Kevin Hofer has fished Northern California for three decades, but there was one place he had not explored. “I never fished Lake Tahoe,” he says. On assignment for Kayak Angler, Hofer hit Lake Tahoe on his fishing kayak between the summer chaos and winter snow. “The crowds were gone but the water was still warm.”
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I love the anticipation of strapping my kayak to the truck, picking out tackle and preparing to fish a new place. Lake Tahoe’s size is quite intimidating, and the crowds of tourists had always discouraged me, but planning a trip after the summer hoards and before the snow seemed like perfect timing.
Kayak Fishing Lake Tahoe
When preparing to fish one of the 20 oldest lakes in the world, and the second deepest in the United States, I loaded for bear. The water is 99 percent pure with up to 40-foot visibility.
Lake Tahoe is mostly known for lifestyles of the rich and famous. Snow skiing, water skiing, resorts and vacation homes make the lake a popular destination for city slickers from around the world. But, nestled in the pine trees atop the Sierra Nevada mountains on the California and Nevada border, Tahoe should be famous for blue water, towering mountains and great fishing.
Tahoe offers largemouth bass, bluegill and crappie, but the most coveted fish are Kokanee salmon, rainbow, Mackinaw and giant German brown trout. Add in a healthy population of crayfish and the lake offers an all-you-can-catch buffet.
Clear Advantages of Fishing Lake Tahoe
My trip to Tahoe started with a quick detour to the scenic Fallen Leaf Lake in Eldorado National Forest. I stopped for lunch and made a few casts under the towering granite peaks of Desolation Wilderness Area. The lake is surrounded by pine and fir trees with 10,000-foot peaks reflecting on the glassy lake surface; I almost forgot my destination.
When I reached Lake Tahoe, my first stop was Tahoe Keys Resort. The resort features miles of canals lined with vacation homes and boat docks. A perfect place to catch a high-elevation largemouth bass.
To navigate the labyrinth, I met my buddy Steve Sell at the boat launch. We spent the afternoon working Senkos around the docks without success. As the sun dropped below the mountains, we headed to the hotel in South Lake to regroup for the next day.
By the time I set up my lead core rods for trolling, rigged up my jigging rods and prepared the crab traps, it was late in the evening.
Tahoe Trout and Crayfish Feast
The next day, Steve and I were up before the sun and headed to the Marina at Camp Richardson. The lake is huge, and I was carrying a ton of gear, so I chose my Wilderness Systems Radar 135 with Helix Pedal Drive. The boat has plenty of capacity while still being seaworthy for pedalling miles of open water.
First, I found a rocky shoreline to set my crayfish traps. Then, I started the five-mile pedal to Emerald Bay. On the way, I trolled a flasher and jig just off the shoreline. The tactic produced a steady bite of feisty rainbow trout.
By lunchtime, we had reached Emerald Bay and stopped on a sandy beach. Towering trees, waves lapping the shore and snowcapped mountain peaks made an epic background for our midday snack.
After lunch, we decided to jig for Mackinaw trout. On the way to Emerald Bay, I found several promising drop-offs on my fish finder and marked them on my GPS. Mackinaws like to hang on deep hills and valleys waiting for a meal.
I trolled a flasher and jig just off the shoreline. The tactic produced a steady bite of feisty rainbow trout.
I dropped my jig 160 feet to the bottom and made a couple long upward sweeps with the rod and then let the jig flutter down. I followed the sweep with a couple of small twitches. The fish tend to bite on the fall or the twitch. I landed one small Mackinaw and lost a bigger fish on the way up from the bottom.
As the sun dipped below the treetops, we retrieved our traps filled with crayfish. Later, standing around a steaming pot, enjoying a local craft beer, I realized why Lake Tahoe is world famous.
Lake Tahoe Kayak Fishing Tips
Bass: To fish a Senko, I use a six-foot, nine-inch, medium-light, one-piece Temple Fork Outfitters rod and Pflueger President reel spooled with six-pound Pline fluorocarbon. The rod is super sensitive so I can feel the slightest bites.
Spool the reel with 18-pound test Tuff Line Micro lead core line, which is less likely to kink. My favorite lures are a Cal Kellogg Fish Eye Pro Dodger and grub. I start with natural colors then switch to pink.
The lake is huge, and I was carrying a ton of gear, so I chose my Wilderness Systems Radar 135 with Helix Pedal Drive. The boat has plenty of capacity while still being seaworthy for pedalling miles of open water.
Where to Launch
Cave Rock Boat Launch in southern Lake Tahoe. Camp Richardson Marina is near Emerald Bay.
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Where to Stay in Lake Tahoe
There are tons of places from primitive camping to luxury resorts with plenty of affordable hotels in the area.
Where to Eat in Lake Tahoe
After a long day on the water, the reward is cooking the catch on an open fire.
Anglers, Don’t Forget!
A California or a Nevada fishing license is valid on Lake Tahoe. Before launching at Fallen Leaf Lake, anglers are required to wash and sanitize the kayak at a local marina.
This article was first published in Kayak Anger Issue 44. Subscribe to Kayak Anger and get the magazine delivered to your front door. Download the Kayak Angler Magazine+ app to seamlessly glide between the digital archives, the latest articles and videos or browse the digital archives for your desktop here.
Visit the playground of the stars, and kayak fishermen. | Feature photo: Kevin Hofer