Every Day Is Mother’s (Lode) Day For Camanche Lake Trout

The following appears in the May issue of California Sportsman:

Large rainbow trout in excess of 8 pounds lurk in the waters of Lake Camanche, one of the most popular of Central California’s Mother Lode lakes. (CAL KELLOGG)

By Cal Kellogg

As I pedaled my Hobie kayak into the dense veil of early-morning fog, sticking close to the shoreline and listening to the sounds of high-powered bass boats zipping past unseen further offshore, I contemplated the good news/ bad news proposition I’d immersed myself in on Lake Camanche.

From one perspective, I knew I was going to catch plenty of trout, and if recent past adventures were any indication, then some of the rainbows would be big, strong fish that would test my tackle.

From the other perspective, I had a long, 90-plus-minute pedaling session in front of me before I reached the spot far up the Mokelumne River Arm where I’d been experiencing the best trolling.

I locked into a brisk rhythm of pedaling, trailing a single black and white Speed Spoon behind the kayak. On the way through the main lake body, I hooked one good fish but lost it before I could bring the battler to the net.

As I reached the area where I’d concentrate my fishing efforts, the fog was just starting to lift. I stopped for a quick cup of coffee from my thermos and swapped my power-trolling rod for a pair of hybrid leadcore outfits rigged for pulling soft plastic Trout Trix Minnows. I’d had stellar results pulling the minnows on previous trips from the surface to 10 feet deep and between 1.6 and 2.2 mph.

Bruce Wicks tempted this bruiser pulling a small Rapala just under the surface. (CAL KELLOGG)

A stark white minnow had been performing the best, but I rigged one rod with a white bait and one with a natural-colored minnow to test whether the preference of the trout had changed.

The white bait was spooled out and running 5 feet deep as I started to let out the second minnow. But before I got the second bait all the way out, the white minnow got crushed and the rod jerked into a deep arc.

After snatching the rod from the holder, I started fighting the trout. First, the powerful fish came to the surface for a series of thrashing jumps before diving deep and bulldogging against the resilience of my soft-tipped leadcore rod.

In the midst of this pandemonium, I became aware that my second rod had gotten slammed too. At times the rod locked into its holder, bent deeply and the reel relinquished line grudgingly. At other times the rod went straight and the line went slack as the unseen trout surged toward the kayak. It was wonderful to have a double hookup perhaps five minutes after arriving at my trolling grounds, but I was too busy battling trout number one to worry about what trout number two was doing. All I could do was to keep pedaling and hope the hooked trout didn’t foul each other!

I’d like to say it was all due to superior skill and superhuman reflexes, but in reality, luck and good fortune were on my side and I managed to land both fish. The first one was about a 4.5-pound rainbow that I quickly released back into the chilly January water. The second trout, which should have come unbuttoned multiple times as it swam around on an often-slack line, turned out to be about a pound bigger.

I’d been seriously trolling for less than 10 minutes and had already brought about 10 pounds of rambunctious rainbows to the net. It’s action like this that brings me back to Lake Camanche time after time!

An acrobatic Camanche rainbow explodes to the surface with a Metal Head Trolling Fly pinned in the corner of its mouth. (CAL KELLOGG)


The Mother Lode region is special, offering a unique mixture of history and natural beauty. There are myriad opportunities for the outdoor enthusiast, from hiking and biking, to hunting and fishing.

For the trout angler, the Mother Lode is dotted with famous lakes, such as Don Pedro, New Melones, Pardee, Tulloch, Amador and Camanche. Each of these reservoirs has unique qualities in terms of the trout fishing they offer. Which is the best overall trout lake in the Mother Lode? I’m going to go out on a limb and declare that Lake Camanche should wear the crown.

For starters, Lake Camanche offers outstanding year-round action for rainbows that range up to and beyond the 10-pound mark. Since the lake is situated an easy 24-mile drive northeast of Stockton, access is a snap.

The lake was originally formed by the East Bay Municipal Utility District to provide water to the eastern part of the Bay Area and to produce hydroelectric power, but a third goal was to create a recreational destination in the San Joaquin Valley.

EBMUD oversees concessions at the lake, which include boat launching, camping and other services, plus a robust trout planting program. More than 50,000 pounds of rainbows are annually planted in the reservoir between October and June. Some of the trout are standard California Department of Fish and Wildlife catchable planters, but the bulk are 2- to 10-pound, high-quality rainbows from the Mount Lassen Hatchery.

Lake Camanche is deep enough to sustain the trout throughout the hot season, resulting in a robust holdover population of rainbows that spend the summer lurking in deep water gorging on threadfin shad.

Camanche is a medium-sized impoundment compared to other foothill reservoirs. It was formed with the completion of Camanche Dam in 1964. At full capacity, the lake holds 417,120 acre-feet of water. This translates to 12 square miles of surface area and roughly 53 miles of shoreline.

In terms of shape, Camanche consists of a large, egg-shaped main body punctuated by several islands and two arms. The Mokelumne Arm is the larger of the two and offers terrain reminiscent of most canyon-type reservoirs, with rocky shorelines dropping rapidly into deep water.

