Fishing in Lake Tahoe Guide
If you’re headed for Lake Tahoe and are thinking about renting a fishing boat to enjoy some time angling while you’re there, we have just one thing to say: Do it!
Lake Tahoe is the home of the California state record mackinaw (lake trout), a whopping 37-pounder, and countless anglers enjoy fishing there season after season. But fishing in Lake Tahoe can be a bit overwhelming for people who aren’t from the area, as this lake has a surface area covering a whopping 191 square miles.
Since it is so massive, many visitors to the area opt to hire a fishing charter rather than risk wandering these waters on their own. Some other anglers, of course, prefer to take the bull by the horns and catch fish — or not — with their own wits and skill. Either way, this Lake Tahoe fishing guide will help you get the lay of the land.
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Where to Fish: Best Lake Tahoe Fishing Spots
An important thing to remember about Lake Tahoe is that the contours and depth can vary dramatically depending on where you are. While some shorelines may be shallow, this lake can reach depths of over 1,600 feet and in some places, the transition from shallow to deep can be rather abrupt. And just how deep you’ll want to fish depends entirely on what sort of species you hope to pursue.
- Fishing in South Lake Tahoe is very popular, and you’ll notice that most of the charter outfits are located in the South Lake Tahoe area.
- There are, however, guided options in the Tahoe City, North Tahoe, and Tahoe Vista areas as well. That said, many people also enjoy fishing in the Lake Tahoe area in some of the waterways off the big lake, itself.
- Caples Lake is known for a variety of trout including its brookies;
- Donner Lake is also known for excellent trout fishing;
- Fallen Leaf Lake is popular for its cutthroat trout (which are native to the area but were decimated by over-harvest and habitat loss in Lake Tahoe itself);
- The Truckee River is another prime place to find trout (note that some areas of the river are lures-only and others are off-limits to anglers).
- There’s also a special spot just for the kids: Sawmill Pond, about a mile south of South Lake Tahoe, is stocked and open to fishing for only those anglers age 14 and under.
If trout and salmon aren’t your thing and you want to target warmer-water species like bass in Lake Tahoe, you’ll be best served by sticking to shallower and shoreline areas. Places like the Tahoe Keys, which offer plenty of shoreline structure and water that’s shallow compared to the main lake, are your best bet.
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What to Fish for in Lake Tahoe: Top Species List
While Lake Tahoe has a wide variety of species to fish for, few people here target the most popular freshwater gamefish in the nation — largemouth bass. Instead, the most popular gamefish in these waters are trout and salmon.
That said, the fish you can catch here include:
- Bass (largemouth and smallmouth)
- Brown trout
- Kokanee salmon
- Lake trout (mackinaw)
- Rainbow trout
When is the best time to go fishing on Lake Tahoe?
One of the best things about Lake Tahoe is that fishing is a year-round endeavor.
- It’s true that the trout go deep through the winter months and the weather can be tough to deal with, but some people prefer fishing at this time of year because there’s little to no competition.
- In the spring, the bite gets more active and fish come a bit shallower, allowing shoreline anglers to get in on the action with species like rainbows and browns.
- When the water heats up for summer, many of the fish head back for the cool deeper waters, but they’re still plenty willing to bite.
- Fall is often one of the most active seasons and offers a chance at diverse catches, as just about every species in the lake tries to fatten up for winter.
Ready to go fishing on Lake Tahoe?
Anglers targeting species like the mackinaw and kokanee will be fishing quite deep (usually these species will be caught between 50 and 400 feet), so if you’re going to try trolling, downriggers are usually a must.
In fact, this is often the most effective way to catch many species including the kokanee and mackinaw. But trolling isn’t the only game in town, not by a longshot. Jigging with metal spoons lets you get down deep to these fish without any specialized equipment. And at certain times, it’s possible to catch more fish by jigging than trolling.
What about fishing bait? It’s allowed, but when it comes to fishing minnow, only if you catch the baitfish from the lake itself. Nightcrawlers can be effective, too, and are often used particularly by shoreline anglers.
Whatever tactic you choose to employ, there’s one thing to keep in mind about fishing in Lake Tahoe: that crystal-clear water makes it easy for the fish to see your line. You won’t be able to get away with using heavy leaders, and fluorocarbon lines (which are the least visible underwater) usually work best. On top of that, lures generally need constant action so they don’t look like lifeless chunks of metal or plastic with hooks.
So: do you have a trip to Lake Tahoe coming up in the future? Be sure to set aside some time for fishing. Because no matter which species you decide to pursue or where exactly you decide to try your luck, fishing in Lake Tahoe is not to be missed.
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With over three decades of experience in marine journalism, Lenny Rudow has contributed to dozens of boating and fishing publications and websites ranging from BoatU.S. Magazine to BDOutdoors.com. Rudow is currently the Angler in Chief at Rudow’s FishTalk, he is a past president of Boating Writers International (BWI), a graduate of the Westlawn School of Yacht Design, and has won numerous BWI and OWAA writing awards.