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What Types of Fish are in Lake Tahoe?

a small boat in a large body of water

Do you know how many types of fish are in Lake Tahoe? We’re not talking about the streams or even the Tahoe Keys, but the Lake itself. This might come as a surprise, but there’s only four types of fish. The Mackinaw (Lake Trout), German Browns, Rainbow Trout and Kokanee Salmon.

The Mackinaw is the largest and most plentiful species in Lake Tahoe. It averages 3 – 7 lbs with the lake record coming in at a whopping 37.6 lbs. The tail is deeply forked and the fins are not emarginated. The color of this fish is variable, ranging from light gray, green, brown to nearly black with profuse irregular whitish (near pink) spots on back and sides. It has a pale dorsal fin. The color of the fish is never bright. The belly can sometimes be spotted. We mainly fish for this species deep off the shelves that make Lake Tahoe. Typically we fish 200-400 ft and mooch the bottom. They do come up to more shallow waters in fall and winter as the lake gets colder. If you’ve fished on a Tahoe Sport Fishing charter, chances are you’ve caught a Mackinaw.

Mackinaw Lake Tahoe

Two macks are better than one!

Kokanee Salmon – this is the second most common fish species in Lake Tahoe. Their season typically runs from early July to mid September. Their average size is 1 – 2 lbs and although they are a smaller fish, they put up a good fight. The lake record was 5.2 lbs and was caught by Tahoe Sport Fishing back in 2013! It is also the state record for California and Nevada. They have silvery sides and a brilliant steel blue to bluish green back. They do not have any distinct black spots. Their color does change to red during spawning. They are a dwarf landlocked form of a sockeye salmon. The Kokanee typically live in large oligotrophic lakes in the west. They are anadromous and usually spawn in streams that have lakes as their source. We typically fish 75-150 ft deep for the Kokanee.

Kokanee Lake Tahoe

You don’t actually have to lick the fish.

Rainbow trouts average 2 – 6 lbs. They have rounded bodies in cross-section. Their heads are comparatively short compared to the other species int he lake. Their maxilla reaches to scarcely beyond their eyes. The lining of their mouths is white. Their sides and belly are silvery. When spawning in fresh water, a broad, lateral, red stripe appears, especially in males. They tend to live primarily in cold, fast streams. While we never target rainbows, we do pull them up when going for the Mackinaw.

Rainbow Trout Lake Tahoe

These beauties are a rare catch in Lake Tahoe.

The average size brown trout is 3 – 5 lbs. They are toothless towards the back of their tongues. The maxilla reaches the point below the back margin of their eyes. They are yellow-brown to brown with many spots on top of their heads, cheeks, backs and paired fins. These spots are ringed with lighter pigment to form halos. Their sides are yellow-brown and their bellies are yellow to white. They are typically anadromous and found occasionally in brackish water near mouths of streams and in warm and slow waters. We do not target brown trouts, but do pull them up throughout the year when fishing for Mackinaw.

Brown Trout Lake Tahoe

You’ll recognize this one by its distinctive spots!

Although all of these fish species exist in the lake, rainbow trouts and brown trouts only make up 4% of the fish population and are a pretty rare catch. We like to call them unicorn fish. We see these two specific species the most in the springtime, but do pull them up sporadically throughout the winter.

If you are looking to fish with Tahoe Sport Fishing this winter, we are currently accepting reservations. You can give us a call (530.541.5448) or book online.

If you have any questions about these fish species let us know in the comments below!