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Lake Tahoe Fish Species You Can Catch

Lake Tahoe is one of the most beautiful and crystal clear lakes in the United States.  Located between Nevada and California, this cold and deep water lake is home to some of the most popular fish species that anglers love to catch.

Male and Female Kokanee Salmon swimming in a stream near Lake Tahoe
Male and Female Kokanee Salmon swimming in a stream near Lake Tahoe

If you are planning a trip to this region, you should get your self familiar with all the Lake Tahoe fish species you can target for fishing and when is the best time to go.

These are the Fish Species in Lake Tahoe

  1. Trout
  2. Salmon
  3. Bass
  4. Panfish
  5. Catfish

Mackinaw Lake Trout 

Ask any fisherman or woman who has been to Lake Tahoe and they will tell you that the area is famous for its Mackinaw trout. Out of all the species that live here, mackinaw are the most sought-after. One reason for this is that they are available all year round whether it’s cold or hot.

Macks tend to prefer colder waters with temperatures around 52 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. This means they generally swim around the lake searching for these colder spots. Although they are in the waters of Lake Tahoe all year round, you will not find them in the same location each time.


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The best period to fish for Mackinaw trout is from March to June. Some of the most impressive Macks have been caught during this time but mid-summer through to fall can also be a reliable time to hook smaller catches.

Mackinaw trout are known for their very soft mouths. Therefore, it is crucial that you set the hook very carefully. Do not rush the reeling process as you could easily lose the fish this way. If you manage to catch a large Mackinaw, you should bring it nearer to the boat with a net.

You need to be prepared for the different sizes of Macks. They can weigh as little as 5 pounds up to a whopping 20 pounds. The bigger they are, the more challenging it is to reel them and net them in. It is no surprise that the largest Mackinaw trout ever caught in the US was at lake Tahoe weighing 37.40 pounds. 

When fishing for Macks, there are two techniques that are favored most:

  • Jigging
  • Trolling with downriggers

Jigging is the simpler (and more fun) method of the two but also more hands-on. This process allows you to change depths more easily but 70 to 80 feet is generally a good place to begin. Trolling is just as effective but more laid back.

It is better suited to offshore fishing in the middle of Lake Tahoe, around 60 to 200 feet.


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Other trout available at Lake Tahoe 

While Mackinaw trout are the main attraction of Lake Tahoe, other trout species can be found in the picturesque waters. These trouts include:

Rainbow trout are certainly one of the top caches at this lake and one of the most desired species here. This is mainly down to their sheer size and fighting abilities. Rainbow trout vary in weight from only 2 pounds up to 25 pounds with some catches being even bigger than this.

The best time of year to target Rainbows is from May through to mid-November. This is when the water temperature is ideal for these trout. They tend to stay in deep waters but are known to congregate in shallower regions, close to rocky shores where they can find a good deal of cover.

While there are Brown and Brook trout in the lake, they are less common. However, fish here at certain parts of the year and you have a higher chance of a hook.

Browns typically stay in shallow, rocky regions of the lake while Brook trout favor streams within the lake that are on a higher elevation. If you want to catch these species, we suggest heading to Lake Tahoe in the early summer. 


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Now, we come to the pirates of the fish life at Lake Tahoe. Unsurprisingly, Cutthroat trout are not the friendliest fish, especially with other trout. This is why there are not many of these moody trout in the waters of Lake Tahoe.

But, you can still come across Cutthroat trout in spring and summer. If you do stumble upon them, they are an absolute joy to catch. They respond very well to worms as well as nightcrawlers.

It doesn’t matter what trout species you end up fishing for, the simple pleasure of experiencing Lake Tahoe and its fishing delights will probably blow your mind.

Kokanee Salmon

Kokanee have made Lake Tahoe a very comfortable home. Introduced to the lake in the 1940s, these landlocked Sockeye Salmon have adapted tremendously to the vast waters here.

To experience the high season of Kokanee at Lake Tahoe, we recommend heading here from July until October. You can also find some in the early spring but Kokanee tends to prefer the warmer temperatures during the summer and fall. 

Salmon migration in Lake Tahoe at Nevada, USA

Kokanee are smaller than most of the trout in Lake Tahoe weighing around the 2-pound range. While there is a slight chance of hooking one from the shoreline, your best bet is to fish in the deeper waters.

Every October, quite the spectacle takes place. Kokanee change color from silver to crimson while they make their way to Taylor Creek. This is the area where they spawn and it is their final resting ground.

Seeing the rich red hues of these fish beneath the deep blue waters is a truly magical sight and something we highly recommend.

When fishing for Kokanee, drift fishing, jigging, and trolling are the best ways to go, especially when in waters that are 90 feet deep or more. Most salmon, including the Kokanee, react very well to minnows, nightcrawlers, and bright lures.

And the fun doesn’t stop when you catch them. They are extremely delicious fish and a favorite in the area among the locals. 

The Bass 

While different trout species and Kokanee salmon dominate the waters of Lake Tahoe, other fish are also in abundance. One such fish is the Bass. If you are looking for some Bass action, there is one area to check out, Tahoe Keys.

This is the only part of the lake where you can find huge numbers of Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass.


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On the whole, Bass tend to prefer shallow, warmer waters. Luckily, these are the exact conditions around the keys of Lake Tahoe. The most active period for these fish is around late spring and early summer. This is during their spawning time and just afterward. 

Compared to Bass elsewhere, these may not be the biggest you will come across. Most weigh anything from 2 to 7 pounds. But you can catch bigger ones if you’re lucky. When the water temperature reaches the sixties, both smallmouth and largemouth Bass are easier to spot.

This is when they come out and about searching for food. At this point, you should cast your line around any underwater vegetation and rocks. This should give you a better chance of grabbing a fish’s attention and a hook.

If you want the best advice on fishing here, the local anglers are the people to ask. With their experience, they can offer insight, tips, and tricks that may be unknown elsewhere. (Don’t worry, we’re covering it all today!)

Some local anglers claim that Bass also venture into the lake. This means you may come across some when fishing for trout. However, this can be quite rare but it has been known to happen. 

For the best chance of catching Bass, your best bet is to head to the Keys around the early summertime. 

Panfish and Others

It’s not all about the Bass, trout, or Kokanee at lake Tahoe. This exquisite body of water has a lot more to offer for all levels of anglers. As a solid freshwater fishery, you will probably find many more species on the end of your line.


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Other common catches at Lake Tahoe include:

  • Crappie
  • Bluegill
  • Whitefish
  • Sall Catfish
  • Sculpin

You can even come across large Goldfish. This has happened because someone released them, not knowing how invasive they can be when dealing with other fish. Some of Lake Tahoe’s Goldfish can grow to gigantic sizes, some even several pounds in weight.

Therefore, you will probably experience dazzling or glittering gold as you reel in some catches on the Lake. 

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