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Who doesn't love a good trip report? Members are welcome to post their reports here or on our Facebook group.
Yuba River Skwala Workshop, January 28, 2021
Four of us set out Saturday, January 30 for the Skwala Stonefly Workshop on the Yuba river. The group featured Jon Baiocchi as instructor and three TVFF anglers; John Magee, Tom Olinger, and Patrick Donovan. The Fishmeister for the trip was Rob Farris. Rob was in typical form being first to arrive and after assuring all details were in place with Jon he was joined by Todd Hyrn. That was the last we saw of them until the end of the day as they bounded off across the river for a couple mile hike downstream in pursuit of the Skwala and surface action.
Jon had prepped us with pre-work and guide quality information for this workshop and everything was top notch. He put a lot of thoughtful preparation into getting us ready with documents that presented the fish, tackle, flies, and tactics. On the river I found him to be very enthusiastic about helping fellow anglers expand their knowledge and skills. He’s also a very patient teacher which is a great trait!
The weather started out a little brisk in the morning but warmed up nicely as the Sun was out in full force. Thankfully the wind Gods were restricted to only the occasional and welcomed light breeze. We met at Hammon Grove County Park and fished in the immediate area about a quarter mile up and downstream from the parking lot. I don’t know our exact metrics, but I think the flows were in the 700 cfs range. If you haven’t fished here, the river is very accessible and relatively easy to wade. Relative meaning the current is very manageable, but the bottom is primarily round cobble ranging from golf ball, to head size. I found a few boot prisons that took a little problem solving to negotiate.
Turning to the fishing, it was a pretty slow pick for us. I don’t have our exact numbers, but I think we had about 10 fish on, and a handful to the net. One turned out to be a nice steelhead buck at about 16”. According to Jon the fish in this river are some of the strongest trout he’s experienced. He attributes that to a very abundant food supply, and few places to hide from the current, i.e. “they’re on a treadmill 24/7 and very athletic”. I can’t really attest to that as my three fish went as follows: 1) spit the hook right after set (no angler error), 2) spit the hook just after getting it on the reel (again, no angler error), 3) “to the net” fish fouled himself on the 2nd nymph which took the fight out of him (hey, truly no angler error).
Patrick’s “Excellent Adventure” Steelhead
Meanwhile on their downstream cross country trek, both Rob and Todd were each toting two rods setup for Euro and dry action. The early day started out nymphing while holding on to afternoon dry fly dreams. Those dreams would not become reality on this day, although Rob did find a few Skwalas having “play time” on his leg at lunch. Around midday Rob was first to get a fish to the net nymphing with a Skwala nymph (actually a Pat’s Rubber Legs masquerading as a Skwala). Soon after Todd was hooked up with a nice fish he estimated around 20”. After working the fish for a few minutes the fish won. Right back into the same seam Todd was hooked up and landed a nice 18-19” fish. Our downstream total at day end was 4 fish to net and a heck of a lot of exercise cobble-hopping.
A nice one in the net for Todd Rob shoreline prospecting on the dry
Rob’s rainbow loving the Skwala nymph Adult Skwala “play time” with the sun out
In summary I think we all had a very pleasant day, especially considering an outing isn’t all about fish count. We were blessed with good weather, a great guide, some excellent instruction, and pleasurable company. Oh yeah, and Mad Max at the Thunderdome – apparently cross river is BLM land (Bureau of Land Management, not Black Lives Matter) and in the afternoon if it filled up with a pretty rowdy crowd of 4 wheelin’, gun totin’ pleasure seekers. So, will I go back to the Yuba for the Swkala hatch – yes. Would I fish with Jon on this, or another fishery – definitely!
Sometimes things line up just right: the moon, the stars, the weather, and a great group of fellow fly fishers. Having heard reports of how challenging these fish can be (being skunked is a real possibility) and the recent success of our fishmeister, my first-time steelhead adventure had me nervous and anxious. The three-hour drive to the river gave me time to think about what lies ahead: cold water, wading staff, heavier tippet, small flies and the need for a bigger net. Little did I know the net size would be a clue.
