Lake Tahoe Fishing – All You Need to Know
Oct 2, 2020 | 9 minute read
Reading Time: 9 minutes

There are few places in the country that can compete with the vastness and the staggering beauty of Lake Tahoe. Not only are the vistas out of this world, but angling possibilities abound. That’s why the Lake Tahoe fishing scene is so big among avid freshwater anglers.

An aerial view of Lake Tahoe with mountains and blue skies in the background

The sapphire heart of the Sierra Nevada mountains is one of those destinations that look too good to be true. This is the biggest alpine lake in the US and it’s got supremely clear and cold waters to prove it. That doesn’t bother the fish though, and it certainly doesn’t bother eager fishermen flocking to Lake Tahoe every year. Let’s see what you can expect.

Top Catches on Lake Tahoe

Straddling the border of two states, 2/3 of it in California and 1/3 in Nevada, The Big Blue is tailor-made for freshwater fishing enjoyment. What’s more, you can cast a line here all year! Just bear in mind that you’ll have the best luck in late spring and summer.

Favorite local fish include Mackinaw (Lake) Trout, followed by its Rainbow, Brook, and Brown cousins. Kokanee is also popular during the warmest time of the year, as well as many other species. Here are top catches you can look forward to.

Lake Tahoe Is All about Mackinaw Trout

Lake Tahoe is synonymous with Mackinaw – the Lake Trout that is the local staple. Macks are by far the most sought-after species here, and the fact they’re available year-round only makes things better.

An angler in a cap and sunglasses holding a big Mackinaw Trout with Lake Tahoe in the background

Mackinaw Trout prefer cold waters (52ºF and colder), so they move around the lake looking for that temperature sweet spot. This is why you can find them in different parts of the water column throughout the year.

The best time to go after Mackinaw is from March throughout June when you can hook real show-stoppers. Summer and fall are also solid for slightly smaller catches.

Macks can weigh anywhere from 5–20 pounds, and the bigger they are, the more challenging it is to get them. The biggest Mackinaw of California (37.40 pounds) was caught right on Lake Tahoe in 1974.

Two fishermen in a boat, holding several Mackinaw Trout with Lake Tahoe in the background

Two favorite techniques to get Macks are jigging and trolling with downriggers. Jigging is a simple and fun hands-on approach. It allows you to change depths more easily and 70–80 feet is a good place to start. Trolling is equally productive, more laid back, and perfect for offshore fishing in the middle of the lake (60–200 feet).

Mackinaw Trout have a very soft mouth, so it’s important to set the hook carefully and not rush the process of reeling them in. If you’ve got a big one on the line, make sure to bring it into the boat with a net.

Kokanee for Your Delight

One can scarcely imagine fishing on Lake Tahoe without Kokanee. These landlocked Sockeye Salmon have been introduced to the lake in the 1940s and they’ve done a great job of adapting.

Five caught Kokanee hanging of a board

The Kokanee high season usually lasts from July until October. You can sometimes find good fish in early spring, but they generally prefer warmer temperatures. They’re usually in the 2 lb range and stick to deep waters, so there are small chances of hooking one from shore.

Every October, you can see a good number of Kokanee changing color from silver to crimson on their way to the Taylor Creek – their spawning and final resting grounds. It’s a uniquely beautiful sight spotting their deep-red hues in the deep blue waters.

Trolling, drift fishing, and jigging offer the best results when fishing for these fellas, especially in waters that are at least 90 feet deep. Salmon respond well to nightcrawlers, minnows, and bright lures. And not only are they fun to catch, but they’re also delicious!

All Colors of Trout in One Place

True, Mackinaw Trout are the headliners of the Lake Tahoe fishing show, but these waters make for a perfect playground for other Trout species as well. Rainbow Trout is definitely among the top three catches, closely followed by Brown, Brook, and Cutthroat Trout.

