New Melones Reservoir fishing is quite a catch


Mar 11, 2001
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New Melones Reservoir fishing is quite a catch

Tom Stienstra, San Francisco Chronicle

May 30, 2002

BIG FISH are like $100 bills. Supply never seems to equal demand.

But New Melones Reservoir, in the Sierra foothills near Columbia (Tuolumne County), meets the challenge. Of California's 156 major recreation lakes, New Melones seems to be responding best to angler desires.

A lake-record 17-pound, 5-ounce largemouth bass was caught at New Melones Reservoir two weeks ago. Instead of jokes about snagging waterlogged members of the Russian Mafia, now everybody talks about big fish. There's not just bass, but also 4- to 5-pound trout and kokanee salmon in the 14-inch range.

New Melones has long been a top recreation lake for water sports, camping and wildlife viewing. Close to the Bay Area, it's an easy shot east from Manteca to the lake's turnoff. Pilots will find an airstrip in Columbia, with an excellent general aviation flight center.

This lake is California's third-largest reservoir (behind Shasta and Oroville). With that comes 100 miles of oak-lined shore. It provides countless hidden coves, inlets and lake arms to fish and explore by boat, including the upper Stanislaus River Canyon.

Another great aspect is that rare bonus: free day-use. That includes boat launching and parking, as well hiking or mountain biking access. The lake is about two-thirds full right now, being fed by melting snow on the western slopes below Sonora Pass.

The water temperature has just topped 70 degrees, truly launching the water sports season. Thousands of campers, boaters and swimmers turned out. By mid- week, the vacationers left, quiet returned and the big fish bit again. (Great fishing often occurs when surface temperature rises from 65 to 72 degrees.)

Trolling for kokanee salmon is so good, you can have a first-rod strike before you get the second rod out. Best spots are near the dam and the islands near Tuttletown. Try slow trolling a Wedding Ring spinner tipped with kernels of corn, 40 to 60 feet deep (use downriggers). Keep one big Rapala or minnow- type lure out deep for the lake's huge brown trout.

For bass, use spinnerbaits with some white in the hoochie skirt or plastic worms rigged Texas style. Fish the mud lines on the lee side of points, 5 to 15 feet deep. Stay ready; bass bite as you let the lure fall. Check in at Glory Hole Sports; they will demonstrate rigging and technique.

And bring binoculars! A day on the lake practically guarantees wildlife sightings. Osprey, blue herons and bald eagles are common. So are turtles on rocks along the shore up the lake arms.

I once fished here with Ed "The Dunk" Dunckel, casting Shad Raps in a cove. A big bass grabbed the lure, then wrapped the line around a sunken tree limb and broke off. We motored over, hoping to retrieve the lure, and saw the big bass, still hooked, fighting the limb -- the line had wrapped around it.

We netted that bass, and after a unanimous vote by those aboard, set it free.


-- Lake records - Brown trout, 12.7 pounds; black bass, 17.3 pounds; spotted bass, 7 pounds; catfish, 36 pounds.

-- Camping - $14/night, no reservations, 318 sites in five campgrounds. Facilities: picnic table, fire ring/grill, restrooms coin showers; no hookups. (209) 536-9094.

-- RV hookups -- At Angels RV, (209) 736-0404.

-- Lodging -- Best Western Cedar Ridge Inn, (209) 736-4000; Angels Inn, (888) 753-0226; Gold Country Inn, (800) 851-4944; Jumping Frog Motel (209) 736-2191.

-- Fishing guides -- Fish-on, (209) 838-7040; Sierra Sportfishing, (209) 599-2023; Reel Adventures, (209) 571-9748; Higgin's Guide Service, (209) 533- 2330; Fish'n Dan's, (209) 586-2383; Jack's Motherlode & Bass, (209) 532-6648.

-- Boat rentals -- New Melones Lake Marina, (209) 785-3300;, (click on New Melones).

-- Biking/hiking - Trails found near Marina.

-- Directions -- From Manteca, drive east on Highway 108 to Jamestown and Rawhide Road. Turn left; go 5 miles to Highway 49. Turn left, go 10 miles to Whittle Road (signed "New Melones," Glory Hole Sports on left). Turn left, drive 5 miles to find marina and boat launch.

-- Contacts -- New Melones Visitor's Center (209) 536-9094; Glory Hole Sports, (209) 736-4333;

E-mail Tom Stienstra at

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