Lake Tahoe Fishing: An Angler’s Guide

The deep clear waters of Lake Tahoe create the perfect fishing environment to catch Mackinaw (lake) trout, Rainbow trout, Brown trout and Kokanee salmon. Anglers can enjoy year round fishing an hour before the sun comes up and two hours after sun set.

driving directions

Tributary fishing at Lake Tahoe is off-limits from October 1 through June 30 (restricted within 300′ of a tributary). There is a 5 fish daily limit for most game fish, with a 2 fish limit for Mackinaw. Fishing licenses from California or Nevada are valid to use throughout Lake Tahoe.

brown trout from lake tahoe tributary

Large German brown trout caught in the Tahoe Basin.
There are twelve species of game fish in Lake Tahoe, which includes five invasive species. The most popular game fish in Lake Tahoe are Mackinaw (Lake Trout), German Browns, Rainbow Trout and Kokanee Salmon. These are the four species most anglers come to fish–with Mackinaw (aka “Macks”) at the top of ever angler’s list. Lahontan cutthroat trout, Brook trout, and Mountain whitefish are also found in Lake Tahoe but in fewer numbers.

Invasive warm-water species found in Lake Tahoe include Largemouth bass, Smallmouth bass, Brown bullhead, Black crappie and Bluegill. It’s believed these species were introduced to Lake Tahoe near the Tahoe Keys recreational and vacation areas. While these species can be fished, most anglers come to Lake Tahoe to fish trout and salmon.

Fish SpeciesDescription
lake trout
Lake Trout
Largest and most plentiful game fish in Lake Tahoe. Averages 3-7 lbs. Record catch for Mackinaw is 37.6 lbs. Often found in the deep off shelves. Are light gray, green to black with whitish spots along the sides.
Sockeye salmon
Sockeye Salmon
2nd most common game fish in Lake Tahoe. They average between 1-2 lbs but can reach of to 5 lbs. Have silvery sides and a steel blue to green back. They are a species of anadromous landlocked salmon.
rainbow trout
Rainbow Trout
Rainbows in Lake Tahoe average between 2-6 lbs with trophy catches topping the scales at over 11 lbs. They have small mouths with sides and bellies that are silver. Not as common as Mackinaw or Kokanee.
brown trout
Brown Trout
German Browns average from 3-5 lbs. They are yellow-brown to brown in color with halo type spots along their heads and backs. They are often found in brackish water near inlets and on the shallow rocky ends of the lake.
cutthroat trout
Cutthroat Trout
Are stocked intermittently in Lake Tahoe. They range from 8 to 13 inches in length and can weight up to five pounds. They are the only trout species native to the Tahoe Basin.
brook trout
Brook Trout
Found in the streams, inlets and elevated parts of Lake Tahoe. Not as prominent in Lake Tahoe proper but found in many of the bodies of water in the area.
mountain whitefish
Mountain Whitefish
Found in the deeper waters of Lake Tahoe swimming in schools. They are a bottom dwelling species that feeds on aquatic insects. They are more common in the surrounding rivers and lakes.
largemouth bass
Largemouth Bass
Are found in the warmer shallower waters in the Tahoe Keys area. Largemouths range from 3-8 lbs. They are seldom found in deeper areas of Lake Tahoe.
smallmouth bass
Smallmouth Bass
Are found in the warmer shallow waters around Tahoe Keys. Smallmouths in Lake Tahoe range from 2-5 lbs.
brown bullhead
Brown Bullhead
Is a mid-size catfish measuring from 8 to 14 inches when fully grown. Non-native species likely introduced for recreational fishing. Found nearshore in shallower, warmer waters.
black crappie
Black Crappie
Reach 7-10 inches in length and weight 1 to 1 1/2 pounds. Black Crappie are most plentiful during the spring in South Lake Tahoe's shallower waters where there is heavy vegetation.
Reach 6-8 inches in length. Small numbers are found in South Lake Tahoe in shallower waters near weeds and cover.

Lake Tahoe is brimming with fish, but finding them can still be challenging. About 90% of Lake Tahoe fish species inhabit about 10% of the lake. At 191 square miles, 22 miles long and over 1,640 feet deep, that’s a lot of lake. Knowing where to drop your line can make the difference between a successful fishing trip and returning home empty handed.

lake tahoe emerald bay

Emerald bay is home to mackinaw trout, rainbow trout, brown trout and Fannette Island (Lake Tahoe’s only island).
While it’s possible to fish from shore, Lake Tahoe doesn’t provide a lot of accessible shore line. Much of Tahoe’s shore is steep and inaccessible, but there are few locations where you can stay on solid ground and land some good catches. The east side of the lake tends to provides the best bank fishing. Angler’s report that Kings Beach, Cave Rock and Tahoe Keys are a few of the better spots to fish from shore. The shoreline along South Lake Tahoe, just east of Tahoe Keys, also provides access for shore fishing.