Todd rigging it, while Alan and Rob wader up
Our group for the day consisted of Alan, Rob, Todd and myself. Being the newbie, I kept my eyes and ears open for as many tips as I could absorb. One comment that stuck with me was Rob’s comment about seeing a smaller net: ” What are you going to catch with that? Butterflies?” Again, another clue.
On a glorious sunny and bright morning, Alan led us down the path past the hatchery to the wonderful little side channel just off the main river. The pool we would be in for the day was full of riffles and good current, and later what I would discover to be “bathtubs”. The water temperature was reported to be a balmy 49°F. The water was surprising clear after the recent rain. The glare on the water was a killer, so the challenge was on. After a quick refresher on high sticking and working a small float and even smaller flies (size 14 to 16) through the holes (almost euro style), I was on my own.
Of course, it was Alan who had the first fish to show us they were there! I had the opportunity to watch him play the fish (especially on lighter gear) as I ultimately netted his fish. It was then I realized why you need a big net! Having never seen a steelhead I was amazed by the coloring and size of this majestic fish.
Alan doing his normal thing terrorizing Steelhead
Having learned from that, and dancing around the riffles and listening to Todd say “They are stacked up here” and “another one just went by me” I hoped I could at least hook one. Understanding the hooking (and on barbless no less!!) to landing ratio is about 30%, I felt fortunate to simply see these fish.
As I was drifting a San Juan worm and small (size 16) flashback pheasant tail on a seven-weight rod I saw a slight hesitation of my indicator. Hmmm…. I gently raised my rod and noticed a slight tug. After this subtle hit I could feel the bend in my rod! My first thought was please do not do run downstream over the falls as I am not the nimblest in the water. As it turned out he turned and ran upstream and I had to chase him down. This is where those “bathtubs” and the encouragement of Rob (my net man) came into play.
After navigating around and sometimes through these depressions I ended up in a flatter area which made the anticipated landing easier. Rob’s wisdom of playing the fish ultimately helped bring the fish to his net. And boy was his net full! After stopping to catch my breath, I took a look. A beautiful 24-inch wild steelhead, and as thick a football that took the small nymph. After taking pictures and helping the fish recover, I released this trophy back. This is truly stuff of dreams and things lining up just right….
A beautiful first Steelhead. Congratulations, Denis!
Being gentle with the release
The rest of the day proved to be productive for the others as I did not get another strike (at least I think).
The strategies for the day included Euro style presentation with larger attractors including olive and black rubber legs as well as squirmies. Trailers included red butt nymphs, black mayfly nymphs and red copper johns. I heard Alan was using a perdigon style fly for one of his many fish. Typical tippet used was 3X on a 7wt rod. All of the fish in the system we saw, both hooked and landing, and jumping out of the water were all so big and healthy. The total count for the day was around 6 fish landed (maybe more) so believe our landing ratio was well above the average.
Rob thought this was a small one...LOL
As the day came to a close, one thing came to mind: being grateful. I am so grateful to the club for offering these trips and making them very accessible. And to those on this day trip to help stretch my comfort zone. Having the luck to catch maybe a fish of a lifetime is one thing, but to have the friends to share it with is even more important.
My final reflection on the day can be summed up in a quote from Charles F. Orvis-
"More than half the intense enjoyment of fly-fishing is derived from the beautiful surroundings, the satisfaction felt from being in the open air, the new lease of life secured thereby, and the many, many pleasant recollections of all one has seen, heard and done."
Tight lines, Denis
Fly Fishing the Feather River for Steelheads.
By Al Mansky and Dave Fontaine
Dave Fontaine and I were lucky enough to fish the "Feather" for Steelhead in October and November and we had a BLAST.
In October our the river was full of Salmon, dead, swimming and spawning. Even though we were not targeting the Salmon, you could not help but hook into them. It reminded me of the twenty or so fishing trips that I've made to Alaska, for King's, Silver's and especially the Sockeye.
