Shaver Lake Fishing: Catch Lots of Kokanee & Trout

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Shaver Lake has excellent fishing opportunities for kokanee and rainbow trout in the scenic mountains not far from Fresno.

There’s also a population of smallmouth bass, bluegill and bullheads hanging out, waiting for the eager angler to come test their skills, and you may even land a big brown trout.

Also, a few years back, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife allegedly planted tens of thousands of fingerling golden trout in the lake, though the outcome of this remain a little murky.

The opportunity to catch a golden trout at a mid-elevation lake like Shaver would be fantastic, if true, giving you another reason to add it to your list. Not that you need another reason.

We’d say, if you’ve not been to Shaver Lake in the past, it might be time to start making plans.

Shaver Lake is nestled in the mountains, surrounded by beautiful, dense pines in the Sierra National Forest. There’s plenty of wildlife to watch while you’re there and excellent campgrounds and amenities to keep you and yours entertained. 

If you’re wondering about the quality of the fishing here, the kokanee salmon regularly reach the 18-inch range, and rainbows up to 15 pounds have been caught. The smallmouth and bullheads have been somewhat stunted due to their numbers, but to be honest most people come here to catch the trout and salmon.

Before you go, remember to pack the bug spray. We’d hate for you to have to file a missing person report because your fishing buddy got packed off by a swarm of mosquitos.

Kokanee Fishing

Shaver Lake is among the best places to catch kokanee in this part of the world.

These landlocked sockeye salmon are most active at Shaver in the spring and fall. Sure, they like to feed throughout the summer, but you’ll have your biggest days when the water is cool and they are gaining weight after a sluggish winter. 

Starting in the spring, you’ll find good numbers in the 10- to 20-foot depth range. Target them with hoochies tipped with scented corn behind a dodger.

Head from the dam to Road Two Point and back with your line set around 15 feet deep and adjust as you figure out what works. 

Once the water warms up and the kokes head deeper, use lead line or downriggers and fish in 35 to 50 feet of water. Hoochies will still do a great job, as will a host of other small artificial lures.

Try champagne pink or orange colors tipped with corn.

Troll the area from Shaver Marina to the Point, then to the Island and back. It makes a good triangle to target.

Savvy Shaver Lake anglers will set up a side rod with a Trout Buster for big ‘bows while trolling for kokanee. It’s common to catch rainbows while fishing for kokanee here and even catch kokes on that Trout Buster.

Once the late summer starts and the pre-spawn sets in, the kokanee start schooling up tight. As they get closer to spawn, kokanee transform just like their ocean-going brethren and the quality of their meat declines. But it’s possible to catch a few bigger ones that are edible well into the season.

If the water levels are good, they may get into the creeks to spawn. If the levels are low, which is common in frequent drought years, there’s almost no chance of a self-sustained population.

However, the state Fish and Wildlife does a great job of stocking kokanee fingerlings to ensure the continued success of the fishery here, regardless of whether the resident fish can do their part or not.

See all of the best kokanee fishing lakes in California.

Learn how to catch more of these feisty and incredibly tasty little salmon with our Kokanee Fishing: Simple Tips and Techniques.

Rainbow Trout Fishing

Rainbows are everywhere here, with excellent numbers of fish planted.

Shaver Lake has the bonus of being supplied with trout from the Trophy Trout Project. Each year they plant solid numbers of catchable, and sometimes quite a bit larger, rainbows in the lake.

They’ve been known to stock trout up to 15 pounds, although we wouldn’t want you to expect that kind of beast on any sort of regular basis.

The fishing here can be good to great for rainbows. Shore fishing is productive year-round unless there’s ice, while boat fishing for rainbows can be fantastic during the spring and fall.

The rainbows tend to group nearer to the many creek inlets closer to shore in the summer, which is a big advantage for shore anglers compared to many trout lakes. The biggest of the rainbows stay out deeper chasing kokanee for dinner, so boat anglers tend to catch the biggest fish, but not always the highest quantity.

Springtime finds the state Department of Fish and Wildlife starting their planting season. They often plant Eagle Lake strain and some triploid rainbows.

The usual plant happens at Sierra Marina, so bank anglers would do well there.

Boats should target their lures and baits no deeper than 20 feet down.

After the plant, the trout will spread out. Follow them along the bank to Road One and Road Two. Those areas really heat up and will stay that way throughout the spring and into the early summer.

The creek inlets offer all sorts of foraging opportunities for the rainbows. A nightcrawler in the tailwater will definitely produce some great action. Keep at it, and you’ll have a reasonable shot at catching a three- to five-pounder.

Plus, you’ll get some exercise hiking into the area. 

If boating, settle into Boy Scout Cove and toss some Kastmasters tipped with nightcrawler and finished with garlic scent. We suspect you’ll find them pretty fast. 

Rainbow trout migrate around the lake throughout the summer, looking for cool water, and they tend to feed more aggressively in the early morning and evening. If you’re an early bird, you’ll find some of your best chances from 5 a.m. to about 9.

Fly fishing can be effective at times as well, especially for trout cruising around looking for insects, which are a prime diet for rainbows.

Fall brings cooler temperatures and returns to the same playbook as the spring held.

Shore anglers are going to be knocking them out of the park.

Boat anglers fishing relatively shallow will do well, while those targeting kokanee will catch the occasional big ‘bow.

