Lower Bear River Reservoir, located off Highway 88 in the Carson Pass Corridor, is known for offering array of fishing options, ranging from trolling for big mackinaw and brown trout with plugs, spoons and nightcrawlers to shore fishing for planted and holdover rainbows.
The reservoir features 727 surface acres and a shoreline of about 9 miles when full. It is located along the Bear River, a tributary of the North Fork of the Mokelumne River, south of Highway 88.
The lake was only 3 feet from maximum pool at press time, offering solid boating and fishing opportunities this year, and the ramp and marina facilities are Lower Bear River Resort and Campground are in full operation.
“Last year the boat ramp wasn’t in the water the entire season because of low water conditions – anglers had had to launch on the dirt,” said Janette Frasier at the Bear River Lake Resort and Campground.
To date, a total of 4,400 pounds of rainbows have been planted in the lake, according to Frasier. PG&E made two plants totaling 1400 pounds, while the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) stocked one load of 2,000 pounds of catchables.
Then on Friday, June 10, prior to their two-day annual trout derby on June 11 and 12, the lake management stocked a total of 1,000 pounds of rainbows ranging from 2 to 5 pounds.
Trolling was tough during the event, but some bank anglers fishing bait did very well. The 79 people participating in the derby weighed in a total of 30 fish.
Floyd Girardin won first place with a 3.61 lb. holdover rainbow, taking home a $700 cash prize. Girardin also placed third in last year’s derby.
He was fishing orange Power Bait from the bank in the back of the reservoir, where Upper Bear River Lake enters Lower Bear River Reservoir, when the big fish hit.
“ I landed 10 other trout in the 10 to 12 inch range during the two days, but I released them back into the lake,” he said. “My two fishing buddies also each caught and released 11 pan-sized rainbows while bait fishing from the bank.”
Eric Soto placed second with a 2.91 lb. rainbow, winning $200. Kyle Galloway placed third with a 1.46 lb. rainbow, winning $100.
After the winners received their cash prizes, every angler ended up going home with a raffle prize, including tackle boxes, rods and reels, lure packages and other goodies.
While trolling was slow during the derby, this method can be very good for rainbows at Lower Bear River. For example, Fred Solari of Lodi and I hooked and released 20 rainbows while trolling threaded nightcrawlers on lead core line along the face of the dam during a late afternoon trip in May 2007, the first time I ever fished the reservoir.
Located in Eldorado National Forest in the Central Sierra Nevada at an elevation of 5850 feet, Bear River is the first major lake you encounter when driving east of Jackson on the Highway 88/Carson Pass Highway.
When you fish Bear River, you are also on the way to other great fishing lakes, including Silver, Caples, Upper and Lower Blue, and Red lakes. Lower Bear River in the spring becomes free of snow before any of the other major lakes higher on Carson Pass.
While the majority of fish that anglers catch are rainbows, mackinaws and brown trout also swim in the lake’s clear waters. Mackinaw trout grow big and fat at the reservoir.
Chris Quimby set the lake mackinaw record of 30.4 pounds on June 17, 2005. His huge fish measured 40 inches long.
While most anglers use big minnow and trout imitation plugs on downriggers to target big mackinaw, Rich Spears, manager of the resort, also slow trolls with nightcrawlers behind big Ford Fenders on 17 colors of lead core line for his fish.
The best time to fish for the trophy macks is in the spring right after ice out or in the late fall just before the lake ices over, but huge macks are caught throughout the season.
Spears’ trolling technique definitely works. Spears caught a 25 lb. mackinaw in his boat before the lake opened in 2014. His next biggest was a 23.4 lb. mack that he landed in January 2012.
However, the biggest mack ever put in his boat was the 26.4 lb. monster that Aiden McKinney of Pioneer caught and released while trolling with Spears on September 13, 2012.
The fish measured 38 inches in length and 16 inches in girth. McKinney hooked the fish while trolling a Trophy Stick on 12 lb. test Maxima line on a downrigger at 85 feet deep at 4 p.m. that day.
The CDFW made an experimental plant of mackinaw in the reservoir in the late 1980s. Fishery biologists haven’t determined yet whether the fish are spawning successfully, but the fish are definitely growing large on the lake’s abundant forage.
The lake also hosts a healthy brown trout population, a combination of wild fish and holdovers from CDFW plants. The two biggest browns reported by campers this year weighed 6 pounds beach, according to Frasier.
Much bigger browns swim the waters of the lake. Donna Schlageter set the lake German brown record of 15-1/2 pounds while trolling on June 30,1991.
The CDFW has historically stocked the lake with around 8,000 pounds of catchable rainbows .The agency stocked 17,400 pounds of trout in one year, 2010.
This was done because of the delay in plants due to the lawsuit by the Center of Biological Diversity, combined with the fact that Bear River was the only lake accessible to CDFW planting crews due to snow and ice on other lakes in the Carson Pass Corridor for much of that spring.
The CDFW also stocks brown trout in the reservoir when they’re available. The CDFW planted 15,000 brown trout fingerlings in 2012 and 10,000 brown fingerlings in 2011, reported Dale Burkett, manager of the American River Fish Hatchery in Rancho Cordova.
The Bear River Resort is usually open from late April, depending upon snow and road conditions, through October 31. The lake freezes over for a couple of months during the winter and ice fishing is highly inadvisable because of hydroelectric power draw downs during the winter.
Immediately above—and in high water separated only by the upper dam—is the smaller Bear River Reservoir that is often referred to as Upper Bear River Reservoir.
Slightly over a mile long, Upper Bear contains 166 surface acres and about 2.5 miles of shoreline surrounded by private, water management lands. The only boating access is for hardy anglers willing to portage small craft around and to the top of its dam.
Lower Bear River Reservoir Facts
Size and Location: The 727 acre reservoir is located at an elevation of 5,850 feet in El Dorado National Forest 42 miles east of Jackson.
Directions: From Jackson go 40 miles east on Highway 88 and turn right onto Bear River Reservoir Road for 2 miles.
Camping: There are two nearby developed U.S. Forest Service campsites at South Shore Campground and Bear River Group Campgound. South Shore Campground has 22 units and is first come, first served; Bear River Group Campground has 3 sites that may accommodate 25-50 people. For reservations at the group campground call Sierra Recreation Managers at (209) 295-4512. Fees are charged at both campgrounds. There is piped water, picnic tables, toilets, grills, and fire-rings, but no hook-ups. Open May 15 – Oct. 15, depending on snow.
Bear River Resort features: 130 developed campsites. Amenities include power, water picnic tables, fire pits, flushable toilets in the bathrooms, showers dump station on site (for RV’s to dump waste), ice machine, Laundromat, video arcade, gas sold on site, playground, telephones, full store and a full Bar and restaurant.
Cabin Rentals: Bear River Campground has seven lodging units, each having accommodations for four occupants. Each unit has a separate bedroom. All units have a day bed in the living room. Linens and blankets for four occupants are provided. All the units have full baths – towels are provided. Kitchens contain stoves, microwave ovens, refrigerators, cooking utensils and service setting for four.
Boat Rentals & Marina Facilities: Bear River Lake Resort rents fishing boats with gas motors, canoes, paddle boats and kayaks. Marina slips are available. The boat launch fee is $10.00. Marina gas hours are from 8 am to 4:30 pm. Contact the Bear River Resort at 40800 Highway 88, Pioneer, CA. 95666, [email protected], www.bearrivercampground.com, Tel. 209-295-4868 or Fax 209-295-4585.