The river was just alive with Salmon and so were the Steelhead, feasting on the Salomon eggs. Our guide. Ryan Williams, hadn't seen this many Steelheads and the size of them in years. Dave and I, probably landed five or six each, that were between eighteen and twenty four inches. We had as many hits and misses, but who's counting.
It did make for a long day, with a three hour drive up and back, with a 6:15 am launch time. We basically had on both outings the whole river to ourselves. I had bought, at last years fly show, a new seven weight fly rod that I wanted to try out and I almost lost it. I failed to take the plastic off the cork handle. This all happened on our November trip. It rained on and off all day and the wind kicked up in the afternoon. Anyway, to make a long story short, I hooked up on a BIG Steelhead, at least I think it was a Steely, and when he took off, he pulled the rod right out of my hands, because the plastic on the handle was wet and so were my gloves. I was able to grab the rod just before it went out of the boat. Needless to say the fish got away, but I didn't loose my rod and reel.
The last five or six years I've been doing the Trinity River trip that Gary Prince has put together. The last few years the Trinity just hasn't been fishing well at all. In fact my last two trips on the Trinity, I've been skunked. I think that I've found a new river to fish, that holds both quantity and quality of Steelhead. I'm looking forward to my next rip on the "Feather", probably next spring. Fishing the "Feather" is more cost effective then fishing the "Trinity," considering the distance to drive to Weaverville, the cost for gas, lodging and meals. I'm not knocking the "Trinity," I enjoy fishing it and it does have some bigger Steelhead in it. I'll be fishing the "Trinity" again, but not just yet.
I know some of you guys have fish the "Feather" by walking the banks, with limited success on Steeles with occasionally hooking up on a Salmon. It seems to me, that in-order to really catch Steelheads you have to float the river and fish the riffles and seams. Of course, have the Salmon spawning at that time really helps the bite on eggs. Considering this was my first fishing trip out this years, I rate it a 100% success. I think that I've been bitten by the fishing bug and I need to scratch it some more.
As part of the Feather River Steelhead Guide float trip event organized by Dave Fontaine, I booked the second offered day with guide Ryan Williams. The original date of October 28th was rescheduled to November 10th. After an early start from Livermore, I met Ryan in Oroville at 5:30 a.m. A short dive to the river and we were in the water by 6:00 as a chilly 32 degree morning was just dawning.
Drifting beads under a float, my first fish, a nice 21” hatchery hen, was on within ½ hour. Floating the beads with a dead drift was a new challenge that took some time for me to get the hang of. The day followed with three other nice 20-22” feisty valley steelhead to the net. Pictured are a 22” native hen with a 14” girth and a 21” feisty hatchery buck.
It was a long day trip, but a very enjoyable day with Ryan and the Feather River.
Chris McCann, Don Jower and I did a quick up and back trip to the Feather River after Lance's presentation in the hopes of maybe seeing a Steelhead or two. Cut to the chase: no Steelhead from shore/wading fishing, but hooked a number of salmon.
It was an easy 2.5 hour trip up and 41 degrees (getting to a high of 52) upon arriving at 7:30 am. Two guys already on the Outhouse rifle just below the highway 70 bridge as well as two guide drift boats plowing up and down through the riffle for over 1.5 hours. Nice...And we only saw 1 steelie netted by the guides during their float up there.
All of us hooked into salmon, which was not hard to do as they were wall to wall in various end of life stages. A graveyard on the shore with some as large as 30". (and most halved by Fish & Game for counting purposes). And as good stewards we broke off all of our hooked salmon, as well as our patiently tied rigs each time. BTW: I as using Lance's three bead rig as he outlined and hooked all of my salmon on that setup (both 3 bead and 2 bead + a trailing mayfly).