Catch More Trout

Find the Best Rainbow Trout Fishing Lakes in California, or maybe you prefer the Best Fly Fishing Rivers in California, which offers some great stream rainbow fisheries (for both resident rainbows and ocean-going steelhead).

Once you’ve determined where you’ll fish, check out our how-to fishing guides on both trout fishing techniques and steelhead fishing techniques.

Smallmouth Bass Fishing

Smallmouth bass fishing at Shaver Lake is often best when the lake is relatively full, which submerges some excellent holding habitat. So when the water gets above 80 percent capacity and warms up a bit coming out of winter, it’s bass time.

The smallies here like everywhere love the rocks, and Shaver has plenty of those.

When the smallmouth were introduced at Shaver, they flourished. Crawfish were everywhere, and smallmouth bass ate them like candy. Eventually, the crawfish just about disappeared, leaving plenty of hungry bass and not so many options for food.

That caused a significant stunting issue. More smallmouth than the lake could support equaled smaller fish. They can be caught easily, just toss a Roostertail or Kastmaster near the rocks, and you’ll find them.

But they average under a pound, with a big one going closer to two pounds.

There isn’t much technique needed to catch them here, making it a great lake to teach kids how to fish for bass. They might start to think it’ll always be that easy, though, so that could be a problem.

Catch More Bass

We show you the top spots with Best Smallmouth Bass Fishing in California.

We also have the methods that will catch smallies just about every time out in Bass Fishing: Simple How-To Techniques and Tips.

Brown Trout Fishing

Brown trout at Shaver Lake have been very hit and miss over the last few years.

However, Fish and Wildlife has been working on re-establishing the brown population to its previous levels, and there’s hope that things are starting to look better at this writing.

But as of yet, bigger brown trout aren’t available in large numbers. 

The recent plantings should be increasing their numbers, assuming the young browns are making it past the gauntlet of other fish looking for an easy meal to become the hunters rather than the hunted.

If big browns are your thing, be sure to check out the Best Brown Trout Fishing in California.

Bluegill Fishing

The bluegill are here and easy to find around the marinas. Where allowed, fish off the piers and docks to find them.

Try casting a bit of nightcrawler or mealworm under and around structure, and you’ll likely find them. Or use any of the other sure-fire bluegill and sunfish fishing techniques and tips in our how-to guide.

Shaver bluegill aren’t often slabs but should be big enough to entertain the kids. Good fishing throughout the summer can be found at both marinas and by Boy Scout Cove.

Bullhead Catfish

Brown bullheads are sliming their way around the shallower portions of Shaver Lake. These little guys are eager to steal your bait and make you regret that you set the hook.

There are more of them than can compete for a healthy population, so they are stunted.

If you’re interested in catching them, head to the shore and chuck out some nightcrawlers or any type of cut bait and let it sit. It shouldn’t take too long before one of them comes along.

Bullheads pick up their feeding activity in late spring and calm down in the fall.

Be aware of the nasty barbs they are equipped with. This is just another friendly reminder of why bullheads aren’t one of the more popular sporting fish in the country.

Pick up more tricks to catching fish with whiskers in Catfish Fishing: Simple How-To Techniques and Tips.

Also, most people honestly want to catch bigger cats like channel, flathead and blue catfish, and you’ll find them in our complete guide to the best catfish fishing spots in California.

Planning Your Trip

Shaver Lake is a destination that needs to be on your list. From the fantastic kokanee fishing to the outstanding rainbow trout lurking in her depths, there’s enough to keep your line tight for days.

It’s also easy enough to get to, being located just an hour northeast of Fresno. The route takes you up a beautiful drive through some epic views, then through the Shaver Lake community, which has almost anything you might need for your stay.

There’s plenty for the entire family to do here, like hiking, water skiing, windsurfing, and touring Shaver Lake town.

Plenty of resorts, lodges, hotels, cabins and campgrounds are scattered throughout the area, so you shouldn’t have difficulty finding somewhere to stay that meets your needs.

Shaver Lake, formed with the damming of Stevenson Creek, is part of the Southern California Edison Big Creek Hydroelectric Project. The power company also operates Camp Edison, one of the places visitors stay at the reservoir.

Huntington Lake, about a half hour north, is also within the project and provides another fishing option while visiting the area. Pine Flat Lake to the south is another great fishing option if you’re in the area.

Boat and Shore Access

Shaver Lake has two marinas and a public access boat launch. Bank fishing can be found around a good portion of the lake, though some areas are private or require that you pay for access. 

Sierra Marina and Shaver Lake Marina are the two large marinas with all the amenities, food and fuel you’ll need for a day out on the boat.

You can find boat rentals at Shaver, including pontoon boats that can fish the whole family. There is good shore access around each marina as well.

Where to Stay

The Shaver Lake community has hotels, resorts and lodges if you’re looking for a non-camping stay.

The lake itself has several campgrounds with sites for RVs and tents. The amenities range from full hookups to tent only. Plan ahead to reserve your spot or get there early for the spots that are first-come, first-served.

There is food available in town, and the resorts offer restaurants. Pizza delivery is even available at most campgrounds in the area. Cabin rentals are available as well.

Shaver Lake is a beautiful place. Take your family or friends and stay a few days. Watch out for the bears, and bring the bug spray!

Find more fishing spots in Fresno County