A Shasta Lake Adventure

Relatively soon after accepting Gia into my life and once she was healed from her spay surgery I wanted to get her jumping into the Adventure Life with all four paws. When up in my old Humboldt County stomping grounds we spent close to a week alongside Horse Linto Creek waiting to find out if our annual bass fishing and camping trip to Shasta Lake (COVID put a stop to that for a couple of years) would be taking place. When the green light came in via text message we packed up camp and headed back over the mountains to meet up with our friends outside of McKinleyville.

The last time I made the trip to Shasta was in 2021 with Willow. The water level then was at its lowest level in years due to drought conditions.

Drone Shot Of Lake Level In 2021. Not Our Houseboat.

In 2021 it was so low we ended up having to beach the boat and carry all of our gear up a 100+ foot steep slope (that is normally underwater) to the campsite. Below is a quick drone shot starting at the bow of the boat looking up the hill we had to carry all our stuff up.

Hoping that, with the intense rainy season California had “enjoyed” this year (2023), the water level would be higher we headed in the same direction to that favored boat-in campsite. Looking up the lake level online as we drove East towards Redding we were heartened to see that the water level was 100 feet higher than that last time we made the trip and a mere single digit feet below “Full Pool” levels.

At around 30,000 acres with nearly 370 miles of shoreline, Shasta Lake is California’s largest artificial reservoir. Also commonly called Lake Shasta, it’s one of the state’s deepest lakes as well, with over 1000 feet of water supporting a thriving multi-layered fishery. The reservoir is deep, cold and vast enough to allow excellent numbers of deeper coldwater game fish like trout and salmon to thrive alongside warm water and shallower species like bass and crappie.

Stopping in Redding at an In-N-Out burger joint for lunch Gia ended up with probably her first taste of vanilla milkshake ever when she got to clean my cup after I had finished.

Dog holding on to a milkshake cup with both paws and licking the inside

Once we arrived at the lake and then down to the boat ramp we unloaded all our gear into my buddy’s 22′ Boulton aluminum boat and then he went to  park his truck back up at the parking lot. As we waited the 10 minutes for that step of the process I decided to clear a couple of small branches that had floated under both the main outboard engine and the kicker and might have caused issues once either engine were lowered fully into the water and started.

picture from above looking down at a stick floating in the water interfering with the prop on an outboard engine
Less Than Ideal

While I was kneeling on the transom and reaching down to clear the debris Gia decided to take a look at the logs and branches floating beside the dock.  She ended up getting (as far as I know) her first full-body dunking of her life when she stepped onto a log which immediately spun and dumped her face first into the lake. While in the water she was thrashing about wild-eyed and inefficiently as many dogs do when learning to swim and she seemed a bit panicked. I panicked slightly as well and rushed to drag her soaked self back onto the dock. This was the first of many times she ended up in the water, both planned and unplanned) in the next few days (foreshadowing). Sadly I got no pictures of that indignity. She shook herself off apparently none the worse for wear and we loaded her up into the boat and headed out across the lake towards the campsite we had used in 2021.

During the 25-30 minutes it took to boat to that camp spot I kept a close eye on Gia hoping she wouldn’t panic and do something not in her best interest like launching off the boat and into the lake at 25 knots. Happily I had no reason to worry as she seemed to love riding in the boat, wind in her face, fur flying wildly, tail wagging and even standing on her hind legs, to get a better look.

When we arrived at our planned destination we were disappointed to find it occupied and so we continued on to check the nearby islands for other options. At our first stop Gia and I hopped off the bow of the boat and climbed up the short but steep bank to take a look. Mere moments later there was a commotion to my left and I saw Gia in a tense standoff with a goose sitting on a nest of eggs. I shouted a “No” command and was pleasantly surprised she obeyed and didn’t immediately go and murder the goose and stomp the eggs into paste. Gia was still close enough though that the goose decided it wanted to survive and could lay more eggs later and so hopped off the nest and into the water to swim out of harm’s way honking her displeasure the entire time. It took all of one more minute to realize that the little island really didn’t have any flat and brush-free tent sites and decide I didn’t want to disrupt the goose and her nest any more than we already had. We walked back to the boat serenaded by the sounds of goose honking that seemed to be getting louder. As we climbed back onto the boat we saw a large Goose Mafia of maybe 15 or so geese swimming in our direction all honking the same “You messed with the wrong goose clan and you better move along” squawking. We took their suggestion seriously and did just that. Literally the next island over, maybe 100 meters away at most, we found a quality spot and realized that we had the whole island to ourselves, at least for the time being.

Drone Shot Of Our Little Island And Where We Docked
Drone Shot Of Our Little Island And Where We Docked

The little island was approximately all of an acre in size (I am totally pulling that number out of my… guess book) but there was shade and flat areas to set up camp in and it met our needs. It was relatively hot and so shade was a valuable commodity.

Screenshot from a weather app showing the hot weather expected for the weekAs we were unloading the boat Gia wandered about to get the lay of the land. About an hour later once camp was set up well we immediately got back in the now more spacious boat and set out for the first bass fishing of the trip. Once again Gia seemed quite comfortable on the boat and seemingly enjoyed the experience.