Cut to Act 2. We pack it up and decide to scout out Lance's suggestions in the lower river at Whitegate and Steep riffles off Larkin Ave at the Oroville Wildlife area. A few back and forth miles in the dirt alongside the river levees and a good 300 yard walk in got us to that area. Good looking Steelhead riffle water and a lot of spawning salmon in the flat water tailouts before the riffles so all looked quite promising, in seemingly hidden wooded areas. There were three other anglers down there in spite of the hike, so it's not virgin territory. One guy had caught a steelie but that was all down there that we knew of. So as light faded we began the hike out for the ride home after throwing the kitchen sink at them.
This was the 2nd trip in a week up there with different participants and still no Steelhead on the wading trips. Yep, if you want to hook a slow locomotive salmon or just observe some outstanding salmon spawning activity, then now is the time. But the salmon are spent and not energetic, so set your expectations accordingly. Perhaps the Steelhead were further downstream, not upriver in big numbers yet although the salmon eggs were everywhere, or the six chuckleheads making these trips didn't have a clue. No voting please...!
A great potential fishery below the highway 70 bridge, but we just have to figure out how to tease out the Steelhead. We'll all be back....
Summer Fishing on the Truckee, Summer Danger…!!!
An evening on the LT for Gary, Todd, & Marty with Rob on the LT tying on his 14th try for the right dry fly
Ah, summertime fishing. Warm days and nights; camping, wet wading, avoiding the mosquitos, being outdoors, comradery with fellow anglers while social distancing, and catching some nice healthy fish along the way. And so it was on the Truckee Watershed “Tag Along” trip July 24-27 for Gary Prince, Todd Hyrn, Marty Loomis, Bill Potts and I.
However, everyone else seems to have the same idea these days and the area around Truckee was crowded in the stores, on freeways, and on the streams. Nevertheless we avoided most of the crowds by fishing in more remote areas that don’t see many fishermen on the Truckee River, by being on the Little Truckee early in the morning, and at the beautiful and un-crowded Milton Reservoir on the final day.
The trip started after camp setup at Stampede Reservoir where we had a very large group campsite for spreading everyone out. Then out with a late afternoon on the Little Truckee in the bottom meadow (Gary’s favorite spot). Of course he hooked into a very nice fish of 18-19” that didn’t make it to the net with its rambunctious runs in fast water and a scrambling Todd trying to catch up with a net. Not an auspicious beginning, but things would get better.
Fishing was generally slow on the Truckee the next day as we hiked up the canyon a couple of miles from Farad. This is the normal doldrums season on the Big T, and it was hot. You need to hunt fish in the deeper pools and fast water as the water temperature continues to climb (62-67 degrees on our trip) and the fish search for more oxygen and cooler water. Between us we managed to get five smaller (~12-13”) fish to the net, with Marty getting top honors with two fish. But a good deal of exercise was needed from all the beer, bourbon, Scotch, brandy and camping food consumed the previous evening.
DANGER LURKS !!!: Back to camp and an afternoon serious thunderstorm. It started over a mile away and we counted down as it moved toward Stampede Reservoir and the campground. Seeing and hearing lightning strikes only 1,000’ away was sobering and we all headed into our grounded cars for the duration. Unfortunately, it was deadly for an individual that was on the lake nearby in a Jet ski. According to the local Ranger he was hit with a direct strike and died on the way to the hospital. Another boat on the lake was also hit and the individual suffered a serious injury (biting off his bottom lip) as he was thrown into his console in the cabin. Late afternoon storms are a common occurrence in the Sierras during the summer, so please keep an eye out for them and seek immediate safe shelter if they occur near you.
Rob, the Fishmeister/Taskmaster, had everyone out of their tents with an early departure for a morning on the Little Truckee. Good thing, as we all got preferred spots on the normally crowded Little Truckee. Everyone managed to catch some excellent fish in the upper section with Todd bringing two very colorful and energized rainbows of 19” to the net on size 20 Zebra midges with his Euro nymphing.
Todd's beautiful and healthy rainbow on the LT
Marty and I both got into similar sized fish with Marty’s Euro nymphing and my use of Creamy Orange dry fly pattern (PMD look alike). Down below in the meadow Gary and Bill were also chasing a few nice fish with Gary getting a nice 19” rainbow in the net. Again, it was another big rainbow for Gary on a Squirmy Wormy.
