I get a lot of calls from people who are looking for places to go fishing. Some ask for suggestions on day trips, while others want to get away for a week or more. So, over the next few weeks I’m going to take some in-depth looks at places where you can have a little summer fun in the north state. Today, we’re going to stick close to home — Bullards Bar Reservoir — which is only an hour or so from Sacramento and makes for a great day trip.
While many reservoirs in this area tend to be a little on the not-so-scenic side, Bullards Bar is a gem of lake that really stands out. The first thing you’ll notice when you get there is the amazing color of the water. Some describe it as “emerald” or “jade” but I think the best description is inviting. Every time I pull into the parking lot at the boat ramp I take one look at that Caribbean-like water and can’t wait to get out on it.
It’s what’s in the water, however, that really makes Bullards Bar attractive. The lake is best known for being a top-notch kokanee salmon fishery, though it also harbors populations of rainbow trout, a few elusive (and big!) browns, bass, panfish and cats. Most people concentrate on the little salmon, and while Bullards rarely pumps out jumbo kokanee, it holds a lot of fish. A lot! Most run 11-13 inches, with some 14 inchers and the occasional 15-inch fish mixed in. When the bite is on, you can’t miss and filling out a 5-fish limit is no problem.
The three most important kokanee fishing areas on this lake are the face of the dam, the Garden Point area (where the North Yuba River hits the main lake body) and the area adjacent to the Dark Day launch ramp. For some reason, the kokes really hold in those spots and you can catch fish there year-round. Lately, the best action has been coming from the dam and just east of Dark Day, 40-50 feet down. Red and chartreuse Wedding Ring spinners or small Needlefish in the same color patterns have been working well when tipped with white shoepeg corn and trolled behind a small Sep’s dodger.
If the action cools off, switch tactics and fish for one of the other species in the lake. Usually, rainbows can be caught in the same general areas as the kokanee, though you’ll need to fish 10-20 feet shallower for them. The lake’s bass will take splitshotted worms fished along the points and rockpiles and panfish are usually plentiful around submerged brush.
For some good light tackle fun in the middle of the day when everything else stops biting, head up into the Willow Creek arm and fish for “turds with fins;” aka: carp. Use an ultralight spinning rod with 2-pound test and bait a small single hook with a piece of corn left over from the morning’s kokanee onslaught. Toss it out into the plentiful schools of carp near the shoreline and have fun. On micro gear, those big uglies will give you all the fight you can handle — the only draw back is having to look at a carp up close when you get it in. YUUUUUUUUCCCCCCCK!
The only negative aspect of Bullards Bar is that there is very little shore fishing available. It’s pretty much a boater’s domain. The good news on that front is there is no boat launching fee — a rarity these days — and ample parking for your rig. Launching is available at the marina or the Dark Day day use area.
If you don’t own a boat, you can always rent one at Emerald Cove Marina. A 14-foot Klamath with an 8 hp motor will run you $65/day or $45/half day. Or, you can pack up the family and rent a houseboat. A 45 footer that sleeps 8 will run you $1,575 for 3 days and a 55 footer goes for $2,350. A little pricy perhaps, but it will sleep 10, so it’s not too bad if everybody chips in.
For boaters who want to hang out at the lake for more than just a day, there are two boat-in campgrounds at Bullards. There are 20 spaces at Garden Point and 10 sites at Madrone Cove up the North Fork arm. All the spaces have fire pits, picnic tables and restrooms…but no running water. Cost is $14/day and reservations are strongly recommended (reserve with a credit card through Emerald Cove Marina 530-692-3200). Landlubbers can choose from three campgrounds around the lake: the Schoolhouse Family Campground, Hornswaggle Group Camp and the Dark Day walk-in camp. These campgrounds feature the same amenities as the boat camps, plus running water.