Denis Peirce: Winter bassing at Bullard’s Bar |

Denis Peirce: Winter bassing at Bullard’s Bar

Colin Peirce with a spotted bass on Bullard’s Bar.
Photo by Denis Peirce
A spotted bass caught on jig.
Photo by Denis Peirce
Bill McCrea fishing "Float & Fly" near stream mouth.
Photo by Denis Peirce
Floats and flies for bass fishing on Bullard’s Bar.
Photo by Denis Peirce

January is a tough month to get motivated to leave a nice warm house. I find myself caught up in the inside digital world and forget about the “real world” that continues outdoors. Maybe fishing is just the excuse to get out, but it works for me.

Based on other commitments, Wednesday of this week was the day I could get away. Bullard’s Bar is close to home and I had not fished it since last winter. Colin and I met Bill McCrea in Grass Valley and arrived at Bullard’s after 9 a.m. Even at that hour we were the first truck and trailer at the dam launch ramp. The weather was clear and crisp in the morning with showers predicted for the afternoon. The ride up the lake was chilling at 30 miles per hour and I was glad when we stopped.

We were looking for incoming water. The small streams flowing into the lake are one of the food sources for feeding fish and a good place to start looking. The reports for Bullard’s mentioned good kokanee numbers near the surface but these fish were a young age class and small. The spotted bass on the lake have been providing good action if you approached them correctly.

With water temperature at 51 degrees, the bass were not going to be real motivated to chase a bait down. The approach is to offer something slowly to present a vulnerable easy meal. You also had to put a bait close to the bass, almost bump them on the nose, to make it effortless for them. It seems counter to the presentation but once hooked they pulled hard and showed some spunk.

In recent years the “Float & Fly” method has gained notoriety by winning some winter bass tournaments. It is a take off on crappie fishing, where you suspend a jig under a float. This presents a baitfish imitation with very little movement. A bit of a wind ripple on the surface can make the jig dance enticingly. It can be presented close to a downed tree or rock structure and not get hung up. The jigs designed by crappie anglers decades ago work, but the fly tying community has upped the game with some innovative designs imitating local minnows. We were fishing flies from Tom Page’s fly shop. The bass liked them.

Fishing these jigs with fly rods limited us to depths of 15 foot or less. Conventional tackle can be effective deeper but there is a mystique to fly casting and the light gear. At Bullard’s all you need is to get to the 10 foot depth to get bit.

We did find that the fish were schooled up. If you caught one, stay there and you will get more. If nothing is happening after 10 minutes keep moving along the bank searching.

By midday the cloud cover came in with a breeze. I could feel the air temp drop as the front came in. It felt like a 10 degree drop. We persevered another half hour until the first few rain drops started to fall and we called it a day. The ride back was as chilling as the start of the day and the rain drops actually stung a bit if they hit your face.

Bullard’s is not the only option this time of year. You can find similar action at Scott’s Flat, Rollins, Oroville or any of the foothill lakes. Float & Fly is not the only way to get bass this time of year. “Drop Shot” rigs or slowly moved soft plastics will all produce fish.

The one ingredient necessary is to turn off your computer and get out on the water. Fresh air and a bit of sun can be good for the soul.

Denis Peirce writes a fishing column for The Union’s Outdoors section and is host of “The KNCO Fishing & Outdoor Report,” which airs 6-7 p.m. Fridays and 5-6 a.m. Saturdays on 830-AM radio. Contact him via his website at

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