Weather right for mackinaw |

Weather right for mackinaw

As springtime becomes more apparent here on the edge of the Sacramento Valley, winter seems to be hanging on at the higher elevations and on the east slope of the Sierra.

This most recent series of storms has dumped snow above 5,000 feet, but in between storms the sun exposed areas continue to melt off rapidly in the Truckee area.

The boat launch ramp at Donner Lake gets plowed occasionally during the winter and thaws rapidly after storms in March and April.

This is the season for mackinaw fishing at Donner Lake. Mackinaw prefer water temperatures in the low 50-degree range, but once the surface temps reached the low 40s the “mac bite” took off.

Keith Kerrigan of the Sierra Anglers Guide Service found the mackinaw concentrated in the China Cove area at the 50- to 70-foot depths in early March. This is typical for this month of the year and the fishing has been good.

Mackinaw are predators and feed on other fish. The bigger the mac, the bigger the trout it will consume, if it has the opportunity. Keith will typically use lures that range between 8 and 12 inches long when he pursues mackinaw. His largest from Donner lake was well over 30 pounds a few years back.

Fishermen tend to be observant of events in the natural world. They often ascribe cause and effect status to events that simultaneously occur. Keith has noticed that there is a beaver who inhabits Donner Creek in the state park on the east end of Donner Lake.

This critter is normally content to stay in the creek environment. But for the last five years this beaver has moved out into Donner Lake in March. And each year when the beaver is seen swimming on the surface of the lake, the mackinaw schools break up and the fish scatter throughout the lake.

Keith and I have had some fun speculating how it can be, that this beaver can have this effect on fish 60 feet down. This year, true to form, the beaver came out onto the lake and the mackinaw have now dispersed.

The key to targeting the macs now is to find their food source and troll a lure that imitates it. Keith used J-Plugs, Rapalas and swim baits. His favorite colors are chrome, rainbow trout and black over white.

He looks for schools of kokanee or rainbows and runs his offerings near them. There are a number of historically productive trolling lanes on Donner. Trolling the north shore of the lake at the edge of the drop off into deep water has produced many of the trophies from this lake. If you go, bring binoculars and watch where others are successful. Once the DF&G starts planting the lake, look for macs near the boat ramp.

Stampede Reservoir has a good population of mackinaw that have grown large feeding on the kokanee population there. Currently Stampede is not accessible via the road in past Boca. A few days ago you could get close to the base of the dam in two wheel drive.

My sources say Stampede is ice free. Expect the locals to get into Stampede soon with small boats. Maybe they are already there, via snowmobile.

Boca still has ice but the lake level is rising and there is water around the edge of the floating ice pack. The fishing for trout has been good near the inlet for shore-based anglers.


Denis Peirce writes a weekly fishing column for The Union 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. He may be reached via e-mail at

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