Tahoe’s primary trout species–Mackinaws and Rainbows–are typically found in deeper, colder waters toward the middle of the lake. Effectively targeting either of these species real requires fishing from a boat. Mackinaws and rainbows rarely come close enough to shore to get your bait in front of them. However, you can snag a rainbow from time to time shore fishing. When trout from the bank, target areas with rock bottoms, cover and drop offs. During the fall Mackinaw will sometimes move into the shallows.

Sugar Pine Point and Dollar Point in North Lake Tahoe provide steep drop offs where Macks love to congregate. In South Lake Tahoe offshore shelves around Cave Rock and Tahoe Keys can also provide some good Mackinaw action. Macks are usually going to be found at a depth of around 100 feet but they may go deeper in the warmer summer months or rise closer to the surface in cold winter months. You’ll want to try fishing at different depths.

Local anglers recommend fishing the western (California) side of Lake Tahoe for rainbows, but you’ll find rainbows in many of the same areas where Mackinaws are found. Trolling the west shore south of Tahoe City will usually produce some good rainbow catches. Dollar Point, Crystal Bay Point, Cave Rock and Sand Harbor are also productive spots to fish for rainbows–as well as Makinaws. I recommend giving Emerald Bay and Zephyr Cove a try as well. During the right time of the year you can find Mackinaw, Rainbows and Browns at Zephyr.

Next to lake trout, kokanee are the most popular game fish on Lake Tahoe. Like Mackinaw they also prefer deeper, colder waters. However, they’re often found closer to the surface. You’ll find kokanee in water anywhere from about 40 to over 150 feet deep depending on the season. The warmer the season the deeper they’re usually found.

A few top kokanee fishing spots include Camp Richardson, Meeks Bay and Cave Rock. The drop-offs near Taylor Creek produce large kokanee during late August and September as they move toward Taylor Creek to spawn. The highest concentrations of kokanee are reported in the southwest corner of Lake Tahoe.

While not nearly as common as Macks, rainbows and kokanee, you’ll find some brown trout Lake Tahoe proper. Most anglers catch browns while fishing for Mackinaws and rainbows. If you want to fish specifically for browns, the west side of the lake tends to be more productive.

Warmwater game fish species, including Largemouth and Smallmouth bass, Crappie and Bluegill are found in the shallower waters mosting in the southern part of the lake near the Tahoe Keys. Bass are also found ouside of the Keys in the main lake but in fewer numbers. When fishing the main lake for bass, target the edges of weed beds and around rocky ledges.

If you have your eye set on crappie or bluegill, fish the cover around docks and pier pilings, shallow drop-offs, and weed beds.

Lake Tahoe can fished fish year round, although spring through fall are the most productive fishing seasons. The following chart provides the best time of year to fish each game fish species on Lake Tahoe.

Fish speciesWhen to fish
Mackinaw TroutYear round
Rainbow TroutSeptember through November
KokaneeEarly spring through mid fall
Brown TroutEarly to mid summer
Brook TroutEarly summer
Cutthroat TroutSpring and summer
BassLate spring and early summer

Jigging near the bottom using artificial or live minnows is one of the most effective techniques for targeting Makinaw, Rainbow and Brown trout on Lake Tahoe. Using nightcrawlers, instead of minnows, will also do the trick. Slow trolling between 100 and 200 ft is another effective method for targeting trout on Lake Tahoe. The colder the water, the slower you’ll want to troll. Trolling is a great way to get started as it allows you cover a lot of water quickly and locate fish. Once you find the fish, you can switch off between trolling and jigging.

If you’re going to fish live bait–which I recommend–Lake Tahoe fishing regulations require it be non-game fish (e.g. Redside Shiner, Speckled Dace, Tui Chum, Tahoe sucker, Puite Sculpin) taken from the lake. My personal favorite are Redside Shiner minnows. Shiners will stay alive in a livewell, are a baitfish trout recognize, and they’re easy to catch. Drop a minnow trap in 10 to 20 feet of water, bait it with some dogfood, give it a good 30 minutes, pull it up and you should have some shiners.

