It is cliched to say you, “really have to see it to believe it” or “words do not do it justice” but in describing Trinity Lake and the surrounding area those cliches hold true.
Seldom do words aptly describe a cold spring morning where a misty fog rises above a flat calm lake surface dotted by the dimples formed by rising trout under a backdrop of snow covered mountain peaks. Nor do they delight in the joy of a campfire under a clear night sky where when lying back there are too many stars to count. Trinity Lake just has to be experienced.
Trinity Lake in the majestic northwestern corner of California is one of the recreational gems formed as part of the Central Valley Project, providing flood protection, power, recreation and most importantly water for the water scarce areas of the Central Valley farmlands.
Weaverville is the closest major town to the lake about 20 miles from the south end of the lake and while offering the full amenities of a county seat, your options are very limited. If you want a drug store, there is one. A major grocery store, yes, there is one of those also. You will not find a permanent traffic signal light in the entirety of Trinity County.
Some travelers just do not like to drive over Buckhorn Summit on Highway 299. There have been great improvements on this twisting stretch of highway which covers just over a thousand foot of elevation change but some drivers and angler’s towing boats just shy away from it keeping to the more easily accessible Shasta and Whiskeytown lakes. As I mentioned, the lake is just far enough away.
The Alps provide not only an inspiring backdrop but outstanding recreational opportunities for hikers, back packers, climbers and trekkers. Most all of the peaks in the range are under 9,000 feet elevation although many would claim otherwise at first glance. Hunters also enjoy the lake and the region as deer and bear are plentiful in the area. Bird watchers are amongst the many visitors who enjoy the many eagles, ospreys and other bird life that is abundant around the lake.
Trinity Lake is the third largest reservoir in the North State, following Shasta and Oroville Lakes and is formed by a massive earthen dam spanning the Trinity Rver. With the return of great water levels in 2011 Trinity Lake was once again filled to the brim creating one of the prettiest lakes in the state.
Trinity has all the amenities of nearby Shasta Lake, with numerous marinas offering well appointed houseboats, patio and personal watercraft for rent. There are numerous lake side resorts that offer cabins and camp grounds. One of the most popular cabin resorts is the Trinity Alps Resort just minutes from the lake on the beautiful Stuart’s Fork of the Trinity River.
The public campgrounds and ramps are managed by the Shasta Recreation Company of Redding. Yearly passes are available for launching at Trinity and nearby Lewiston Lake. For those who also enjoy boating and fishing at both Shasta and Trinity there is a discounted combination ramp sticker that can be purchased from the SRC.
Shasta Recreation can also provide a list of the facilities available at the various campgrounds as well as book reservations. SRC also manages the public ramps and public campgrounds at nearby Lewiston Lake and Shasta Lake.
Smallmouth Bass are often the first thing anglers think of when a discussion of Trinity Lake begins and for good reason. Tim Brady a local resident and regular report source to myoutdoorbuddy.com from Trinity Outdoors in Weaverville held the California State Record for smallies for about 30 years with a 9.1 beauty caught in 1976. That record has been bested in recent years by a couple of fish out of Lake Pardee in the Motherlode area but many feel that Trinity will once again prevail.
(l) Knowledgeable smallmouth anglers catch numerous trophy bronzebacks in the 5 to 7 pound range with semi-regular frequency.
There is also a great largemouth fishery at this lake with some into the 10 pound range to be targeted. I have seen pictures of some true monsters but as with many bass anglers the pictures were taken from non-descript locations away from where the fish were caught. Tournament anglers do not want to give locations away. But the fish are spread out throughout the lake. I know of one 8 plus pounder that broke my nephew off right in front of the dam. We all had gotten a real good broadside view of her before she snapped his line in a final surge.
For the everyday angler, the backs of coves, long points, rocky outcroppings, stump beds and the ever popular dredging piles at the north end of the lake are excellent places to begin the search. Gitzits, dropshotting, ripbaits, crankbaits and swimbaits are popular bass baits at Trinity.
Trout and salmon also present excellent fisheries at Trinity, as rainbows, browns, kokanee and land-locked King Salmon offer anglers great opportunities on the lake.
Full and near full water levels and continuous cold water flows being supplied from the snowmelt of the nearby Alps usually make trout fishing exceptionally good around any creek or tributary mouth. Trollers, fly anglers and bank anglers do well with a variety of baits, just about everything works when the fish are cooperating.
Trolling is a very popular for Trinity trout and salmon. Shallow water, surface to 12 feet trolling works especially well around the confluence of tributaries and creeks. Anglers moving out from the shallows are able to use lead core and downrigger techniques to target trout as well as the abundant kokanee population on the lake. According to Monty Currier, Fisheries Biologist for the California Department of Fish and Game, the kokanee population is now self sustaining and may not require future stocking. While most of the kokes run 10-12 inches here, the cold water keeps the fish clean of copepods and other parasites.
There has been an active stocking program for land-locked King Salmon on Trinity in recent years and the results have been fantastic.The DFG has recently recognized land-locked kings as a fish worthy of separate state record considerations and the first three records have come from Trinity Lake.
Local guide and previous record holder Mike Elster has found the trolling for land-locked kings fantastic, with most of the kings located a little deeper than the trout and kokes.
With the abundant Kokanee as a food source, look for Trinity to continue to kick out future record fish. It is interesting to note that the current record fish was caught at the North End in just 12 feet of water.
There have been reports of some land-locked Kings going through the motion of making spawning runs up the tributaries but studies to date do not show any positive return of naturally spawned kings. It may be possible that this big king was on his way to spawn upstream of the lake.
Did you know that Trinity also hosts a great population of Brown Bullhead catfish? The current state record of 4-8 pounds was caught in 1993 on Trinity Lake.
Many anglers also like to try for trout in many of the larger tributaries and nearby small lakes in the nearby Alps. Trout fishing in the Stuart’s Fork, Swift Creek and North Fork can be good at times for those looking for some smaller water to explore, but remember while the lake remains open year round but the tributaries -- the streams themselves are subject to seasonal closures. Be sure to always fish lake water, below the current lake level mark to remain legal.
Whether you come to Trinity to enjoy world class fishing or to kick back and enjoy the cool water and breathtaking views, the lake is well worth the trip. Winters can be cold and even though the lake is only at 2370 foot elevation, a good amount of snow can make access tough, especially for launching a boat. Spring is often the best time but summers are very pleasant and a popular family destination, but remember that like Shasta you can always find a place of your own.
Photos by Casey Allen, Lee Freeman, Mike Elster and Terry Lauerman