About Eagle Lake
By Valerie Aubrey, Copyright 2006/revised 2009
Eagle Lake is located in northeastern California at an elevation of approximately 5100 feet. The elevation of the lake depends on how high the water is on any given year. It is California’s second largest natural lake (Clear Lake being the largest). There are four communities on Eagle Lake; Eagles Nest (summer homes, no amenities) on the east side of the south basin, Spalding (summer resort, year round residents) located on the west side of the middle basin, Bucks Bay (homes only ,no amenities, access to BLM’s Rocky Point Campground (outhouses during the season, primitive, no picnic tables), located at the northwest end of Bucks Bay and Stones Landing (year-round and summer homes, no winter amenities) located at the northwest end of the north basin.
Eagle Lake has long been known for having heavy winds (typically in the afternoon but can come up much earlier) that create large swells and waves. Quite often small craft warnings are issued for Almanor and Eagle Lake. As a rule of thumb; if you wait until the wind swooshes passed your ears it’s already to late to beat it back to the docks. The lake is roughly 16 miles long and about 6 miles wide at its widest point so it can be quite a long way back to the docks depending on where you may be fishing.
Nearly every summer we have an algae bloom on the lake. Some years it is worse that others. The algae bloom increases in the north and middle basins when the lake elevation is low. Much of it caused by props stirring up the nutrients and fertilizing it to a heavy brown carpet covering the surface most of the summer. The algae bloom can really affect the fishing in many areas of the lake. It is a temporary condition and typically there are dirty areas of the lake and cleaner areas of the lake. I usually have those areas listed in my report. It can last about 3 weeks or longer and can ruin a fishing vacation for some folks. However, we do find clean water to fish in until the bloom is over. Note that the algae does plug up water pumps on jet boats as well as intakes on outboards and outdrives. It can stick in water pump tubing, water jackets and thermostats so be sure to keep an eye on your gages if you choose to go several miles through it.
Unlike other lakes in the state, Eagle Lake is an alkaline inland body of water. The pH of the lake is in the 9’s while other freshwater lakes are a neutral 7 on the logarithmic scale. The pH rises during the hot summer months posing problems with catching and releasing these beautiful trout, especially during years of drought and poor water quality.
Eagle Lake has long been a spiritual place. You can hear the whispers of the ancient Native Americans as the wind blows through the pines and sage. Check out the Cultural History page.
However the pioneers in the late 1800’s began several attempts at building a tunnel that would transfer irrigation water from Eagle Lake to the ranchers and farmers in the Honey Lake Valley via Willow Creek Valley. The Bly Tunnel (the only successfully completed tunnel) , located near Miner’s Point and the CSUC Biology station at the northeast side of the south basin, was finished in 1922 and drained 30 to 40 feet of water off of Eagle Lake. Both the north and the middle basin were completely dry and were used for farming and ranching. It was later found that the water from Eagle Lake was too alkaline and killed most all the crops it watered but if it is mixed with spring water in Willow Creek and the Susan River the diluted lake water is just fine. A rockslide helped seal the tunnel not too long after. Several books are available that really go into the pioneer history of the lake. Many are available locally during the fishing season. In 2008 local citizens complained about Eagle Lake water flowing out of a pipe at the Bly Tunnel (after testing the pH and finding it very close to the lake water at that time). Public outcry in 2009 caused the State to revist the water rights issue again. The water rights for the Bly Tunnel have a long history of having been revoked and removed by the state which is all contained in the Eagle Lake Basin Plan (based on the VAIL Report which was agreed upon by all agencies as the basis for the EL Basin Plan). After the EL Basin Plan was in affect, BLM installed an 8 inch pipe (planned on a 6 inch but it was increased and hand written in on the plans). The pipe was installed to abide by “perceived water rights” which obviously had previously been revoked and at that time revisited again (1977-1985). The flow of the pipe depends on the lake level and increases and decreases with that level. Estimates of water lost through the pipe from calculations taking lake levels into the equation have shown that anywhere from 5 to 8 ft of water has been drained off Eagle Lake since the pipe was installed. Dec 21, 2011 the State Water Resource Control Board Water Rights Division issued a request for BLM to close the valves that carry Eagle Lake water into Willow Creek. On Feb 2, 2012 BLM closed the valves. By Feb 16, 2012 a major water study has been initiciated for the entire Eagle Lake basin.
But prior to that, PG&E employees collected spawners and eggs for stocking Lake Almanor in the late1930’s (1939) and even sent some to associates in hydro electric’s in New Zealand where the Eagle Lake trout have done very well. So well, that New Zealander’s thought they had their own species of trout. DNA testing showed that all the trout tested in New Zealand were Eagle Lake trout. (the PG&E information was received from a geneticist).
The Eagle Lake Trout migrate throughout the lake. During the heat of the summer the trout move south and the tui chub move north to spawn in the warm shallow water. (Some do spawn in the south basin as well.) The tui chub offspring is the most important food source for the trout and are often seen along the shoreline. In fall, the cooler water temperatures bring the trout back to the shallows for a feast of freshly hatched minnows. Not all the fish migrate to the shallows, many large schools remain in the deep water of the south basin where the food supply simply never runs out and has its own tui chub minnow factory. However using minnows for bait on this lake is illegal. Make sure you know the regulations pertaining to this lake and its tributaries. Other natural food sources include fresh water shrimp (¾ inch at largest size), snails, various leeches, various damsel flies, caddis and mayflies as well as many other insects and aquatics.