A fisherman holding a Rainbow Trout and pulling it out of the water with a net

Rainbows are, along with Macks, the most desired species, both due to their fighting abilities and size. They can weigh anywhere from 2–25 pounds and you can target them from May through mid-November when the water temperatures are to their liking. They stay in deep waters, but will also congregate closer to rocky shores with lots of cover.

Brown and Brook Trout are much less common, but you can still find them in certain parts of the year. While Browns usually stick to shallow rocky ends of the lake, Brooks prefer streams within the lake on higher elevation. The best time for catching both of these species is early summer.

Living up to their name, Cutthroat Trout don’t do well with their other brethren, so there aren’t that many in the lake. Still, you can stumble upon them in spring and summer and they are a delight to catch. Cutthroats respond well to worms and nightcrawlers.

Whichever Trout species you choose, you’re going to enjoy your Lake Tahoe fishing extravaganza tremendously!

It’s Not a Party without Bass

If you’re a passionate Bass chaser, there’s a place on Tahoe where you can go and find decent action. Tahoe Keys is the only section of the lake where you can spot good numbers of Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass.

A close-up photo of a Largemouth Bass with water and blue skies in the background

Bass prefer warmer, shallow waters, which fits in perfectly with the fishing conditions around the Keys. These fish are most active around and after their spawning time, which happens in late spring and early summer.

These might not be supersized Bass, but they can weigh anywhere from 2–7 pounds. When the water temperature is in the sixties, both Smallies and Largies are out and about, looking for food. Cast your line around underwater vegetation and rocks, and you’ve got a good chance of getting the fish’s attention.

Some local anglers claim that there are Bass who venture into the lake and sometimes you can stumble upon them while going after Trout. This is more of an exception than a rule, but it happens. To get the most out of your Bass fishing quest, Keys in the early summer are your best bet.

What Else Is Out There?

As you can see, fishermen of all levels have plenty to do on Lake Tahoe. Whether it’s numerous Trout species or Kokanee, this beautiful body of water has a lot to offer. Tahoe is a solid freshwater fishery, which means that you can also find other species on your line.

A close up photo of Crappie with an angler's hand holding it by its mouth

Crappie and Bluegill are frequent catches, along with Whitefish, Sculpin, and small Catfish. You can even find big Goldfish out there because someone released one into the lake’s waters, not realizing how invasive they are. These days, they can grow to be huge (several pounds), so don’t be surprised if you see a glittering of gold when you’re reeling your catch in.

Types of Fishing on Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe is truly huge (191 square miles), and there’s a known rule that “90% of fish swim in 10% of the lake,” so it’s important to do some research before you head out. It’s recommended to explore the locations and techniques that will help you land your desired catch. Here are some of the most popular types of fishing on Lake Tahoe.

Fishing from Shore

A woman fishing from a dock on Lake Tahoe

If you prefer to stay on solid ground while fishing, it’s possible to do it on Lake Tahoe. The lake’s shores aren’t very suitable for fishing endeavors most of the time because they’re steep and inaccessible, but there are exceptions.

The east side is best known among shore fishermen, and this is where you should go if you plan on pursuing your prey from land. Cave Rock, Kings Beach, Tahoe Keys, as well as South Lake Tahoe all offer good action.

The best time for shore anglers to test their luck is during the warmest time of the year, from May–September. Around that time, Rainbow and Brown Trout, along with Bass and Crappie are all there for the taking. You might even be so lucky to hook a Mackinaw if you go out at dawn. The only way to know for sure is to try it yourself.

Fishing Aboard a Charter

Charter boats scattered in a marina on Lake Tahoe

If you’re coming to Lake Tahoe for the first time, you shouldn’t go fishing on your own right away. Tahoe is vast, and if you don’t know where to go, you could spend a lot of time with your line in the water and have little to show for it.

This is also the reason why there are a lot of fishing charters on the lake. Experienced locals have dedicated their lives to exploring the lake’s depths and they’re very good at it. With a charter captain to lead the way, your chances of catching your limit are much better than when you’re fishing solo.