Once we reached our destination at some little arm of the lake we set about catching and releasing dozens of Smallmouth bass until we all ended up with the common “Bass Thumb.”

Picture of pad of a human thumb roughened up by Bass teeth
Feels Like A Rug Burn. Well Worth It.

While we fished Gia spent her time standing on the aluminum transom closely watching every cast and catch. Apparently not satisfied with her initial dunking and being comfortable in the water she decided to “help” us numerous times by launching off the transom to “escort” the hooked fish back to the boat and even try for a few fishie taste tests. Other times she was so excited about the goings on and standing with her front paws at the very end of the smooth, curved, wet edge of the transom that she mis-stepped, slipped and ended up in the water.

Picture of an aluminum transom on a boat with its smooth, curved edge marked by a red line
That Edge Was Her Undoing Multiple Times

Like her first experience she would flail about and splash until I put my fishing pole down, kneeled down and grabbed her collar to yank her back up onto the transom where she would inevitably shake off all over me. Luckily the days were sunny and hot so I considered that cooling off an extra added bonus. Happily my buddy was amused and understanding of the short disruptions plus the bass seemed to recover from these disturbances extremely quickly and we could hook more within a minute of Gia being back on the boat and not flailing about in the water and scaring the fish away.

For each of the next three mid-week days the boat went out for about four different trips a day to a different spot on the lake. Not being quite as enthusiastic, dedicated and talented a fisherman as my buddy I (and by I I mean “we,” both Gia and I) only went out for half of those trips daily. The rest of the time we spent lazing around camp and bonding with each other as I had only had her for two months at that time and this was one of our first “big” adventures together. I spent the time reading, exploring our little island and “birding” as well as taking some bottom shelf quality pictures by holding my phone camera against my little Bushnell binoculars. I recently bought a cheap smartphone adapter so I can attach my phone to both my binoculars and my spotting scope for improved picture quality.

Poor quality picture showing a bald eagle and a crow sitting relatively close together on the top branches of a standing dead tree at Shasta Lake
The Eagle And Crow Seemed Chill And Got Along Fine (Which Is Not Normal)
Same Bald Eagle as before now down in the water of the lake bathing
The Same Eagle Came Down And Took A Bath

Best yet was just watching Gia as she explored the island herself. During one of those Gia observations, looking out over our little bay I watched quietly as she explored the shore and hopped from one large tree trunk in the water to another.

Picture through the trees of a dog, on a log floating next to shore of Shasta lake
Watching Gia Explore From My Seated Vantage Point

As I was watching her she hopped off the log, walked around the shore in our little bay, calmly stepped into the water and voluntarily started swimming! Not going after a duck or fish or anything other than just for the sake of the swim.

I admit I was nervous at first but also amazed as she didn’t flail or splash about but seemed to intuitively know how to efficiently swim. This was great as I had just decided the day before that once we got back into civilization I would buy her a floaty vest to help her during this “learning to swim” process. All was not perfect though as I quickly found out during subsequent swims that she was not, in fact, an Olympic quality swimmer. For the next two days during those times when we were in camp and not fishing and she went off on her own for a little swim I ended up having to wade or swim out myself to “rescue” her when she seemed to start flailing and splashing in panic. What I eventually found out was that when she goes into the water of her own free will and is swimming in a forward direction she does just fine. Her problems start when she was distracted or quickly changed direction in the water to go examine a particular log or chase that duck etc. When that happened it seemed her rear end would sink and she would end up vertical in the water column and then panic. When I got to her in the water all I ended up having to do was either lift her rear end up so she was horizontal in the water again or just give her a gentle push in one direction to “restart” her and then all was fine.

During times when were out on the boat she remained calm and interested in what we were doing and just seemed to be comfortable in that situation even to the point of laying down and taking a nap on the deck.

This was primarily one of the main reasons I brought her along in the first place, to get her experienced in new and exciting situations and just generally more socialized and it seemed to work swimmingly (pun intended).

Considering this was her first “active” adventure (not just camping like at Horse Linto Creek) she did great and far beyond my initial expectations. My friend and his son enjoyed her presence and helped greatly in making her feel comfortable and welcome in the new and strange environment. In many ways she blossomed before our eyes and it was an all-around wonderful experience for her and she has been invited back the next time we do that trip.

It has been about a year since this Shasta Lake adventure and in that time Gia has made great strides in calming down and becoming a better companion and canine citizen. Since then she has been to and enjoyed several other bodies of water including beaches in Santa Cruz and some other small lakes and ponds and has excelled each time. Now that I know she can swim I don’t hesitate to have her ride on the back of my little kayak just like Willow did back in the day. I still have numerous bodies of water to take her to that Willow and I enjoyed together over the years plus I am now regularly looking for new and different water-centric spots to camp and romp near.

Maybe we’ll see you and your pup(s) out on a lake somewhere, sometime.



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