Willows, CA 95988
- 35 acres
- Max. Depth:
- 18 feet
Letts Lake is a 35-acre impoundment built in the early 1950s. Trout were planted in the lake soon after dam construction. They grew well and the Letts received considerable notoriety, soon becoming one the most popular fishing destinations on the Eastside of the Mendocino National Forest.
Fishing has had its ups and downs at Letts over the last 50 years. Aquatic plant and animal populations are dynamic and Letts Lake is no exception. Letts Lake was created on top of a wet meadow that had deep, rich soils. It is located in an area with warm summers and wet winters. The combination of an excellent growing climate and nutrient-rich water led to Letts Lake becoming somewhat weedy and murky. This is a typical pattern in small mountain reservoirs in this area.
The golden shiners thrived in the weedy and warm areas of the lake. And, because shiners eat many of the same things trout do, they became a direct competitors for food. In an effort to improve conditions for trout the California Department of Fish and Game chemically treated Letts Lake with rotenone in 1965, 1976, and again in 1978. Each time the shiner population returned with vigor. Shiners may have been re-introduced after each treatment or not all were killed in the chemical treatments.
In 1980-81 the Department used biological control of golden shiners and introduced largemouth bass, channel catfish, and red-ear sunfish. Biological control worked very well and the hungry bass and catfish did nearly eliminate the golden shiners. The formally very abundant crayfish population also was nearly eliminated by the bass and catfish. Conditions for trout improved markedly during this period, and remains good today. The lake water became clearer after the bass and catfish eliminated the shiners. But, a new problem arose, rooted aquatic plants increased somewhat because they had more light in the clearer water. The likely reason the water became clearer is that the shiners had been eating the zooplankton (very small aquatic animals), which in turn had been eating the small phytoplankton (very small drifting aquatic plants). The sheer number of phytoplankton individuals is what makes the water murky at times.
The introduction of bass and catfish made Letts a "two story" fishery with both warm and cold water fish species. Angling opportunities were increased. The Department of Fish and Game continues to stock rainbow trout, and occasionally Eastern brook trout. A few trout carry over more than one season and occasional large trout are taken each year.
The bass and catfish fishing was excellent for several years but has recently developed some problems. Most bass caught now are in the 5-8 inch range. This is due to several factors including heavy fishing pressure on bass over 12 inches and the lack of adequate prey species. Catfish are seldom caught since they do not reproduce in the lake and they have not been restocked since the initial introduction. The California Department of Fish and Game is working to correct the fish imbalance and provide the best possible fishing.