Martis Lake

Martis Lake is significant to California’s angling history because of two notable firsts. In 1974 it became the first, state-designated Wild Trout Lake. In 1979, in an admirable project to re-establish a naturally, self-propagating Lahontan Cutthroat fishery, ZERO KILL and barbless artificials became the rules. It was the first time in state history for public water. The same regulations still exist; the rare Lahontans are gone. They proved to be inept cohabitants with the other lake residents, browns and rainbows.

Martis Lake is located 3 miles southeast of the now trendy ski town of Truckee, just off state highway #267. Or, 9 miles northwest, via the same two-laner, from the north-shore of Lake Tahoe. On the ridge overlooking the water is a campground for tent and small RV campers; fire rings, toilets and potable water are provided. The 70-acre lake is ideal for float-tubes, canoes and prams; no motors are permitted. The season starts on the last Saturday of April to the 15th of November.

Prime times are May, June to mid-July. During August to mid-September high water temperatures are not conducive for optimum angling; best to fish early and late in the day. Also, excessive weed bloom eliminates float-tube access to productive shallows. October can be good; providing the snow doesn’t come too soon. Shore fly angling is abundant. There is no need to worry about back-casts, stands of evergreens are non-existent along the shoreline, and terrain is open chaparral with an occasional knoll to your back. Wind is always a consideration, especially in the middle of the day.

This is a stillwater environment that can test your lake angling skills. Basic lake tactics will assure success. Probe the feeding/cruising zones, drop-offs, springs, shoals, weed beds, foam and wind lines. A decent area at Martis is the open channel over the old streambed and the surrounding shallow flats on the southside of the lake at the inlet of Martis Creek. When the inevitable wind starts, seek the sheltered coves along the west shore. The gusts generally start in the early afternoon, and diminish just in time for the evening rise.

The most dependable fly-angling methods go sub-surface; using nymphs, pupal or forage fish imitations. Successful top water anglers are tuned- into appropriate times, places, and patterns. The talent to toss a long line will work to your advantage. A knowledge of presenting a deeply sunk fly, the subtleties of delicate and deliberate retrieves with near or "in the film" emerging bugs, whether hand twists or long slow draws, will optimize your efforts. At times, wispy tippets are required to induce the take, along with the subliminal awareness of their fragility.

The principle fodder is Chironomids (#’s 14-22) and Green Sunfish (#’s 2-6). Imitations of all stages of the Callibaetis are necessary throughout the season. Damsel nymphs (#8-10) during their early summer shoreward migrations provide exiting, but challenging angling; the key is to mimic the sculling motion. Of less import are dragonflies, leeches, waterboatman and crawfish.

Heed what Martis Lake dictates; be flexible, adjust tactics to the changing conditions. Avoid getting mired with a single technique, or your success will be limited. A typical late-June angling day suggests the need to be adaptable.

Morning will present a glassy surface with surface slurpers ingesting minute grayish or black-colored midges. Isolate a predictable feeder, determine its direction and rhythm and intercept it; emerger patterns, on a floating line, are best. Late morning to early afternoon provides two different opportunities: damsel nymphs and Callibaetis duns and spinners. For the bulging trout gorging on the damsels, remember the migration is towards shore and/or weed growth protruding above the water. This is when I use the intermediate line. The Speckle-winged duns of the Callibaetis stay on the surface longer during breezy and overcast days. Focus on the feeding shifts, from the first appearing spinners to the emergers and duns. With a slight riffle on the surface, rise-form recognition can be difficult; but be aware the trout can get locked into one particular life-stage. At mid-day, the increasing wind gusts can create whitecaps and strong currents; an ideal time for your fast-sinking line to probe streamers along drop-offs, weed edges and peninsulas; places where predators like to lie or cruise for an opportunistic ambush.

Towards evening the wind is gone and the angler has the fortune to fish the lake’s most intense and exciting rise activity; the prizes are 20"+ rainbows and browns that become active at the surface. The "blood midge" (Tendipes) is the main feed. Martis’ acidic waters furnish ideal habitat for this huge midge. A #14 adult or emerger pattern can be equally productive. An effective technique is to select a visible snout or a "head-dorsal & tailer," assess its rise pattern and tempo, cast ahead of it and let lie, dead drift. If there is no take, a slow draw or staccato twitch may elicit a "comeback" grab.

Every season Martis Lake offers a continuous set of challenges; it has been, and still is, a fun and relaxing place to soak a line. At times you’ll be overwhelmed by the seemingly sophisticated trout (read---getting blanked!) and other times you’ve got it wired. Synthesizing all the variables resulting in a regularly bent rod is the gratification one enjoys when becoming familiar with an intriguing stillwater.

An outdoor writer for a major metropolitan newspaper once commented to me, "So....., the software is between your ears."

Article previously published in the March, 1996, "Streamlines" newsletter (Missoula, MT). Copyright Frank R. Pisciotta, 1996. No rights are given unless by permission
CyberFly Home Page

CyberFly@cyberfly.com