Bucks Lake Fishing: Essential Tips for Catching Trout & Kokanee

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Bucks Lake is a stunning high-mountain reservoir that’s teeming with Mackinaw, brown, rainbow and brook trout, and kokanee salmon.

The fishing is nothing short of epic. It must be to keep you from staring at the astonishing scenery surrounding the water. You’ve got to pay attention, or else you’ll miss the bite.

Bucks Lake typically isn’t accessible, or easily accessible anyways, in the winter. You’ll have to either use a snowmobile or wait until the snow melts to get in there, as it sits at over 5,100 feet high in the Sierras.

The lake is usually accessible by May, although during heavy snow years that may get pushed later. Around then might be the best time of year to get up there, as the Mackinaw are hungry and will snap up just about anything that looks like a tasty meal. 

The lake offers 17-miles of shoreline lined with sandy beaches and beautiful timber. There are great hiking trails to get out and explore the wilderness area, but remember to plan for bears.

If you fish in this area and the surrounding lakes often, invest in a bear safe container to store your food. Keep it away from your camp, so you don’t invite the bears over for some midnight snacks.

Bucks Lake doesn’t offer many natural spawning beds, so most fish are hatchery planters. That doesn’t mean they aren’t hungry, aggressive fish; they just don’t reproduce naturally.

However, some salmon and the Mackinaw manage okay, but most rainbow and browns are planted. Big numbers of kokanee also are planted each year.

Mackinaw Fishing

Mackinaw trout love to eat smaller fish. The best part of that statement is Bucks Lake has plenty of smaller rainbows and kokanee for these big lake trout to eat.

The abundance of food means the macks get big here. You have a legitimate chance at landing a lake trout in the 20-pound neighborhood. That, along with good numbers overall, have landed Bucks Lake a spot on our run-down of the best lake trout (Mackinaw) fishing lakes in California.

Especially for the lake trout, the best time of year at Bucks is the earliest you can launch a boat.

The Mackinaw are hungry after ice-off. They go into aggressive feeding mode and will attack anything that resembles kokanee or rainbow.

Set your downrigger to 25 to 40 feet deep and troll with plugs or spot them on your finder and jig for them. The first month of the season will keep you busy.

There are a lot of 12– to 18-inch Mackinaw in Bucks Lake, but if you keep at it and fish below schools of kokanee, you’re more likely to find trophy macks.

Those 15– to 18-inch lake trout do taste better than the big boys, though. Best to toss back anything under 15 inches. 

Mackinaw like to go deeper throughout the summer, and the tactics change.

They still bite and feed on other fish but don’t always attack quite as aggressively. They tend to fan out in the water more. You won’t find tight schools of them as you do in the spring and fall.

When marking them on your fish finder, you might think you’ve found some smaller ones but give them a try. They might be bigger than you think.

The fall finds lake trout schooling more tightly again, prepping for the spawn. The bigger fish hold together, and it might be the best season to get your trophy.

The hens are easy to spot due to their larger size on sonar. If you release them, you’ll be helping the next generation get off to a good start.

If you do manage to get to the lake in the winter, the usual ice fishing tactics work here. Bait, ice jigs and glowing jigs will do the job. It’s cold, so plan accordingly.

If you are interested in fishing the hard water, check out the best ice fishing lakes in California.

Kokanee Fishing

Kokanee have taken hold at Bucks Lake.

These landlocked sockeye salmon are planted in good numbers each spring, and by their third year, are in the 13- to 15-inch range.

While Bucks Lake kokanee aren’t the biggest in the area, they are pretty prolific throughout the lake. There are good numbers all around the deeper sections, while in the cooler water months, you can also find them reasonably shallow.

Trolling in 30 to 50 feet works in the spring through July, when they start moving into deeper water. Use the standard kokanee techniques and search for schools.

Popular options include trolling pink & purple Kokanee Bugs behind a silver flasher or a pink/copper Vance Dodger.

As August winds down, the oldest generation of kokanee start their change for the spawn. It’s time to rig hoochies, spinners and spoons tipped with corn to try for some keeper-sized second-year kokanee.

Catch More Kokanee

Find the best kokanee fishing lakes in California and then learn all the tactics to hook more of them with Kokanee Fishing: Simple How-To Tips and Techniques.

Brown Trout Fishing

Ten-pound browns are fun to catch. Most anglers would do almost anything to have access to a fish that size. It can happen at Bucks Lake. It might not happen that often but they’re in there.

If you’re up to the challenge, May through early July is the perfect time to try the lake out.

Starting in May, take your boat out and use some rainbow-colored Rapalas. Target 15 to 20 feet of water and focus your energy on the points.

If you find a school of kokanee, fish kokanee-imitating lures just beneath them. You might bring in a big brown or perhaps a nice Mackinaw.

Through the summer, the browns cruise the edges of deep water, hunting for smaller rainbows and kokanee. With the abundance of smaller fish around, they don’t have to work that hard to find dinner, so you might have to work harder to find them.