On Sunday afternoon we packed up and headed over the Milton Reservoir to camp (minimal facilities). As usual, Milton never disappoints with its remoteness, beauty, quality fish, challenge and accessibility. I am fortunate to have fished the lake many times with great mentors, so was able to bring seven typical Milton fish of 15-16” (6 browns and one unusual rainbow) to the net during the first evening hatch while Gary and Bill were in the learning curve. Todd was also successful with an additional one to the net in the evening. That learning curve continued the next day (the lake is a highly technical lake) for most, with both Bill and I bringing five fish to the net including a gorgeous fat butter belly female brown of 19”. A nice morning, back to camp for lunch, and I can’t wait for the evening hatch.
A beautiful evening at Milton to cap off a successful Brownie hunt for Bill, Rob, Gary & Todd
Whoops, what was that I heard? A Thunderstorm approaching at noon??? Lesson learned from the previous day and we all got off the water and packed up for home. Overall it was a good trip with fewer numbers, but with an excellent quality fish of those caught. A word to the wise; afternoon thunderstorms are not to be dismissed lightly at high elevations. Fish hard, but get the heck off the water and seek safe shelter if they are approaching.
April 27-28, 2020
Hat is a tale of two times; mid-morning hatch and late evening Caddis hatches.
Day 1 AM: typical with clear water, a touch below average depth at Powerhouse #2, and 54 degree water temp. Four guys at the riffles, all spread out top to bottom. Everyone, except me (the dry fly purist and Euro guy), was fishing indicators. Note that PG&E has closed the gates for the back access road to Carbon Bridge and the downstream section below highway 299.
I started swinging a #14 wet fly (mayfly) downstream before the hatch and had my first fish (6”) on the 3rd cast. I then moved to an indicator rig with dual nymphs including a PMD bead for the point and a pheasant tail up 9’ above anticipating the bug movement to the surface. Bingo! Another two fish in the 12” range.
At a precise and a historically consistent 9:30 AM it began… and so did the most fun I’ve had on dry flies in a while. I moved on down to the bottom of the riffles in the flats with lots of visible risers, tied on a #16 hackled PMD onto 14’ of 6X, and lost two quick fish by setting too quickly (are you excited, or what??). “God save the Queen” before you set, dummy! Changed to a #18 PMD /Comparadun and landed that cute little rainbow you see in the photo (about 16”, but probably lost some weight and size from all the jumping…J)). The hatch lasted until 11:00, and then just as quickly it was over.
Just before it died, I hooked into another nice fish on the #18 PMD again, and that was it for the morning. So back to check in at the hotel, and maybe a snooze after leaving that morning at 4:15 AM to make the hatch.
Day 1, PM: Hat is known for its epic late day Caddis hatch and I thought I was ready. But as they say, “the best laid plans”… On the stream by 6:00 PM but the hatch didn’t start until 7:30 PM.
Had the entire stream to myself that night, so I was practicing maximum social distancing for extra points I guess. The hatch was awesome and very prolific in 14’s and 16’s. Couldn’t ask for anything more as I dove into my Caddis dry box to give it a workout.
Normal Caddis for Hat Creek is the Henryville Downwing Special. Nope, not in 14, 16 or 18’s. Adjust with 40-45’ of casting with parachute, pile, wiggle casts, downstream presentations, and aerial mends to do everything to minimize drag. Nope.
How about my favorite Emerger/Cripple Caddis? Nope. Tan Elk Hair? Nope. Black Elk Hair? Nope. Small Stimulator? Nope. And very few surface risers; go figure. So I finally picked up a nice fish (15”) by going down with an orange Caddis Poopah 6X dropper under my small Stimmy and catching it on a Leisenring lift at the bottom of the drift. Talk about having to work for it. And then it was dark and a challenging walk back across the riffles.
Round 1: 5 caught, 9 lost, at least 15-20 rises with tough downstream presentations and hookups.
