Letts Lake Recreation Area
Camping, fishing, kayaking, hiking and many other activities are available at the Lett's Lake Recreational Area in the Mendocino National Forest. Pictured on the right, the lake measures 35 surface acres and is 18 feet at its deepest spot. The depth averages 6', so it is relatively shallow. There are trails suitable for hiking around the lake itself and in the surrounding area. There are also many off-road trails for ATV's and dirtbikes, and the hunting in Mendocino National Forest is legendary.
According to an historical marker at the site, Letts Lake and the surrounding Letts Valley are named for the family that owned the ranch in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The Lett Brothers learned that squatters had camped on the property in the area of today's campground. They contacted the squatters to remove them, but events turned for the worse and they were both killed.
The shallow lake has a population of largemouth bass, rainbow trout, channel catfish and golden shiners. There are some few very-large bass (Victor caught a five-pounder in July of '02), but most are small, like the fella I caught, pictured below. (First, forgive the psychotic look in my eyes. It was pitch black when this flash blinded me. Second, I pasted in a bigger fish and it's still little! Anyway...) In late 2003 the lake was drained to remove an overgrowth of underwater plants, and catfish and trout were replanted. In the picture on the left, you can see the many trout enjoying the cool creek water running into the lake on the south side.
As far as bait, we've had success with top-water lures for bass and worms for the trout. A frog was especially handy in the reeds and on lillies. We've also heard that silver kastmaster lures, rapalas and rainbow powerbait are very effective as well.
I have to admit my favorite fishing is top water bass. I enjoy using the lure to dance and entice the fish. It's exciting to watch and feel them hit and a lot of fun to bring them in. However, having said all that, bait fishing has its advantages, too. Like being able to just relax, chat and enjoy the time.
On the left, Ted pulls a beautiful rainbow trout from the north shore of the lake using a fat night crawler. I would trout fish more, but I don't particularly like to eat fish and trout are fragile. Bass, by comparison, are strong and hearty, and it's rare that one dies from a hook. The irony is that Letts is overpopulated with the small bass and adequate food supply isn't available. As a result, there is a higher 5-fish per day limit for the bass, encouraging fishermen to thin the population and allowing the remaining bass to grow larger.
Shore fishing is great, but when you want to get across the water to a new hole or do some trolling, you need a boat. Since Lett's lake does not allow powered or motor boats, the kayaks are perfect. In the next picture, Ted waves from the kayak while fishing out in the middle of the lake. At the bottom, Ted, Victor and I are out on the lake as Ted holds up a trout Victor pulled in.
The kayaks are really a lot of fun and the rowing/paddling is good exercise. Since they are inflatable, they fold into the size of a large briefcase for transport. They have a thick rubber layer on the bottom along with protectice rails, and the top is covered with canvas. They are very durable and have been reliable in the lakes and rivers where we've taken them (and according to Stearns, the manufacturer, they are also suitable for the ocean). We've never had a puncture, but we overinflated one of them once and when we left it in the sun for a few minutes the tube split, just a little, along a seam. We managed to patch it with the included kit and continue on our way. The kayaks utilize multiple bladders for inflation, so a puncture couldn't "sink" it even if we didn't have the repair kit.
In the picture on the left, you can see a bass in mid-strike taking a dragonfly. We saw the dragonfly hit the water; it came in too hard and when it touched the water it flipped over. We were watching it struggle to get back upright when I snapped a couple of shots on the camera. This kind of thing happens to the dragonflies all the time and they usually flip and go about their business. But when I looked back down, it was gone. When we checked the pictures, it was easy to see what happened.
Below is a satellite image of Letts Lake, courtesy Google Earth.