Rainbow or blue/silver Kastmasters in a 3/8 ounce size work when trolled at around 2 mph. Keep it up, and you’ll find them. Try the narrow section of the lake.

The bite heats up again in the fall, particularly near the inlet. Tossing nightcrawlers under a float works great and will score some rainbows as well. Fall also is the best shore fishing opportunity by far.

Bucks Lake has consistent enough fishing for these big trout that it scored an honorable mention in our Best Brown Trout Fishing Lakes and Rivers in California.

Rainbow Trout Fishing

Rainbows are the best targets for shore anglers at Bucks Lake.

Since the California Department of Fish and Wildlife plants rainbow trout several times throughout the year, and the water at this elevation stays relatively cool, there really isn’t a time that they aren’t close to shore.

Spring and fall offer great opportunities to catch a Mackinaw or brown that might be chasing the smaller ‘bows around the shallows for dinner.

Fly anglers are going to have their best chances at the lake near shore, either wading or from pontoons chasing ‘bows and browns in the spring and fall.

The early mornings are ideal in the sheltered bays near the marina and at the northern end of the lake. Conventional anglers can do well in the same areas.

Summertime is excellent near the dam, along the eastern shore on the northern end, and near the marina. Stick closer to the inlet for a chance at some football-sized holdover rainbows. They’ll snatch up PowerBait, and they love spinners.

In the fall, it’s time for Kastmasters or baits. Nightcrawlers, PowerBait, salmon eggs and waxworms work well under a float. Set it five or six feet down and cast as far out as possible from shore. A slow retrieve should see that float disappear in no time.

Find the best rainbow trout fishing lakes in California.

Brook Trout Fishing

Brook trout are usually those feisty little things you pull out of a creek with a worm or Roostertail. At Bucks Lake, you can find them in the 2- to 3-pound range, with occasional monsters getting up to 5 pounds. 

The inlet is home to a good number of pan-sized brookies, but the bigger guys are out and about. Search for them around the points out from the inlet and near the marina.

Spinners and baits are your best bet, though fly fishing works great on brook trout as well. Tie a streamer onto a 4-weight rod, and you’re in business.

Catch More Trout

Check out the best ways to catch more trout with our simple guide, Trout Fishing: How-To Techniques and Tips.

Planning Your Trip

Bucks Lake is in the northern Sierra Nevada mountains of Plumas County. Figure roughly three hours driving northeast of Sacramento or two hours heading west from Reno.

Luckily, there’s a great lodge at the lake that offers all types of cabins and rooms, along with a restaurant and bait shop at Bucks Lake Marina.

The town of Quincy is about a half hour’s drive to the east and offers additional grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants and places to stay.

The family will love the swimming, beaches and hiking opportunities even if they don’t fish. There’s also waterskiing, jet skis and all other types of water sports available.

You can see why this Northern California oasis is a popular place from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend, when the weather conditions are the most agreeable.

Nature viewing is popular, as the lake is bordered on the east by the Bucks Lake Wilderness Area and home to bald eagles and other wildlife. The area is beautiful and full of fishing opportunities. Remember to plan on bears and mosquitos.

If you have time to spend in the region, some of the other great fishing lakes in the wider area include Lake Oroville that you’ll pass coming from the west side, Lake Almanor to the north, and Lake Davis to the east.

Bucks Lake is a fairly large reservoir at over 1,800 surface acres when full. It was created in the late 1920s when the dam was built on Bucks Creek, which is a tributary of the Feather River.

Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) owns the reservoir and provides public access for recreational use. There’s a much smaller Lower Bucks Lake below the main Bucks Lake.

Boat and Shore Access

There are several great shore fishing opportunities around the lake. Bucks Lake is almost created for the shore angler. It gets deep and has areas only accessible by boat, but bank anglers can do very well here.

The northeastern shore and area near the marina are popular for shore fishing.

Boat fishing is good to great around much of the lake. Bring your own watercraft to the boat launch or take advantage of the marina’s boat rentals.

And near the marina is a great area to find schools of kokanee. Head straight out in the morning, and if you probably find them; you can follow them all day.

Launch your boat at one of the three main boat launches or by yourself along the shoreline. 

Where to Stay

There are several campgrounds along with cabins, hotel-like accommodations and nearby hotels. The wider area in and around Plumas National Forest has more cabins, campgrounds and RV sites to choose from.

You shouldn’t run into a problem finding a place to camp around here if you plan ahead and arrive early. There are several first-come, first-serve spots.

However, be sure the campgrounds have opened for the season before driving up. Check the U.S. Forest Service’s Bucks Lake Recreation Area page for status updates. However, we’ve found that the page isn’t always updated right on time, so double-check with a call to the Mt. Hough Ranger Station at 530-283-0555 before finalizing your plans.

Bring as much as you can with you as the nearest town is about 20 miles out. Remember bear spray and to keep your food away from the camp at night and when you’re away. It’s a beautiful lake, so ideally you have a few days to spend up there.