Day 2 dawns bright and sunny. And, I am ready after a good nights sleep. Spent the previous evening rigging up both my Euro and dry rod with the #18 Comparadun PMD and 14’ of 6X that worked on Day 1.
Showed up at 7:30 and had my pick of which claim to squat on. Got two 10-12” fish during the initial 2 hours on the Euro rod in the mid riffles (PT’s and Perdigons). Picked up my dry rod stashed on shore and was in the ready position for the 9:30 fire drill.
And oh yea, here they come…not the fish; 6 other people right at 9 for the hatch! But I’m defending the best downstream riffle section with 50’ sloppy dry casts in all directions and my best hearty scowl at anyone even thinking about encroaching to protect my social distancing requirements (sure…).
And so it begins at 9:30 with quite a few takes all up and down my “turf”. But I and can’t keep the #18 PMD in their mouths and lose a good number of fish to tough downstream fly first presentations, including two big slabs as they turn down and dislodge the small fly even with downstream hooksets. I get maybe another 15-20 rises, so plenty of fun activity casting to fish and chasing them up and down about 40 yards of water without the previous day’s success. But now I’m frustrated and humbled, so I change tactics and tie on a #18 PMD vertical hanging CDC emerger on as a 6X dropper, and voila (!) a nice 15” fish comes home to Papa. And then, it’s over, again…
I grab my Euro rod on the way back across the riffles and hook into something big on my first cast right on the bottom, except strangely it doesn’t fight. I bring it up and it’s a 20” rainbow foul hooked in the Adipose fin, AND… it’s dead. Probably 2-3 days as it still had color but was stiff. What skill with the Euro rod; I can even catch dead fish? So I call the high court of Prince, McCann, and Spruiell and ask for a ruling; does it count? Only if I claimed it as bringing it to hand, but not as a caught fish was the ruling by a unanimous and sanctimonious 3:0 court decision…
Round 2: 3 caught, lost 5, with numerous rises, and one more 20” rainbow brought “to hand”.
And rather than wait around for another late Caddis humiliation, and an even longer 4.5 hour drive home, I decided to pack it in and get an early start. What a great mental health break trip after the SIP of the last six weeks. Feeding rainbows are calling…but do be careful out there, make your own decision as to SIP requirements, and take every precaution that you think is necessary to stay safe if you do go out.
Chasing Skwala’s on the Yuba or “How I learned to hate the cobble”
February 28, 2020
A third trip to the Yuba east of Marysville in the last two months chasing those hatching Skwala flies, again. If it’s not Steelhead on the Feather, this is the big game in Northern Cal right now unless you want to make the long hike to Pyramid for Lahontans, or maybe a guide trip down the lower Sac. So off I went after being well armed from a discussion I had with Jon Baiocchi at the Pleasanton show on where the fish were in the system this week.
Jon had directed me far downstream from Hammond Grove Park where I geared up. That meant crossing the river and hiking a substantial distance down the obnoxious cobble from the gold mining tailings. This stuff is hard to walk; like walking on bowling balls and softballs but I expected a workout and got all I bargained for.
The hatch was awesome for a mid-winter hatch. They say that this is best year in the last 4-5 years for Skwala’s, and if you know where to look for them you will see hundred’s of them during the day sunning on the rocks, or even crawling on you. They don’t spend much time on the water, so the fish are looking for those that fall in due to wind near shore, and cautiously avoiding potential predators.
The river is gin clear, as they say, and the fish can see you coming from a long way off. So once on the stream, I was employing all the stealth my knees could manage to kneel down and out of sight while fishing a key run about 125 yards long multiple times. Which is to say that I really exercised all my casting abilities as well with the required downstream presentations with 14 foot leaders from said sore knees. But at least it was warm in the high 70’s, with water temperature from 50-52 degrees over the day.
