Tips and Tricks Eagle Lake in CA

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Val’s How To Guide for trolling leadcore, top-lines and tips for downriggers. This section covers trolling bait, lures and trolling set-up suggestions, leader spicing and specialized techniques for various methods.

NOTE: If you don’t have a GPS contoured map on your boat or kayak’s depth finder, here’s the best way to get one cheap.  $9.99/yr Navonics boating app.  It has Eagle, Almanor and Antelope lakes (close to our area) so if you need a good way to tell where you are, how close to a ledge and see the contours of the lakes every 5ft of depth this is a very easy fix. It has three different map views.  Sonar is the best for me.  It does NOT need cell signal and uses your phones GPS for location on the lake.  It’s perfect in my kayak where I only have a depth finder and temp.  Not a bad battery sucker but close out all your apps.  Read the instructions.  It also has a 15 day trial period so you can chose to buy it.  It’s the best one I have used. Better than google.  

LEADCORE TROLLING LINES: One of the first things new trollers visiting ask me is if the fish are holding too deep to use leadcore trolling lines or do they need to use their downriggers. That too is a matter of preference. I use leadcore for trolling deep, at least as deep as the fish ever get at that is 30 to 35 feet. I use my downriggers a few times a year but generally out of boredom of fishing every other way.

Leadcore line is just that. A lead “thread” covered by a nylon or Dacron (or other synthetic) braid. There is a steel core line out that is more environmentally friendly but I have not tried it yet, however I am going to this season as I will need to re-spool a reel. Micro Braid doesn’t have the same sink rate. The “braid” determines the line test, not the diameter of lead in the center. Leadcore line is metered and changes color every 10 yards or 30 ft. One of the most difficult things people have a hard time figuring out is their sink rate per color of leadcore and does the sink rate change with the pound test. First the sink rate for the pound test; there is not a lot of difference in the sink rate between 12 and 15 pound test but there is a slight change between 15 and 18 pound test. Let’s stop right there because you don’t need anything any heavier for this lake. I used 15 pound test for years because I could fit 10 colors on a smaller level wind reel but even at that I never had to go any deeper than 6 colors and it left me with 4 colors (120 ft) for a “run”. But the 12 and 15 pound test lead line is difficult to splice on new leaders after it has been pulled tight a few times. So I went back to the 18 pound test leadcore and have 6 colors and 175 feet of backing. I have not had to drop out more than 4 and a half to 5 colors when our trout go deep. Many new downrigger users that have not had experience with leadcore think we have to reel in too much line when a fish strikes. But, at 100 to 140 ft of line is not that much. (Even downrigger users have better results trolling 100 or more feet behind the boat.) Use a shorter leader of about 15 feet when you are fishing more than 3 colors deep. I do know one person that fishes 250 to 300 feet behind his big boat…and he never has much of a problem catching fish and pays attention to the boats around him because he knows he is fishing much farther away from his boat than normal trollers being careful. But, there is not a lot of people out there paying a lot of attention so you have to watch them every step of the way.

SINK RATES vary with what you are dragging (lure weight changes depths) and how fast you are trolling as well as how much leaded line you have out. I can drop one color of lead in the water (about 1 and ½ off the reel) and by using my speed and turns I drop that one color to 16 ft and pull it back up to 3, all from 0.6 mph to 1.8 plus mph. In other words, one color in the water can drop 3 to 16 ft deep depending on speed, conditions and what you are trolling. A 1/4 oz lures sinks 7ft at 2 mph so one has to factor that in as well.

TROLLING SPEED: Speed is critical for getting the best action from what ever you are dragging. Different lures, grubs and bait fish require different speeds in order to get the perfect action. But, the first rule of thumb is don’t troll using lures/bait that run at different speeds. IE, trolling bait requires a slow speed and a lure such as a rapala works best at a faster speed … don’t try to “split the difference” then neither one will work right. I generally only troll flies but I have been known to use other things when I am bored. Flies work at most all speeds but I generally change patterns if I am trolling with friends who are dragging worms. That change is basically just putting on a smaller wooly bugger with a long wiggle tail (J Fair Fly) Flies have little weight to them and pretty much stay right where your line puts them. But, when the wind blows it isn’t easy going slow enough when trolling with a 10 to 20 mph wind…at that point I simply let the wind blow but I put my trolling motor in reverse which drops me right back to the correct speed. But, remember you are in reverse when you make a turn or you will turn the wrong direction. There are days on this lake that normal trolling speeds don’t get attention….speed up rather than slow down. I have had many days that I had to pick up my speed to 2.5 to 3 mph before I would get any attention.  Some newer lures like “optimizers” which we will run this year require a very fast speed of 3.5 to 4.2 mph which is something to think about when the wind comes up and is blowing you that speed when going with the waves.

