Article and photos by Valerie Aubrey
Eagle Lake is located in Lassen County in northeastern California at an elevation of approximately 5100 feet. The nearest town is Susanville, which is a 30 to 45 minute drive from the lake depending on where you are staying.
Eagle Lake is approximately 135 miles from Reno NV, Klamath Falls OR, Redding CA and Chico CA. It is located on the eastern side of the far northern Sierra’s close to the Modoc Plateau and to the west the Cascade Range. This gives the lake area a beautiful, unique transition of flora from towering pine forests to high desert chaparral and fauna unique to each environment; all within a short drive of the lake.
The ancients revered Eagle Lake -- There is a long Native American history surrounding the lake and many sites are National Heritage sites. A history so deep one can still hear the whispers of the ancient ones as the wind blows through the sage and pine. Eagle Lake also has a turbulent past, evident when seeing the Brockman Flat Lava Beds that dominate the west side of the south basin.
Eagle Lake is known for its famous Eagle Lake trout of which a few have been caught between 5 and 8 pounds or more. The average trout runs between 2 to 3 pounds but can go to 3 to 4 pounds during years of high water and water quality.
With a bounty of food, trout grow fast -- The lake depends on springs and runoff from seasonal tributaries for water. It is an alkaline lake which harbors a massive amount of different food for the fast growing trout, who favor the multitude of crustaceans in the lake. Other feeds include fresh water shrimp, scuds, several leeches, beetles, boatman’s and fly hatches such as caddis and mayflies but the dragon fly and damsel larva are irresistible.
CDFG plants 45,000 pounds of trout twice a year. Generally the size per pound runs two per pound when planted but they come in all sizes. No matter the size, the quality of the red meat with a delicate light flavor is unsurpassed.
Other non-game fish are also native to the lake including but not limited to tui chub who produce massive schools of baitfish for the trout to fatten up on in fall.
Lassen National Forest has several campgrounds along the south shore. The largest campground is Merrill which has full and partial hook-ups for RV’s and was newly remodeled in 2005 to accommodate larger RV’s. There are two large group camps and three other campgrounds including one tent camping only. There is a swimming beach, marina store, showers, launch ramp, boat rentals & slips available.
Spalding and Stones Landing on the north shore are popular resorts -- A 20 minute leisurely drive north on Eagle Lake Road brings you to Spalding. Spalding is a resort community with three different stores (commercial boat docks, gas, propane & diesel), an RV park, boat repairs, rentals and a marina (there are fees to launch or park). There are vacation cabin rentals in all sizes and rates to accommodate one or two large families. Keep traveling north about 10 minutes from Spalding though the community of Buck’s Bay to Stones Landing. Stones Landing is a resort community located on the north shore of the north basin of the lake. The resort includes a store (gas, diesel, propane, boat slips, rental boats), beautiful RV park including clean rentals, a very nice restaurant & fireside lounge.
Wind surfing and water skiing to dirt road ATV use in summer to snowmobiling, snow shoeing and cross country skiing in winter. Hunters vie for our X4 deer hunting zone in fall and often some fair duck and goose hunting as well.
The fishing season on Eagle Lake begins on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend and ends one hour after sunset on December 31.
For more information about Eagle Lake including an exceptionally useful lake map, fishing tips and tricks, a fishing report updated several times a week during the fishing season, and much more go to eaglelakefishing.net.
All Eagle Lake all the time -- My name is Valerie (Val) Aubrey and I am a Chico, California native. My family has fished this lake since the mid 1940’s. I was dragged up here by my parents Joe and Jeanne Williams since infancy. I grew up fishing Eagle Lake in particular and have been doing so for the last 47 years. I’m told that I could reel in a fish before I could walk.I take pride in knowing the lake and like to share my knowledge in hopes of teaching people to respect the area and what effort it takes to maintain the fishery.
My roots go slightly deeper than that though, my uncle, John Williams (when owning Lassen Paving) paved both Eagle and Merrill Campgrounds originally and also repaired banking issues that came up after the first paving of County Rd. A-1 (from Susanville). After that we had nice campgrounds in which to stay.
In the late 1980’s my husband Randy Aubrey (a Marysville native) and I began guiding fishing trips while working with my good friend J. Fair. In 1991 we moved to Spalding permanently and started our own guide service called Golden Bear Guide Service, named after our two golden retrievers Bear and Goldie.
Guardian and reporter -- Since retiring from guiding, I have developed two websites about Eagle Lake including a regularly updated fishing report, lake conditions and ramp conditions which span the entire fishing season. In 2011, I along with Rebecca Walker (George) owner of the General Store in Spalding formed a new nonprofit for the lake called Eagle Lake Guardians. Our goals are to protect and enhance Eagle Lake water levels, water quality, Heritage fishery and avian habitat.
The fishing season on Eagle Lake begins the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend and ends December 31.
One of the challenges to fishing Eagle Lake is hunting down the trout that migrate throughout the three basins that form the lake. Mostly, their movement is determined by the season and water temperature. This specimen, photo by Thomas Lane, was given CPR..."Catch, Photograph and Released."
Many different methods work to catch Eagle Lake trout. In spring (late May & June) fly fishing, float tubing and bank fishing can be very good in the shallows and along the shoreline as long as the water temperatures remain below 65. Bait fishermen and trollers also do well and find most of the trout in the top 10 feet of water. Between the water temperatures of 65F and 68F, the lake begins her transition to summer (July & August).
Generally, when surface temperatures reach 70F+, the trout leave the shallow basins and water and head for the depths of the south basin where they hover between 27 and 35 feet deep in water 35 to 65 feet deep.
Downriggers can be essential -- Trollers often use downriggers to reach depths to 35 feet where running nightcrawlers or lures such as Needlefish & Sure Catch spoons are favored. Anglers also successfully troll grubs and trolling flies of various colors and patterns. In most cases, one can’t go wrong using fluorescent orange, however, the color of the water during summer and fall transitions can make one color work better than those used in late spring.
Once the lake begins to cool down below 70F it is a good indication that fall is in the air.
As the water temperature begins to drop to 68F (September), the trout in their summer haunts get restless and begin to head north where freshly hatched tui chub minnows provide a fattening feast. This the trout needed to survive the cold fall and winter months (October-December). This is the time when most minnow imitations are irresistible to the trout (live minnows cannot be used on Eagle Lake). Fly fishermen and shore fishermen do best in spring, fall and winter through December 31. Photo by Thomas Lane
Catch and Keep in the heat -- Since Eagle Lake is alkaline, water quality proves to be critical to the survival of the trout when being caught and released. During the heat of summer the pH of the lake rises. When it reaches a uniform pH of 9.4 in all three basins of the lake, California Department of Fish and Game posts a voluntary “Catch and Keep” recommendation. Despite being able to catch fish rising to the morning and evening hatches while fly fishing in summer, most fly anglers will fish before the voluntary recommendation is posted and after it is removed.
Bait fishing under slip bobbers and trolling work anytime during the fishing season. Generally only the basin, depth of water, depth of the trout and occasionally the lure, fly or grub color change with the rising or falling water temperatures. Quite often, the angle of the sun and length of the days can trigger a migration, even if water temperatures don’t change drastically . Nature's particulars are always at work and affect where the fish are and what they are doing on any given day of the season.
Are you up to the challenge? Many anglers are not only under the spell cast by the ancient natural lake, but are drawn to the challenge that fishing Eagle Lake brings.