The Top 10 Fishing Spots in Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe is home to a variety of fish including Lake (Mackinaw), Brown and Rainbow Trout, as well as a self-sustaining population of Kokanee Salmon (see Taylor Creek below). In fact, most of the fish in Lake Tahoe are the descendants of plants from over 100 years ago! Meaning, if you catch a fish here, it’s probably a wild one and far more desirable as a sport fish over the hatchery clones. That said, they are not as easy to catch either! After the original Cutthroats (adapted to Alpine environment*) were depleted from overfishing, all of the above species were planted. These original plants have adapted very well and have since been successfully creating new generations. More Fishing Tips are listed below!
1. Truckee River - West Shore Lake Tahoe
The main Truckee River flows out of Lake Tahoe at Tahoe City’s famous Fanny Bridge – so named for the view of people bending over to watch the huge (protected) trout that dwell in the current there. During normal water years, the stretch of the river between here and the town of Truckee along Highway 89 is an excellent place to catch Rainbows, Browns and Brook Trout. Avid Anglers and beginners will find their preferred type of water as the river is full of runs, riffles and deep pools that you can fish with flies, lures or bait.
Unlike Lake Tahoe’s tributaries, which open on July 1*, this stretch of the Truckee River opens with the normal trout season opening day (3rd Saturday in April). There are quite a few places to park and walk the river, and even a bike path to cruise if the fish aren’t being cooperative. If you don’t plan on keeping fish, please crimp the barbs on your hooks and handle trout gently before releasing them back to this beautiful river. Catch and Release is a proven successful management tool for trout streams. You can bet your favorite reel someone else will have a thrill catching that nice fish too...
Hot Tip: During hot summer weekends, various raft and boating companies will be using this river, so head out early in the morning or in the evening.
Directions: From Tahoe City drive along Highway 89 (West River Road) toward Truckee. You can park and walk to the river from several areas along the road.
This section of the Truckee River meanders along Interstate 80 on its way to the desert. The stretch between Reno and Tahoe slows down a little from the upper reaches, and offers several good places to drop your line the water. These areas do require a bit of steep hiking (up and down) so be ready to take your time getting down to the water. Parking is limited, but you will find some pullouts off the Eastbound part of the highway including those near Farad, Floriston and Mystic Road. You may see other cars parked on the side of the road. They are most likely fishing down in the canyons created by the river.
Hot Tip: There are some deep pools in this part of the Truckee. They can sometimes be the best places to try..
Directions: From Truckee, take Highway 89 to Interstate 80 and head toward Reno.
2. East & West Carson Rivers - Markleeville, CA
These lovely freestone streams are perfect for fly fishing. They both support a multitude of insects, and therefore, a good amount of trout as well! The West Carson is easily accessed from several points in Hope Valley making for some inspiring scenery to take in while you walk along the water casting to likely spots. Both rivers are stocked regularly during the open season with an important Regulation difference: the East Carson is designated Barbless Catch and Release below Hangman’s Bridge. This is a good thing for those who value a pure sport fishing experience over hook’em and cook’em. Also, this C&R section of the East Carson requires of bit of hiking - which gets you a little further in from the ‘beer can crowd’.
Above the Hangman’s Bridge and all along the West Carson are fair game for all methods of catching – including the pervasive Power Bait. The recent planter clones are fairly easy to catch making this a great place to take your son or daughter for their first fish in the mountains. Even though the limit is 5, it is encouraged you take only what you plan to eat that day and leave a few in there for someone else’s son or daughter. Also, these rivers are currently planted with Rainbow Trout and some experimental Cutthroats. Any Brown trout you may catch are wild fish and should be carefully released to create future generations. This cannot be overly stressed. However you approach it, these rivers and the area that contain them offer something for everyone needing some stream time, or just a memorable day in the outdoors.
Directions: From Meyers, Turn Left on Hwy 89 and take it over Luther Pass to the T at Pickets Junction. For the West Carson park now, or at several other easily spotted parking areas including a lot with a restroom. For the East Carson, Turn Right (Hwy 88/89) and follow the West Carson down past some great places to eat! Turn Right at the sign for Markleeville (still on Hwy 89) and take this road past the town. You’ll soon hit Hangman’s Bridge where there is another parking lot (with a restroom), or continue on toward Hwy 4 where you’ll see several likely areas from the road.
Hot Tip: Don’t speed through here! One, you’ll miss the great scenery. But mostly because it is regularly patrolled by those eager to hand out tickets…
3. Boca & Stampede Reservoirs - North Lake Tahoe
The Boca and Stampede Reservoirs are located off Interstate 80 near Truckee in North Lake Tahoe. They are close together so you can easily hit both in one day by staying in one of the well-equipped camp grounds at either. They are large enough to launch to a good-sized rig, or your favorite kayak or float tube. Both lakes are stocked and provide good action for Browns, Rainbows and the occasional Brookie. Shore fishing is also productive early and late using bait, lures or flies. Stampede, located just up the road from Boca Reservoir, regularly produces fish in the 12-14 inch range. Bait is allowed on Stampede, but near the Little Truckee area of the lake, Special Regulations dictate Barbless Artificials only with a maximum size of 14” allowed. Two fish may be kept here but most honor Catch and Release to insure future fishing for these precious wild fish. Check your Regs book before fishing here because they seem to change every year.
