IONE, Calif. — There are planted trout in California, and then there's the Donaldson planted trout. What's the difference? Many of California's planted trout that come from private fish hatcheries are raised at Mt. Lassen Trout Farms. These fish are mass-produced, and while they grow to enormous proportions, they tend to lose nearly all of their physical wild characteristics and offer very little fight.
That isn't the case with the Donaldson trout. These fish are raised below Lake Amador's dam and are almost exclusively stocked in Lake Amador. These trout grow large and tend to keep more wild characteristics: They fight harder, look prettier and have an overall better appearance.
This, however, is no secret to folks residing in the Bay Area and Sacramento Valley.
Lake Amador is a pay-to-fish water and costs anglers a $9 entrance fee and $8 fishing fee before they're allowed to wet a line. The fees don't deter folks from fishing here, especially not when most trout planted run 1 to 3 pounds, and catching larger fish is common.
Amador is one of NorCal's more popular winter fisheries.
"They've got a real good bite going there now," said guide Dale Daneman of Dale's Foothill Guide Service (530-295-0488).
"But the lake can't handle the pressure. People are drawn to Amador because of the size of the fish. They fight comparable to Eagle Lake, but the fish are bigger here."
Lots of fish and anglers
"As far of the number of fish go, yes, there's a ton of them in the lake," Daneman said.
"There's always plenty of fish, but it can get crowded sometimes. There's too many boats and they don't restrict the number of people that are allowed in."
Which is why many Nor Cal trout anglers, including Daneman, avoid Amador on the weekend and on holidays.
"I do not go on the weekend. It's too risky for me. I've got too much invested in my boat and my gear," he said.
"There's just too many boats. You couldn't troll the lake. I like to get out there when it's cold or even when there's a little drizzle and the crowds are at a minimum."
Amador's average trout runs 2 pounds, but fish to 10 pounds aren't uncommon. "They'll put fish as big as 20 pounds each in that lake," Daneman said.
"I've watched people try to net those fish where the head wouldn't fit in the net, they have some that are that big. I catch so many fish in this lake that have a hook in them and a broken leader. It's usually a 2 to 4-pound-test line. People don't know what they're getting into there."
According to Daneman, leadcore or downriggers aren't necessary.
"Because the lake is shallow and it doesn't have new water coming in, it warms up quick in the spring, but you can catch a lot of fish on top," Daneman said.
"I'm told there are no holdovers there so they have to replenish the trout every year with new plants."
Regardless of what happens in the summer, the trout bite is on now.
In the morning, and as long as it's a weekday, the first item on Daneman's plate is trolling. In fact, that's all he does.
"I don't even start my big motor. The lake is that small, you can start at the marina," said Daneman, who almost exclusively uses white Sep's Pro Grubs.
"You don't want to use any hardware like flashers and dodgers because they'll sink, and these fish feed right on the top. I mean the top 1 or 2 feet of water, I always top line there."
"It's so full of fish you can always catch trout on the surface. It's doesn't make it a gimme though. Even though there's a ton of fish in that lake, you can get skunked too. This place is a tiny, small lake and they stock tons of fish here, but they don't always bite."
Daneman recommends letting out at least 100 feet of line when toplining. As midday approaches he'll switch to brighter colors like orange.
"These fish like to have that flashy color dangling in front of them," he said.
While some anglers troll depths of 20 to 40 feet in the winter, Daneman said his success comes on the surface. You can catch them deep, but you probably won't catch that many, he said.
For trollers, the dam, center of the lake and main lake points are best. "I don't go in any of those creek arms," Daneman said.
"I guess there are some trout that go in there, but it's probably too warm for most of them. You don't have to fish far from the launch ramp. You can see these monsters cruising right in the marina area."
You don't need to troll to be successful. Anglers in float tubes working the marina and dam area do exceptionally well casting flies, spoons and spinners.
Pretty much any trout bait or lure is effective.
The shore bite can be as exciting as trolling. From the bank, most anglers stay within the vicinity of the marina, dam and near the spillway.
The deeper end of the lake is where you'll want to concentrate your efforts.
Don't bother fishing near the seasonal inlets or the creek arms. These spots are great for bass, panfish and catfish, but not trout.
From the bank, standard trout techniques apply. With weekly trout plants common, there are always trout cruising the shoreline near the dam and marina. Sticking to targeting this area will increase your odds.
Soaking night crawlers, doughbaits, casting spoons and spinners is the easiest way to tap into these hefty rainbows.
As with trolling, the best action will likely come during the week when crowds are thin. Come on the weekend and you'll have a chance at catching another angler's line.
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