In addition to Makinaws, Rainbows and Browns, there are several other game fish species you can target on Lake Tahoe. Below we’ll cover various fishing techniques for targeting each species.

Fish SpeciesFishing Technique
Lake Trout (Mackinaw)Jig off of shelves in 200-350 ft of water. Mooching the bottom is another popular technique for targeting Mackinaw. Drift fishing and deep line trolling around 100 ft with flashers or downriggers is also effective. Preferred baits are live minnows or nightcrawlers, but they'll also take minnow-imitating lures including Rapalas, Flatfish, plugs and spoons. Spoons are great for trolling. Macks have soft mouths, so don't rush the reeling and use a net to bring them into your boat.
Rainbow TroutTopline trolling minnows, worms or lures near the surface is a popular technique for targeting rainbows on Lake Tahoe. Jigging with a soft plastic with some attractant applied to the soft plastic is also effective.
Brown Trout (German)Bait cast in the shallows toward the west end of the lake using nightcrawlers or artificial lures. Brown trout also will take inline spinners, crankbaits and soft plastic that mimic leeches, minnows and sculpin.
Kokanee SalmonTopline troll using a lure or worm on a size 4-8 hook. Troll using a downrigger at a depth of 50-200 ft. Flasher and dodgers can help. Using plastic skirted lure (aka 'Hoochie') works well, as do spinners and spoons. Attaching a white shoepeg corn kernel with some attractant to the hook tip will provide some extra oomph.
Lahontan Cutthroat TroutTopline troll using nightcrawlers. Cutthroat also take salmon eggs and smaller worms. When fly fishing use size 12-14 artificial nymphs to lure cutthroat out from cover. Use dry fly patterns that mimic stoneflies and mayflies. Stimulator dry flies also work.
Brook TroutBrookies can be caught in and around Lake Tahoe using fly fishing and bait casting techniques. They'll take small artificial lures, spinner lures, earthworms, maggots, and powerbaits. Dry flies are also effective when fly fishing.
Mountain WhitefishNot commonly targeted in Lake Tahoe. Will take a variety of baits including mealworms, maggots, earthworms and aquatic insects. They typically feed near the bottom in Lake Tahoe. When fly fishing in rivers use midge and stonefly nymph patterns.
Largemouth/smallmouth BassCast and retrieve a crankbait, spinnerbait, soft plastic or jig near cover in shallower waters on the south end of the lake near Tahoe Keys. Bass will strick your lure because they're hungry or because they consider it a threat to their nest. Minnow immitations also work well. When fishing deeper water try a deep diving crankbait. Worms work for targeting smaller bass.
Brown BullheadAs a rule they feed on or near the bottom at night and are omnivorous feeding on mollusks, insects, leeches, crustaceans, worms, plants algae, fish and fish eggs. Putting a worm on the bottom of the lake is your best bet for snagging a bullhead.
Black CrappieFish imitation minnow lures around cover including docks, pilings, weed beds and drop-offs in the shallows near the Tahoe Keys. Jigs, small spinners, crankbaits and swimbaits will catch bigger crappies. Bait include mealworms, smaller earth worms and crickets also work well.
BluegillStill fishing with a suspended bait and bobber is ideal for fishing bluegill on Lake Tahoe. Fish around structure and cover such as weeds, docks and pilings. Fish shallower waters.

fly fisherman fishing on the upper truckee river

The Upper Truckee River offers excellent fly fishing for wild populations of brook, rainbow and brown trout.
Lake Tahoe offers great fishing, but some of the best fishing in the Tahoe Basin is found in the alpine lakes, streams and tributaries that surround Lake Tahoe proper. The following map provides coordinates, fish species and details for the major high elevation and alpine fisheries located in the Lake Tahoe area.

Below you’ll find detailed descriptions for each of the fishing spots found in the above map.

