Denis Peirce: Peak Sierra fishing is now |

Denis Peirce: Peak Sierra fishing is now

To the casual observer, 2021 seems reminiscent of the drought year 2015. Across the Sierra, this past winter gave us about half of “normal” precipitation. This being the second dry year in a row, the prospects for good fishing conditions later this summer are pretty slim.

A case in point is Lake Oroville. With an adequate winter, the lake bottoms out in late November at the 700 foot level. A good spring run off will top the lake off at 900 feet above sea level. Currently, when we should be seeing peak snow melt, the lake is at 714 feet and dropping half a foot per day. At the Bidwell Marina, the house boats are being pulled from the lake and stored in the parking lots. The Lime Saddle launch ramp is serviceable at 710 feet and above. It won’t be too long before all of the paved ramps are out of the water and the best alternative will be a gravel road used for dam construction near the spillway.

There are lakes above Oroville that hold Feather River water. But there is less evaporation water loss at higher elevations so I suspect these lakes won’t be dropped any time soon.

The rivers are in a similar condition. The North Yuba River through Sierra County is quite low. The North Yuba does not have high mountains to hold a snow pack. The normal flow for this date is in the 1600 cfs range. The current flow is 260 cfs, not far above the 2015 low of 194 cfs for this date.

We are headed into Memorial Day Weekend and this will be the best opportunity for boat launching at many of the reservoirs in the north state. It will also provide the best river fishing conditions in the mountains. As the season progresses conditions will only get worse.

So much for the bad news. Memorial Day marks the opening of Eagle Lake outside of Susanville. The water is currently in the upper 50 degree range which is good for trout fishing near the top of the water column. Eagle is one of the premier trout lakes in the west and based on last year’s results there will be good fishing for two to four pound rainbow trout.

Tom Page has been continuing to fish Scotts Flat in the evenings. The ants and cicadas are gone but the evening top water bite remains good. He has been using poppers close to shore and getting good numbers of bass. This is the prime time of the year to find bass looking up for food. Fishing a surface lure and watching a fish come up and take it is a thrill. All of our local bass waters are fishing well.

The best opportunities for lake fishing this season will be on waters that do not get drawn down for water consumption. The closest one is Lake Englebright which is used to moderate daily flows. Typically it rises and falls four to six feet over a 24 hour cycle. Fuller Lake near the Hwy 20 and Hwy 80 junction can be described as a wide spot on the Bowman – Spaulding Canal. It has a consistent water level. Gold Lake above Bassett’s Station can’t be drawn down much. It is a deep lake that will have good fish conditions through the season. There are other smaller lakes in the area that will remain fishable through the summer.

Over the summit, Donner Lake is currently full and will probably remain that way for the season. It can be drawn down a few feet to send water to Reno but even at that, the lake will be accessible. Stampede, Boca and Prosser are currently marginal for boat launching. There will be some shore based launching, but for launching a heavy boat I think I would pass.

What will be a good bet for this year will be kayak fishing. Most of the fishing pressure on the larger lakes comes from boat anglers. Having a small boat option will give you access to many of our Sierra lakes that will be under fished this summer.

My overall conclusion is that we have a short window for good fishing in the next month or so in the Sierra and Sacramento Valley. Beyond that, the Pacific Ocean still holds the water we had expected to see in the Sierra. Hopefully it will fish well this year.

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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