Lake Tahoe Fishing – All You Need to Know

People travel from all around the world to experience the majestic beauty and fun of the Lake Tahoe Basin.  The lake’s massive size, scenic Sierra beauty, and multiple recreational activities make Lake Tahoe a world class and legendary destination spot with fishing being a highlight for professional and novice anglers alike.

When we say massive size, we are not just talking about the mere circumference of the lake. Although, the Tahoe Rim Trail is a multiple week hike for any adventures willing to tackle the challenge hiking that circumference. With some depths of over 1000 feet, if Lake Tahoe were emptied it would supply ever United States citizen with 75 gallons of water each day for 5 years[1]. It is the second deepest lake in the United States and that’s some serious underwater area to cover for fishermen(and women). With so much volume to the lake, there are several ways to come away from a fishing trip to the Lake Tahoe basin as a successful angler, even if you don’t have a boat. Tahoe.com has an entire series of articles and pages dedicated to outdoor recreational activities with in depth fishing reports and an overview of the various fishing approaches to the lake being one of them.

Overview of Fishing Approaches in Lake Tahoe

The best part about fishing Lake Tahoe is that you can plan successful trips where you catch lots of fish on any given day during any season of the year. You could try pier fishing(there are several piers along the south and north shores), beach fishing, offshore fishing or charter fishing. Locals and charters give credit to their success mostly to live bait fishing. Trolling off-shore at depths of 50-200 feet for Mackinaw Trout is the most popular type of fishing in Lake Tahoe. The largest Kokanee Salmon ever caught in Lake Tahoe was done trolling from the back of a Charter vessel and weighed in at 5 pounds 2 ounces

The monster fish beat the 40 year record by only a few ounces. The mackinaw trout record is a 37-pound, 6 ounce trophy pulled out of the lake on June 21st, 1974.

Beach Fishing

The top ten beaches at Lake Tahoe can be found here. However, the best fishing beaches will allow you to wade or cast off the shore into water that is 2-10 feet deep and has boulders for fish to hide. Usually only surface level fishing with lures for rainbow or brown trout can be accessed from the beach. However, there are theories that mackinaw trout come to the shallow shore waters early in the morning at first light to feed on the smaller minnow fish. Then, they are frightened back into the deeper waters by the sound of motor boats and people near the shore. Beach fishing can yield any type of fish in the lake, but the timing has to be right.

 

Pier Fishing

Piers and docks that go out into the water give the angler an opportunity to reach deeper water without a boat. Depths up to 50 feet can produce good bait and lure fishing for Mackinaw Trout or surface level lure fishing for brown or rainbow trout. These trout are mostly active in the early morning and evening hours when they feed on smaller feeder minnows before returning to the depths of Lake Tahoe to hide. When in the depths, they are only to be accessed by trolling off-shore fishing in boats.

 

Offshore Fishing

Boats can be launched at several locations on the beach. A list can be found here, but make sure to have your craft inspected before trying to launch into the lake. Load up on some bestsellers from Amazon boat gear and hit the water! The depths of the lake in the center make the shores the best place to troll at depths of 70-200 feet for Mackinaw Trout with bait/lure combination rigs. Shoreline fishing within 50 foot depths for rainbow and brown trout, especially near streams emptying into the lake.

Fishing Charters

One of the most reputable fishing charters, where they supply you with every but a fishing license(including champagne!) is the Tahoe Sport Fishing Company located in South Lake Tahoe in the Ski Run Marina. They have a beautiful website and offer private or public fishing charters in the morning, afternoon or evening that run from $135 per person all the way up to $1500 for a private group. Big Mack Charters is also a legendary charter service that has netted 3 of the 6 largest Mackinaw trout ever caught in the lake. With a record like that, any sport fisherman should consider the small fee associated with charter fishing. These charters often includes everything you would need for the fishing expedition except a fishing license.

