Catching monsters in Lake Tahoe

The sun barely peeks over the horizon as we drop the first lines into the water

It’s still dark out and the dock is still covered in frost as I make my way down past Sierra Boat Company at 6 a.m. I may not be used to the early hour, but for Mickey Daniels and the guys, this is just another day of fishing. Daniels is the proud owner of the “Big Mack II” and has operated Mickey’s Big Mack Charters since 1969.

“I started taking a few people fishing here and there,” said Daniels.

His first paid trips were on a 14-foot boat called “Big Mack.” Today, he operates out of the upgraded “Big Mack II,” a 43-foot boat that is custom designed for fishing Lake Tahoe’s deep waters. The boat is outfitted with fish finders to help navigate the vast water, downriggers for trawling and a plush cabin where guests can take refuge from the early morning chill. Depending on the season, anglers can look forward to catching a variety of fish including Mackinaw, Rainbow and Brown trout, as well as Kokanee, a fresh water salmon that spawns in Tahoe Basin streams.

Writer Jenn Sheridan continues her 15-year streak of not landing a fish

Despite the cold weather, winter is a great time for Mackinaw fishing. Deep water is the best bet for reaching fish more than 400 feet below the surface. As we head out, Mickey sets up a few rods with both lures and bait and we wait for the fish to start biting.

A long-time resident of North Lake Tahoe, Daniels worked with the Placer Country Sheriff’s department, the California Highway Patrol and as an elected constable of North Tahoe before fishing became his main gig.

The first catch of the day splashes at the surface

The first bite comes around 7 a.m. just as the sun is rising over the East Shore. Charlie Burruel, who is visiting his son from Napa, jumps at the opportunity to reel it in. The fish put up a good fight, but after a few minutes Mickey’s nets the trout and pulls it into the boat. A mackinaw trout, about 18-inches long, flips around the floor of the boat.

Mackinaw trout average about 20 to 30 inches. This one measured in at around 18 inches

Daniels keeps a log of every fish caught on the boat.

The ones he doesn’t keep, he tags for his records. Daniels says that he once caught a mackinaw nearly 20 years after first tagging it, and it had only grown a few inches. He works closely with UC Davis and the Tahoe Environmental Research Center, as well as the University of Nevada, Reno, to share research about the lake and its ecosystem. Although the largest mackinaws exceed 35 lbs., the average size of a fish found in Lake Tahoe is closer to 4 to 5 lbs.

I didn’t tell anyone on the boat that I have not successfully caught and landed a fish in nearly 15 years, but when we noticed the next fish on the line I was excited to reel in the big one. The fish fought hard. I was sure it was going to be one of those 35-pounders when suddenly the line went slack. It was gone. I reeled in the remaining 300 feet of line and my no-fish record still stands. For now.

Rich Lazz reels in the catch of the day

Thankfully, we didn’t have to wait long for the next catch. Rich Lazz of Kings Beach took the reel for this one, landing another nice mackinaw measuring 22 inches in length. Seagulls swooped overhead as Daniels fileted the fish on the boat.

As the sun creeped over head and the clock ticked past noon, we headed back to Sierra Boat Co. Although I didn’t catch any fish on my own, I wasn’t completely skunked as Burruel offered to share one of his filets with me. I grilled the piece later that evening and the moist salmon-like texture paired with the light flavor of trout ensured that I will be back to try and end my fishless streak soon.


Mickey’s Big Mack Charters operates year-round from the Sierra Boat Co. in Carnelian Bay. The cost is $90 per person for a 5-hour trip or $850 for the entire boat. The “Big Mack II” fishes 10 people comfortable and can take up to 13 guests. All the gear is provided, but those who are fishing will need fishing license from either California or Nevada. For more information, call (530) 546-4444.