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Manzanita Lake – Fly Fishing in the Shadow of Lassen

Manzanita Lake – Fly Fishing in the Shadow of Lassen

I’ve learned more about fly fishing by watching trout refuse my presentations than by any other means.

The immediate feedback of an observed refusal lets you know that, from the fish’s perspective, something is wrong. Once you know that, you can get to work figuring out what it is by trying other flies and techniques, watching how the trout respond, and then changing or keeping tactics based upon success or failure. It’s exciting! Seeing the fish you are trying to catch greatly increases your chances for sucess.This is one of the reasons I have always loved fishing Manzanita Lake in Lassen Volcanic National Park. With it’s large flats of shallow, clear water and large cruising rainbow and brown trout, the lake offers plenty of educational opportunities to observe the behavior of fish eating, or perhaps refusing your fly. And once you figure it out… Bam! Fish on, lesson learned. And it seems that I learn plenty of  lessons every time I visit here.

Manzanita Lake fly fishing

Mark Rhodes observes a nice brown trout while fly fishing at Manzanita Lake in Lassen Park

Big rainbow and brown trout cruise the edges and flats of the lake looking for a variety of aquatic and terrestrial insects. Making it a bit easier to get close to these fish is the fact that the Manzanita Lake trail loop, skirting much of the edge is popular with visitors and helps desensitize the trout slightly by introducing plenty of non-threatening humans. While these fish aren’t particularly spooky, they definitely are wary and a careful approach is required. Even more important for success, considering this is a popular fishery and the fish have seen it all, is fly selection and especially presentation. If your fly doesn’t act just like the naturals the fish will likely cruise right by without a sideways glance, they simply don’t recognize it as food. I’ve seen fish refuse a slowly sinking fly, just to come back and inhale the same pattern without a second thought as it’s ascending on the retrieve. Since the situation is so observable, your failure can become a successful learning experience instead of just a nice day enjoying the pleasant view of Mt. Lassen.

Manzanita Lake fly fisherman viewing Mt. Lassen

Manzanita Lake offers some gorgeous scenery besides the trout, such as Mt. Lassen

Sometimes, if the lake has been fished hard the fish can get spooked off the flats. If this is the case and you are committed to wade fishing, success can still be had by concentrating on the drop off areas and suspending nymphs from an indicator or slowly retrieving nymphs or stripping leeches. However, the lake also fishes well by boat and the fact that no motors (including electric) are allowed on the lake makes for a peaceful setting with no wakes. And a boat does make more water available.

Manzanita lake brown trout on a damselfly nymph

Fly fishing Manzanita Lake in Northern California offers opportunities for some beautiful brown and rainbow trout.

While these fish have been educated to inspect their meal with a discerning eye, fly selection is generally pretty straightforward. Probably 70% of the time I’m there I’m fishing with either midge pupae, callibaetis nymphs (and hopefully dries) or damselfly nymphs. If you’re getting refusals with these and can’t easily see what the fish are feeding on, stop fishing for a while and watch a fish to see how the fish is behaving and maybe even see what it’s taking, or put your nose right up to the water’s surface to see what’s going on down there. Likely culprits include terrestrials, land-born insects such as ants and beetles, blown in from the trees. While I’m generally fishing with nymphs, Manzanita Lake does have some great dry fly opportunities too. Also productive is stripping leech patterns as well as streamers such as woolly buggers to imitate the large dragonfly nymphs in the lake.

Flies for Manzanita Lake

A commonly used selection of flies for Manzanita Lake; small midges, callibaetis and damselfly nymphs

Typically I’m fishing with a floating line and a 9-12 ft leader tapered down to 5x. Most of the nymphs are either not weighted or only slightly weighted as the fish I’m targeting are in very shallow water so it doesn’t have to sink much, plus I want the fly to land with as little splash as possible to avoid spooking the fish.

Access is very convenient with pullouts just past the park entrance. From there one can work around the lake in a counter-clockwise route to the parking lot and boat launch on the South-East side of the lake, then retrace the path sight-fishing the way back, or do the same in the opposite direction. Be aware that Manzanita Lake is closed from the boat launch northwest to 150 feet West of the present inlet and 150 feet at the apex of a radius from the center of the inlet. This is a catch and release lake and  you may only use single, barbless artificial lures.

At an elevation of 5900 feet, the lake freezes over in the winter but is usually good to go from May through October. Manzanita Lake offers some of the best sight-fly fishing opportunities in Northern California and it’s very convenient to stay close by with the Manzanita Lake campground located just up the road. That combined with all the other recreation this area has to offer makes it a great family-friendly fishing trip.

For updated fishing reports check out The Fly Shop at www.flyshop.com or call them at (530) 222-3555.

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