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Whiskeytown Update

Ramblings by John Higley, authors badge,
ast week, a fellow diner having breakfast at the Klassique Kafe on Athens Avenue in Redding expressed his concern over the current state of affairs at Whiskeytown Lake, where he had fished a few days before.

“In places there was some sort of scum on the surface,” he said, “and it smelled bad. Not only that, but my buddy and I saw some dead fish here and there. We caught a few kokanee but they were small, I’m wondering if the surface temperature of around 80 degrees was killing fish and promoting an algae bloom.”

Honestly, I don’t remember the fellows name, but I do know he likes to fish our local waters, and he knows I write about them every once in awhile. That, of course, makes me the logical guy to ask angling questions. I always say I can answer anything but I can’t guarantee my answers are correct! I certainly do not know it all.

I called Mike Elster, of Mike’s Fishing Guide Service to get his take on the situation. Elster is on Whiskeytown an average of one or two times a week. He has to keep his clients happy so I figured he’d be on top of things and he is.

Guide Mike Elster displays a pan size kokanee taken on Whiskeytown during summer, 2014.
Guide Mike Elster displays a pan size kokanee taken on Whiskeytown during summer, 2014. Elster says the fishing this year isn’t quite as fast but it’s still fair and the fish average from 10 or 11 inches to an occasional 14 inches. Photos by the author

“I know what the guy you were talking with was experiencing,” he said.

“The foamy stuff on the water in some places I think is caused by boat traffic stirring up aquatic vegetation in the shallower spots. That stuff does have a distinct smell to it. As for the dead fish he saw, I’d guess they were small kokanee that anglers released, and that simply doesn’t work with them.

After several tries, I caught up with CDFW reservoir fisheries biologist Monty Currier who basically echoed Elster’s words.

“There’s nothing unusual going on at Whiskeytown that we know of,” he said. The surface is warm, but it always is in the summer. The only thing is the kokanee are caught deep in cool water, and it’s really hard to release them successfully after bringing them up. That’s where the so-called die-off comes from. It’s unfortunate, but not unusual.”

Elster fishing at Whiskeytown Lake, photo by John Higley
Because it is nearly always full, Whiskeytown remains one of the most picturesque lakes in the the region.

“This year,” Elster went on, “the fishing isn’t as hot as it was last year at this time, and the fish aren’t as big on average. A week ago, on my last trip there, we caught two limits in about four hours. Most of the fish were around 11 inches long but a couple were just shy of 14 inches.”

According to Elster, he ran his lures from 40 to 80 feet down with downriggers. True, it was warm on top, but at the depth he was fishing it was in the 50s. His best fish catching combo was a 1-1/2 inch pink/pearl Apex spoon with a kernel of Green Giant Shoe Peg corn on each hook. To add flash, Sling Blade Dodgers were installed a couple feet in front of the lures.

Small silver Kokanee held in hands. Photo by John Higley
Whiskeytown kokanee may not be large his year but fish like this are fine table fare just the same.

Because it is usually nearly full, Whiskeytown retains it’s picturesque qualities while Shasta and Trinity lakes are far below the brush line.

Mix fishing with the scenery and you’ve got the makings of a delightful day on the water. To contact Mike Elster call (530) 623-4266, or (916) 215-6330, or look him up online at

Author and writer John Higley is a resident of Palo Cedro. His articles have appeared in outdoor magazines hundreds of times and his columns appear regularly at Higley has written four books the latest of which “Successful Turkey Hunting” was published in May, 2014 by Skyhorse Publishing in New York. This hard cover, full color book is being sold at Barnes and Noble Book Stores and on Amazon. Autographed copies are available direct from John Higley, P.O. Box 120, Palo Cedro, CA 96073. Cost is $28.95 postage paid.

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