Fishing SpotsDescription
Truckee River (West Shore Lake Tahoe)Flows out of Lake Tahoe’s west shore. Anglers will find Brookies, Browns, and Rainbows. This section of the Truckee opens with trout season on the 3rd Saturday of April. Parking is available along the highway with walking or biking access to the river.
East & West Carson RiversStocked regularly with trout. Browns are catch and release. You'll find rainbows primarily with some browns and cutthroats. Fishing season is from the end of April throuh mid-November below Carson Falls. Check regulations before fishing.
Boca & Stampede ReservoirsBoth lakes are close together. Stocked with browns, rainbows and kokanee. Two-fish limit. Shore fishing (early morning/late afternoon, with bait, lures, flies) and boat fishing are both productive. Little Truckee area is designated for barbless artificials only, with a size limit of 14 inches. Offers great ice fishing.
Caples LakeA reservoir with the benefit of steep sides and deep water, so even close to shore you're in a prime fishing zone. Stocked with Brookies, Browns, Mackinaw and Rainbows, and is known for having some big fish.
Taylor CreekLocated in South Lake Tahoe. Offers good fishing (and large fish) when water flows are high. Open for fishing July 1 through September 30. Each fall kokanee migrate from Lake Tahoe proper into Taylor Creek to spawn.
Fallen Leaf LakeFish by boat or shore to catch Rainbows and Macks, plus enjoy the chance to catch an experimental Cutthroat Trout strain that has been introduced to the lake. Fishing is best from boat. Parking is fairly limited so arrive early.
Donner LakeStocked regularly. Has deep, steep sides. You'll find Brookies, Browns, Kokanee, Mackinaws and Rainbows. Jumbo-sized Mackinaws have been caught here. There are free public piers on the lake's north side for shore fishing.
Upper Truckee RiverOpen from July 1 through September 30. Preferred technique is fly fishing. Fish populations here are lower than other streams, so practice gentle, barbless catch and release. Fishing pressure is typically low. Fish the deep pools during the first of the fishing season for best results.
Echo LakesProvide excellent shore-fishing opportunity due to steep sides and deep water close to shore. Baits, lures and flies all work well here. Regularly stocked with all local trout species as well as kokanee. Shore fishing is best near the dam. Anglers can also fish from boat.
Blue LakesAn upper and lower lake connected by a stream. These are true alpine lakes located at over 8,200 feet. The upper lake offers the best fishing. However, the lower lake is stocked annually with rainbow and cutthroat trout. Both lakes offer good rainbow, lake and cutthroat trout especially near the dams where the lakes connect.
Twin LakeLocated just above the Upper and Lower Blue Lakes. Is regularly stocked with trout.
Silver LakeOffers fishing for large rainbow, mackinaw and German brown trout. You'll normally find fish right across from the boat launch. Located just off Hwy 88 south of Lake Tahoe.
Spooner LakeLocated at 7000 feet. Offers fishing for rainbows, browns and cutthroats. Cutthroat trout tend to be larger here. Best fishing is from June through July. Great ice fishing. Catch-and-keep with a daily limit of 5 fish.
IndependenceFishing is best by boat. Limited bank access. Game fish species include Kokanee salmon, Lahontan cutthroat, German browns and brook trout. Brown trout tend to be large.
Lake SpauldingOffers fishing from boat or shore. Boat fishing is the preferred method. Top game fish include rainbow and brown trout.
Bear River ReservoirIs a great fishery. Offers healthy populations of rainbow and brown trout. Fishing season is May through October. Offers fish from boat or shore.
Lake Valley ReservoirA small 2 mile long lake that offers superb canoe and kayak fishing. Game fish species include rainbow trout and brown bullheads.
Marlette LakeLocated just east of Lake Tahoe in Nevada. Accessed via a small hike. Motorboat inaccessible but you can portage a canoe or kayak. Catch and release only. Has healthy populations of rainbows, brookies and cutthroats. Fishing season is from July 15 through September 30.
Prosser Creek ReservoirFish for rainbow trout, brown trout, and an occassional bass. Excellent ice fishing during the winter. Best fishing spots are near boat ramps, inlets and the dam.
Rubicon RiverPopular trout fishery. Brook, rainbow and brown trout are found above Hell Hole Reservoir. The river above Oxbow Reservoir also provides excellent fishing. Review all regulations for fishing this area. Open year round but fishing is best during the spring and summer.
Serene LakesCollection of 5 lakes in the High Sierras. Cascade Lakes, Kidd Lake, Long Lake, and Serene Lakes. Game fish include rainbow trout, brook trout and catfish. Long Lake provides the best fishing opportunities.
Washoe LakeLarge 5,800 acre lake. Warm water fishery with white bass, perch, channel catfish, brown bullhead, and wipers. Fishing is best during the late spring and early fall. During the summer, fish in the evenings. During the spring and fall, fish the later afternoons.
Sawmill PondChildren only fishing pond for children 14 years old or younger. Located 1 mile south of South Lake Tahoe just off of Lake Tahoe Boulevard.

