Anglers want to know: Is there bass fishing in Lake Tahoe?
Increasingly, the answer is: Yes.
So while trophy trout and kokanee salmon continue to be the primary pursuit for the majority of anglers coming to North America’s largest alpine lake, bass are starting to make a splash at Tahoe as well.
Largemouth bass catches have increased recently, with some Lake Tahoe bass topping the 5-pound mark.
While you won’t catch a Florida-strain bass pushing the 20-pound mark as you might in some Southern California or Northern California trophy bass lakes, you can catch some chunky green fish here.
Note that Lake Tahoe’s bass are considered invasive and potentially a threat to coldwater fish, although to be fair the most popular gamefish here include several species of non-native trout and salmon.
There have been efforts to control not only the bass but panfish such as crappie and bluegill as well as catfish, all of which can be found in the lake’s warmer areas. Aquatic vegetation control also has been tried.
While these efforts have met with limited success at this writing, it could happen that control measures will reduce or eliminate the bass fishing opportunities in the lake at some point. Watch news outlets for updates and please drop us a line and a link to information if you learn something new.
Where to Catch Bass at Lake Tahoe
So where are those bass and other warm-water fish species?
The most reliable bass fishing on Lake Tahoe is in what’s known as the Tahoe Keys, a small maze-like development of private homes and a few tourism-related businesses with boat docks in South Lake Tahoe, California.
In the “Keys,” the water is shallower and warms up sooner than in the main lake, and warm-water species have become dominant in this area.
The tricky thing with Tahoe Keys bass fishing is that it’s a private marina community, although non-resident anglers clearly find access. It might help to get to know a resident. Respect resident’s property including docks and keep the disruption to a minimum.
Tahoe Keys Marina has a launch, moorage and boat rentals open to the public in an eastern lagoon of the Keys community.
You also have a shot at catching bass outside of the Keys in the main lake Tahoe, with the most catches reported toward that southern end. Other parts of the lake may hold some bass as well.
Some trout anglers trolling with crankbaits, spinners and other lures and baits report catching bass, especially near the first drop off the shoreline, where bass often spend a fair part of the season.
When to Catch Bass
Bass live all year at Lake Tahoe, but at more than 6,200 feet in elevation, this mountain water is too cold for reliable bass catching for a good part of the calendar.
Due to the water temperatures, bass spawn later here than they would closer to sea level. Expect bass to be spawning in about May or June in the Tahoe Keys and potentially nearby shallows around South Lake Tahoe.
Largemouth bass are extremely aggressive when they are guarding their nests, and this can be the best time of the year to land a personal best bass. These larger fish tend to be females, which in many waters you’d be encouraged to release, but you might hear mixed messages at Tahoe.
Warmer early spring weather may prompt pre-spawn bass to move in and out of these shallower waters even a bit earlier, so an April trip during a warm spell might be worth your while.
When bass are not protecting shallow water, expect them to hold for much of the day in moderately deeper water or around structures like under docks and around rocks and ledges.
Bass won’t often be as deep as, say, summertime lake trout or kokanee, but try to find them where your ability to see the bottom in clear water begins to fade and then work deeper or shallower until you find the right depth.
These fish are true predators and even in mid- to lakte summer also will go on hunting forays into shallower water to look for smaller fish, crayfish and similar prey, especially in low-light and nighttime conditions.
As fall approaches and the water temperatures start to trend down, bass sense they will soon need to survive another cold winter and will start hunting more aggressively.
When fishing after Labor Day and into the fall, you may find bass prowling somewhat shallower water than they would for much of the summer.
If you try to catch bass in colder weather at Lake Tahoe, like before things ice up or soon after melt-off, slow down your presentations with slower and often more finesse techniques.
Bass will feed during cold weather, but definitely not as aggressively and they often won’t move very far for a meal.
Try pinpointing likely cover in fairly deep water using a jig or a soft plastic with a drop-shot or Ned rig.
