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Shasta Trout Fly Fishing guides holiday report

Frank swings up some bright chrome on his third cast of the day!Happy Holidays!

Klamath, Trinity, Upper & Lower Sacramento Rivers

December 15, 2013

We had a record breaking two day storm hit late last week blowing out everything except the Klamath River which continues to amaze us with both numbers and the size of steelhead this season.   As a result several of our guests enjoyed the best steelhead fishing of their lives.  The Trinity, Lower  Sacramento & Upper Sacramento rivers blew out completely with the Upper Sac raising from a couple thousand cubic feet per second (555 cfs is the median) to 30,000 cfs overnight.  Fortunately the water in Dunsmuir stayed within the banks and no major damage was reported.

Flows have dropped significantly in the past few days and with only a few smaller storms in the forecast fishing should return to normal winter conditions.  The Lower Sacramento River continues to experience silting from Lake Shasta and it could be sometime before it clears more than the foot or two we have had.  The Trinity started fishing fair to good prior to the storm and could be a good bet for those wishing to visit during the holidays as flows drop and clear.


Flows from Iron Gate on the Klamath have been very low, clear and steady at 950 cfs which is half the norm.  Water clarity has been three to five feet which has created ideal conditions and an exceptional bite.  Flows on the Trinity  have remained at 300 cfs at Lewiston, which is the norm but blew up to 5,500 during the storm at Junction City.  Flows have dropped back to  792 cfs at Junction City with the norm at 500.  With showers in the forecast for the rest of the week and sun on the horizon for the weekend and next week, we hope to experience some fresh fish and a much improved bite.

Releases out of Keswick on the Lower Sac are currently at  4,000 cfs, dropping from 8,000 on December 11th, with flow changes scheduled to drop to 3,250 tomorrow.  The mean is 5,790 and the median 8,190 cfs so the fish will packed tight. Prior to the storm fishing was just fair with poor days outnumbering great days as water clarity has ranged from 1-3 feet (wind was an issue as well) though a few nice fish were found.

Fishing Conditions

IMGP2020IMGP2014IMGP2024On the Klamath, both nymphers and swingers have been enjoying great steelhead fishing.  Several large fish have shown recently, which is typical this time of year, thound  most adult steelhead are running in the 2 to 5 lb range.  We are only finding a few half pounders remaining but they have been bright and hot!  The word is out so the river has seen more than its share of traffic.  For those nymphing, legs and eggs have been the top producers.  Swinging flies continues to find fish,  last week (prior to the storm) we even hooked a fish on a Muddler fished on an intermediate tip and raised a fish to a foam skater!   We have primarily gone to sink tips with small leech and Intruder style patterns.  For details on tactics, techniques and flies, check out our post on Fly Fishing the Klamath in Winter, first published in California Fly Fisher magazine.

The good news is that with one of the better run in years, and this big storm the tough technical fishing on the Trinity is a thing of the past.  More water usually means fresh fish which tend to be better biters.  With only a few light storms in the forecast the fish should get back on the grab and we could be seeing some great days coming this winter as well.   Eggs, stonefly nymphs, PT’s and Copper Johns have all found fish.  A few folks swung successfully for fish just before the storm.

photo3The Upper Sacramento River blew out bigger than most can imagine. Flows have already dropped significantly and with colder weather and only light storms flows should drop and stabilize making the river fishable over the holidays.   For more on fishing the Upper Sac in Winter check out our articles first published in California Fly Fisher, Winter Angling on the Upper Sac Year Round Angling on the Upper Sac.

The Lower Sac continues to be a hit and miss affair with poor water clarity and low flows.  The great days of fall have passed and the winter bite will be tighter. We are looking forward to some fair weather next week would should improve the fishing, perhaps more than the catching, but a sunny day on the Lower Sac and a few fish to net is always a great escape from the craziness the holidays can sometimes bring.

Wishing you and yours a very happy holiday season.  For the latest on conditions please drop us a line.  We are always happy to point you in a direction you might enjoy whether you are seeking guide service or not, we hope to see you soon!

Klamath, Trinity, Upper & Lower Sacramento River Fly Fishing Guide’s Report

IMGP1980December 2, 2014

This fall has been unseasonably warm and drippy, exactly the weather diehard steelhead anglers wish for.  As a result the fishing as well as the catching on the Klamath River has been exceptional with many of our regular guests enjoying their best days ever for both numbers and size of fish.  We still have a few guide dates available before the holidays get in full swing, drop us a line for availability!

Fishing on the Lower Sac, Trinity, and Upper Sac on the other hand has been more challenging, particularly for less experienced anglers as conditions have become quite technical, with low water and crowds on the Trinity, sparse hatches of small and tiny bugs on the Upper Sac and cloudy water from Shasta Lake at times spoiling the Lower Sac.


