Mackinaw on the chomp in the High Sierra

TAHOE PRODUCING THE RARE HUGE MACKINAW – Zach Gordon of Tahoe Sport Fishing with a 20-pound male Mackinaw caught on a live minnow last week.


SOUTH LAKE TAHOE – The High Sierra natural lakes of Tahoe and Donner are only a bit over 15 miles apart, and although both lakes are part of the Truckee River watershed and harbor big Mackinaw, they fish entirely differently. Tahoe produces numbers of smaller kokanee for those working the shelves with spoons or live minnows, while Donner requires trolling big spoons, swimbaits or plugs near the bottom for the opportunity at a true trophy Mackinaw.

Although we have become accustomed to numbers of smaller Mackinaw to 6 pounds at Tahoe, there are still some bruisers out there. Captain Zach Gordon of Tahoe Sport Fishing found this out once again this week. He said, “I was out on a flat, calm day with our mechanic working on the boat when he said, ‘Let’s see if we can catch some dinner,’ so we dropped some live minnows to the bottom. Before you knew it, he was hooked into something big judging by the bend in the rod, and he landed a 10-pound Mackinaw. We made another pass over the same spot, and my light rod doubled over with something pretty good.

“The fish ran out 200 feet of line right away, and it took 20 minutes to arrive at the net. This was my personal best with a big male at 20 pounds, and some years you find Mackinaw of this size on the lake, but they are few and far between. If you consider that we had 8,500 people out this past year for a total of over 45,000 hours of fishing for no Mackinaw to 20 pounds, there are not many Mackinaw of this size around. The wind was a factor over the weekend, but we were out on a regular trip on Friday for 12 Mackinaw for 6 anglers. Our previous trip resulted in 15 Mackinaw, and we threw back close to this number. It looks like we are coming into a good pattern with light and variable winds so the Mackinaw should continue to bite.”


Donner is just northwest of Tahoe, and it is known for its trophy-sized Mackinaw. However, fish of this status may require hours and hours on the water. Shaun Rainsbarger of Shaun’s Guide Service is a specialist at Donner, and once again, he paid for the snow plow at the launch in order to put his boat in the water.

He said, “We landed two Mackinaw to 9 pounds the first day out of 4 bites, but the east wind came up and this kills the bite. The following day, we landed four out of 7 hookups, and we ran Sierra Spoons and Flatfish near the bottom both days. Donner is a very interesting lake as it was naturally formed by glacial action, and all of the pine needles and leaves settle to the bottom of the lake, forming what I call ‘fluff.’ You never see a Mackinaw on the bottom as the Mackinaw seem to mix in with the light loamy soil on the bottom. Once professional diver attempted to grab a crawdad on the bottom, and his arm sunk down to shoulder level.

“Another difference at Donner is that you don’t see the Mackinaw stacked up like you do at Tahoe as I think the Macks have their noses in the dirt. You never know about this lake as the opportunity for a trophy is always there, and there is a larger population of smaller Mackinaw around this year. This is a good sign as the Mackinaw do not always have a successful spawn here.”

The launch ramp at Donner is not for the faint of heart as it remains iced over with the freezing temperatures.