Chartering is one of the best(and most promising) ways to get to Lake Tahoe and catch your five fish limit on the species of fish that inhabit the lake at any given season during the year. However, thanks to insider reporting and research, this article can help you set up your rig with quality lures and bait. You will be able to find and use the best spots on the lake and consider the must-haves for a safe and productive fishing trip to get you pulling in Rainbows or Mackys like it was your job!

 

Fish Species in the Lake Tahoe Basin

First of all, any angler going into Lake Tahoe needs to consider the types of fish that inhabit the lake and the surrounding estuaries and lakes around the main lake. The following list is good to go over before buying bait or lures, as different rigs will attract and be better for different types of fishing for the various species of the lake. The Nevada Department of Wildlife has interactive maps of the area and lists of seasonal fish.

 

Every anglers favorite season includes trout. Cleverly named “Fishmas” or the beginning of trout fishing season in California is the last Saturday of April and runs all the way until November 15th. Trout remain the most stocked sport fish in the Sierra Nevada mountains and the majority of fish in the Lake Tahoe Basin area. Some Salmon are also available in Lake Tahoe. Many more times the amount of trout are swimming in the deep waters of the Lake Tahoe main lake.

 

Rainbow Trout

Easily the most abundant sport fish that is stocked in maky of the Sierra Nevada lakes and streams. Rainbows get their name from the prominent red or pink streak on their sides and will usually have black spots. They can be found in large numbers in most Lake Tahoe Basin bodies of water.

Brown Trout

Easily Spooked and difficult to catch. Their name comes from their brownish olive appearance. They have a squared off tail not a forked tail.

Mackinaw Trout

Making up about 90% of the sport fishing species caught in Lake Tahoe, the Mackinaw Trout or “Macky” is an interesting species. With a deeply forked tail and not as much coloration as other trout, they are thought to be a crossbreed of some kind. If you fish the main body of Lake Tahoe, you should be trolling for Makcy at some point! Every captain of the charters in Lake Tahoe will start with trolling for mackinaw trout as a way to limit out their passengers and then move on to the more difficult and less numerous rainbow or brown trout.

Kokanee Salmon

A slippery fish when dangling, the Kokanee is one of the only landlocked salmon in the country. With dark greenish back, the spawning season brings a dark scarlet red to the backs of the males and skin becomes leathery. Only found in Lake Tahoe main body of water, there are protected seasons for this fish because they like to spawn in the rivers and streams feeding the lake. Do not fish the streams emptying into Lake Tahoe until after July 1st, at which time they are usually dried up. But, if you encounter a particularly wet year(like 2019), it may be worthwhile to go for the stream salmon!

Now that we know a little about the lake, how do we catch the fish?!

With a wealth of local knowledge at our disposal, you could come Lake Tahoe and pull out some serious fish, even without a boat! Some secrets from the several Tahoe charter services and locals with years of angling experience have inspired the advice below. Hopefully this will help you pull out good numbers of fish, even if you don’t own a boat!

 

Bait & Tackle To Use:

  • Lake Minnows
    1. The easiest bait is free bait. Catching the young minnows in the shallows by the pier can be a sure-fire way to attract fish with the food they are already eating.
    2. Buy a minnow trap available on Amazon for under $20(much cheaper than buying at the Marina!)
    3. Insert a donut or something glazed so that you can attract minnows with sweetness without having your minnow bait fall apart so quickly.
    4. Tie the trap up with about 10-15 feet of line.
    5. Drop the trap tied to any shore dock or pier.
    6. Within 10-15 minutes, you should have a trap full of Lake Minnow bait

 

Outdoor Life magazine is a world renowned publication with current top 20 lists of Trout Bait and Tackle. Some of the best include:

Rebel Wee-Crawl:

Rebel Lures Wee-Crawfish Fishing Lure (2-Inch, Nest Robber)

    • Imitates a crustacean that is running away.
    • Hooked tail design creates realistic motion.
    • Comes in multiple colors and sizes.
See on Amazon

Smithwick Rattlin’ Rogue:

Smithwick Floating Rattlin'' Rogue Fishing Lure - Chrome/Blue Back/Orange Belly - 0-2 ft Cranking Depth