Without a doubt Lake Tahoe is one of the most enjoyable lakes to fish from a kayak, but it can be challenging when you don’t come prepared. If you’re main objective is to catch fish, then I’d recommend hiring a charter or going at it from a motor boat. Lake Tahoe is a big lake, and to catch fish you have to find them first. That often requires covering a lot of territory. However, if you’re looking for the experience of a lifetime, then they’re no substitute for quietly paddling your kayak around the hidden coves, as you view awe-inspiring formations, and visit otherwise inaccessible parts of Lake Tahoe as you search for fish.

A lot of anglers trying their hand at kayak fishing for the first time will rent a kayak at any one of several boat rentals on the lake. Rental companies offer a variety of kayak options from “sit on top” to “cockpit style” to inflatables. If you want to make kayak fishing a family affair, there are tandem kayaks available as well.

One of the biggest benefits of bringing your own kayak when fishing Lake Tahoe is that you will have spent the time and made the investment to ensure that you have a good reliable kayak that you know how to use. When I fish Lake Tahoe, or any other large body of water, I like using a kayak I’m intimately familiar with, and is fully outfitted with the right equipement for the occasion.

Whether you rent a kayak or bring your own, the kayak needs to have plenty of capacity while still being maneuverable should weather conditions get choppy. Lake Tahoe is often windy and wavy—and cold! Safety, not fishing, should be your biggest concern when kayaking here. The last think you want is to find yourself in the water.

California boating regulation requires that you carry a Coast Guard-approved life jacket, a whistle or other “sound signaling device”, a white navigation light (e.g flashlight) when kayaking at night or when visibility is restricted on the lake—and I highly recommend wearing your life jacket at all times when on the water.

To have a fun and productive experience kayak fishing on Tahoe you need to have the right equipment. With a good setup you can catch just about anything from a kayak that you can from shore or a motor boat. Again, finding where fish are located is key. The one piece of equipment I’d highly recommend is a fish finder. This will help you find fish quickly and start reeling in the catches.

Many of the same fishing techiques used when fishing from a motor boat will also when kayaking. However, I find jigging for Mackinaw one of the more enjoyable ways to fish from a kayak. If you have a pedal kayak or motorized kayak, trolling for trout or kokanee is also an option. If you want to keep it simple, toplining or drifting a live minnow in the shallows can also get you a bite.

Some of the best places to fish Tahoe from a kayak include Zephyr Cove, Cave Rock, Pyramid Point near Kings Beach, Regan Beach, Sand Harbor, Nevada Beach, Glenbrook and the shallows off Tahoe Keys.

The following boats ramps provide access to lake Lake Tahoe proper. It’s best to contact the boat launch or marina you intend to put in at ahead of time. Launches tend to have closures from time to time. It’s also advisable to select a put in location near where you’ll be fishing.

Public Boat Ramps

Boat RampAddress and directions
Kings Beach Boat Launch7010 N Lake Blvd, Tahoe Vista, CA 96148
Sand Harbor Boat Launch2005 NV-28, New Washoe City, NV 89704
Cave Rock Boat Launch Boat RampHwy 28 Lake Tahoe, NV (775) 588-7975
Camp Richardson Marina Boat Ramp3001 Jameson Beach Rd South Lake Tahoe, CA
Lake ForestLake Forest Dr Tahoe City, CA
Emerald Bay State ParkUnnamed Rd South Lake Tahoe, CA
El Dorado Beach Boat Ramp3176-3198 Harrison Ave South Lake Tahoe, CA
Tahoe Vista Recreation Area7010 N Lake Blvd, Tahoe Vista, CA 96148
North Tahoe MarinaDirections
Sugar Pine Point State ParkCA State Park Rd Tahoma, CA
Sierra Boat Company5548 N Lake Blvd Tahoe Vista, CA
Meeks Bay Marina Boat Ramp8021 Hwy 89 Tahoma, CA

Private Boat Ramps

Boat rampAddress and directions
Ski Beach Boat RampUnnamed Road, Incline Village, NV 89451
Tahoe City Marina700 N Lake Blvd, Tahoe City, CA 96145
Sunnyside Marina Resort Boat Ramp1900 W Lake Blvd Alpine Meadows, CA
Homewood Marina5190 W Lake Blvd, Homewood, CA 96141
Obexer’s Marina5355 W. Lake Blvd. Homewood, CA 530-525-7962
Tahoe Keys Marina2435 Venice Drive E, Suite 10 South Lake Tahoe, CA 530-541-2155
Lakeside Marina4041 Lakeshore Blvd, South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150
Zephyr Cove Resort760 U.S. Hwy 50 West Zephyr Cove, NV (800) 238-2463