The Fish Sniffer - Tulloch Offers Hot And Cold Fishing For Quality Holdover Rainbows
Tulloch Offers Hot And Cold Fishing For Quality Holdover Rainbows

Written By: Dan Bacher, February 6, 2014
Species: Trout
Location: Tulloch Reservoir,

Tulloch Offers Hot And Cold Fishing For Quality Holdover Rainbows
Tulloch Offers Hot And Cold Fishing For Quality Holdover Rainbows

Lake Tulloch, surrounded by the oak-studded Table Mountain Range that juts up above the Stanislaus River canyon, features one of the most stunning landscapes of any California reservoir.

One mountain in this range looms over the reservoir’s calm waters like a prehistoric monolith, reminding me of Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, made famous as the location where the space aliens landed in Steven Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”

The reservoir is also unique for the many large custom homes and mansions that dot the shoreline. Many of the homeowners own ski boats and personal watercraft, making the reservoir a place that many anglers avoid during the spring and summer because of the heavy recreational boating pressure.

For anglers that are willing to put up with the boat traffic or fish in the “off season,” Tulloch Lake is a mecca for anglers in search of big, bold holdover and wild rainbow trout, along with an occasional brown.

The great fishing that this lake offers was most recently illustrated when Monte Smith of Gold Country Sportfishing and his dad, Don, caught 12 beautiful holdover and wild rainbows averaging 17 to 18 inches each, keeping 8 and releasing 4, while trolling Chucker-T lures on 3 to 5 colors of lead core line at 3 mph during a trip in December. On the next trip, the action slowed down, with the two anglers fishing with Smith nailing 5 fish in the 17 to 18 inch range.

“It’s one of the most inconsistent lakes I’ve ever fished,” noted Smith. “However, what’s keeps me coming back is the quality trout averaging 17 to 18 inches long. We’ve caught rainbows in the 4 to 5 pound range on trips to the reservoir over the years.”

With full knowledge of the lake’s challenging inconsistency, Smith, Chuck Tigett, the inventor of the hand-made Chucker-T lures, and I fished the lake out of the south shore marina on Thursday, January 23.

Before the trip, Smith checked to make sure that ramp was in the water – and it was. “I saw five boat trailers at the ramp,” said Smith a couple days before our trip.

We started trolling right out of the ramp with the spoons in a variety of colors around the face of the dam and worked our way into the main body. All three of us used lead core line at 3 to 5 colors while Smith kept the trolling speed at 3 mph.

It wasn’t until 9:30 am that we had our first hook-up. I grabbed the rod and the fish came in fairly easily. It was a 12 inch planter that is not typical of the lake; most of the fish caught here are holdovers. Anyway, we got the skunk off the boat.

Smith kept the boat going up the lake under the bridge and up into the Tuolumne River arm, but we didn’t hook any other fish. Smith put out a rod with a downrigger down 12 feet also, but didn’t hook up any fish on that.

“The water temperature is 48 degrees, a little cold,” Smith noted. However, a couple of anglers in another boat reported catching a “bunch of trout” three days earlier, in spite of the cold water temperature, so we hoped that the trout would go on a late morning or afternoon bite.

A couple of fishermen in another boat reported catching some trout that day on nightcrawlers, so Smith decided to switch two rods over to this method. Smith outfitted a couple of rods with nightcrawlers behind flashers, with the one of the starboard side outfitted with a side planer and the one in the center fished 10 feet under a downrigger.

After switching over to this method, I hooked and landed a hard-fighting 18-1/2 inch rainbow, a typical fish for this lake that proved hard to get into the ne, since it went berserk, thrashing on top of the water, when it got near the boat. It was beautiful, square tailed trout typical of the ones that draw anglers to fish Tulloch, even though fishing at the reservoir is notoriously fickle.

Before we got off the water, I landed another beautiful holdover rainbow measuring about 15 inches long. We attributed the relatively slow fishing to the cold water temperature of 48 degrees.

My first ever trip to Tulloch was on Labor Day, 2001, when James Pagani of Sparklefish Lures and I caught limits of beautiful rainbows averaging 2 to 3 pounds and going up to 4-1/2 pounds while using Sparklefish and Goldeneyes. We had to endure the incessant pounding of the water by hordes of skiers and a few near-misses by apparently drunken boat operators, but the fish kept biting in spite of the maelstrom.

Although I’ve never experienced the same wide-open action since that trip, I’ve never been skunked at Tulloch either. Trolling generally yields the best action, but shore anglers also catch fish while fishing the north and south shores.

Situated on the Stanislaus River below New Melones Dam, Tulloch is a tail water fishery that benefits from cold water releases from the much larger New Melones. The lake is set at 504 feet in elevation and stores 59,935 acre feet of water when full.

The lake, operated by the Oakdale and South San Joaquin Irrigation districts as part of the Tri-Dam Project, is situated mostly on private land with substantial residential development on the Calaveras County portion of its shoreline. Access to the reservoir is available through privately owned facilities accessible to the public on a fee basis on both the south and north shores.

The best fishing at Tulloch is when the water temperature is in the mid to upper fifties. Rainbows comprise the vast majority of salmonids caught at Tulloch, since the Department of Fish and Wildlife plants the lake regularly with catchable rainbows.

German brown trout and kokanee salmon are also found in the lake’s waters, but they are much less common than the rainbows. Tigett reported catching and releasing a 6 lb. brown at the reservoir on a trolling adventure several years ago.

Shore fishing for trout can be very good at Lake Tulloch during the fall and winter, particularly on the south shore shoreline near the boat ramp and the dam. Anglers use Berkley PowerBait, Power Eggs, Pautzke Fire Bait, nightcrawlers and other baits on sliding sinker rigs to tempt trout to 24 inches.

Smallmouth, largemouth and spotted bass offer a very productive “sleeper” fishery at Tulloch. Although bass are caught year round, anglers experience the top action from February through May and then again during the fall.

Threadfin shad and crawdads are the main forage at Tulloch, so anglers should use plastic worms, swim baits, crankbaits and jigs that imitate them. Anglers can also experience a solid smallmouth bite early and late in the day during the summer. Smallmouth over 4 pounds and largemouths over 10 pounds are possible anytime you target bass at Tulloch.

Crappie offer good action during the late winter and spring, while bluegill provide solid fishing during the spring and summer. The best area to fish for the sunfish is the Green Springs arm of the lake, where the water is warmest.

For more information about booking a guided trip with Monte Smith on Tulloch, Don Pedro and other Mother Lode lakes, call 209-848-2746 or 209-581-4734 or go to:

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