U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIORBUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT
|Eagle Lake Field Office|
Eagle Lake is 5100 feet above sea level in north eastern California about 16 miles north of Susanville in Lassen County. It is the second largest natural freshwater lake wholly in California. Having no natural surface outlet, Eagle Lake is a closed basin lake with its water levels fluctuating with variations of inflow. Water surface areas have fluctuated between 16,000 to 29,000 acres with a present area of 26,000 acres.
The Lake and its immediate drainage are located in a high semi-arid plateau characterized by basaltic lava flows, volcanoes, and cinder cones. Some of the lava flows are fairly recent, having occurred not more than a few centuries ago. The higher western portion of the drainage basin consists mainly of volcanic mountains that form the east flank of the Cascade Range.
Eagle Lake is well known for its fish and wildlife. Around its shores are located one of the last colonies of nesting osprey and the largest nesting colony of western and eared grebes in the western United States. It is the home of the Eagle Lake Trout which are native only to Eagle Lake.
The Lake is irregular in outline, the main axis extending in a north-south direction for 13 miles. It varies in width from one-half mile to four miles and is divided into three sections connected by channels. The northern section averages six feet in depth; the middle section has an average depth of ten feet; and the southern section reaches a maximum depth of 92 feet.
The northern and middle sections of the lake are bordered by sagebrush hills, and the southern end is forested with pine and fir. Surface water temperatures range from 32 degrees in winter to 80 degrees in summer.
Land management around the lake is approximately 50% U.S. Forest Service, 35% Bureau of Land Management and 15% Private.
Since the first settlement in the area by the white man, Eagle Lake has been considered a potential source of water supply for the arid Honey Lake Valley. The earliest attempt to tap the lake was in 1875. At that time, the Lassen Flume and Land Company attempted to drill a tunnel from near Upper Murrerr Meadow to the lake. This plan, which is now referred to as the Merrill Project, failed from lack of finances. In 1891, a plan was developed by the Eagle Lake Land and Irrigation Company to pump water into Willow Creek. Water was actually pumped from the lake for a few months, but this project, like its predecessor, failed.
The last attempt to develop a water supply from the lake was made by Leon Bly. His plan, which involved construction of a tunnel from the lake to Willow Creek, is known as the Bly Project. Mr. Bly was instrumental in forming the Tule Irrigation District and reorganizing the Baxter Creek Irrigation District. These districts purchased the constructed project facilities from Mr. Bly. The Bly irrigation tunnel, combined with a drought in the 1930's, contributed to the near extinction of the Eagle Lake trout as well as the lake itself. The tunnel was eventually sealed in October 1986 and the water level has gradually risen to its present level.
The Native Eagle Lake Trout is the only trout known to survive in this highly alkaline water. There are also several members of the minnow family present. The largest, the tui chub, may weigh 1.5 pounds and is found in large numbers in the lake. These fish are bony but tasty and afford good sport on a light outfit.
The Eagle Lake trout was believed extinct when the California Department of Fish and Game became aware that a few of the original stock were still to be found in the spring of the year in Pine Creek, the principal tributary stream of the lake. From these few remaining specimens , an artificial propagation program was undertaken by the Department. In 1958 approximately 5,000 six to eight inch trout were stocked in the lake. Since then the Department has gradually increased the size of the plant so that now nearly 150,000 are planted each year.
Since the fall of 1960, a sport fishery for the Eagle Lake trout has developed to where the lake is now providing quality fishing. Planted trout weigh about one-third of a pound each when planted in the spring months. They typically grow to about two pounds after one year in the lake and to over three pounds after two years in the lake. Six pound Eagle Lake trout are not uncommon.
The most successful fishing areas in the lake during the spring months appear to be in the rocky shoal areas along the north and south shores. Medium weight spinning rods, using wobblers and plugs, and heavy fly rods, offering large wet flies, are well adapted to this type of angling. Night crawlers are generally effective bait at all times of the year.
As the water temperatures rise the fish move into deeper waters and trolling or still fishing with bait then becomes the best method.
The rehabilitation of the Eagle lake trout has been tremendously successful. From a handful of spawners in 1956, the spawning runs have increased to thousands of spawning fish in recent years. The fishery has increased from nothing to one of California's and the West's most outstanding trophy fisheries. This has been accomplished by improved fish cultural and fish management practices. Stocking larger trout and stocking them where they can slowly acclimate to the alkaline lake water has improved the survival of the planted fish. A two fish limit has discouraged the taking of the small, newly planted trout. Finally, the higher lake levels in recent years and resulting improved water quality has increased the planted trout's chance of survival.