I have fished here a few times. Its rair i catch fish so I think this place can give me a fish because they don't get mmuch pressures. I worked pretty hard to get my old boat in here! You have to have some strengths to lift and drag and pull it to the lake and off the dam. Kinda hard if you had a few to many to drink too! lol. But anyways its a fun place. I hear there is big fishes in here, but I only ever cots planter sized trouts. Becareful out there and fun! :-)
Donnell Reservoir (also called Donnell Lake on some maps and brochures) is a beautiful 2 mile long by 1/2 mile wide lake that sits astride Stanislaus National Forest and the Carson-Iceberg wilderness. Access is not easy. From the town of Strawberry, off of California Highway 108, it's 10 miles on a bumpy, narrow, unimproved dirt road.
At an average speed of 8 mph it took us over an hour to travel this dirt road. Most of the road sits between a steep mountain on the right and a plunging river valley on the left. After 10 miles you'll reach an 8 foot metal gate, where you should unload your boat (kayak or canoe recommended due to their lighter size and weight) and baggage and park your vehicle. Small boats can easily be manhandled around instead of over this first (usually locked) gate. After moving your boat and supplies across this barrier, you will next need to move them by foot about 3/5 mile up a gently rising and turning dirt road before reaching another, 12 foot high metal gate. This gate, also locked, does not provide enough room to sneak a boat around - you must go over. There is a narrow access slip on the right hand side for people and small bags, however. Once across this 2nd gate you're on the dam. On the other side of the dam, approximately 40 feet away, is a steel railing. If you haven't brought a heavy duty rope (we used 300 lb test strength) you might as well turn around and give up at this point, since the next step is to lower your canoe and baggage to the bottom of the dam after tying your rope to the railing. When we were there, the water level was sufficiently level to expose a few acres of dry land close to the dam that we could lower the canoe to - otherwise you may have to lower it directly into the water. Finally, when you've roped down your canoe and all supplies, there is a vertical, metallic access ladder on the side of a tower (northeast section of the dam). This ladder will give you access to the dry land next to the water and your canoe and supplies. At this point you only need to carry your canoe and supplies another 50 yards, past some large boulders, and launch.
Once on the lake the fun begins. The water was light green in color and very clear. We quickly lost sight of the bottom though, as befits a lake situated in a narrow and very steep valley. Even excellent swimmers should bring life vests as almost vertical cliffs make most of the lake impossible to climb into or out of.
There are excellent campsites available, especially on the northwest side where an island (or peninsula, depending on water level) yielded 4 or 5 good campsites with rock fire rings, benches and plenty of firewood. This campsite is located about halfway down the 2 mile long lake.
This trip was our first to Donnells and was basically an exploration vs. fishing trip, but it was quite easy to see there could be excellent fishing here. Brown trout were clearly visible in the shallows and it was hard to spend any time on the lake without seeing several fish jumping at surface food during feeding time. The one fisherman we talked to in the 5 days there told us fishing was usually good, especially near the headwaters at the northern end of the lake. We understand from literature that rainbow trout are also prevalent at Donnells, though we didn't spot any.
If you are successful in making it into this lake, make sure you take the time to spot the 700 foot waterfall on the northeast side. If you're lucky, you may also spot the lakes best fisher, a pair of nesting Osprey's near the waterfall.
Don't plan on doing much hiking from your campsite. This lake is surrounded by extremely rough country and nearly vertical mountains in most areas.