LEADCORE LEADER SPLICING: First, remove 3 to 4 inches of the lead core by pushing down on the braid and pulling gently on the lead thread. Pinch off 3 to 4 inches of lead. Gently pull the braid back down so there aren’t any loose wrinkles above the end of the lead. This leaves a tube at the end of the leadcore line. Now, make three very loose half hitch knots slide each one above the end of the lead ( I start my loops 18″ above the end and work them down the line. You will be sliding these loops back down so don’t let them get tight…I leave a loop about 2 inches in diameter so I can get my fingers in it when sliding them down. After you have the three “knots” loosely looped in the line, take the end of your leader and insert it into the tube left by the lead you removed and butt it up to the end of the lead in the line. Leave a clean cut at the end of the leader you are inserting in the tube so it slides without resistance. Thread the leader all the way up so that it meets or butts up to the lead core, this is important. Hold it tight right there. Gently slide the first half-hitch knot down to the end of the braided tube about a half inch from the leader and pull it tight…don’t pull on the leader material yet, only the braid. Pull the second half hitch knot down the line and tighten it about a half inch above the first knot, then the third knot a half inch above the second. There should be an inch and a half or so of leader inside the braid above the knots. This makes a smooth splice that goes through your level wind and guides easily. Suffix line is of great quality but difficult to splice, especially with a stiff braid such as fireline (my favorite). I use a small wire and and flash burn the end leaving an open tube, but it is easier to use a small quilting needle to thread the leader line up the suffix. It is the fine micro braid that makes up the sheath that is difficult to deal with, but it is very tough line. NOTE: If the leadcore sheath is too tight to release the lead thread for a splice it is probably been hooked up on rocks too many times or is old and needs replaced. But in an emergency we have used nail-knots to attach the leader to the leadcore when we haven’t been able to get the lead out for a splice. The nail knot works fine but is not as smooth through the reel or the guides and if it is going to break, it will break at the nail knot. I throw in a half-hitch at the end of the line and tie the nail knot just above it. That way if the nail knot slips on the Dacron it can not slip off the line…at least when you have a fish on. It can save a day or weekend of fishing just knowing some alternate methods of setting up in a pinch.  Re do back at home or camp.

The length of your leader depends on how deep (how many colors) you are fishing. I use my leadcore’s not only for deeper trolling but for top-lining as well. If you are fishing more than 3 colors deep then 20 ft of leader is fine, but if you are trolling shallow water and are 1 to 2 colors deep you will need a longer leader. I use no less than 50 ft of leader when targeting shallow water with my leadcore. This lake has what we call a 100 ft rule. You will catch more fish trolling in shallow water if your bait is 100 to 125 ft and often 150ft behind the boat. The length is critical when running multiple trolling rods. When I am running 4 to 6 lines at close to the same depth, distance is important when making turns or in a wind.

Type of leader is a personal preference. But, here is what I like and why I like it. For the 20 to 50+ foot section of leader from my leadcore I prefer “fireline” (10 to 14 pound test). Why? Because it has floating properties and it takes a lot of abuse. The floating properties keep it tracking true to my leadcore once the lead brings it down, it also “bends” on the turns like a fly line. I always use a barrel swivel and use clear or light green mono to the hook. Maxima ultra green #8 is by far the toughest line I have ever used and I have broken 10-12 pound fluoro, trilene and other lines and not broken the #8 maxima. I have straightened out hooks and got my flies and lures back more often than not on Maxima. I have not been too impressed with fluorocarbon leader because of the amount of stretch it has on the hook set (and trolling flies requires a fast hard hook set). There is absolutely no stretch in fireline. I can feel it drag over the rocks to the point that I know if it is the line vs. the barrel swivel bouncing off the bottom. But, there are a couple of draw backs. 1) If you do get lines crossed and mono has tangled with fireline don’t waste your time trying to untie the mess, just cut the mono line and start over. The fireline will not lose any strength with a few twists or kinks, even a few knots will not decrease its power too much. If the mess isn’t too bad you can be back in the water in no time. Generally cutting the mono and pulling it through the mess works best. Don’t waste time. 2) Don’t get the fireline wrapped around your prop. I have been lucky to have gotten all mine back one day simply by putting my kicker in reverse but if you fail, the fireline can damage your seals and possibly your shaft if you don’t take care of removing it right away.

We also use our leadcore as “top-lines” made popular by J Fair. Finding and paying for the specialized fly-line set-up and dedicating a reel for only one purpose is more than the average Joe can afford to have at hand. The leadcore can be used to do the same thing just use a lot more leader than you are used to. Remember the 100 ft rule in shallow water and adjust your leader length accordingly. I do have dedicated top-lines and run them along with my leadcore’s. All the lines terminal ends are at the same depth but their distances are different. If you have all your trolling lines the same length you will hang them up together on sharp turns.