The real attraction is top water dry fly action but I only saw four rises all day in the main current seam. Other guys on the river were remarking that “you should have been here Saturday” with the river alive all day long with rises everywhere. Of course; story of my life to have to do things the hard way and one day late. Nevertheless, I pitched four different Skwala dry fly patterns (Bullet, Double Dutch, Unit, and a Skwalameister)to no avail in all the current seams and soft water, and then sunk a tungsten Skwala nymph four feet beneath a Unit Skwala as an indicator. And the result was a nice 16” fat and feisty Yuba River rainbow. The Yuba is known for these fighters that have Steelhead genes with broad tails and this fish didn’t disappoint. Aside from Steelhead I rate these rainbows as the best fighting in California. They are fast with broad shoulders, head downstream quickly, tire slowly, and always take 3 or 4 runs before being landed.
As exciting as that fish was, it was my only during the day with only one more quick grab. So I fished dries, dry droppers, high stick/Euro style, and even an indicator with a good deal of weight for the fast current spots. The Yuba is not known as a high fish count experience, but the strength of these fish is awesome and will likely bring me back one more time before the end of the Skwala season this month.
January Feather River and Yuba River trips (4)
We’ve had several Club outings up on the Feather for steelhead this year, and a two session Skwala workshop on the nearby Yuba River as well.
Jon Baiocchi’s Skwala Workshop on the Yuba was attended by seven TVFF members and was focused on proper rigging, Skwala fly selection, reading the water, and mostly dry fly presentation techniques. Both sessions concentrated on the fundamentals through lunch, and then spending the PM on the river fishing with Jon’s hands-on instruction and assistance. The rainy and overcast weather was a bit marginal for the Skwalas who like warm weather to emerge, but numerous were seen on the rocks with the fish beginning to focus on them in the current, and especially late in the day on sunny afternoons. The two days consisted of early season fishing with 3 rainbows to the net and numerous rises, so nothing really exciting yet as the season gets underway. The fish are beginning to look up and that should bode well for the remaining month or so of the Skwala hatches which I will be fishing actively this year.
Meanwhile we have had four trips (Wyosnick, Nishio, Dueltgen, McCann, Spruiell, Farris, McCollum, Hyrn, Vargas, Loomis) to the Feather for fresh steelhead with mixed results in January and February. The trips in early January brought a few good sized fish to the net; however the general feeling was that the water was a bit lower than last year and that the overall success rate was also down. Recently the TVFF groups have been hooking more fish up to about 24” as more of the river is getting explored rather than the traditional spots. Alan Wyosnick had a conversation with the hatchery who explained that their fish counts were up and that they had encountered a “sold out” condition on one day early this year with over 1,000 steelhead coming into the hatchery for egg harvesting. So that’s a huge uptick that was also coupled with a huge salmon migration this year as well. All great news.
The most recent trip this past week (Feb 7th) saw an improvement with seven fish to the net from over a dozen and a half hooked, so activity has picked up. The challenge right now is avoiding the shallow gravel redds and the spawning couples which are numerous. At one spawningg run spot I saw no less than 8 spawning couples in a slower section of the river within 50’, so the activity is hot and amorous right now. It’s great to see so many large and colorful fish in the system, but fishing now needs to be concentrated away from the redds and in the faster riffle sections where they tend not to spawn.
Interestingly enough the fish have still been eating at this stage while they are staging for the spawn, although it’s been inconsistent on the flies with fish taking mayfly nymphs, rubber legs, stonefly nymphs, an infrequent egg pattern, and caddis nymphs. After a month now of intense fishing activity around Oroville, they are also very spooky and indicator shy and will move aside from imperfect presentations or even seeing an indicator float downstream. That makes high sticking being a good alternative style although certainly indicators correctly mended can still work effectively as both Chris and Mark both recently found out.
