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Great fishing at Almanor: state's second-largest manmade lake

By: George deVilbiss/Special to Gold Country News Service
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Lake Almanor sits at 4,500-feet elevation, at the foot of Mount Lassen. At its widest point, Lake Almanor is 13 miles wide and six miles long.

While it’s the second-largest manmade lake in California to Lake Shasta, it’s not necessarily deep. Depths might reach 90 feet plus in the old river channel and places around the dam, but for the most part, you’re trolling or anchored in depths of 45 feet.

This lake holds some of the best trophy-sized fish you’ll find anywhere. Almanor has a major population of rainbow and German brown trout and a continuing population of landlocked Chinook salmon. There are smallmouth bass and brown bullhead catfish.

What provides food for all these fish? Many years ago, a small fish called Japanese Pond Smelt was added to the lake, and if you have a good scope aboard the boat, you can spot massive schools, often with game fish close by.

Anglers generally coexist well with water recreationists, mainly water skiers and jet-ski type watercraft.

There are resorts of all descriptions around the lake that can host you in their cabins, motel-type units or your RV. At the south end of the lake is the PG&E campgrounds and public boat ramp that hosts many campers, from tests to RVs.
There’s another public boat ramp just north of Plumas Pines Resort along the west shore.

Year after year, we pretty much have to search for where the fish are lurking. In May, they never seem to be in the same place where you found them the year prior. In 2011, there were massive numbers of fish along the long east shore; this year, just about no fish.

We began our first outing near the mouth of Hamilton Branch, trolling north through part of Big Springs. We finally got bit in the northeast corner of the lake, picking up a small salmon that we quickly unhooked and returned.

We trolled the north end of Big Cove and went south and trolled the east side of the peninsula. Total bites: Zero.

Day two, we ventured around the peninsula point to troll the west side of the lake. Bingo. We tallied two- to three-pound German browns and king salmon to two pounds.

Day three, we trolled the western shoreline, continuing to the dam and then all along the east shore back north to Hamilton Branch. No hits at all.

From then on, we concentrated on trolling the west side of the peninsula, from the point nearly to Bailey Creek.

And for this time of year, the fish are deep. We’re running lead-core lines out at 7-8 colors and downriggers down 32-40 feet. We start at those depths early in the morning and end the fishing day, often at mid afternoon, at the same depth.

Rainbows are really hard to come by, but that’s generally the case in May.

There’s a ton of small king salmon and many keeper salmon to three pounds.

The big fish for the bag are the German brown trout. It’s common to tally a bunch of two-pounders. Linda, my other half, lost a monster brown trout right behind the boat when the fish was able to spit out the hook.

A couple of hours later, she outfought a 5½-pound brown, a fight that lasted nearly a half-hour. Right after that, I lost a rainbow that would have gone four pounds. It did a lot of jumping, clearing the water’s surface by three feet or more.

The brown trout will quickly grab a small Rebel or Rapala. We stuck strictly with plastic worms and used a variety of brands with a high success rate.

Even professional guides agree Lake Almanor is an under-fished lake. There are big fish there — trophy- and bragging-sized fish.

Current fishing

Shad: Some of the best action is being found in the afternoons, and you don’t need a boat. Shore casting at Miller Park and the mouth of the American are showing good rod-bending action. Go with light gear and you can have a blast with hook-ups and the resulting fight.

Lake Oroville: The lake is close enough to say “full.” Most females are spawned out so if you want a heavyweight female, it’s too late. Males remain in the shallows protecting the nests, and they’ll pretty much snap at anything that comes close.

Lake Davis: There are rainbows to 17 inches being found by those top-lining five to 15 feet down. Lures such as Needlefish and Humdingers work, but a good old crawler (remember, rubber worms) are hauling in their share. Camp 5 and Honker Cove to the island are producing the best.

Pretty good success is being found at nearby Frenchman’s by boaters and the shore bound. Do your casting around the dam end of the lake.

Stampede Reservoir: The lake is scheduled for a plant of rainbows, but if you head up into the Sagehen or Little Truckee River arms, you can troll or anchor and soak bait and get into a rainbow bite, fish that weren’t just planted. Brown trout and mackinaw also are hanging out in those waters. Kokanee are hitting but running small.

San Francisco Bay: Live bait is available, and boats are running for halibut. It’s not a hot bite, but indicators are there it should be a good summer season for “butts.” Most boats aren’t tallying a fish for every person, but on a good day, it’s close. Boats like my favorite party boat out of Berkeley — California Dawn — will make a combo trip that includes stripers, rock cod and halibut. That way, you come home with something.

Contact George deVilbiss at GeorgesColumn@aol.com.