It’s no secret that I love the High Sierra. The rugged snow mantled granite peaks, the dark timber, rushing streams and cold gin clear lakes combined with bald eagles, husky bears, coyotes, secretive lions, big high country bucks and of course wild trout makes the Sierras a very inspiring, indeed breathtaking place for me.
Whether I’m wrestling oak firewood off a steep slope, trying to sneak within range of a handsome buck or putting together a stringer of pansize rainbows for a shore lunch, there are few places I’d rather be!
From late spring through early fall, trout action in High Sierra lakes can be fantastic. Hundreds of lakes dot the mountains. Many of them boast robust trout populations and the short growing season means that high country trout tend to be pretty aggressive.
Over the years, French Meadows Reservoir has become one of my favorite Sierra lakes for a number of reasons. While it’s not the most secluded mountain lake I fish, it provides easy access, is close enough to my home to allow me to squeeze half day fishing trips into my often tight schedule and its home to a strong population of very nice rainbows along with some medium to whopper size browns.
The fact that the drive to the lake takes me through a lot of country that I ply for bucks and bears in the fall is a bonus since I get to spy on any animals that might be out and about near the road providing me with intel for the hunting season to come.
For the uninitiated, French Meadows sets at 5,200 feet in a heavily timbered valley near the headwaters of the Middle Fork of the American River about 9 miles west of the Sierra Nevada crest. The lake is fairly large boasting 1,900 surface acres and more than 8 miles of shoreline when at full capacity.
In the spring access to the reservoir is always an issue and anglers wait expectantly for word from Tahoe National Forest Rangers that the road to the lake is clear of snow and passable.
This spring things were especially challenging. Not only did the epic winter we endured pile up a huge amount of snow on the access roads, heavy unrelenting rain in the middle elevations generated slides and sinkholes that damaged backcountry roads up and down the state including the roads that provide access to French Meadows.
It wasn’t until the middle of May, that Tahoe National Forest employees announced that the main road to the lake was open.
Generally, I’m the first of my group of fishing buddies to hit the lake in the spring, but work and family obligations kept me sidelined for a few weeks this year, allowing my firefighter friend Rob Bundy and his son Drew to beat me to the punch.
Rob towed his boat up to the lake on May 19. The pair were pretty excited about tangling with some high country trout and they were especially excited about trying to fool one of the lake’s big browns.
“The lake is in great shape,” Rob reported back to me. “It’s full to the brim and the water quality is very good. There is a lot of floating wood stacked up near the dam, but in other areas there is very little debris.”
“Our plan was to start out trolling fast with stick baits early and then to switch it up if that wasn’t working. We were on the water just after sunrise and one of our plugs got slammed before I could even get everything into the water. We could tell it wasn’t a huge fish, but I was pretty shocked to see that it was a nice kokanee about 14 inches long. I didn’t even know the lake had kokanee in it,” said Rob.
This revelation shocked me too. I’d read that kokanee had been planted in the lake years ago, but I’d never seen one nor talked to anyone that had caught one.
“We trolled our stick baits for a while, but without any more action. By 7:30 or so we started experimenting with spoons and other lures in a variety of colors. The bite came on really strong between 8 and 9 and we landed 4 rainbows, 2 browns and another quality kokanee. And then the bite turned off. Excel spoons in bright colors produced most of the hookups when the fish were on the bite, but after it turned off we trolled until 3 o’clock without any more action. All the fish we caught were in the 12 to 14-inch range,” said Rob.
Buoyed by Rob’s report, my dog Lucy and I took a ride up to the lake during the last week of May to spend a half day bank fishing.
I drove around the lake to the second boat ramp and hiked a short distance through the woods to a spot where I’ve caught several 4 to 5 pound browns over the years. While Lucy played hide ‘n’ seek with the chipmunks that darted through the underbrush, I busied myself soaking an inflated nightcrawler on one rod and tossing first a Yo-Zuri L Minnow and then a quarter ounce Kastmaster on my second rod.
I got several bites on the worm rod right away and was surprised that I missed every fish. When I switched over to the chrome and blue Kastmaster, I found out why.
On the first 10 casts or so, I hooked, landed and released 6 rainbows that ran from 6 to 10 inches long. They were beautiful little guys that I quickly shook free of the hook to fight again when they grow up a little.
By 9 o’clock the lake’s surface went glassy calm and all action ceased.
If I’d had more time I would have liked to have stuck around for the late afternoon/evening bite, but that wasn’t in the cards.
Instead, I packed up my gear, played a little “fetch the stick” with Lucy and we drove back to home base in Foresthill. I’ll be back at French Meadows soon ‘cause I know there’s a fat brown up there with my name on it!