Wading is good right now on the Feather with the water levels down, but it can also result in a dunking if you are not careful on the slippery rocks as two of us have found out this year. If you plan on going, please make sure that you are not alone for safety reasons. These rambunctious steelies can be quite challenging as they run downstream so having a good net guy close by helps immeasurably on landing one as well. Best to be prepared and plan on buying a beer for your net guy across the street at the Exchange or the Oroville Brewing Company afterward. Enjoy…pictures from some recent sessions are on the Events page https://tvff.wildapricot.org/Feather-River-Steelhead-2020
Three trips to Putah Creek in last two weeks
OK, I’m a glutton for punishment with lots of streamside brush, tough wading in the pocket water, widely un-predictable fishing, and fluctuating water this time of year. And tough fish to land, which you’ll see later on. I’m on the water in 1.5 hours from the house, AND there are big fish lurking if you know where to find them. And they are rising. How could I resist since I couldn’t take 4 hours to Tahoe or Shasta and an overnight?
Trip 1; on my own with water at 300 cfs (normal for this time of year). Fished a new section at Access 5 at the base of the upstream rifles. Looks like great feeding lies (lots of oxygen and food flow). But no; nothing after a good 2 hours of changing depths, flies, and presentation with euro nymphing. Well, I did lose a few flies since I was definitely dredging the bottom. Hmmm... Key new information observed in the downstream flats: heavy male and female Trico hatching at 9:30 AM as well as midges, followed by #16 Glossosoma Caddis hatch, followed by BWO hatch in 18’s. So I moved downstream and into some other riffles where I got into one frisky 12” rainbow, and hooked a big guy on a 5X Euro setup (Zebra midge) between two rocks. And you can probably guess what that led to. Loss of fly, loss of self-esteem and loss of fish over 20”. So it goes at Putah Creek. Drowned my sorrows at the Putah Creek café with a draft and a great personal pizza at the counter, so all was not lost.
Trip2: this time a week later, with Todd Hyrn at my side. Big creek changes as water dropped to 45 cfs (25% of normal) and were really skinny due to some downstream creek bed work in Davis. We both Euro nymphed our way from Access #5 all the way to the top where the flows were very thin under the bridge. Todd did pick up a little guy in the riffles below the bridge but that was it for the two of us. Kind of embarrassing but in our travels we did spot huge pods of fish from the streamside banks. Water was crystal clear and very low so not much chance of getting close to them, but it was useful to put in the library of knowledge where they were holding. So after some pretty good trips up to Putah and starting my year of with a 26” rainbow in March, I go home skunked. Oh, the shame of it all. But “Ah Ha…!!!”, I now have a new section of the creek to fish after spotting all of those pods, and seeing some good surface activity about mid-day (didn’t have my dry fly rod and setup as I was committed to Euro nymphing that day). Dinner at Putah Creek café was typically great (homemade fried chicken, biscuits, gravy, etc.). And Jordan Romney (our September Club speaker) was there as well and came over to say hi.
Trip #3: Wednesday this week (the 6th) on my own as well. I’m coming armed this time with BOTH my Euro stick and my dry fly rod/setup. Water is up marginally to 70 cfs (still 25% of normal). Show time! On the river flats right at 9:30 and ready for the surface activity and rigged up on the dry with an E/C Caddis indicator fly (Hopper) followed with 7x and a #22 Trico dropper. Light surface activity but little beyond two swirls at the dry (after trying both male and females and a Trico spinner). So I shift to changing out the Trico, lengthening my leader, and dropping a #22 Zebra midge underneath. And voila (!!); fish on! Caught two 12” jumping rainbows (great dark coloring) before my indicator fly took a huge plunge and a 18” fat rainbow leaves the water twice to show off. Of course you know the end to this story too, as 7 x tippets, and an aggressively jumping 18’ fish don’t mix very well. But all is not lost as I finished the day with 6 fish from 12-16” in the net, with 10 hooked, and another dozen or so grabs on the Zebra midge. And topping it all off with another 18” rainbow attacking my Elk Hair Caddis dry late in the afternoon, but not liking it that much unfortunately. I did fish downstream for much of the day below a guide and his client who hooked a big 22” rainbow, but they lost it as well. So goes Putah Creek. The big fish are there, however they take some serious work and thought to land. But I’ll be back…and soon, as the creek is open all year, except for the voluntary spawning closure from Dec-Feb.