins, Justin was up in the creek arm of the lake. The upper lake was much muddier than the main body. There were trout anglers trolling unsuccessfully in mid-channel. Justin was fishing the bank with bulky crawdad jigs looking for bass. In addition to the bass he landed two trout that were tight to rock structure feeding on crawdads.

Justin’s comments on Lake Englebright were that last weekend the upper lake was clear and the lower end was stained. He caught trout at the upper end of the lake on a crawler/flasher rig. The rains this week probably changed the water clarity conditions at both lakes.

Tom Page has been fishing his “Float & Fly Rig” at local bass lakes. Tom has been tying a new bait fish pattern that hangs below a float. It presents the fly suspended at depths of 10 to 15 feet. A little wave action animates the fly and the bass have been fooled regularly. This slow to stopped presentation works well during the cold water season when the fish are much less active.

Jeff Goodwin e-mailed me a photo of an 18 pound rainbow trout caught by a fly angler at Whiskeytown Reservoir west of Redding this past week. The angler was in his float tube casting back toward the bank. He was fishing a “Balance Leech” pattern which is another variation on the “Float & Fly.” This is the largest trout photo I have seen in a long time, other than Pyramid Lake cutthroats. This rainbow must have been on a kokanee diet to reach this size.

I have received photos from trollers fishing Pyramid Lake Nevada. There are a lot of cutthroats being caught at the top of the water column on the west shore. A common report comes from anglers trolling in 30 to 60 feet of water.

When the weather is right it is a good place to fish from a boat or from the shore.

Denis Peirce writes a fishing column for The Union’s Outdoors section and is host of “The KNCO Fishing & Outdoor Report,” which airs 6-7 p.m. Fridays and 5-6 a.m. Saturdays on 830-AM radio. Contact him via his website at

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