OFF THE HOOK: Secluded Lake Valley offers scrappy rainbows, abundant catfish
It was a magical early winter afternoon when I drove up from Citrus Heights to target trout from the bank at Lake Valley Reservoir on Dec. 7.
After I caught a 12-inch holdover rainbow while soaking Power Bait near the boat ramp, the big rafts of floating woody debris piled up on the lake next to the bank made it increasingly hard to fish. I walked across the dam and set up my two spinning rods with chartreuse Power Bait and rainbow Partake Fire Bait on sliding sinker rigs.
As the sun dipped over the horizon in the calm, still, warm air, the bite broke wide-open. I saw the tip of my left rod start bouncing as a fish grabbed the bait. The rod bent as the fish made a run and I grabbed the rod off the boulder it was perched on. As I set the hook and started reeling the trout in, the rod on the right also got slammed.
After I landed the 12-inch trout and took the treble hook out of its jaw, I grabbed the other rod and the fish was still on. After a great fight, I landed the 14-inch rainbow, bright and shiny and sporting a perfect tail.
I rebaited the rods and pandemonium ensued again. Again, the left rod got bit first. As soon as I began reeling the fourth rainbow, my fifth rainbow hit on the other rod and I soon had the two fish measuring 12 and 15 inches on the bank.
I carried the four fish, my two rods and my camera bag across the dam. The relative warmth of the day was replaced by the chill of the approaching night as I loaded my gear in the truck and put the four rainbows in my ice chest to join my first fish.
I was the only angler on the lake at the time, although three other anglers had been there fishing bait when I first arrived.
Paul Kneeland, Fish Sniffer Publisher, John Brassfield, owner of Trucksmart, and Jeff Brassfield, John's brother, also got a taste of the superb rainbow trout action that Lake Valley has to offer after they took John's 18-foot Duckworth to the Northern Sierra reservoir a couple of weeks before my trip.
"We decided to head up to Lake Valley after Jeff and his buddy caught limits of holdover rainbows while fishing inflated nightcrawlers and marshmallows off the bank," said Kneeland. "They only fished for 11⁄2 hours, from 3 p.m. to around 4:30."
The piscatorial trio put the boat on the water at 9:30 a.m. and caught rainbows wherever they trolled. Most of the fish were 15 to 20 feet deep in 25 feet of water.
They caught and released over 30 rainbow trout to 14 inches while trolling Excel spoons and Apex Trout Killers, Needlefish and Uncle Larry's spinners. They found the best action at 150 feet behind the boat off the Canon Downriggers at 19 feet deep at a speed of 1.8 m.p.h.
"They weren't real picky — they hit all of the lures that we put out," said Kneeland. "We keep four fish and all of them had red, bright meat."
Located a short distance off Interstate 80 in the Yuba Gap Region of the Sierra Nevada, this often bypassed reservoir offers anglers an opportunity to catch brown bullhead catfish, rainbow trout and German browns in a peaceful setting with little pressure by other anglers.
A PG&E reservoir on the North Fork of the North Fork of the American River located at 5,840 feet above sea level, Lake Valley holds 8,000 acre feet of water when full. The lake is stunningly beautiful, with a thick conifer forest completely surrounding it.
Rick Kennedy from Tight Lines Guide Service likes to hit Lake Valley in the late fall and early winter, providing the lake is not so low that launching becomes tough at the narrow boat ramp.
"I've found my best action while trolling either Sidekick dodgers and nightcrawlers or pulling Uncle Larry's spinners in black perch patterns," he tipped.
I first heard about the lake from Ted Samford, then the PG&E ditch tender, who told me it was a good spot to try for brown bullhead catfish.
I experienced my best catfish action at the reservoir during a very brief shore fishing adventure in June 2008. I arrived right before dark and found a great bite. I was able to quickly rack up a stringer of seven tasty brown bullhead catfish from 8 to 12 inches long while fishing with nightcrawlers.
In addition to rainbows and bullheads, the lake features a sleeper population of quality wild German brown trout. Rainbow trout are the only species planted currently at Lake Valley by the Department of Fish and Game.