Denis Peirce: Closing the season at Independence Lake
Throughout the Department of Fish & Wildlife regulations there are many open seasons. Usually the closures are timed to protect spawning or otherwise vulnerable fish. It is axiomatic that the opening and closing dates can feature some of the best fishing on these waters. The same is true on Independence Lake in the Sierra, managed by the Nature Conservancy. Independence is only open from Memorial Day Weekend through the end of September, the warm weather months.
Trout like cool water. Our best chances of finding them near the surface are the beginning and the end of the season. During the hottest months the fish tend to be down at the 50 foot level. I wanted to close out the season at Independence hoping to find cool water and the fish on top.
Bill McCrea joined me for the day. We got an early start for the couple of hour drive. As we were going over Donner Pass the air temp was in the high 50s, not very promising for cooling down a lake. As we headed north on Hwy 89 out of Truckee the temps had dropped into the low 30s, conditions were looking better.
We arrived at 8 a.m. and were on the water and fishing by 9 a.m. Not the typical dawn start anglers are supposed to do. One night before was the full moon. According to fishing lore, a bad day to be fishing. The theory is that the fish feed all night and are not interested in what we would be offering.
There is another theory that the fish will feed when the moon is directly overhead, midnight, and again 12 hours later when the moon is directly under your feet. I was banking on the second scenario and it proved correct that day.
The water temp was just above 60 degrees. All morning we tried a variety of depths, colors and speeds all to no avail. I was beginning to doubt my angling ability or the theory. But at 1 p.m., 12 hours after the moon’s high for the night, the fish began to bite. Bill and I had really good fishing for a couple of hours until we headed in after 3 p.m.
The cutthroat trout were indeed feeding near the surface. Dave, the lake manager, had commented early in the day that gold/red lures were good producers. The flies that the fish bit consistently had red bodies with a dark wing.
We were trolling flies150 feet behind the boat in the top five feet of the water column. The most consistent location for hooking up was that line around the perimeter of the lake where you can see the bottom on one side of the boat and the blue-gray of deep water on the other. Years ago in a conversation with John Hiscox, retired fisheries biologist, he explained that this transition line on the lake allowed the fish to hide out of view in the depths adjacent to the shallows where most of the food is.
The best cutthroat of the afternoon was a hand length longer than the net was wide. I would like to say it was 24 inches but the reality was closer to 20. The rest of the trout ran 10 to 16 inches with a small kokanee thrown in.
Independence Lake is managed for the unique cutthroat trout species as well as the numerous minnows native to the lake. It is a catch and release fishery with no bait allowed.
By the time this article goes to press, Independence has closed for the season. It will reopen next year for the first long weekend of the summer season. Mark your calendar.
Another point is that we are in October. The waters have cooled and the fish are on the bite if you can find a location with enough water to fish. Use your time this month wisely.
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
WHERE TO FISH
Donner Lake has been lowered to winter levels but is still launchable.
Lake Davis is not suitable to put a bigger boat on the lake. Some car top boats have been launched from the beaches and shore angling is possible.
The Lakes Basin above Bassett’s Station has a number of lakes that although they have no tributaries late in this drought year, still have water for small boats.
Lake Almanor has been fishing well with limited boat launching at private ramps. The two public ramps are closed due to burned trees that need to be cut before they fall.
Eagle Lake is rough to launch a boat but worth the effort once you get on the water.
Shasta still has water, good fishing and functional launching.
The Lower Yuba River has spawning salmon and the steelhead are on the egg bite.
The river salmon bite is now from the Sacramento Metro area (mid 60s) up through red Bluff (high 50s).
— Denis Peirce
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