Donner Lake is a beautiful high mountain lake located up in the Sierra Mountains. It has a healthy supply of big Lake Trout, Landlocked Kokanee Salmon, Rainbow Trout, and Brown Trout that are ready for your fishing adventure to try your luck at catching.
Fishing at Donner Lake is a breathtaking experience. It’s beautiful mountain back drop is amazing. There is also lots of wildlife around the lake like Bald Eagles, Deer, and Elk, as well as other smaller critters all around. Donner Lake is located right off of Interstate 80 on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, making it easy to get to, but also giving you the feeling of being out in the middle of nowhere to give you that peace and tranquility that high mountain lakes give you. You really can get out into the middle of the lake and reel in 20 to 25 pound Mackinaw lake trout, and land kokanee while you are it. There are also some Lahontan Cutthroat Trout you may be able to randomly catch, but not enough to specifically target. They planted Cutthroat trout in the past, but not in many years.
Donner Lake Mackinaw Fishing
Mackinaw, also known as Lake Trout, are closely related to brook trout. They grow very large, in some lakes they grow larger than 30 pounds. They are as big as they are delicious, and a great amount of fun to catch. There are a plentiful amount of Mackinaw in the lake, but it’s always recommended for any species to only catch what you plan to eat, and throw back any trophy fish over ten pounds to continue breeding the population for you to catch more fish in the future. When targeting Mackinaw, the best strategy is to troll for them. When the water temps reach 50 degrees in the spring after the ice melts, the Mackinaw bite is off the hook. You can typically find them schooled up in groups of similar sized fish in about 50 to 60 feet deep water, spread out all over the lake. The big mackinaw won’t be found swimming with smaller fish, as they will eat the smaller fish. So if you find yourself catching smaller fish, you should switch spots to continue targeting those trophy lake trout. Trolling through them with some stick baits down deep around China Cove is a good bet to give you a good chance at landing some trophy Mackinaw. Spot them on your fishfinder and troll through them again and again to entice a strike. It’s also a good idea to bring your minnow trap as Mackinaw really bite good on the local minnows caught from the lake itself. Once you score some minnows, you can add a minnow to the end of your trolling rig on your lure. As the water warms up towards the summer, the mackinaw will be in deeper water of 70 feet or more. As you get into the Fall months the Mackinaw begin to spawn. During this time you can still tip your lure with minnows, but you can also try jigging minnows straight down through the big Mackinaw you find on your fishfinder. The fish at this time may even move down to about a hundred feet depths. During the winter months the fish will bite less and become lethargic to the point that you will have to get them angry to bite by driving them crazy by continuously jigging through them so they lash out and bite.
Donner Lake Kokanee Fishing
Kokanee fishing at Donner Lake is a lot of fun. The bite is always pretty good, if you know how to target them. They plant around 50,000 of these tasty Landlocked Kokanee Salmon, which is a Sockeye Salmon, every year. There is not huge numbers of kokanee in the lake, but there is plenty, and they do get pretty big in size. They get about 20 inches long in their third year, which is the size you want to catch. You should target Kokanee at Donner Lake in the spring and summer months. You should first locate them on your fishfinder, and then target them. They are typically in 25 to 50 feet of water. Your trolling rig should be tipped with a single piece of corn using this Kokanee Shoepeg Corn Recipe. You can also use pink or purple Kokanee lures like shrimp or squid spinner rigs, flatfish, hoochies, or spoons. Top producing colors are pinks and purples.
Donner Lake Rainbow Trout Fishing
For shore fishermen, Donner Lake has a great rainbow trout fishery. CA fish and game plants rainbows at the lake, and there is also a large natural population of rainbows as well. Fishing from shore, or targeting towards the shore from a boat, there are great opportunities for catching some nice rainbows. The north shore of the lake is a top choice for many anglers. Rainbow Trout can be enticed with typical trout lures like kastmasters, spoons, rooster tails, and other spinner type lures. You can also use baits like worms, and powerbait. You can also do good with this homemade trout dough bait recipe. There is also a pier you can fish from that does pretty well, but you have to get there early as it fills up pretty quick. You can also catch rainbows trolling from a boat using wedding rings, spinners, spoons, kastmasters, and small stick bait immitation minnows. If the fish are jumping when there is some bugs hitting the water, you could also try your hand at some fly fishing. When the lake ices over, you can try your luck at some ice fishing. Rainbow Trout are the typical target for ice fishing on the lake. Check out our ice fishing gear. Donner Lake is one of the best ice fishing lakes in California, due to it’s high elevation and thick ice layer that provides for a safer ice fishing experience.
Donner Lake Brown Trout Fishing
Brown Trout are a highly prized fish to target at Donner Lake. Though there are less browns than there are rainbows, they are out there. Most people don’t fish for Browns, as they can be a little more picky eaters. You can even catch them over ten pounds, which is a prized catch. You can target Brown Trout on Donner Lake from shore, but it’s more preferable to target them in a boat. You can troll, close to the shore, ripping a stick bait. You can also cast into the shore using rainbow, pink, or chartreuese spinners or roostertails. You can also catch them during ice fishing season as well. In the spring time your best bet is to target the inlets around the lake. During the warmer summer months you should fish the deep drop offs around the lake from a boat using night crawlers, silver kastmasters, spoons, and stickbaits.
Planning Your Donner Lake Fishing Trip
Donner Lake is a short twenty minute drive from Lake Tahoe, and about an hour and a half from Sacramento. It does have nearby stores, restaurants, and hotels in the town of Truckee. There is also some pretty fun stuff for the whole family in between good fishing times. You can take the family hiking, mountain biking, playing in the water, and some georgeous sightseeing. It is a great family vacation destination you and your family are sure to enjoy.
Donner Lake Boat and Shore Access
Donner Lake has several boat launches, but only a few of them are open in the off season. They all offer easy access. The Donner Lake Marina has all the gas, gear, food, and drink that you would need for a day on the lake as well. Access to shore fishing is a bit limited due to the forest, but the north shore does provide pretty good access. The public fishing pier provides easy access as well, and its near where the fish are planted, so the rainbows stack up pretty good there and there is also a random brown trout mixed up with the rainbows.
There are several campgrounds and RV spots around Donner lake, and in the nearby forests. There are small hotels close by, and a few small resorts and cabin rentals available. You can tent camp, or camp in an RV. If you don’t have an RV, you can also rent an RV.
Looking for a vacation rental near Donner Lake, or any destination you wish to go? Vrbo has vacation homes, cabins, and cottages for many locations that would be great for your next family vacation.
Donner Lake Fishing Guides
There are a few different fishing guides that offer guided fishing trips on Donner Lake. FishingBooker is a service to help you find a local fishing guide to schedule your next guided fishing trip with. Click here to find your next fishing guide for Donner Lake, or any lake, or any location that you want to hire a guide to get you and your friends on some fish!About The Author Mike Mendenhall is the the founder of Mendenhall Outdoors. This website is an extension of the Mendenhall family’s lifestyle and passion for the great outdoors. Everything that they learn, and experience, along the way that they find may be valuable to our website visitors is on the site for you to enjoy. We highlight products and services that you might find interesting. We frequently receive free products from manufacturers to test. This does not drive our decision as to whether or not a product is featured or recommended. If you click a link on this page, then go on to make a purchase, we might receive a commission – at no extra cost to you, and does not impact the purchase price of any products that you may purchase. The Best Donner Lake Fishing Experience Awaits!