Fish On, Fish Off And Ice Cream At Collins Lake

Collins Lake is one of the most popular resorts in Northern California, and is known for its great fishing, camping and some delicious ice cream. It’s also a multi-generation family business. (CHRIS COCOLES)

The following appears in the June issue of California Sportsman:

By Chris Cocoles

BROWNS VALLEY–They were the ones that got away. Thus, my Collins Lake fishing trip in early May was not dull, to say the least. But the day still proved to fulfill my expectations of Collins, which allowed me to get an in-person look at a family-run operation that will bring me – not to mention my fishing partner for the day – back for another experience. If it’s not the fishing, or the well-maintained campsites, or the well-stocked bait and grocery store, there’s always the ice cream. More on that later.

For a few years now, I’ve been in touch with Jacob Young and his dad Lincoln, two members of a multi-generational family who have run Collins Lake resort since the early 1970s. Jacob and Lincoln – longtime advertisers with our magazine – and I have exchanged many emails and phone calls the past few years for spring trout fishing previews and other events sprinkled throughout the calendar.

Frequently in our correspondence I’ve told Lincoln and Jacob I planned to come out to fish, but I was never able to get up to their location in Yuba County whenever I’ve visited my family in the Bay Area. But with my niece Ashley and her husband David now living in the Sacramento area, I figured at some point we’d make it.

Sure enough, in May during an ex- tended visit home my sister Charlene and I, plus our dogs, drove up to Ash- ley and David’s house in Rocklin and spent the night. David had to work and Charlene, Ashley’s mom, took care of their 1-year-old son Weston and all the dogs, so Ashley and I set out relatively early for the 60-mile trip to Collins.

It was a cloudy, crisp morning in the Sacramento Valley, but we made pretty good time driving through the quaint bedroom community of Lincoln – Ashley pointed out several microbreweries along the way that we plan to hit up the next time I’m in town for a pub crawl – and then got through morning rush-hour traffic in Marysville before eventually finding the lake entrance. Soon, I’d find the fish biting and also get a Young family history lesson.

The Collins Lake store has everything you need for your fishing/camping trip. (CHRIS COCOLES)

AFTER RETURNING TO THE United States from a stint working abroad in the early 1970s, Robert (Bob) Young researched potential careers, with market analysis pointing him toward opening up a campground as an up-and-coming industry. Bob’s family of nine had also enjoyed a road trip throughout Europe in a rented motorhome, so it seemed like a no-brainer to break into the business of running a camp.

By 1971, Bob Young and his family first sought out potential sites in the Lake Tahoe area, but fate sent them down the Sierra.

“On one of their scouting trips, a snowstorm made them stay a night in the lower-elevation foothills and they camped out in what is now the open area of the (Collins Lake) campground,” says Jacob Young, Bob’s grandson. “They woke up the next morning to the sunrise coming up over the lake and were admiring the area and potential of the campground. As they got to talking to the camp- ground host, they found out that the owners were looking at selling.”

Collins Lake was relatively young – its dam project was completed in 1964 – but the potential was certainly there. “And a few months later, in 1972, Bob Young was the new owner of the campground operations at Collins Lake,” Jacob says.

Bob Young retired from running the show in the 1990s, with his sons Lincoln (Jacob’s dad), Bart and Robbie taking over through 2020 before retiring themselves. Now, it’s Jacob and his cousins who represent the third generation of the Young family who are in charge of the resort, which now features campsites, RV hookups and eight cabins, plus a picnic area, a swimming beach, and full-service general store and snack bar.

“We are intentional in honoring our legacy of those who have gone before us and paved the way as we continue to grow and develop,” Jacob Young says. “We have been honored and blessed to have families that have made Collins Lake their tradition to bring their families to annually connect with each other and with nature. Now we have seen some going into their fourth and fifth generation of family (visiting the lake).”

And did I mention how good the fishing can be here?

The author’s niece Ashley Laver tries her luck with a bass lure. (CHRIS COCOLES)

ASHLEY AND I STOPPED at the general store on the way in to purchase the daily fishing permits that help fund Collins’ generous planting schedule (each spring, 50,000 trout from various private and California Department of Fish and Wildlife sources are stocked). We also picked up a container of nightcrawlers, but the worms wouldn’t get bit very much on this Thursday morning.

I had reached out to Jacob Young before coming up and he suggested possibly driving past the general store and fishing down by the dam. This was a typically quiet spring weekday before the summer crowds flock up here once the kids are out of school. We essentially had the entire shoreline to ourselves (there were a few boats trolling in the main body of the 1,600-acre lake).

We parked and carried our gear down to the rocky beach just down from the dam and boat launch. My rig was ready to go, so I put some bright green, garlic-flavored PowerBait on my hook and cast out. Then, as I was in the middle of helping Ashley set up her rod, my rod tip buckled.

I fought a feisty trout – it looked like about a 15-inch rainbow – right to the verge of the rocky shoreline close enough to where Ashley attempted to grab the fish from the water’s edge when … the trout broke free from my line. So close, yet so far.

The action slowed down for a while, and Ashley’s curiosity prompted her to try casting lures for bass down closer to the dam. It was a lit- tle windy and chilly for early May, but it was a peaceful setting, with hardly anyone else around save for the boats trolling out in the distance and some waterfowl drifting across the lake.

I had one more near miss with a late-morning bite that again broke free before I could get the trout to shore, and by then it was time to get home so Ashley could relieve her mom from babysitting and dog-sitting duties.

But first the ice cream was calling our names.

It was a pretty low-pressure fishing day on this May Thursday. But anglers in a few boats were out trolling. (CHRIS COCOLES)

WHEN WE GOT TO the general store, I was able to finally meet Jacob in person after all our past calls and emails. We chatted about possibly coming back here to camp sometime – Ashley and David have a tricked-out trailer they camp with – and I asked him about what his family’s legacy means to him, his dad and grandfather who started this tradition of Youngs picking up from previous generations.

“I am definitely excited to see the family business legacy continue for hopefully generations to come. The oldest of the fourth generation is 11 years old, so it will not be too long before we start to see them working seasonally,” says Jacob Young, who has two young children himself.

“Whether it is my kids or members of the extended family, it will be exciting to watch how they all grow, develop and pursue their life paths. For those who choose to make this operation their career, it will be surreal to be in the position to assist in the next cycle of generational passing over.”

Ashley and I took a stroll through the store, which offers visitors just about anything they might need, from bait and tackle to Collins Lake souvenirs, groceries, cold drinks – including a nice beer selection – and some great food. We had planned to eat lunch back in Rocklin, but we couldn’t leave without trying the Collins Lake ice cream that Ashley had tried on a previous day trip here and that Jacob highly recommended we indulge in.

“It began with Bob wanting to create memorable experiences for the guests coming to the campground. Ice cream became the vessel to provide something that dramatically exceeded expectations and left an impression that would be a memory and something to come back for year after year,” Jacob says.

“I always tell people that there are three things that people come to Collins Lake for: fishing, camping and ice cream,” Jacob Young (below) says of his operation that has been passed down from multiple generations in his family. (CHRIS COCOLES)

Indeed, my child-sized scoop of Cookies & Cream was plenty big enough and perfectly hit the spot. Ashley enjoyed hers too. So by the time we were ready to head back down to Rocklin, the near misses on the lake were all but forgotten.

“I always tell people that there are three things that people come to Collins Lake for: fishing, camping and ice cream,” Jacob tells me. “Even on those days that you get skunked fishing with the two that got away, you can always end the day with a sweet treat.” CS

Editor’s note: Go to or call (530) 692-1600 for more information.