From 1965 to 1979 the Department of Fish and Game began planting different (exotic) species of fish in Eagle Lake. Apparently before recognizing the alkaline factor may not allow other species to live very long in the lake. Other exotic species were planted prior to 1965 as well. One species that did thrive in the early 1900’s was large mouth bass. The bass disappeared after the tunnel and several years of drought during the 1930’s lowered the lake level and increased the alkalinity, but no factual evidence to that theory exists. The other species that were planted are as follows (Taken from The Pine Creek Assessment, Eagle Lake Watershed, By William Platts and Sherman Jensen for the USFSEagle Lake Ranger District 1991);
Great Lakes whitefish
Non Eagle Lake Rainbow Trout (several of unknown origins, 1965)
Largemouth bass (as far back as 1901)
Coho Salmon (1930’s)
Brown Trout (1914-1933)
Kokanee salmon (1952-1956)
Rainbow trout (again after the 1920’s)
Each native species has a part in the ecology of Eagle Lake and must be kept in balance. The speckled dace is a “guppy” sized beige (ish) colored fish that swim in small (family units) schools with anywhere from 2 to at very most 50 individuals (most noticeable during the hot summer months when you can see them swimming beside an anchored boat). Generally The Tahoe Sucker also depends on the flowing fresh water for some spawning. We see them come right into the trap and when we rescue trapped fish late in the spawn or pre-spawn. These fish are carefully cared for and returned to the lake. They are a special find and are treated as such. They don’t take electric shocking well so CDFG tries to capture as many as possible prior to any shocking.
The optimum lake elevation for the best water quality begins at 5106 ft. and higher. The historic high water level, I assume is recent (last 100 years) is 5125 ft. The Eagle Lake Trout do not spawn in the lake, they need fresh flowing 50 degree water in order for their eggs to have a chance at surviving. This is why they are drawn to the tributaries in spring. However, I have seen our trout attempt to spawn in a spring during a year that the creeks did not flow. But, if they do spawn in the lake during the right conditions the likelihood of their eggs surviving is extremely low.
After many years of drought the lake level on Feb 16, 2012 was 5096ft and it is going to get lower by the end of the fishing season. In Dec 2011 a single lane low level launch ramp was constructed behind the marina store to accomodate the recreation area and possibly the entire lake visitors by late summer/early fall 2012.
It is normal for the creeks to begin to flow by late February but nearly every year the temperatures drop, freezing things up again. We did expect this to happen in spring of 2006, despite the fact that the creeks flowed through the winter. We had measures in place to rescue fish if needed and install barriers to prevent the trout from entering the creek to the point of not being able to return to the lake freely if flows receded.
Folks use many different methods of angling to catch our trout. Due to warm summertime temperatures the water heats up and conditions change. Shore fishing is basically a poor choice during July and August, but early in the season and in fall shore fishing really picks up. But, during the heat of the summer it is necessary to be able to fish in 40 to 70 feet of water because the trout will be 30 to 45 feet deep.
Most people either troll, bait fish, cast lures and jigs or fly fish (fly-fishing is best in spring, fall and winter). The most frequently used live bait is a nightcrawler threaded on a hook. Nightcrawlers fished under slip bobbers is the best way to go because you can change the depth very quickly and easily. Trolling nightcrawlers is also a deadly combination. Eagle Lake Fishing Information and Network conduct fishing seminars at Mariners Resort at the north end of the lake and Eagle Lake Recreation Area down south.
Trolling is a favorite way for many folks to fish. These fish don’t just go for anything and they can be very particular on any given day. Sometimes one has to throw the tackle box at them to find the flavor of the day. But, if you have needlefish or similar type lures just make sure you have one with florescent orange on it to start with. Other folks (myself included) prefer to troll flies that were made popular by J. Fair. There are a few tricks to trolling flies but my best advice is to be holding your pole so you can set the hook in a heartbeat and don’t give them any slack. Brown and florescent orange are about the best flies on the lake but occasionally the time of year, the area of the lake, weather and the food source that is being taken by the trout comes into play. I have a variety of colors of flies but the brown and florescent orange are by far my favorite colors. Many people have also been trolling plastic grubs behind “wiggle disks” off their downriggers with great success the last few years.
Having faith in what you like to use can pay off, but don’t be afraid to ask people what they are using to catch fish when you aren’t. Most folks up here are pretty good about telling you how to catch fish. We have several competent fishing guides on the lake (see our website’s Proud Sponsors).
Nymphing is the most successful fly-fishing technique. Olive, brown and florescent orange are the best colors and shades depending on the time of year. Float tubing is becoming popular and I recommend being able to move to deeper water with the fish. Wading can provide some early action but after the sunrise you won’t be able to reach them unless you have means of doing so.
The fishing season begins the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend and is open through December 31. Folks visit from all over to fish for these trophy trout in their native water. Our typical fish is between 2 and 4 pounds with larger fish also being taken (mainly in Spring, fall or winter). The beauty of the Eagle Lake trout is the various colors and patterns that have been typical since before other fish species were planted in the lake. To say that there is a typical or normal Eagle Lake trout would be a misstatement.
Welcome to our home. All we ask of you is to respect the lake, its cultural heritage and all it has to offer. Please don’t litter or urinate in the lake. It is a closed system. Port-a-Potties on board are recommended as we have no floating bathrooms. In a pinch please go to shore to relieve yourself. People who care about the lake are out there watching. It’s a digital age. The indiscreet may end up being photographed and featured in a weekly column.
V. Aubrey, 2012 (C)