Soft plastics such as this Trout Trix Minnow have proven to be very effective at Camanche when the trout aren’t energetic enough to grab fast-moving spoons. (CAL KELLOGG)


Each of the four seasons offers a somewhat unique trout fishing opportunity at Camanche. When surface temperatures drop back into the 60s during the fall, trout plants, which are suspended during the summer, kick back into gear. As if the influx of planters isn’t enough, this is also the time when holdovers that spent the summer in deep water return to the surface, sleek, muscular and essentially wild.

If you want to get in on holdover action, the months of November and December are prime time. And during the dog days of winter – say, from Christmas through March 1 – trout numbers in the lake are constantly climbing due to aggressive planting. Surface temperatures are chilly this time of year, and the trout tend to spread out. You can find good action in most areas of the main body and the river arms, yet areas hosting exceptional action do occur.

When the water is at its coldest, the best fishing tends to take place from about 10 in the morning until 2 or 3 in the afternoon. I favor sunny winter days to dreary overcast days because the action tends to improve with a rising surface temperature. Days with sunny skies and little to no wind see the best bump in surface temperature.

Spring months, including May, attract big numbers of trout anglers to Camanche. This is the time of the year with the maximum number of holdovers and planters in the lake and the surface temperature is low enough for the fish to remain near the surface and near shore, giving boat, small-craft and bank anglers the best chances of hooking up.

Summertime is probably the least popular season for targeting Camanche trout because they go deep. Trollers working with downriggers and enterprising bait anglers who seek out deep water score some nice rainbows during the warm season, but deep-water action doesn’t appeal to a large cross section of anglers.

From fall through spring, bank anglers tend to score just as well as boaters and kayakers at Camanche. Access is outstanding for bank anglers and when the water is cool, there are always plenty of trout holding along the shoreline. This is particularly true in the dead of winter and early spring, since nearshore waters tend to be the warmest.

As with most locations, PowerBait is the most effective offering for a bank angler to employ when trying to take home a limit of rainbows, but there are other approaches that work well too.

Hiking and fan casting with Kastmasters, Krocodiles and other dense casting spoons in shad-imitating colors will certainly produce results for energetic bank anglers. A sleeper approach for the bank angler is rigging one spinning rod with a casting spoon and another with a clear water-filled bubble teamed with a fly.

Light-colored baitfish-imitating flies work well, but black, brown and olive offerings do too. The key to scoring with a bubble and fly is filling the bobber completely with water, making long casts and varying the retrieve until you figure out what the fish want on any given day.

Soft plastics such as this Trout Trix Minnow have proven to be very effective at Camanche when the trout aren’t energetic enough to grab fast-moving spoons. (CAL KELLOGG)

Among trollers, Camanche has a well-deserved reputation for being a power-trolling lake, where the rainbows respond to spoons and minnow plugs pulled from 2.7 to 3.5 mph. Most anglers go with shad-pattern lures, but bright orange and pink plugs and spoons work well too. The speed-trolling approach works great all year long when the trout are in a mood to chase bait, but if it’s your only approach, you’ll struggle at times. If the fish happen to be lethargic when you visit, perhaps due to a passing cold front or during the full moon period, it’s important to have some slow- to medium-speed trolling approaches up your sleeve.

I’ve done very well at Camanche all year long pulling Trout Trix Worms, Trout Trix Minnows and Metal Head Trolling Flies, along with a variety of small spoons that work well when trolled from 1.8 to 2.2 mph.

Grubs in the 2- to 3-inch range and when teamed with Power Eggs have a solid following at Camanche because they produce some handsome ’bows when trolled from 1.5 to 2 mph.

As with most lakes featuring rainbow trout, an old-school set of flashers or a dodger paired with half a threaded nightcrawler can be a real trout slayer when pulled slow to medium fast.

Temperature dictates lure depth. If I have a surface temperature of 65 or below, I assume there will be active rainbows just below the surface early, late or anytime there is chop on the surface or when the light level is low, such as during periods of overcast.

If I have a surface temperature at or below 65, I seldom pull lures deeper than 15 feet, as the most active trout tend to hold near the top of the water column.

As spring gives way to summer, trust your sonar and utilize your downriggers to keep your offerings 5 to 10 feet above the main biomass of trout and bait.

Big bad rainbows like this are available to Lake Camanche trout anglers throughout the year, but May should have ideal conditions to limit out. (CAL KELLOGG)


Lake Camanche is one of those places that you always have the chance of hooking a double-digit trout. For this reason, you need to be ready. Make sure your line is fresh and free of rough spots. Double check your knots and make sure your drag is set properly.

Finally, have a plan for landing an exceptionally large trout should you be lucky enough to hook one. Don’t rush the net job. Take your time, wear the fish down and only make your move with the net when the fish has its head up.

Remember, most really large trout that anglers lose are either lost during the first few seconds of the fight due to a drag that is too tight or right at the boat due to a bungled net job! CS

Editor’s note: Cal Kellogg is a longtime Northern California-based outdoors writer. Subscribe to his YouTube channel Fish Hunt Shoot Productions at youtube .com/user/KelloggOutdoors.