Winter fishing best season on Lake Tahoe

Captain Mickey Daniels has been plying the waters of Lake Tahoe since 1969. | Anne Artoux

Cold days, clear skies and a whisper of wind are perfect conditions for one of the less popular winter sports in Tahoe — fishing. In fact, winter is the optimal season to fish the many varied species of trout on Lake Tahoe — Mackinaw, Brown, Kokanee and Rainbow, to name a few.

Patience and a little luck are all one need possess to hook that big one from which tales grow.

The ambient temperature of the water is colder than summer, so trout will venture closer to the surface and the boat traffic on the lake is minimal making for a peaceful sojourn with the exception of the excitement and adrenaline that starts to pump when one of the fishing lines starts to jump. Patience and a little luck are all one need possess to hook that big one from which tales grow. Mickey’s Big Mack Fishing Charters or any other of the many fishing charters around the lake will provide everything else you might need.

Mickey Daniels’ life before turning to fishing (you might be surprised)
Check out #80 on the Ultimate Tahoe Winter Bucket List

My boyfriend, Donovan Green, and I met Captain Mickey Daniels of the “Big Mack II” at the Sierra Boat Company in Carnelian Bay at 5:30 a.m. on a cold, clear, winter morning although it felt more like the middle of the night. His voice greeted us in the dark and we stepped into his office to get our fishing licenses. We were accompanied by three more clients from Sonoma, the two men celebrating birthdays. So was my guy. Was this a sign? Fishing, like baseball and many other sports, is thick with superstition. Capricorns are part mermaid, aren’t they? Ah yes, I was feeling lucky as we boarded the “Big Mack” and motored to our destination over the dark, calm lake, a crescent moon cupping the dawning sky.

Carnelian Bay residents Anne Artoux and Donovan Green with the day’s catch.

Captain Mickey has been fishing trout in Lake Tahoe since 1959 and chartering fishing trips since 1969, so you know you are in capable experienced hands, but be forewarned, Mickey is also part jokester, historian, storyteller and comedian. “You have to be an entertainer when the fish are not biting,” says Daniels.

Before we dropped our lines in the water, Daniels asked that the two women on the boat kiss the bait for luck; the bait being a 3-inch live Red Lahontan minnow. I obliged, puckering up and upped my luck bank. Six lines were baited and dropped into the lake. Then we waited while watching the sunrise over the East Shore. And, we waited a while longer.

The first pole jumped, and on my pole. Daniels gave me a nod and I jumped to action reeling in nearly 400 feet of fishing line before a 22.5 inch Mackinaw was pulled onto the boat. I recorded my catch: Anne, 7:35 a.m. and length of fish, 22.5”. The largest fish was caught by my birthday man and measured 23.7”.

As Daniels measured the fish he noticed one of his tags on the dorsal fin. In a well-worn spiral notebook, he referenced the tag number and announced that the trout had been tagged in 2004 and had measured only 2” shorter, a fact that dismayed Mickey. “They should grow more in 15 years,” he commented.

For nearly a decade, Daniels has been tagging trout and gathering data that helps to determine the habits and health of the trout, as well as the health of Lake Tahoe. On our outing, we tagged #9070 before releasing it back into Agate Bay.

Captain Daniels, second from right, instructing a group of Sonoma anglers. | Anne Artoux

“Maybe a fisherman in South Lake Tahoe will catch this trout 30 days from now, maybe 20 years later; they are traveling trout,” Mickey tells me. He would know, he catches, tags and releases 700 to 1,000 fish annually.

“The fish are healthy,” he says, and biting thanks to last year’s snowfall and consequently huge snowmelt that washed natural nutrients essential for the trout from Big Blue’s 62 tributaries.

Returning to the Sierra Boat Company, sun on our faces, grinning from ear to ear, we cracked a cold one and cheered a day well spent; a sense of satisfaction in the air. I had learned more about the lake and the trout that travel in it, heard eyewitness stories of Sasquatch sightings, watched a set of dentures get extracted from a trout’s esophagus and caught dinner.

For more information or to book an outing, call (800) 877-1462 or visit