Hell Hole? Who would ever want to go camping at a place with a name like that! However, Hell Hole Reservoir is one of my favorite places on earth, and one I have been fishing for over 40 years! It is one of those places that is difficult to get into, but once you are there, it is absolutely worth it!
Bridget Looney and I left Colfax on Friday afternoon with the 21’ Rogue Jet Coastal in tow and headed up the mountain from Foresthill. Actually, we had to go down the mountain to the bottom of the middle fork of the American River before we could head back up the mountain. The well paved, but very windy 50 miles from Auburn to Hell Hole takes right at 2 hours towing a boat.
We arrived at the lake in mid afternoon to see the beautiful reservoir, approximately 25 feet from full pool. The launch ramp is fully operational and we had the Coastal in the water in short order. We ran up the lake through the Narrows and found a beautiful campsite on the north side of the lake.
We set up the tent on a shady point that was nice and flat and open to the breeze. Looking to the east, we were dwarfed by the granite snow-covered ridge that separated us from Lake Tahoe by only a few miles.
We soon noticed one of the drawbacks to camping out – thousands of mosquitos! A liberal basting for each of us with repellent kept them off our skin, but they still buzzed around our ears!
We decided to go for a short troll in the evening before dinner. We started with the all new Baitfish series Kastmaster toplining on one side, a rainbow trout Tasmanian Devil on the other side, and Excel spoons in red cop car and watermelon on the Canon downriggers at 10 and 15 feet deep. In a short hour we had landed 5 nice rainbows to 16 inches, as well as two fourteen inch kokanee that threw out the rule book and hit the Kastmaster and an Excel trolled at 2.5 mph. We moored the Rogue Jet off the rocky shoreline with our Anchor Buddy bungee cord and went up to camp.
While gathering firewood, I almost stepped in a reminder of the wild nature of this area – a large pile of bear scat! We had a cheery campfire and barbequed a fine meal of tri-tip steaks, corn on the cob, and yams on the fire, and enjoyed the beauty and solitude of the magnificent Sierra Nevada.
Saturday morning, we decided to focus on kokanee, so I ran back to the east side of the dam where we have caught lots of kokes in the past. The water temperature was a cool 58 degrees, and I expected the kokanee to be fairly shallow.
We trolled the deep bank east of the dam, then up to “Waterfall Point”, where several active torrents tumbled down the rocky walls. We didn’t see a mark on the Lowrance XDS 9, and never had a hit. Then we went across the lake, where the powerhouse and inlet comes in from French Meadows, and had the same luck there.
We had caught the 2 kokanee the evening before at the upper lake, so we headed back to the Narrows and put the gear in the water. Soon we were seeing lots of marks at about 20 to 25 feet deep. I assumed they were kokanee or trout, but we couldn’t get them to bite. We trolled back and forth several times with nary a hit.
Then at 1 pm, the Lord threw the switch and the bite was on! All four rods went off and kokanee were jumping all over behind the boat! We managed to land two of the four, and as soon as we put the gear down, we were fighting feisty kokes again!
We must have hooked 25 kokanee in the next hour, and finally were able to boat our tenth fish for our limit. We used Dick Nite and Sockeye Slammer spoons in pink and red behind Sep’s Cannonball flashers, and also had great luck on a watermelon Apex behind a wonderbread color Sep’s Strikemaster dodger.
Sunday morning we started fishing at the Narrows, and the kokanee bite was on again! These fish were bigger and very feisty. We lost several that ripped the line off the downrigger and immediately launched themselves into the air behind the boat, and threw the hook in the process!
We ended up with limits of fat kokanee to 15 ½ inches. The hot ticket on Sunday morning was the new Arrowflash dodger with a hot pink Artic Fox Kokanee fly, all tipped with a piece of shoepeg corn.
We talked to a group of guys that were targeting mackinaw and having good luck. They caught a total of 24 macks in three days, with the largest going about 9 pounds. They found them in the main body of the lake anywhere between 60 and 140 feet deep. After packing up camp, we came across a boat in the Narrows fighting a big fish. As we watched, they netted a gorgeous German brown of about 8 pounds, caught on kokanee gear!
Hellhole Reservoir offers a great variety of cold water fishing for those intrepid enough to make the long drive. For more information, contact the US Forest Service office in Foresthill or Georgetown, or call Willfish Tackle in Auburn at (530)887-0839.