SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. Thinking there are few places to fish, Californians still shy away from taking icefishing seriously.
On the other hand, from January through March, anglers can find a handful of roadside waters that offer easy access to icefishing destinations.
Throughout Northern California and the upper reaches of the Sierra, several waters provide anglers with great access to frozen lakes that can yield rainbow, brown, brook, lake and cutthroat trout.
Icefishing doesn't require tremendous skills. Anglers with an auger and shovel can use their trout gear that they normally use in lakes, rivers and streams and become successful at icefishing.
It's much easier than you might expect.
Caples and Silver lakes
Of the many NorCal waters that freeze each year, Caples and Silver lakes are often the most consistent producers. However, the last few years, more than 4 feet of ice has required anglers to find extensions to their augers in order to break through the thick layer and start fishing.
At times, you'll run into a layer of ice, followed by a layer of slush and another ice layer. You need to drill through all three to be successful.
Caples and Silver can be approached the same way. Most folks don't bother walking towards the inlets.
Action can be found along the highway near the dam and spillway. (If you are going to park here, be sure to pull entirely off the highway or the sheriff will ticket you.)
In order to get an idea how deep the water is, drill your first hole close to shore. Both lakes are drawn down prior to freezing. If you begin drilling too close to the bank you may waste time by drilling on dry land.
After drilling, if you see you are only a foot deep, you'll want to go deeper; 10 feet or more is preferable.
Regardless of whether you make Caples or Silver your destination, you'll want to start by drilling several holes. The more holes you have, the more light is able to penetrate. This helps to warm the water and draw in trout.
Last season, Rapala ice jigs, small Crippled Herring, Megabait Live Jigs, Gold Label Balls O' Fire eggs and nightcrawlers were the most productive baits at Caples and Silver.
Contact The Sportsman (530-542-3474) in South Lake Tahoe for current conditions.
Because of its high elevation, Red Lake is always one of California's most consistent icefishing waters. Red Lake froze in mid-December and will likely remain fishable through the ice into May.
Red offers a mix of brook and cutthroat trout and is also a prime destination for anglers to use natural baits.
Browns are available, yet rare. Last year, Orange Deluxe Balls O' Fire eggs, Atlas Mike's Sugar Egg and nightcrawlers were the top baits. Former veteran employee of The Sportsman (530-542-3474) in South Lake Tahoe, Mike Nielsen said that scent can be a huge factor at Red.
"I know last season that Liquid Krill was a big hit at Red," Nielsen said.
"The water is cold, so you need to add scent to get the fish to bite. Natural scents work very well up there."
Red is much smaller than Caples and Silver, so anglers often find more success. Trout are more concentrated. Red's depth will average 5 to 20 feet. For best results, vary your depth by beginning in shallow water and moving towards deeper water if success is hard to come by.
Fishing the middle of the lake has never been extremely productive, though.
The difference between Caples and Silver lakes and Red Lake is that you have the opportunity to catch trophy fish at Caples and Silver whereas at Red, you may only catch fish in the 12 to 14-inch class.
Nevertheless, you are more likely to catch a quick limit at Red than Caples and Silver.
Boca, Prosser, Stampede lakes
On the north side of Lake Tahoe, Boca, Stampede and Prosser reservoirs tend to freeze most years.
Anglers are cautioned to call Mountain Hardware in Truckee (530-587-4844) to check on conditions, though. These lakes tend to thaw with the slightest warming trend and may become unsafe until the next cold front.
These waters offer mostly pan-size trout and after a heavy winter storm only Boca offers roadside access.
Prosser, historically, can be reached with a 4-wheel-drive vehicle, while you'll likely need a snowmobile to access Stampede. Worms tend to be the hottest bait, although many anglers jig small spoons. Most trout from this trio will be pan size.
Lake Davis has had some ice on it since early December; however, February is traditionally the most consistent month. Due to the lake's elevation, the lake thaws more quickly than others.
Before heading to Davis, always contact Dollards Market in Portola (530-832-5351) for up-to-the-minute ice conditions.
If you recall last season, Davis yielded many quality trout through the ice. In fact, 2 to 4-pound trout were common.
Historically, the county has plowed the road to Mallard; past here you have to walk or snowmobile. The inlets at the back of the lake are always productive.
Most anglers do best at Davis when staying close to shore. The best action comes to anglers dropping nightcrawlers, Balls 'O Fire salmon eggs and other natural baits 5 to 15 feet below the ice. It's also best to keep your bait 12 inches off the bottom.
At Davis, the early morning bite has never been great. Anglers can sleep in and allow the air to warm up before fishing. Trout bite better during the middle of the day because it's warmer.
Reaching further north, residents of Mount Shasta City, Dunsmuir and Yreka find Castle Lake very productive through the ice. While popular spots like Juanita and Kangaroo aren't accessible due to ice and snow, the road to Castle remains plowed allowing anglers roadside access.
For more information on Castle Lake, contact The Tackle Shop in Yreka (530-841-1901).
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