May 25th, 2019
If God had his own personal lake it would be Eagle Lake in Northern California and he would be sure that the trout that resided in his playground were unique and humongous. Eagle Lake is located above the town of Susanville in Lassen County in what has been described as “top of the world California,” this lake exemplifies the two-fisted spirit of America because of its great trout fishing and great cattle ranching for over a century.
Eagle Lake is the 2nd largest lake in California that is entirely formed within its boundaries, Tahoe and Goose Lake doesn’t count. Home of the Eagle Lake Trout, as a kid I remember hundreds of people lining the shorelines and boating in its waters in hopes of catching a native indigenous Eagle Lake Rainbow Trout, some averaged 12lbs. I used to go to youth camp there and have many fond memories of friends I grew up with fishing there as a child as well as life lessons we learned along the way. The most famous fishing guide of California who ever lived Jay Fair, made Eagle Lake his home waters even though he lived 2 hours away in Portola. This was a pinnacle lake that brought tremendous resources to the region and was a raw diamond for the town of Susanville for recreational income and tourist who would come year around to enjoy its boon. In the mid 60’s there were two lakes well known for trophy trout fishing in California, Lake Davis and the other, like it stood alone on its own cloud nine was Eagle Lake. I remember in 1983 when a banker in the town of Portola who won the fishing derby at Lake Davis by catching an Eagle Lake Trout and bringing it to the judges for his 1st place trophy. We all gasp in awe, wish I didn’t know now, what I didn’t know then as Bob Seger once sang.
But in recent years the lake has gone unnoticed and its fishing both fly and spin has plummeted way down, many that would frequent lake and drive any distance needed are not coming anymore. The lake just isn’t the same, algae blooms are keeping fish that would cruise shorelines away and deep. The numbers and size of trout have declined in recent years and this is got some locals up in Spaulding Tract on Eagle Lake and the fishing community statewide up in arms about the lake’s overall health. Many others have decided to fish Pyramid Lake near Reno, Nevada because of its huge Lahontan Cutthroat which in recent years have produced larger and more trout than any lake in California. Over the past 20 years the Pyramid Lake 1st Nation People have been better than California in managing their lakes and it has paid them dividends in the silver state.
Recently the Lahontan Water Board, Lassen Forest & BLM who exercises authority over the lake has been receiving so many complaints about the algae blooms and cows that lines its shorelines on the north side of the lake that a decision was handed down in May 2019, that would require a 300 foot buffer for the cows near any Eagle Lake shoreline. 5 Dot Ranch of Standish, California with restaurants & stores in Napa was sent a letter that executed this decision that they have 30 days to move their grazing cows to areas that don’t impede shorelines as well as important feeder and spawning creeks that are the lifelines for the Eagle Lake Rainbow.
Valerie Aubrey, a fishing guide and President of the Eagle Lake Guardians who lives in Spaulding Tract on the west side of Eagle Lake says it’s much more than the public realizes, “Since 2013, the lake has become extremely green and cloudy unusual for Eagle Lake where seeing the bottom at 16 or more feet was normal?” “That when the DFW does its annual checks on the lakes dissolved oxygen down to the 50 foot levels, oxygen is tanking in the lake at 20 feet and in the summer temps averages 70 degrees. The trout are heading down to levels that are unprecedented and many anglers are not figuring out why they are not catching trout anymore between 24 to 34 feet which was the norm historically. Shoreline fishing has become non-existent and unproductive and the winter tourism for fishing doesn’t even have a pulse anymore.”
“The thermal cline between the surface and 50 feet is an 8 to 10 degree difference, which has the trout moving in the wrong direction according to Valerie.” “Eagle Lake has hit rock bottom as far as the fishing industry knows, who would drive all that distance for marginal fishing?” “This is in addition to the brackish waters on the north side of the lake being caused by the cow’s nutrients (crap) has hurt spawning trout in Eagle Lake’s most important spawning grounds Pine Creek.”
When she explained this to me, I started to think of it like the part in the movie Shawshank Redemption when Andy Dufrense climbed though that tube of feces to freedom, that’s what the trout are going through on their annual spawn to the north side of Eagle Lake thanks to 5 Dot Ranch and their grazing cattle. Valerie went on to say, “ I know up at Lake Davis reservoir, areas that have cattle are fenced off, but if this same practice was initiated up at Eagle Lake the general public would suffer from a lack of access on a natural lake not a manmade reservoir like Davis. The only answer is to have those cows moved away from the Eagle Lake shorelines, far from any tourist and fishermen’s eyes.”
I called Todd Swickard of 5 Dot Ranch but have not received any call back as of yet?
When I called Ben Letton of the Lahontan Water Board in South Lake Tahoe, he said, “We will do our part to make sure that water quality and the resources are protected. It probably won’t be an all or nothings solution, as these politically charged issues are virtually never black and white.”
We all realize any pending judgement or action relies on the commitment of those who are serving the message, the trout live and breathe whatever is decided in the long run and that can be good or bad depending. I always kept Eagle Lake high on my list of places I have ventured to during my lifetime and seeing its recovery will be a lifetime endeavor for me. This is rare to have a lake of this size where it produces its own large species of trout known nowhere else on the planet as this is the source. I remember once hooking a 10 lb. trout in the tullies in shallow water, I saw the fish take the fly, a memory I will never forget as a child and another reason to keep cattle away from its shorelines. Another example of the few impacting a public resource owned by many.