Last summer, I fished my 150th lake in the Sierra Nevada mountains. At every stop on the tour, I took careful notes. Over the years, I’ve identified a series of steps to find the perfect lake: breathtaking scenery, big fish and few people. Out of the dozens of lakes I’ve explored, I call these beauties my one-percent lakes.

Start in Space

Hundreds of lakes dot the Sierra Nevada mountains in Northern California. I start my search on Google Earth. I scan satellite images of the lake for access points, boats in deep water, inlets and any other signs of good fishing. Google Earth users often post photos of the area, so I can get a look at the surroundings, too.

Then, I enter the name of the lake in a search engine and look for fishing reports, blogs, tackle shops, social media pages, any information about fishing. If I don’t see much, I don’t get discouraged. It could mean the lake is terrible and fishless; or fishing is so good everyone is keeping the secret.

If I have a good feeling, I’ll contact the state biologist responsible for the lake. First call the local game warden to find the best person to talk to about fish species, primary baits and significant catches.

Great fishing and beautiful surroundings are important, but figuring out how to get my kayak to the fish is the deciding factor. The harder to access a lake, the better the fishing.

Kayak Quiver

Once I’ve researched the terrain, I decide which kayak to use. If I’m wheeling the kayak down trails, I’ll use a Wilderness Systems Pungo 120. A sit-inside kayak is light and quick with enough room to pack camping gear. A good set of wheels, a coil of rope, a few basic knots and a helper who is as pumped to fish new water as you, are all it takes to cross almost any obstacle.

In lakes less than 500 acres, stealth is another advantage to the sit-inside kayak. I can paddle the crystal clear water, over shallow bars and rocks, without disturbing the fish.

On larger lakes, I’ll use my Radar 135 Helix pedal drive. When the wind and waves kick up, the pedal drive closes the distance to the launch without complaint. Also, the pedal system makes it easier to troll lures. Once I figure out what lake to fish and how I’ll get there, then I worry about how I’ll catch the fish.

When in Rome

Once I’m on the water, I start by trolling lures. I match the lure size and color to primary baitfish I identified in my research. For smaller bait, I might cast a Kastmaster spoon. Larger bait, like Kokanee, require a big trolling plug, such as a Rapala F11.

I spool my Abu Garcia C4 Ambassador with 10-pound fluorocarbon line. The lake water is so clear, fluorocarbon line, which is virtually invisible underwater, is the best way to fool sharp-sighted trout.

While I’m underway, I let out 100 feet of line followed by three to five pulls of Tuf-Line MicroLead weighted line.

Each lure has a sweet spot: the optimal trolling speed to make the lure swim seductively. I usually troll Rapalas between two and three miles per hour. Monitor speed, location, depth and look for fish with a high-quality fish finder and GPS combo unit.

I troll zig-zag patterns through productive water covering depth contours and structure. Experience tells me how deep my lure is swimming. If I mark fish on the fish finder at a certain depth, I can let out line to make the lure swim deeper.

End Game

The challenge to finding a one-percent lake is beating the crowd to the good fishing. It takes hours of work, miles of travel and plenty of busted trips to find a lake with big fish, great views and no competition.

On a recent trip, my friend Matt Davis and I loaded Matt’s lifted pick up truck and bounced down a mountain road where few could follow. We arrived at our own private lake, with no one in sight.

I first headed to the cool water headwaters and scored a three-pound brown trout. Then I saw Matt’s kayak pulled in circles. The host of Matt’s sleigh ride was a 10-pound German brown trout; Matt’s biggest catch.

I was next in line for a ride when I hooked into a 14-pound German brown. We were the only two anglers on the lake and we’d just caught our personal bests.

Big trout? Check. | Featured photo: Kevin Hofer


  1. Out of the way no crowd lakes are my favorite. Google maps is one of the tools I use to find them. Glad to see I am not alone fishing out of a sit in yak, Old town Loon 126, and I also still use my old Abu Garcia round reels like the C4.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here