Hot Tip: Both Boca and Stampede are popular in the winter for ice fishing.
Directions: From Truckee, drive on Interstate 80 toward Reno. About 7 miles from Truckee, take the Hirschdale exit and follow the signs.
4. Caples Lake - South Lake Tahoe
Located in the Mokelumne Wilderness near Highway 88, lies lovely Caples Lake. Your first view of this lake will instantly pique your interest with its backdrop of majestic peaks. Caples is a fully stocked lake known for regularly producing big fish, including Mackinaw, Browns, Rainbows and Brookies. It is large enough to launch a boat, or you can rent one from Caples Resort (http://capleslakeresort.com/summer/ ) where they also have kayaks or cabins to take advantage of. Caples is a deep reservoir with steep sides meaning you can be in the zone right from shore. If you want easy access to good fishing, this place is it! The area near the outflow dam is popular and even has a parking lot and toilet facilities for people taking a break from driving along this wonderful corridor.
Hot Tip: There are a lot of great hiking opportunities to backcountry lakes in this area as well...Look at your map!
Directions: From South Lake Tahoe take Highway 50 toward Sacramento and Turn Right on Highway 89 (South - toward Kirkwood). At the bottom of the hill (Pickets Junction), Turn Right on 88 and drive over breathtaking Carson Pass. Caples is just a few miles West of Carson Pass.
5. Taylor Creek - South Lake Tahoe
A major tributary to Lake Tahoe, Taylor Creek is only open from July 1 through Sept 30. During that time it does not always have enough flow to keep fish interested in being there and therefore, probably you as well. So… why would we have this in our top list then? Well, if you love fishing or even fish in general, in the Fall, this lovely creek offers a great opportunity to view wildlife. Right around the time the season is closing to fishing, Kokanee Salmon begin their spawning run fulfilling an annual tradition for locals and visitors alike. Each year the Taylor Creek Visitor Center (with a super cool Stream Profile Chamber) holds the fall Kokanee Salmon Festival and it is a sight to behold. Kokanee are freshwater inland Sockeye, and like their big relatives, they turn brilliant vermillion and green during the return to spawn. There are shaded trails lining Taylor creek to stroll and observe this natural brilliance, contrasting the golden aspens that thrive here too. You might even see a bear or two taking a few salmon to fatten up for winter. It’s like a small version of our own little Alaska and well worth a few hours if you’re up here in the Fall.
Hot Tip: The Taylor Creek Visitor Center sometimes offers fly fishing classes. During high water years, the creek can hold some big lake hogs.
Directions: Take Highway 89 from South Lake Tahoe. The Taylor Creek Visitor Center is a Right turn off Highway 89 on the way to Emerald Bay - just past Fallen Leaf Road.
6. Fallen Leaf Lake - South Lake Tahoe
Also off Highway 89 in this area is a gem of a location, Fallen Leaf Lake. This lake was once stocked with Mackinaw and Rainbows, but lately is an experimental location for the return of the extinct Cutthroat Trout. The ‘new’ strain is not identical to the ones that originally thrived in Lake Tahoe, but there is some hope that they will adapt to the Alpine environment. As well as a chance at one of those Cutts, you can still catch good-sized Rainbows and Macks here! Fallen Leaf Lake is a stunning place to camp, hike, float and fish as ample opportunities exist for anyone with an outdoor itch to scratch. Always worthwhile (especially during Spring runoff) is a short hike up to the Falls at the upper end near Desolation Wilderness. As with most lakes, the best times are early and late when the trout are up near the surface feeding. If you’re in a boat, you’ll have a longer window of opportunity to ‘chase’ them back into the depths.
Hot Tip: The parking around Fallen Leaf Lake is limited, so get there early. The trail from Taylor Creek will bring you to Fallen Leaf Campground and a nice beach to take a swim.
Directions: Take Highway 89 from South Lake Tahoe to Fallen Leaf Road. Turn Left drive past Fallen Leaf Lake Campground. The road may be closed in the winter, depending on the snow.
7. Lake Tahoe... Itself! Middle of the Lake
Visiting Lake Tahoe and don’t have gear or the experience to know how to approach it? Problem solved! Book a day with one of the local charters and you’re going to up your odds for a hook-up greatly! Lake Tahoe is huge and remember this: 90% of the fish will be in 10% of the water! Local fishing guides know where and when to go, and how to increase your chances of success. All gear and license is provided with a Charter, and at the very least, you’ll get some amazing views out on the lake you would never see from the road. Lake (Mackinaw) are the common quarry, but later in the summer into fall, the Kokanee will be staging up for their run and can provide some fast and furious action. Macks can run quite large (20lbs or more!) while the Kokes average about 2 lbs. You may also bump into a whopper Brown or Rainbow along the way and that will be a real challenge to land... Charters can run all year since Macks like their water re-ally cold.
