I had an opportunity to fish Milton Lake on a scouting trip prior to our scheduled Truckee Watershed trip scheduled for next week. It was my first trip to Milton after hearing a great deal about it as “the ultimate stillwater challenge” and a small lake requiring your “A” game. And that it was, after a significant drive to get in there. It is located about 25 miles north of Truckee on highway 89 and then a 17 mile drive west on paved road to Jackson Meadows Reservoir, and finally a two mile drive down a dirt road to Milton Lake. And so it is not as easy to access as other Tahoe water, and thus sees much less pressure.
Milton is a 12 acre lake and administered as a CFW wild trout program participant with some trophy size trout found here, reputably as large as 30’ including both browns and a few rainbows. The deepest part of the lake is about 40’ on the west end near the dam, but it has many areas that are 4-7’ deep with weedbeds and mud bottoms making for abundant aquatic life. The elevation of the lake is 5650 feet. No motors are allowed on this lake so it is peaceful and calm, when the wind isn’t blowing in the afternoons.
The lake is small and fed by the Middle Fork of the Yuba flowing out of Jackson Meadows reservoir. Once at the lake, it is easily accessed from a few campsites for watercraft. The campsites are un-developed. I camped within 40’ of the lake and were able to leave my pontoon fully setup and “parked” on the grass launch after fishing for the day. Nice!
So what did I find? There is a terrific #14-16 Callibaetis hatch from about 9:30 each morning until noon and the lake gets alive with surface activity. Lots of gulps, dorsals, and heads bobbing about. But I got there too late after an 1 & ½ hour drive from Stampede and by the time my pontoon was setup, it was over. An awesome surface hatch and I missed it. Shameful for a dry fly guy! So out I went in the afternoon’s wind with Callibaetis spinners (still looking for the surface “fool”), dragging Wooly buggers, and pitching nymphs under an indicator as the fish retreated into the weed beds and depths of the lake.
The lake has a lot of sub surface obstructions, mainly trees that are still standing but with the top stumps about 7’ under the surface. And a perfect place for a large trout to break you off, as I learned quickly. Had a mid size Woolly hit by a freight train, which then decided to teach me about the lake’s hazards (and taking my Woolly and 5’ of 3X tippet). After fighting the wind for several hours I retreated to a sheltered cove and caught a nice 14” brown on a surface hopper; and quickly followed with a 12’ brown caught on a #16 EC Caddis. And so on to fix dinner, rig up for tomorrow’s activity, turn in, and get a great start on the next morning’s awesome hatch.
Except…there was none! I was on the lake at 6:30, all geared up with a dry and Callibaetis nymph dropper on one rod, and a dual Callibaetis nymph setup on my 5 weight for nymphing. I have no idea why the hatch didn’t come off at all. No wind, no major temperature change, and no changing water flows. It was a major disappointment as I thought that I was fully prepared from the previous day’s activity. Goes to show why they call it fishing. Only two other guys on the lake and not much for them either. So I packed it up at noon, but vowed to be back camping and fishing again at this awesomely peaceful lake, and on time for the hatch next visit.