Not only will charter operators help you find the fish, but they’ll also provide all the necessary gear and know the best time to go out. You can easily find a guide in South Lake Tahoe, Tahoe Vista, and Glenbrook, just take your pick.

Kayak Fishing

A lone kayak fisherman on Lake Tahoe, with mountains in the background

If you’re a kayaking enthusiast, Lake Tahoe will wow you. There’s nothing like going out with the first morning sun and spending a day on these crystal clear waters. Kayak fishing can be productive and there are also guides that organize these specialized activities.

The peak season for kayak fishing is from July–October, when you can go after Kokanee and Trout species by trolling or jigging. Bear in mind that Tahoe weather can turn quite quickly, so make a conscious effort not to go too far from the shore.

If you’re looking for something fun and different to do with your family, kayak fishing on Lake Tahoe might just be what the doctor ordered.

Lake Tahoe Fishing Spots

A view of Emerald Bay on Lake Tahoe

When you have a body of water that is as huge as Tahoe, talking about top fishing destinations is no small feat. With 63 tributaries and more fishing grounds than you can explore in a lifetime, the lake is a treasure trove. Here are some spots that should be on your to-visit list.

  • Emerald Bay: Here’s a destination that’s renowned for its beauty as much as for its fish abundance. The waters here are clear and full of big rocks, which makes it the perfect place to go after Trout species – Mackinaws, Rainbows, and Browns.
  • Donner Lake: You’ll find this deep lake in the northern reaches of Tahoe. Anglers love Donner Lake because just about every fish species is here – Mackinaw, Rainbow Trout, and other Trout cousins, as well as Kokanee. This is a great place to look for jumbo Macks!
  • Truckee River: Did you know that this is the river that flows out of Lake Tahoe? The spot where the river separates from the lake is famous for productive Trout fly fishing. The whole river is a very good fishery in itself, so there’s plenty to do here.
  • Middle of the Lake: This is the perfect place for a day out on a charter. If you’re on the lookout for a good-sized Mackinaw, this is where you should go. Come in late summer, and you could be there for the Kokanee run, which means a lot of fish in the same place – magic words every angler wants to hear.
  • Zephyr Cove: Some would argue that there’s no better spot for all your Lake Tahoe fishing escapades. Mackinaws abound here, as well as Brown and Rainbow Trout, and you’ll find a good share of them simply by trolling, ideally on a mildly windy day.

Lake Tahoe Fishing Regulations

A picture of a badge with words Fishing License on it

There are a lot of great things about Lake Tahoe and one of the very best is that it’s open for fishing all year. You can hit these pristine waters every day one hour before sunrise and stay out two hours after sunset. Make sure to familiarize yourself with the current regulations and limits before your fishing trip.

Because the lake is both in California and Nevada, you need a valid freshwater license from either of the states to fish legally. If you’re fishing on the rivers and streams that are a part of the Tahoe system, you need a license from the state that body of water is in. Every angler, aged 16 and older needs a license with them at all times, and even if you’re fishing aboard a charter, you’re in charge of getting your license.

A very important thing to remember is that on Lake Tahoe, you can’t use fish as live bait unless it’s been caught in the lake. There’s a list of live bait you’re allowed to use, so make sure you’re informed before you start fishing.

Lake Tahoe – An Unforgettable Fishing Adventure

A shore of Lake Tahoe with vegetation and trees

No matter how long you’ve been fishing and how many places you’ve seen, the Big Blue won’t leave you indifferent. With its spectacular turquoise waters and views that heal the soul, Lake Tahoe fishing is all you dream it to be. Don’t worry about not getting to enjoy it all on your first visit, you can always come back!

What are your thoughts about fishing on Lake Tahoe? Is there something you’d like your fellow anglers to know? Do you plan on going there soon? Let us know in the comments below.

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