Denis Peirce: Eagle Lake in November
There are times and places where the conditions converge to produce great fishing.
The month of November in Northern California has three fisheries that have been good to me: Trinity River steelhead, stripers in the Delta and rainbow trout at Eagle Lake. On a given year any of these can be in a down cycle. This year steelhead on the Trinity have yet to show. The recent reports have the bulk of the stripers still below the Delta down by the Napa River. But at Eagle Lake the trout are on the bite.
The water temp at Eagle peaks in August and very slowly declines through September. Some time in the October-November time frame, the high desert night time air temps drop into the teens and the water falls rapidly through the 50 to 60 degree range and the fall bite turns on.
Last week a storm system dropped out of the North Pacific and the high desert temps fell into the single digits. Colin and I had an invite to join Ed Fisk and Bryan Fox for a two day trip to Eagle Lake.
We met at 4 a.m. Saturday to leave for Eagle Lake. We were aiming to be on the water by 9 a.m. We went over Donner Pass on icy pavement dropping down to Reno, then heading north on Hwy 395.
We arrived at the launch ramp in a swirling snow storm. Going from a warm truck to wind driven snow was a bit of a shock. It took most of an hour to remove the traveling covers and set up the canvas top and the fishing gear.
Once we were on the water with overcast skies, a stiff breeze and white caps on the lake, we got the lines in the water. We were fishing the shallows close to shore. I noticed quite a few shore anglers heavily dressed, having to face into the onshore wind, a tougher day than having the shelter of the boat. The first couple of hours produced only one fish from the southwest corner of the lake. We packed up and motored to the east side and our luck changed dramatically. We had four lines out and quickly picked up a trout. Within a half hour we hit a “Triple”— three fish on simultaneously. This makes for tangled lines and a pace close to panic. It takes your mind off the air temps and finger tips.
We had good success on the east side pulling trolling flies near the surface as well as on down riggers a dozen feet deep. Generally speaking we did well with dark patterns under a dark sky, and when the sun broke out brighter flies caught fish also. The score was seven fish, one short of limits for the boat.
We ended our first day well before dark, driving to a rental cabin in Spaulding to spend a warm evening with a good dinner. Even with good cold weather clothing it is so nice to get indoors, and fill your stomach after a cold day outdoors.
Sunday morning we arose with snow covering the ground and a clear sky, the ingredients for another cold day. By the time we got to the lake, cloud cover came in with snow falling on the wind.
The water temp on Saturday morning was 52 degrees. Sunday at the launch ramp the water was 43, a 10 degree drop. Fifty yards off shore the water was 51. The wind had pushed the coldest top layer of water onto the southern shore overnight. We headed back to the east side to pick up where we left off.
Under a snow squall with two foot waves we picked up more rainbows on black and dark brown flies. We ended the second day with two keepers, releasing a few of the smaller trout.
We were off the water by 1 p.m. and had the boat packed up for the road by 2 p.m. The road out from Eagle had a snow packed hill to navigate with 4 wheel drive at 10 mph. The rest of the ride was uneventful until it came time to get over Donner Pass. It was bumper to bumper at 20 mph for ten miles.
To the non-angler it might seem nuts to drive eight hours, spend two cold days out on the water in the wind and waves to get a fish that is available at Safeway, already cleaned!
Eagle Lake is special. With a couple of exceptions all of the fish we caught would have been the fish of the season on many of our local lakes.
Colin landed the biggest trout of his life on Saturday, it was 24 inches and over five pounds. Bryan Fox caught a 23-incher with the bulk of our catch between 17 to 20 inches. For any California lake that is an epic trip. As always, it is not just about pulling on fish. The camaraderie from a shared experience is also a big part of the fun.
Don’t pass up an opportunity to fish Eagle Lake in November, December is even colder.
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.
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