While convenience is a key component when evaluating a fishing spot, a close-by lake with marginal angling would not rank high on an angler’s April to-do list. Conversely, a distant lake with trophy salmon would probably draw a few anglers to its waters like Mecca.
Fortunately for the sportsmen and sportswomen of this area, Lake Auburn brings together convenience and trophy potential.
Lake Auburn is the public water supply for the sister cities of Lewiston and Auburn. Accordingly, stringent controls governing the recreational use of the lake have kept the water crystal-clear, a fact that both angler and fish seem to enjoy.
The lake is closed to ice fishing, which gives resident salmon a chance to rest and feed. Additionally, Lake Auburn has a robust smelt run that serves to keep the salmon and togue well fed. Finally, once the ice goes out, boating is restricted in the lower third of the lake and any physical contact with the water is prohibited.
Salmon are arguably the biggest draw for anglers visiting this water. Average fish runs in the plump 16- to 18-inch range with enough 4-pounders to keep you coming back. Each year, a lucky angler boats a salmon in the 6- to 7-pound class, proving the trophy potential of the lake.
Aside from its salmon population, Lake Auburn is also home to a sizable population of togue, with several 12-to-18 pounders caught each year. The clear water also sustains the smelt population, as well as the abundant white perch, smallmouth bass and brook trout.
Ice out is an annual event, and anglers keep a close watch on the lake, beginning late in March. Typically, complete ice-out does not occur until the third week of April. But the relatively mild temperatures and sparse snowfall led to the second earliest ice-out in history on March 31, just in time for fishing season.
Lake Auburn is perhaps one of the most crowded fishing destinations in the state on opening day. Most years, anglers set up “camp” along the lake’s north shore on Lake Shore Drive to stake a preseason claim at what little bit of open water exists. The culverts that run under Lake Shore Drive are usually free of ice, as is Townsend Brook located near Maple Hill Road. The greatest portion of open water is typically at the scenic parking spot alongside Lake Shore Drive.
Angling techniques at ice-out are as varied as the anglers themselves, but one method appears most often and brings in the bulk of the salmon taken each opening week. Most Lake Auburn anglers use a simple “fish-finder” rig. This rig consists of a slip-sinker baited with a shiner or, preferably, a smelt. Anglers position their rods along the shoreline and leave the bail on their reels open. When a hungry fish takes the bait, which is usually tethered a few feet off bottom, the line comes off the reel in loops and the angler waits a few moments before setting the hook.
Fishermen-in-the-know bring plenty of “fish-finder” rigs along, as underwater trees and rocks seem to reach out and grab tackle regularly. Bill Locke of Dag’s Bait Shop in Auburn stocks these devices, which seem to fly off the shelf. Locke expressed concern over the latest Lake Auburn fad, the use of long PVC poles used to push bait further under the ice. Anglers are apt to lose the poles in the lake, causing both a trash situation and a boating concern.
The ice-out announcement brings the trolling crowd. Anglers troll with a variety of baits, tackle and flies. For bait draggers, an ice-out date that occurs near the smelt run spells nirvana. Lake Auburn’s smelt run typically falls within the first week or two after ice-out. A trip around Lake Shore Drive with a flashlight allows the investigative angler to check the culverts that run into the lake for the smelt run. When your light finds a black mass of smelt, you can rest assured the run is on.
Just don’t give in to the temptation to dip some bait, all flowages in and out of Lake Auburn are closed to the taking of smelt. Marauding salmon chase the smelt around the lake and anglers trolling the shoreline sewn-on or rigged smelt seem to have the most luck.
Trolling the north shore of the lake along Lake Shore Drive puts the angler in prime salmon waters. The aptly named Salmon Point, the mouths of the various brooks that enter the lake and draw the smelt on their spawning runs, as well as the prominent points of land and underwater “humps,” draw salmon and togue like a magnet. The shoreline along the Spring Road on the northwest side of the lake is also a popular place to troll. Concentrate on the 20 to 30 foot depths in front of the cabins along that shore.
On windy days when it proves difficult to troll bait, anglers switching to traditional streamer patterns do well. Carrie Steven’s gray ghost is always a top producer. So are the Joe’s and Jerry’s smelt varieties, the Barnes’ special, the pink lady and the black ghost. Because of the clear water, flies (and bait) should be attached to a long monofilament leader at least 30 feet long, attached to a super fast sinking fly line.
If you happen to pass through North Auburn around mid-April, you may be greeted by a spectacle of anglers lining the bridges on Lake Shore drive or North Auburn Road where the spillover from The Basin flows under the road to Lake Auburn. The discovery of the first perch to run under the bridge spurs nearby anglers into action and the crowd grows to epic proportions. Anglers range from retirees who hit the run each year to passing children who are happy to catch anything. While some perch anglers practice catch-and-release, most “perchers” are after the big fish to grace the table after a fish fry or layer in the pot of hardy chowder. The perch run typically occurs in the latter part of April and can last for a week or more. I always find it entertaining to watch as lines tangle, and anglers of all ages shriek with excitement as they play their catch. Techniques vary from the standard worms and bobbers to small, shiny lures to small shiners or even flies cast with great care (passing cars are hazardous to your backcast).
Access to Lake Auburn has been whittled away by the water district over the past decade. The old icehouse launch was the first to go, followed by the ramp at the end of Maple Hill Road. Finally the launch in North Auburn was closed because of the milfoil concern, so all boating anglers will be forced to launch at the causeway launch off of Route 4. The concentration of anglers in one spot has caused major congestion, so plan on a lengthy wait in line and be sure to pack your patience.
Lake Auburn obviously has a lot to offer anglers. Shoreside fishing spots, clean, protected water, trophy fish and an incredible perch run create angling opportunities for everyone within a few minutes drive from downtown L/A.
What more could we ask for?