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Visitor’s Guide to Lake Tahoe Fishing

Last updated: November 2023

The secret is out. Fishing in Lake Tahoe is some of the best in the country. The deep, pure waters of the largest alpine lake in North America are teeming with trout, salmon and other sport fish. But with so many options, it’s hard to know where to drop in a line. We’ve put together this Lake Tahoe Fishing Guide to help answer all your fishing questions, like… 

  • How good is the fishing? 
  • What’s the best season to fish? 
  • What kind of fish are in Lake Tahoe? 
  • Are there fishing guides available? 
  • And many more. 

How Good Is the Fishing In Lake Tahoe? 

Simply put, excellent. Freshwater anglers consider Lake Tahoe one of their favorite fishing holes. And with good reason – it’s 22 miles long, 12 miles wide and 1,645 deep. As you can see from our Lake Tahoe Fact Sheet, there’s plenty of room for fish of all kinds.  

Photo: Matt Heron Fishing 

The Fish Of Lake Tahoe 

Fisherman favorites include Mackinaw (Lake) Trout, followed by cousins Rainbow, Brook and Brown. And when the weather warms up, the Sockeye Salmon (Kokanee) start getting active. To hook any of these fish, you need to know where they are and how to catch them. Let’s take a closer look at each. 

Big Mack 

Lake Tahoe is famous for Mackinaw Trout  (Lake Trout). These beautiful fish can weigh anywhere from 5-20 pounds. They prefer cold water so they’re constantly on the move. March through June is the peak Mackinaw season. Follow these fishing tips for a chance to reel one in. 

  • Jigging means fishing with downriggers (weighted lures) at different depths. It’s low-cost and extremely effective.  
  • Trolling means drawing lines through the lake from the back of a boat. Perfect for offshore fishing. 

Catch A Kokanee  

Kokanee (Sockeye Salmon) are some of the most desired fish in Lake Tahoe. They love deep, warm water, which means they’re most active from July until October. To hook one, try trolling, jigging and drift fishing. Nightcrawlers and minnows are good bait options.  

The Trout Of Lake Tahoe 

While the Mackinaw Trout is undeniably the star of the show, Lake Tahoe is full of other trout species. Rainbow Trout are the most popular, followed by Brown, Brook and Cutthroat. And while they might be the same species, they all have unique habits:  

  • Rainbow Trout: These shimmering fighters can weigh anywhere from 2-25 pounds. They’re most active May through November. Look for them in deep water and rocky shores.   
  • Brown and Brook Trout: Far less common but an absolute blast to catch. Browns prefer the shallows. Brookies like streams at higher elevations. Both are active in early summer.  
  • Cutthroat Trout: Named for their inability to mix with other trout, these fierce warriors tend to show up in spring and summer. They love nightcrawlers and worms.  
Photo: Matt Heron Fishing 

Lake Tahoe Fishing Hot Spots 

Now that you have a deeper understanding of the fish of Lake Tahoe, the next step is finding the prime spot – the ones only the locals know about. Good news, there are plenty. The sheer size of Lake Tahoe plus its many rivers and streams means you’ll never run out of opportunities to cast a line. The great news, we put together a list of the best ones.  

According to the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, the Upper Truckee River offers ideal conditions during the early part of the fishing season, although fishing is closed year-round from the dam to 1,000 feet downstream.   

Sawmill Lake, a 10-acre private lake inside Northstar California, is renowned for its “fighting rainbow trout,” although the lake is reserved for catch-and-release fly-fishing only. 

A great spot for bank fishing is the West Shore. Grab some worms or small spinners and see if you can coax a brown trout out of the shallows. This is a popular spot for families with small children.   

The most successful anglers know a boat is still the best method. That’s where the big fish are hiding, especially as you get deeper into the season. There are plenty of guides and charters to choose from.  

Photo: Matt Heron Fishing 

Lake Tahoe Fishing Guides and Charters 

Whether you’re a first-time angler or a seasoned pro, venture out into Lake Tahoe’s deeper waters for a truly breathtaking day of fishing. Not only will you have a great day of fishing, you’ll get once-in-a-lifetime views of Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Mountains.  

Start with the knowledge guides at Sierra Fin Addicts. With over two decades of experience, they’ll specialize in shallow water and light tackle. They know where the fish are biting. Reliably.    

Or maybe you’re ready to try fly fishing. Then get with Matt “Gilligan” Koles of Gilligan’s Guide Service. He’s been fly fishing for Truckee trout for almost 40 years. He has the gear, knowledge and patience to teach you the fine art of throwing a fly.  

Located primarily in Everline Resort and Spa, Matt Heron Fly Fishing is another excellent fishing resource in the area. Experience the best of fly fishing in the Sierra Nevada with award-winning, year-round guide trips for newbies to veteran anglers. Enjoy a morning “Catch N’ Cast” with a private stocked pond, then test your skills with a half or full day venture to the glimmering Truckee River.  

With a fishing charter, you let someone else drive the boat while you take in the beauty of Lake Tahoe. If that sounds more your speed, try Captain Chris Fishing Charter. He runs a 25-foot Skipjack boat with a spacious cabin and arestroom.  

There’s also Chuck’s Charter Fishing captained by Chuck Self. Enjoy a fully enclosed cabin and massive fishing deck on your 5-hour trip in search of Rainbows and Mackinaws.  

Lake Tahoe Fishing Rules and Regulations 

Before you plan your Lake Tahoe fishing trip, it’s important to be aware of all the rules and regulations. The management of Lake Tahoe’s fisheries is a collaborative effort between California and Nevada, with both states committed to the preservation of this unique ecosystem. This means limits on the size and number of fish that you can catch. Check the California Department of Fish and Wildlife for the most current info. Also, a license is required for any resident above the age of 16. Get yours here. Remember that invasive water species are a constant thought, so please wash all watercraft before heading to Lake Tahoe and after use. Get the details from the Lake Tahoe Invasive Species Program. On the day of your fishing trip check the forecast and bring plenty of sunscreen and water.      

Plan Your Lake Tahoe Fishing Trip 

With its pure, blue waters, breathtaking scenery and diverse range of fish, Lake Tahoe continues to be a favorite destination for those seeking a fulfilling fishing adventure. Whether you’re casting from the shore, trolling the open waters or tossing a fly in the rivers and streams, you’re sure to catch a big one. At the very least, you’ll have a blast trying. And finally, don’t forget to raise a pint to a successful day on Lake Tahoe. Ahead of your trip, make sure to check The Ale Trail and find a new favorite watering hole. Go fish!