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How to maximize trout season at Eagle Lake

6/2/2005
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    SPAULDING, Calif. — If you had to choose one of the top five trout lakes in California to fish the day of an opener, Eagle Lake would have to be near the top of that list.

    Aside from harboring some of the rowdiest, most aggressive, feisty and acrobatic trout in the West, the Lassen County lake offers trollers and bait dunkers the opportunity to catch trophy-size trout in a gorgeous setting.

    After a nearly five-month closure, Eagle opened to fishing May 28. This year's limit is two trout per day, four in possession.

    Keep in mind, a second rod stamp is permitted and gives trollers and bait anglers an edge.

    Eagle Lake's opener gathers anglers from Northern California, Nevada and Southern Oregon.

    While impressive trout can be caught throughout the open season, the first few hours of the opener provide excellent angling conditions, as will the month of June.

    "I've never had an opener that was bad," said veteran guide Rick Kennedy of Tight Lines Guide Service (530-273-1986).

    He believes this year's Eagle Lake rainbows are going to run 3 pounds, on average, but notes they'll be a few 5-pounders caught on opening weekend.

    "The bite can be very hot," Kennedy said.

    "A lot of it depends on the weather and water temperatures. When they are up in shallow water, they are easy to target."

    Shallow early

    Shallow the fish will be, at least until midday on the opener.

    According to Kennedy, the first few hours of the opener can be excellent, but then the immense boat traffic tends to freak out the trout, sending them into deeper water.

    "Here's the thing you have to remember: The lake has been closed since Dec. 31 and the fish haven't seen much boat traffic since then," he said.

    "The fish are going to be in the top 10 feet of water early on during the opener, but when you figure there's a ton of boats on the water those fish are shell-shocked. They are going to head for the deeper water. They are going to try to go where the boats aren't."

    Youth Camp to Pelican Point

    OK, so here's what you should do: Up until noon or so, on opening day, Kennedy and others in the know will fish shallow.

    To be safe, you should stay in the area from the Youth Camp to Pelican Point, an obvious Eagle Lake trout magnet.

    "The trout will be there to start," Kennedy said.

    "That's where the lake transitions from the shallow water to the deeper water. The birds work that area a lot."

    Most folks will troll this area, which according to Kennedy, will be productive until the boat traffic sends trout toward deeper water. W

    hen looking for deeper water you don't have to go far.

    While the depths from Pelican Point on north are less than 15 feet, if you head south, you'll be able to find up to 50 feet of water without going more than a mile. Therefore, once boat traffic scurries the trout, head south from Pelican Point.

    "After the opening morning I'll stick to the deeper water," Kennedy said.

    Will the trout stay in deep water after the first few hours of the opener?

    That all depends Kennedy said that if cooler temperatures prevail, you'll still be able to catch shallow-water trout. This prediction also requires that boat traffic subsides.

    From mid-June through summer action tends to be better from Pelican Point on south.

    While most spoons work well at Eagle, Kennedy sticks to a few lures that he's been using for more than a decade.

    Under conditions when there is no wind and you have calm water, he uses an orange 2-inch grub or an Uncle Larry's copper pop spinner.

    On the other hand, when it's windy and you can't troll slow and need to increase your speed to control the boat, he switches to a black-and-gold No. 7 Rapala.

    You don't need to use these lures to find success. Many anglers fish a nightcrawler and a dodger or flasher, Needlefish, Krocodiles and other spoons.

    Eagle's Nest, Shrimp Island

    There are other productive areas to troll. Most notably, Eagle's Nest and Shrimp Island come to mind.

    These areas always harbor trout. Nonetheless, they are areas that most anglers are well aware of.

    It's not uncommon to find dozens of boat panning back and forth in these spots.

    Regardless of the crowds anglers still find easy limits if they are trolling the right gear.

    "That whole area is good. You have to work your way around the boats, but at Eagle's Nest there will always be trout," Kennedy said.

    "You have to find a way to troll around this area without running into the other boats."

    Eagle's Nest tends to draw trout in because the water remains cool, but also because springs keep the water well aerated and lots of food congregates in this area. This area tends to bode well for baitfish, which keeps trout nearby.

    Scent

    Kennedy is a big believer in scent when targeting Eagle Lake trout. Scent should be used on all trolled baits and also on natural baits.

    "I use scent all the time. I think it's important. The scents that work good up there in the past for me have been freshwater shrimp-based scents," he said.

    "I'm going to be trying a few new scents this year, though."

    Working the wind

    The biggest factor when fishing Eagle this spring is wind. Wind can turn the bite off and put all boats on the trailer in a matter of minutes.

    Historically, at Eagle you'll want to fish early.

    The lake tends to be smooth early on, with wind becoming common as the day progresses. Some days you'll get lucky and have no wind, but that's not usually the case.

    "That lake is always windy in the afternoon. There aren't many days when you'll find calm water," Kennedy said.

    "Eagle Lake can be a very windy place."

    Still fishing

    Shore fishing at Eagle Lake isn't great by any means, but you don't need to troll to break into the action. In fact, still-boat anglers tend to catch more trout than you might expect.

    For some reason, dough baits aren't the primary method here.

    This is pretty much a natural bait fishery. If you are fishing with bait and you don't have a nightcrawler out there, you basically aren't fishing.

    There are dozens of prime zones to still-fish from a boat, but it's tough to outduel the tules in front of the airport and the shoreline and springs near Eagle's Nest.

    Hands down, the most common method is using a slip bobber and a nightcrawler. Many anglers fish the 'crawlers inside the tule line, while others fish just outside the tules.

    It's more of a personal preference, as trout are commonly found on both sides.

    "Some of the biggest fish caught on lake are taken on bait," Kennedy said. "I'm a troller, so I don't fish bait, but the guys that do catch a lot of big trout."


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