Rucker and Fuller Lakes Offer Contrasting Sierra Nevada Fisheries

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Scenic Rucker Lake offers largemouth bass, green sunfish and brown bullhead catfish for bank and boat anglers. Photo by DAN BACHER, Fish Sniffer Staff.

I tossed out the Senko into the rocks near the dam as the sun began to set over the conifers of the Sierra Nevada skyline. Before the lure hit the bottom, I felt sudden pressure on the line, set the hook and a fat 14 inch largemouth leaped out of the water. I battled the scrapper right up to the shore, pulled the hook out and released it back into the water.

Before it turned dark, I caught and released two more fat, healthy largemouths while using Texas-rigged 5-inch Senkos in watermelon/green pumpkin.

As a bonus, I had the lake to myself on this early September evening. I was fishing at Rucker Lake, one of the highest elevation lakes where you can catch good numbers of largemouth bass in California.

Rucker Lake and its neighbor, Fuller Lake, are located at similar elevations and feature comparable conifer-studded northern Sierra Nevada scenery, but their fisheries couldn’t be more different.

Fuller, situated at 5341 feet above sea level in the Yuba Gap region, is a popular cold water fishery supplied from a canal from Bowman Lake. The lake offers top-notch rainbow and brown trout fishing in the spring, summer and fall for bank fishermen, float tubers and boaters. Even during the heat of the Sierra summer, the surface water temperatures are relatively cold.

Just a little over a mile away, Rucker Lake, situated at 5499.5 feet in elevation in a Sierra meadow, is a shallow, warm water lake supplied with water from Rucker Creek that drains Blue Lake. Its weed-lined waters feature not just a large population of scrappy largemouth bass, but brown bullhead catfish and green sunfish.

Both Fuller and Rucker are natural lakes whose water levels were raised when PG&E constructed dams on them in 1970-71. Both Fuller and Rucker are also the same size – exactly 69 surface acres.

Ted Samford, retired fishing guide and PG&E ditchtender, first made me aware of the fine rainbow and brown trout fishing available at Fuller Lake and the excellent bass action on tap at Rucker Lake when the Fish Sniffer staff had a trip to Spaulding over 20 years ago. After I experienced a slow morning of trolling at Spaulding, Samford recommended bank fishing Fuller for a couple of hours after we finished a barbecue.

I had a great time catching rainbows on lures and bait and I was impressed by a couple of anglers who brought in a bunch of browns while trolling flies throughout the lake.

I love making an annual shore fishing trip to these two lakes, since I can have a ball catching trout and bass the same day.  I have caught my limit of rainbows several times while fishing at Fuller, while I have experienced some epic bass days at Rucker.

I have experienced my top action on trout at Fuller while fishing 1/8 oz. Kastmasters, rainbow Power Bait and nightcrawlers.

Fly fishing is excellent here also. One angler on one of my many ventures to Fuller reported catching and releasing around 40 trout, topped by a 15 inch brown, while casting black Wooly Buggers from a float tube.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) historically stocked around 6,000 pounds of rainbows and 2,000 catchable browns in Fuller annually.

The CDFW in 2016 stocked Fuller with 5,612 rainbows, according to Jay Rowan, the Senior ES Supervisor-Hatcheries, North Central Region-CDFW.

On my latest trip to the lake on Labor Day weekend 2018, the CDFW had just stocked the rainbow with 1,000 pounds of hard-fighting rainbow trout, one of several plants made into the lake this season.

Chang Vang of Sacramento and his two-year-old daughter, Mia Joy Vang, landed a couple of rainbows while shore fishing at Fuller Lake. Six-year-old Maddox Kumanchik, eight-year-old Novalee and their dad, Keenan, also had fun catching two rainbows while bank fishing with PowerBait at Fuller.

After trout fishing in the morning at Fuller, I usually drive up Bowman Lake Road and take right on the dirt road at the sign to “Liahona Camp” to go to Rucker.

Although there is a public Forest Service campground and public parking access, there is a private summer girl’s camp located on the lake, so be careful in approaching the lake so you don’t interfere with the camp’s activities.

Usually this is a good place to catch lots of scrappy largemouths, mostly in the 8 to 12 inch range but with some larger fish mixed in. I have caught fat, healthy bass in the 12 to 15 inch range at Rucker and I’ve seen fish to 3-1/2 pounds landed.

I have heard reports of bass to 8 pounds, but the largest fish documented in a photo was a 6-1/2 lb. largemouth caught from a boat in 2009.

Purple, motor oil, water melon, green pumpkin and blue plastic worms are the most productive baits for me at Rucker. I usually do best using wacky-rigged Yamamoto Senkos or split shotting with Berkley Power Worms and other soft plastics.

