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Denis Peirce: A spring day on Gold Lake

Denis Peirce

So often a good day fishing can be determined by a number of factors that if they all fall into place you can have an epic day. It can be difficult to predict a convergence of factors days in advance so there is a bit of luck involved. One of those lucky days occurred for me two weeks ago at Gold Lake in the Lakes Basin above Bassett’s Station.

I had heard of a good brown trout taken at Gold Lake. It is the season for these fish to be on the prowl in the shallows. With the Memorial Day weekend approaching I wanted to get on the lake before the crowds so I snuck away early on Friday morning. With a two hour drive we were not on the water until 7:30 a.m., long after first light. Despite the “late” start, other conditions were so favorable that the day was not lost. The water temperature was 52 degrees which is on the low side of the ideal in the high 50s. The food chain begins to come alive in the mid 40s and the action gets better as the temps rise. Often it can be the trend rather than the exact temperature that sets the pace.

There was a low pressure system that was coming on to the west coast. In the north Sierra it produced an overcast sky with wind. Both of these, in moderation, can make for a good day on the water. The cloud cover darkens the day and that combined with a wind broken surface gives the brown trout cover to move into the shallows. It is the shallows where they hunt for minnows.

We started from the boat ramp heading up the east side of the lake. The day started slowly as we headed south. Fighting a head wind was an issue but the farther south we went the less the wind waves were a problem.

The ideal line to follow is the drop off, where you can see the bottom on one side of the boat and the other side is the green depths. Sometimes this line is 20 feet off shore and other spots it is 100 feet out. Being on this line allows you to target the shallows and any fish that are just beyond.

Our first brown came as we reached the south end of the lake. Confirmation that yes, this was the right time and place.

The north facing slopes south of the lake still had good snow cover and the creek feeding into the lake below the snow was flowing well with cold water. I had hoped the mouth of this inlet would produce for us but on this trip it didn’t happen. We did the best heading down the west side. The farther down we went the rougher the waves got. As we crossed the north end I concluded it was much easier fishing the south, upwind end of the lake. We motored back into the wind and spent the rest of the day in the calmer waters.

There was a family of three otters in the shallows of the south end confirming to me that yes, this was a good fishing spot. I suspect they are much better anglers than I.

We spent the rest of the day trolling with a variety of minnow imitating flies. It was not the proverbial “shooting fish in a barrel.” Fishing for brown trout seldom is. Most of the browns were in the 20 to 24 inch range. We kept the two smallest fish, a 16 inch and a 19 inch. The big ones were left to be caught another day.

I had never caught a brown at Gold Lake before. I had only hooked rainbows and brook trout. I did not realize there was a significant brown population in the lake. Each year there are a few big mackinaw taken in the early spring after ice out. Now I know that there is another trophy species in the lake. The time to catch these is spring and fall as the water transitions through the magic 50 degree range. I have an unproven theory about why these fish are seldom caught in the warm weather months. I think they become nocturnal in the summer. They are on the prowl when we are off the water.

Whatever the reason for tough brown trout fishing in the summer, the spring time conditions will hang on at the higher elevation lakes. Gold Lake is at 6,400 feet elevation. If you look to some of the higher lakes south of Lake Tahoe, the spring time brown bite can last a few weeks longer.

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 http://www.trollingflies.com

Wind, clouds and melting snow, good conditions for brown trout in the spring.
Photo by Denis Peirce
Two minnow and a wasp that a brown had eaten recently.
Photo by Denis Peirce
The best anglers on the lake.
Photo by Denis Peirce
A brown trout on the line.
Photo by Denis Peirce



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