Hot Tip: Many of these fishing tours come with breakfast or lunch.
8. Donner Lake - North Lake Tahoe
Donner Lake, named after the leader of the stranded colonists, is located a few miles west of Truckee on the North Shore. Donner Lake is very productive and offers great fishing for Mackinaws, Kokanee, Rainbows, Browns and Brookies. You can try for a grand slam here but the methods for each are drastically different! It is a steep sided, deep lake with a bit more of a greenish hue than Tahoe. Even though it is in a valley, it can get a bit breezy here in the afternoons so, keep this in mind if you’re out in a small craft. Big Macks have come out of here in the last 10 years (30 plus pounders!) so keep that in mind too! The lake also gets stocked quite frequently so you’ll have a good chance for some planter rainbows from the bank. If you’re shore bound, see below.
Hot Tip: Don't have a boat? You can fish right off the FREE public piers on the North Shore of the lake.
Directions: From old downtown Truckee, take the Lincoln Highway west to Donner Lake. The free piers are on the north side of the lake.
9. Upper Truckee River - South Lake Tahoe
This Lake Tahoe tributary opens for only a short period from July 1 thru Sept 30. During high water years it can be a fantastic place to throw a fly for wild Rainbows or Browns. Sometimes a big lake hog will surprise you out of the blue! Since this stream is not stocked, barbless Catch and Release fishing is warranted. It is becoming more and more apparent that gene pools from wild fish are a precious lot worth preserving! There are not often a lot of fish in this river, and that often means you’ll have areas all to yourself! Even if you’re only catching small fish, wild fish are spectacular to behold - and quickly photograph!
The area near the Tahoe Keys may even have a few bass roaming around. A bass fisherman illegally planted them in the Keys and... they’ve survived pretty well. Some of them are quite large…
Hot Tip: During the Closed Season (Sept 31-June 30), fishing is prohibited within 300 feet of any Lake Tahoe Tributary. This applies to all rivers and creeks inside the Lake Tahoe Basin. Focus on the East and West Carson on the Trout Opener in April.
10. Echo Lakes - Meyers, South Lake Tahoe
Located a short hop up Highway 50 (toward Sacramento), these 2 lakes are the lower part of a chain dropping out of the Desolation Wilderness and have been regularly stocked over the years with all 5 species of trout and Kokanee too. It is a steep sided lake and drops off quickly making fishing from the shore a great option if you don’t have a boat. A path circles the lower lake along the shoreline and you’ll find plenty of fishy-looking places to cast in your line. Bait, lures, and flies are all productive here, with the latter working best early and late when the trout come to the surface for bugs.
If you do have a boat, there is a nice launch ramp to take advantage of and you’ll get some striking views thrown in for good measure – while you’re looking for a fish to strike that is… The lake immediately above here (Tamarack) used to be a great fishing spot for Brook Trout, but CA F&G has been experimenting on it and basically killed it… The lakes above here (Ralston and Cagwin) have unfortunately suffered the same fate.
Hot Tip: If you continue hiking into the Desolation (get your FREE day pass at the trailhead), you’ll find lakes that are still holding populations of Brookies, and in some of them Rainbows and Browns. Great place to explore, and you can get a jump start with the water taxi hailed at the launch ramp…
Directions: Head West on Highway 50, as you reach the summit you'll see signs for Echo Lakes. Turn Right and follow to the Resort.
Fishing Lake Tahoe itself can require rather specialized tactics and gear designed for deep water. This is where a large majority of the fish are found (deep!) especially the Mackinaw and Kokanee which are often from 80’ down to 200!
Fishing from shore of Lake Tahoe is not recommended for several reasons, chiefly: most of the places you might want to fish from shore are on private property, and most of the fish are not near the shore. For your best chances at hooking up success, it is recommended you hop on a charter boat. You’ll be in the zone sooner and likely come ashore with great stories, pictures, one for the BBQ, or all of the above.
But, if you are bank bound (and determined!), here are the top 10 places to toss your line in...
Note: Lake Tahoe is a Bi-State lake and you will need either a California or Nevada Fishing License before heading out. A Short Term License (for a Day, 2 Day, etc.. ) for the date you plan to fish the Lake is the minimum one to obtain. Some Charter companies offer these right on the boat as you motor out (one stop shopping). A CA License can be obtained online (https://www.wildlife.ca.gov/Licensing/Fishing#758845-items--fees) or from a local fishing outfitter like Tahoe Fly Fishing. Nevada Residents can purchase a license here: http://www.ndow.org/Forms_and_Resources/General_Licenses/
* Relatives of the original Lake Tahoe Cutthroats reside in Pyramid Lake NV. This is a carefully managed fishery with special regs. These fish are adapted to a high alkaline environment and grow quite large (special regs help that too). 20lb fish are being caught every year!