Denis Peirce: Winter trout fishing |

Denis Peirce: Winter trout fishing

Colin Peirce with fish on at Englebright Lake.
Photo by Denis Peirce
Rainbow trout in a net on Englebright Lake.
Photo by Denis Peirce
Colin Peirce with rainbow trout.
Photo by Denis Peirce
Geese onshore watching the humans go by.
Photo by Denis Peirce

Even though it is winter, there are always some beautiful days best spent on the water. You don’t have to be on the water at the crack of dawn — an overcast sky can provide good conditions throughout the day. Dress well and you will be comfortable.

The best bet to find action in this season is rainbow trout. The water temps in our local foothill lakes are in the high forties to low fifties and the trout are likely to be close to the surface. A wise angler told me years ago, warm water concentrates trout and cold water scatters them. During the warm weather months trout are looking for those few areas where there is cool water, incoming creeks, springs and the depths. Once the entire lake cools down the fish are comfortable everywhere and anywhere. The key is to cover a lot of water to find them.

This past Tuesday, Colin and I spent the day on Lake Englebright. The forecast called for clouds and no rain, a good combination. Mid-week in February there are not many boats on the water, in fact there were far more geese than humans on the lake.

My son and I headed halfway up the lake before setting out our lines. I had tied some new trolling flies I wanted to test. I was expecting the fish to be as excited about them as I was. Fortunately the fish viewed them positively and I repaid the gesture with a catch and release day on the water. They all lived to swim another day.

For five hours on the water we landed half a dozen rainbows. We started at the “No Ski” buoy and trolled all the way to the North Yuba. There was no concentration of fish, just one here and one there. All of our success came in the top 10 feet of the water column. The water was a nice shade of green without any trace of mud. Not a hot bite but an excellent excuse to be outdoors where cell phones don’t work.

The nice aspect to Englebright Lake is that it does not get drawn down the way other reservoirs do. It only goes up and down half a dozen feet per day. And typical for the California foothills, the landscape is a beautiful green in the winter rather than dry brown of summer. Despite the relatively dry winter to date, there are small creeks tumbling into the lake. There were quite a few waterfowl on the water but this trip I did not see deer or turkeys on the canyon sides.

Justin Leonard, Out Cast Guide Service, spent the same day on Bullard’s Bar Reservoir with much better numerical results. There was a wide open bite on rainbow trout close to the surface. He described it as a “junk bite” where everything he threw at them seemed to work. He had also trolled all the way to the back of the main river arm with fish hitting most areas. The fish ranged in size from 18 down to eight inches. He found water from 48 to 50 degrees.

One thing he noted was the kokanee breaking the surface in the main basin area of the lake. Justin had been kokanee fishing recently on Bullard’s with the best bite down between 25 and 40 feet down. This week he watched the kokanee disturbing the surface close to his boat as he moved close to them. Kokanee like cool water and this is the season where they are up top for the numerous eagles to get a salmon lunch. On his previous kokanee trip Justin noted the fish were only interested in purple. No other color interested them.

Winter in the foothills has a lot going for it. The days are cool but the right clothes solve that. The lakes are almost empty and the fish are up on top. Compared to hot summer days, sharing the lake with lots of other boaters, I prefer a winter day on the water.

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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