    • With wounded “rattlin’” minnow action, trout are attracted for an easy meal.
    • Can also sit motionless underwater
    • A great lure for larger trout(Like the Mackinaw)
See on Amazon

Strike King Bitsy Minnow:

Strike King HCKVDS1.5SH-590 KVD Shallow Square Bill 1.5 Sexy Shad

    • Very small and easy to use lure
    • Great for kids and beginners
    • Reflective eyes make lure appealing to fish
See on Amazon

Powerbait Trout/Steelhead Egg Clusters:

Berkley PowerBait Trout/Steelhead Egg Clusters

    • Durable and long lasting
    • Two colors(Salmon or Shrimp)
    • Powerbait formulated scent draws fish in
See on Amazon

Panther-Martin Trout Spinners:

Panther Martin Best of The East Spinner Fishing Lure Kit

    • Great for trolling on rig with actual minnow bait
    • Comes in 1/32 ounce to 1/4 ounce settings for a variety or options
    • Smooth spinning shaft
    • Sonic vibrations from concave design
    • Highly attracts fish and deadly when used for trolling with bait rig
See on Amazon

Other Necessary Gear

Fish net

Wakeman Fishing Retractable Rubber Landing Net - 35 Inch Handle

Whether you are on shore or in the boat pulling out fish, you will want something to haul your catch up safely with. The buoyancy of fish make them lighter in the water. But when you pull them out into the air, the line could break. A net can save you the embarrassment of losing a promising catch.

See on Amazon

Minnow Trap

Frabill 1271 Fishing Equipment Nets & Traps

Catch your own bait. Enough said?

See on Amazon

Depth Finder

HOOK2 5X - 5-inch Fish Finder with SplitShot Transducer and GPS Plotter

This is such a fun device to have at Lake Tahoe. The depth and geography of the lake bottom is astonishing and you can plan your fishing attack, tackle, and aim on the depth below you.

See on Amazon

Topographic Lake map

Very helpful to identify the hot spots of fishing on Lake Tahoe and to see where the accessible shelves are for deeper water fish.

 

Best Fishing Spots in Lake Tahoe

Zephyr Cove

Zephyr Cove Fishing
Source: zephyrcove.com

Probably the best place to fish for Mackinaw or other types of trout on the lake. Zephyr Cove offers steep shelves where you can troll for Macky’s. If the Macky’s aren’t biting, it also offers underwater boulder fields where brown and rainbow trout hide in the shade of the boulders. They can be lured out or brought out with bait. Zephyr Cove may be the eastern shore known for “spring-break” like beach parties, but the locals know it as a haven for off-shore fishing and perfect trolling conditions. This is a great spot during light wind conditions. The winds come predominantly from the west. On windy days when you are in a boat off-shore fishing, you will constantly be battling the wind and being pushed into the shore.

 

South Lake Tahoe(Camp Richardson)

Camp Richardson Lake Tahoe
Source: camprichardson.com

a series of shelves offer trolling for Mackinaw Trout at depths up to 200 feet. The key with the trolling is that your rig is staying within 10 feet of the bottom where the fish sit. This is a technical place because of the steep drop offs which get even steeper the further north west you head towards Emerald bay. The payout is amazing. Any kind of trolling requires knowledge of a topographic underwater map and a depth finder. An angler needs to be skilled enough to tighten or slacken the line with the depths. Camp Richardson and the south eastern shores of Lake Tahoe are a better choice for trolling or any off-shore fishing in a boat when conditions are windy on the lake. Unlike the eastern shore where predominant winds from the west will have you battling just to stay off the shore, south and eastern Lake Tahoe are more protected by the mountainside from the wind. Captains of the charter boats often travel here or Emerald bay, a bit further north to be protected from the wind by the western shores.

Emerald Bay

Emerald Bay Lake Tahoe

From highway 89 at Inspiration Point, it is easy to understand why Emerald Bay is the crown jewel of Lake Tahoe. The clarity of the Lake Tahoe waters and the turquoise colors offer amazing views from the water. Huge boulder fields make this a good spot for shore fishing for browns and rainbow trout. It is generally level underwater and not great for trolling for Mackinaw. The views and awesome island in the middle of the bay make this a must visit in the boat even if you stick with the shallow water lure fishing.