The CDFW planted 2,100 Goose Lake redband rainbow fingerlings in 1985. Redband trout, originating in the warm waters of Goose Lake, are uniquely adapted to survival in shallow, warm lakes not suitable for the survival of other trout and char. However, I have never seen nor heard of any trout being taken out of the warm waters of Rucker in recent years.

On a trip to Rucker July 2010, my neighbor hooked two brown bullhead catfish in the 2 to 3 pound range while fishing a jig off the dam where the cats were protecting their nests.

There is no boat ramp at Rucker, although you can carry in a float tube, canoe or small boat from the campground.

Another option foranglers is fishing for brown bullhead catfish at Blue Lake, located at 5964 feet in elevation, on Rucker Creek above Rucker Lake

Other nearby angling options nearby include Lake Spaulding and Lake Valley Reservoir.

Spaulding, a beautiful Pacific Gas & Electric Company reservoir located on the South Fork of the Yuba River in Nevada County at an elevation of 5,014 feet, is known mainly for its landlocked salmon fishery, but hasn’t been planted for five years. There are some wild browns in the lake, along with a sleeper population of smallmouth bass.

“Spaulding is only planted with Inland Chinook, which have been in limited to no availability in recent years due to low fish numbers on the Klamath. Iron Gate Hatchery has been our statewide inland Chinook hatchery for years, due to normally decent fish numbers and low incidences of disease outbreaks particularly IHN,” said Rowan.

“When we did have Chinook available the last few years we have prioritized stocking Folsom and Almanor for our region since they have much higher angling use, better fish returns and are close to an urban area.”

“Trout of various species have been tried in Spaulding in the past but returns have been very poor. The last Chinook plant in Spaulding was 25,000 fingerlings in 2012. Not likely any of those fish remain,” said Rowan.

On the other side of Interstate 80 from Spaulding, you can sample the trout and brown bullhead catfish action at Lake Valley Reservoir off the Lake Valley Reservoir Road. You can hook beautiful holdover rainbows to 20 inches while tossing out PowerBait, nightcrawlers, spinners and spoons near the boat ramp and dam or while trolling with nightcrawlers and an array of spoons, spinners and plugs.

Six-year-old Maddox Fumanchik and his dad, Keenan, had fun hooking these rainbows while bank fishing with PowerBait at Fuller Lake on September 1. Photo by DAN BACHER, Fish Sniffer Staff.

For more information, contact:Yuba River Ranger District, Tahoe National Forest, 15924 Hwy 49, Camptonville, CA 95922, Phone: 530-288-3231.

Fuller/Rucker/Spaulding/Lake Reservoir Facts

Lake Spaulding:offers 25 campsites, (13 are walk-in sites), (fee), 5 picnic sites, fishing, swimming, boat ramp, water skiing and an overflow camp. The lake is handicap accessible. Chinook salmon, rainbow trout, brown trout and a sleeper population of brown trout are available. Elevation is 5000 ft.

Directions:Take Hwy. 20 from I-80 for 2.3 miles. Turn right on Lake Spaulding Road, then 0.5 mile to area.

Fuller Lake:offers day use facilities and a boat ramp. The boat speed limit 10 mph. Rainbow and brown trout abound in the lake’s cold waters.

Directions:Take Highway 20 from I-80. Turn right on Bowman Lake Road then approx 5 miles to Fuller Lake. Elevation is 5341 ft.

Rucker Lake:offers 7 dispersed, walk-in campsites (fee), fishing, swimming. Non-motorized boating only is allowed here. Largemouth bass, brown bullhead catfish and green sunfish are the three species anglers can catch. Elevation is 5464 ft.

Directions:Take Highway 20 from I-80. Turn right on Bowman Lake Road, then approx 7 miles to right turn on Rucker Lake Road, (unpaved), follow signs for Camp Liahona.

Lodgepole Campround, Lake Valley Reservoir: offers 35 campsites (fee), fishing, swimming, handicap accessible. Boaters have to observe a 10 mph speed limit. Anglers target brown, and rainbow trout and brown bullhead catfish.

Directions: Take Yuba Gap exit south from I-80 0.3 mile, turn right toward Lake Valley Reservoir and go 2.7 miles to camp. Elevation is 5800 ft.

For more informationon recreation facilities on PG&E lakes, go to:

For more informationon fishing these lakes, call Ammo Camo & Bait in Colfax, 530-346-7960.

The cold waters of Fuller Lake host rainbow and brown trout. Photo by DAN BACHER, Fish Sniffer Staff.