NORTHERN CAL MAP FEATURE REPORT BY BUD NEVILLE
As the snow melts and summer temperatures start to perk up the higher elevation lakes, Union Valley Reservoir in the Crystal Basin uphill from Placerville becomes one of the top trout fishing destinations for many Sacramento area anglers and campers. With 2,860 acres of water and surrounded by El Dorado National Forest lands, Union Valley is one of the most accessible Sierra lakes. The same goes for late season trips and anglers targeting big brown trout.
Featuring three launch ramps, Union Valley is the big brother of three major resources in Crystal Basin — the other family members are Loon and Ice House lakes. All offer great trout fishing. Union Valley offers rainbow trout, kokanee, Mackinaw, browns and even a token population of smallmouth bass.
Like all the lakes in the region, Union Valley is fed from granite basin snowmelt, waters not known for providing high nutrition. Still, abundant summer terrestrial insects and a good food base of kokanee grows large browns and macks here. Top times for the big trout are early to mid-spring. Then planter action starts to take over as the DFG starts planting catchable rainbow trout. As the kokanee bite comes online in June, anglers often score combined limits of sockeyes and trout, both willing to hit small spoons, Apexes, bead spinners and the standby flasher/crawler combo.
For shore anglers, soaking Power Bait and salmon eggs is the standard tactic for filling a stringer. Walking the shore casting small but heavy spoons like Kastmasters or Rapalas is another way to score some trout. If bound to shore, however, dozens of local streams offer good “crick” fishin’; just know that by late summer and fall, these streams are generally flowing small and clear. Creeks and streams close every November to fishing to reopen the end of April, so they are only an option during the spring and summer months.
One of the top attractions at Union Valley is the camping. With 13 nearby campgrounds, there is no shortage of sites. The lake proper has seven sites, the most developed (including showers) is Fashoda accessed off of Ice House Road on the eastern shoreline.
In fact, the eastern side of the lake is the most developed for camping. Fashoda has 30 sites for tents only — RV sites are at Sunset and Wench Creek Campgrounds. Lone Rock is a boat/hike/or bike-in site between Sunset/Fashoda and Jones Fork. Added together, Union Valley has well over 300 campsites, plus the National Forest land nearby is open to primitive camping.
Also at the Sunset/Fashoda access is the main launch ramp, a broad, two-lane affair that offers plenty of parking for rigs. The dock is new, and even features a set of hand-hold bars for entering and exiting boats. In fact, in the launch prep area, there is a wheelchair ramp that allows mobility impaired passengers to board boats from an elevated platform. All this, and in an area not posted as a “fee area.” In other words, launching is free. There is also a mild, sandy sloping bank along the southern shore near the ramp that offers a great swimming spot close to the parking lot. For shore fishers, a stroll down the shoreline finds a little deeper water for nearshore bait soaking.
In addition to camping and fishing, Union Valley offers many other outdoor activities. There is a great bike trail between Jones Fork and Wench Creek, traveling pretty much the entire eastern shoreline.
On the northern shore, Yellowjacket Campground offers well groomed sites and easy access to the lake shore. Yellowjacket also has its own boat ramp with limited parking; this facility is within the fee area as posted by the concessionaires, American Land and Leisure.
Hunting is another option during the appropriate seasons. Black bears are abundant, and deer tags are easy to get — the lake falls in the D3-4 zone, and tags have historically been available to the end of the season. Mountain quail and tree squirrels are among the small game found in the area.
Boaters should be aware that summer afternoons are normally very windy on this and all the area lakes. Small boaters should be prepared to get off the lake early, or be prepared to ride out the thermals in a protected cove.
The nearest supplies can be had at Ice House Resort, otherwise visitors should gear up in Placerville, or if coming over the Wentworth Springs Road, in Georgetown, Auburn or Folsom. Some lodging is available at Georgetown, but the closest major chain motels are in Auburn or Placerville.
SIZE/LOCATION: Union Valley Reservoir, 2,860 acres, is located in the Crystal Basin between Ice House and Loon lakes on Silver Creek, a tributary of the American River South Fork, about two hours out of Sacramento at the 4,900-foot elevation level.
GAME FISH: Rainbow and brown trout, Mackinaw, kokanee salmon and some smallmouth bass.
FACILITIES/ACCOMMODATIONS: Located within the El Dorado National Forest, Union Valley Lake has several campgrounds, and four boat launch ramps. Some campgrounds are more primitive than others—Fashoda has the most developed with showers.
FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Eldorado National Forest, 100 Forni Road, Placerville, CA 95667 or call (530) 622-5061. Dale’s Foothill Fishing Service, (530) 295-0488.