Crystal Bay Point

The underwater cliffs off of Crystal Bay point are legendary for Mackinaw Fishing and trolling. Just be careful for the wrecks or dragging your line into rocks. The underwater cliffs are relatively close to the shore and then fan out towards the middle for the lake extending several hundred yards. These cliffs can be trolled in serpentine or across.

Cave Rock

Shore fishing can be done here year round and your will get a great view of the cave tunnel that is iconic on the east side of the lake. There is also a boat ramp here which can be used for a modest fee. Picnic tables and shore fishing round this site out all with a beautiful westward view of the snow capped mountains across the expanse of the lake.

Kings Beach

The self described “funky beach town that never changes”. Kings Beach is a slower moving tourist town compared to the glitz and glamour of South Lake Tahoe at stateside. Kings Beach offers great shore fishing where many small streams enter the lake. Some of the largest and most impressive beaches are in Kings and is surrounded by plenty of hiking and walking trails if the fish just aren’t biting. Shore fishing can be accomplished with lures and anglers can catch hard to find browns and rainbows as well as bait for Salmon near the stream mouths. Also, there are several private and public piers and docks that allow fish to be caught near rockier underwater terrain. This is a great place to through in real life moving minnow or crustacean rigs where these fish and creatures drt from shady spot to shady spot between the rocks.

 

What to Expect

Lake Tahoe can be enjoyed year round and there are obvious things to consider when fishing in winter versus summer. However, there are some things that should be done despite the time of year. This is a list of precautionary items that can make your fishing adventure and camping site more comfortable and enjoyable and keep you safe and sound out on the water and generally around the water as you fish for trout and Salmon in Lake Tahoe.

Dress in layers

Lake Tahoe is located in the Sierra Nevada mountain range and is subject to quickly changing weather conditions. What starts out as a sunny day can quickly turn to wind or even storms before your boat can make it back to shore. Always be prepared and plan on being cold no matter what the weather report says. It is better to be prepared with layers than caught off guard and cold. Try to have at least 3 layers of clothing for changing temperatures from morning to noon to night.

Sun Protection

Being in the high mountain air feels refreshing, but it also leaves your skin more vulnerable to the damaging rays of the sun. Make sure to wear sunscreen with a minimum of SPF 30 and reapply frequently, especially if entering the water. Eyes can also be damaged just from the sun’s reflection off of the water, which is magnified and can burn the cornea of the eyes. Sunglasses are a must when on the water during off-shore fishing and strongly suggested for all other fishing on the lake, whether it be off the pier or on the beach. Finally, find a hat that is wide enough to cover your face and neck. Even applying sunscreen doesn’t protect from the heat of the sun and sun exposure sickness like heat exhaustion can come on quickly when fully exposed on the water.

Motion Sickness on Boats

It rarely happens on Lake Tahoe. Even on the 20 mph wind days, the choppy waves are relatively tame. Motion sickness can happen to anyone and it is a good idea that if you are planning on off-shore fishing on a boat that you get good rest and feeling good before departing on your fishing adventure. If you are highly sensitive to motion sickness certain bands or even pills can help you.

Elevation and Hydration

Higher elevation and dry mountain conditions can dehydrate us faster than at sea level. Make sure to bring plenty of water and consider investing in one of these hydration devices.

Pocket Knife

Any good tackle box must include a knife or two. A good choice of pocket knife for fishing will have multiple blades for cutting line, tying and possibly even gutting and cleaning fish. A great list can be found at our pocket knives guide.

Grill

After you pull in a string of fish, nothing beats cooking them for dinner back at the campsite under the stars. Car camping sites in the Lake Tahoe basin allow for charcoal barbeques.

 

[1] “Lake Tahoe Facts – Tahoe Weekly.” https://thetahoeweekly.com/lake-tahoe-facts/. Accessed 23 Jun. 2019.

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