This often is a more surgical approach, so don’t expect the large numbers of bass you might land in warmer weather, but catching a few cold-water bass can help get you through the off season.
How to Catch Bass
Bass fishing Lake Tahoe is a different game than chasing coldwater fish such as trout and salmon, which you can learn all about in our Complete Guide to Lake Tahoe Fishing.
During prime time in the late spring, when Lake Tahoe bass are in spawning mode, you will often be looking for a reaction bite.
These pre-spawn and actively spawning fish are either going to be eating voraciously or they’re going to be protecting their nests like a Secret Service agent assigned to the president.
Cast a spinnerbait, crankbait, jig or a soft plastic like a Senko into the shallows work it enticingly near likely areas, especially gravel or sandy bottoms near cover. Even if the bass doesn’t consider your lure an easy meal, it’s like to attack it as a threat to its nest.
When bass come off the nests and head into summer, your best bet is to focus on cover.
In the Keys, bass are likely to duck into the shade of boat docks and around other artificial cover, as well as around aquatic vegetation.
Casting or pitching jigs and soft plastics into shady spots or around cover is a good bet to catch fish. Pulling crankbaits and spinnerbaits just off the ends or sides of docks in the Keys or other cover in the Keys or main lake may draw out the most aggressive fish.
During the day on the main lake, try the deeper edges of weed beds or around deeper rocks and ledges. Lures including crankbaits, swimbaits and soft plastics that mimic smaller fish or crayfish can be the ticket when trying to catch feeding bass.
Some of the fish bass might hunt here include minnows and other non-gamefish species such as speckled dace, tui chubs, Lahontan redsides, sculpin and suckers. Young crappie and bluegill also will be on the bass menu, as might smaller trout, so imitations of any of those species could be effective.
Lake Tahoe also is home to millions of crayfish, so soft plastics, jigs and deep-diving crankbaits that imitate these freshwater crustaceans are another excellent option for bass fishing.
On a warm summer night, see if you can get bass to come to the surface for a topwater lure, such as a frog imitation, Whopper Plopper or whatever your favorite might be.
Honestly, a live nightcrawler dropped around cover or dangled under a float will attract some bass. This tactic can provide fast action but often will result in catching larger numbers of smaller bass and other fish.
Fly anglers may be able to have fun catching bass on the surface with poppers or down below with larger streamers or similar patterns that look like small fish or worms.
Catch More Bass
Be sure to read our simple guide to bass fishing, with all the techniques, tips and lure and bait suggestions you’ll need to catch largemouth and other black bass species.
More Warmwater Fishing
Besides largemouth bass, warm-water species that anglers report catching in the Tahoe Keys and therefore potentially found in other parts of Lake Tahoe include black crappie, bluegill and brown bullhead catfish.
Crappie are structure-loving fish, so you’re most likely to find them around docks and pier pilings, weed beds and submerged boulders and drop-offs.
Crappie prefer eating small fish over anything else, so lures that imitate minnows are the first choice. Crappie jigs are at the top of that list, and small-sized spinners, swimbaits and crankbaits will catch big crappies.
Crappies also will fall for worms, crickets or mealworms, fished around cover or under a float.
More: Top tips for catching more and larger crappie
The bait and bobber tactic just mentioned is often the number one option if you’re after bluegill, which also love holding around weeds and docks. Bluegill often will be in quite shallow water during their spawn and through summer and the first weeks of fall.
If you’re only catching small bluegill, try fishing just a bit deeper in the same areas, where larger sunfish may be holding.
More: Catch more bluegill and sunfish
To catch bullhead catfish, don’t get too complicated. A worm on a hook fished on the bottom is usually plenty, especially in lower light or at night.
Some smellier baits such as cut fish or shrimp, prepared dough baits, or even a piece of hot dog or bologna on your hook is pretty much irrestible to this smaller catfish species.