If you are looking for a reasonably priced level wind reel for trolling check out Diawa Millionaire 300. Regardless of the brand of level wind, avoid reels that use plastic inserts for the line to come out through as they create a lot of resistance while letting your line out. Double-wire line guides are best. Abu Garcia 6500 series ($99+) wear out eventually and while they are doing so, they can drive you crazy when they free spool when you are least expecting it… but I can not really complain a whole lot because they have landed thousands of fish before falling apart. Even after having several repaired professionally, that free spool problem still exists. I have never had any problems with my Millionaires. Some of mine are pushing 30years old, caught thousands of fish and never needed but a drop of oil here and there. Bullet proof so to speak. I often have to keep pulling the line hard on my Abu Garcia 6500’s in order for it to “catch” so I can reel it back in. I have had to hand-line many fish when the free spool problem cant be fixed in time. Once I have to hand-line a big trout, that reel is in the can. Not something I like to have happen, I just keep an eye on the repaired ones. Once I can’t get them to stop, they will be garbage. Just be sure of the size or spool capacity can hold 250 to 275 yards of 14 lb mono (the way they are listed) or use the Abu Garcia 6500 series as a comparison. Okuma makes a nice levelwind too for a reasonable price. In a pinch, the Marina store carries several levelwind reels at a very reasonable price. Unless on a major sale, the millionaires are $55-$60. The marina has them stocked at $54.99. So they aren’t out to gouge you and it’s cheaper than having to run to Susanville and take your chances on quality and stock.

We have also been using short sections of leadcore off braids and mono lines so folks with smaller reels or spinning reels can troll if that’s what the fish are hitting on. We have a formula for how many feet of leadcore you need to get to the right depth at 100ft of line behind the boat. The more line you let out the deeper it will sink. Once all that lead is in the water it will sink faster and more controllable than sinkers. But on average it gets you right to the right depth depending on how much line you let out beyond 100ft. Easy on and off by loop to loop splices. I really like inline weight such as leadcore over sinkers or split shots to get the depths…or guess at the depths. I won’t publish the formula publicly, but I will tell you how much to use for the depth we are catching them at at the time, just email me or come to a seminar if you want to troll but cant afford an entirely new rod/reel and line set up. But if you fish this lake often, you should have a leadcore line!!

We troll “toplines” all the time up here.  We use a special fly line with a section of leadcore on it with 50 to 100yards of braid or backing.  The fly line tracks the boat turn for turn which is great for working points and underwater structures such as rock piles.  These lines are now only available at or through myself and paid for on noting that I delivered them.  Best to have me do it for you.  And if you ever need a repair to one, just hit me up. 

DOWNRIGGERS: Most people that have downriggers know how to use them. There are only a few things to think about when fishing Eagle Lake. One is that the bottom can change from 50 ft deep to 5 feet deep in the blink of an eye. So watch your depth finder or better yet watch the water in front of you. Another tip is for those of you trolling flies or grubs from downriggers is to put the line a little deeper into the line-clip. This will make it take a little more effort for a fish to take the fly or grub and will also help set the hook when the fly or grub is taken. Downrigger trollers have not had great hook setting results when trolling flies to light biting trout. Generally the hits are light enough just to pop the line off the clip. Give it a little more grab and see what happens. My buddies are up to a 80 plus percent hook rate with flies from downriggers by setting the line a little deeper into the clip. Also, use longer rods so when the line does pop off, the rod unloading can take up some slack. The first thing a big Eagle Lake trout does after you set the hook is charge the boat attempting to slack the line and spit the hook. The bigger the fish, the faster he comes. Be sure you have a fast reel when trolling this lake. Once he sees the boat he’ll see you later. That is when the fight begins.

Some people use side planers to get more rods out trolling but these are really unnecessary and if other fisherman don’t see that you are fishing 100 ft from each side of your boat you can’t blame them for running over your lines because they couldn’t see the side planers. But they do get lines into shallower water for those who don’t brave the rock piles or want to take chances. For the most part, using side planers is a gimmick for those not knowing how to get more lines in the water or having the nerve or courage to work the ledges and rocky points. But they work.  You will still catch fish, but you won’t make a lot of friends if you use them in close proximity to others. You can catch plenty of fish without them just use common sense. Generally I only see a few people using them to get their lines in closer to shore without getting their boat close to the rocks or using them to get their lines and bait closer to the boats that are catching fish without getting their boats too close for comfort. Well, what ever makes you happy, but generally the ones trolling all the garbage are the ones working hardest for the fish. With proper depth and distance you can troll 6 to 8 rods without having a mess but everyone has to pay attention. Eight is my personal best for leads and toplines but stacking your lines on the downrigger can get more rods in the water too. Don’t try to reel in a nice trout while under power. Our trout have soft mouths and get off before you can get them in under a drag, especially on a fly.  Treble hooks can do it, but we generally just bring in lines and let the fish fight without putting boat pressure on it.  It doesn’t take us long to let lines back out again and we don’t blow the remaining fish out of the hole by doing so.

GPS and Mapping: Most people I know who use GPS mark the spot where they caught a fish. Since I fish this entire lake it never occurred to me to mark a “hole”. Over the years I have marked every rock pile, high spot, ledge and spring I have found which has added up to nearly 400 way-points. I never want to think I have them all, the low water through the drought made me add about 60 more high spots. I have used Navonics Maps but they don’t have quite a few spots that I have marked but its a good start. So I will stay with my way for now!! LoL.

I will be adding more tips and tricks along the way and will be sure to send you here when I do. But, these are the basics and I hope you all have a more enjoyable time fishing. Please feel free to call or email me for any other questions you may have.

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