• By Peter Ottesen
    Stockton Record Correspondent

Posted Aug. 2, 2016 at 6:00 PM
Updated Aug 2, 2016 at 8:15 PM

Surrounded by the parched golden brown Sierra foothills and dominated by an oppressive mid-day sun, Lake Camanche this week seemed more like a giant bathtub with 81-degree surface water than a place to go fishing.

How could this dry, hot destination set on the border between San Joaquin and Calaveras counties actually be this summer’s premiere trout fishing destination in the entire state? It seemed so incongruous given the weather and water conditions.

Well, let me report to you. After putting in seven hours trolling the lower end of the 70 percent full lake and boating rainbows ranging from 2 ½ to 5 pounds, my pal Paul Perkins and I are believers. Rumors of big trout hooked just 15 to 35 feet deep were true, even under bluebird skies with temperatures that soared to 105 degrees.

“If I hadn’t experienced catching these impressive rainbows under the most stifling heat during an extended heat wave, I would have had my doubts,” Perkins said. “As it is, we netted the largest limit of trout I’ve ever caught in my life. It was just incredible.”

Terry Willard at Camanche Recreation Company recently sent me comments from some of her very happy anglers that trout fishing was “off the hook,” even though the last fish planting of the year occurred back in May.

What lured me to the Mother Lode impoundment was the extraordinary adventure enjoyed by Robbie and Kim Dunham of Galt who, on a Saturday morning outing deployed downriggers set at 25, 30 and 35 feet. By 12:30 p.m., they had boxed 10 trout that totaled 27¼ pounds, including Kim’s largest fish that weighed 4½ pounds.

“It was yet another awesome day of fishing at Lake Camanche,” said Robbie Dunham, who trolled Speedy Shiner lures at 3 mph over the old Mokelumne River channel below Little Hat Island. “We had to be off the water early so we could catch a concert that night in Sacramento,” he said, so there was no time to waste.”

As for our “prove to us trip”, Perkins and I tried a variety of artificial lures such as Cripplure, Speedy Shiner, Needlefish and Rapala, at speeds of 2.5- to 3-mph. But, many of the strikes – especially rod-bending pull downs by the largest rainbows – happened when we put the engine into neutral, causing the trout to smash the lure on the fall. Our discovery happened by accident.

With Perkins hooked up I cut the motor to put less strain on the fish and as soon as the speed reached idle, a second rod went off. We had two rainbows both larger than 3 pounds on at the same time thanks to this maneuver. Talk about serendipitous luck. The technique worked all day long until the final trout viciously attacked at Speedy Shiner just before 2 p.m. Does it ever fail the last fish to reach a limit is always the toughest to hook?

Other than five fishing boats and a pair of high-powered water skiers, the lake was literally void of traffic. People seemed more inclined to swim and sun bathe along the shoreline, leaving the open water to just a handful of boaters.

Back at North Shore one of the best conveniences for anglers is the well-appointed fish cleaning station that is kept very clean by Camanche Recreation Company. Nearby restrooms with flush toilets were equally as spotless.

There were picnic tables to enjoy a late lunch with no end to wild turkeys, including juveniles and mature hens, foraging for hapless grasshoppers and human tidbits. Flocks of Canada geese slept next to the shoreline. Bald eagles perched in trees.

What a bonus to experiencing the best big trout fishing lake in the state, even in the heat of summer.

— Contact outdoors correspondent Peter Ottesen at pottesen@recordnet.com.