Flows from Iron Gate on the Klamath have been very low and steady at 950 cfs which is half the norm.  Water clarity has been three to five feet which has created ideal conditions and an exceptional bite.  Flows on the Trinity  have remained at 315 cfs at Lewiston, which is the norm but only 405 cfs at Junction City, so the low, crystal clear water is causing steelhead to sit in tanks with a very soft bite despite decent return numbers for Steelhead this season.  With wet weather on the horizon and hopefully some significant precipitation to move some fish, we expect conditions to change and hope to experience the same kind of epic days several guests enjoyed earlier this fall.  We do have some guide availability so drop us a line.

Releases out of Keswick on the Lower Sac have been low and steady around 4,000 cfs with some flow changes scheduled dropping to 3,600 today and 3,400 on December 8th.  The mean is 5,540 and the median 8,270 cfs so the fish are packed tight and very wary.    A great concern is the water clarity which has been varying from a foot to 3 or 4 feet at best.  Our guests recently enjoyed some spectacular days fishing egg patterns behind a few remaining spawning salmon we found, otherwise tiny nymphs have been the ticket particularly on the few days we’ve seen with fair hatches.  We’ve skipped the days (rescheduled trips) when the  clarity dropped and bugs are sparse but heard the bite has been tough.    Flows at Delta on the Upper Sac jumped this week from 250 and are currently at 405 cfs, which is still quite low.  Water temps are in the forties so the bite has been best midday.  This is the time of year we target large fish, it is technical and can be good fun for those interested in learning how to stalk and catch the biggest fish in the river.

2014-10-24 14.59.48photo 5IMGP1991Fishing Conditions

On the Klamath, anglers of all levels have been enjoying multiple steelhead days, but the solitude we typically experience has been lost as the word is out.  To preserve the experience we have spent a good deal of time on beats downriver from the Irongate dam reach.  Most adult steelhead have been running 2 to 5 lbs but several fish in the the larger range have shown recently along with a few hearty half pounders each day.   For those nymphing, legs and eggs have been the most consistent producers but later in the day when it warms some fish have been taking small nymphs as well.  Swinging flies has been quite good including a good number of fish on floating lines.   Sink tips with small leech and Intruder style patterns will become the top producers as temperatures cool.  On more than one occasion jigged or retrieved flies have out fished those swung slow and deep.  For details on tactics, techniques and flies, you might like to check out our post on Fly Fishing the Klamath in Winter, first published in California Fly Fisher magazine.

DSCF3814Fishing this fall on the Trinity was fair to good for the most seasoned anglers, but poor for those less familiar with the river.  With low, cold crystal clear water fish have “tanked” so even when you get the fish to take the bite has been soft. The biggest problem has not been a lack of fish, but the lack of rainfall so the fish are not moving and stale as a result.  The good news is that with steelhead in the system, warm temps and a few storms in the forecast the fish should get back on the grab and we could be seeing some great days coming this winter as well.   Eggs, stonefly nymphs, PT’s and Copper Johns have all found fish.  Swinging successfully for fish recently has been difficult at best.

Trophy Upper Sac Rainbow in winterAfter a spectacular fall season, the Upper Sacramento River has slowed,  and is now more of a midday affair nymphing and hoping to find a good hatch of Blue Winged Olives.  Nymphing the slow water in the biggest runs has been the most productive.  Finding productive runs and utilzing stealth to target trophy fish has been key.  With the dripping weather we are hoping to find some dry fly fishing opportunities utilizing our favorite dry dropper rig.  For more on fishing the Upper Sac in Winter check out our articles first published in California Fly Fisher, Winter Angling on the Upper Sac Year Round Angling on the Upper Sac.

IMGP1927Since the peak of the egg bite and Salmon spawning has passed, fishing on the Lower Sac has been a bit of a hit and miss affair with fair days outnumbering the great days.  The great days have been worth waiting for as some of our best fish of the season show this time of year.  We found a few pods of late spawning salmon last week and the fishing was epic.  Otherwise, hatches of mostly Blue Wing Olives have been sparse and unpredictable, if and when you find them they are also a bit technical as the bugs are tiny and the fish just sip them making hooking and landing the trophy trout that eat this time of season a challenge.

For the latest on conditions please drop us a line.  We are always happy to point you in a direction you might enjoy whether you are seeking guide service or not.  Wishing you and yours the very best of holiday seasons, we hope to see you soon!

Seasons on the Klamath: A winter fly fishing guide

Brian with one of his small orange original swing flies Mark with the trophy of the trip Klamath River Bounty LARGE and small Seasons on the Klamath, Wintertime

by Craig Nielsen, first published in California Fly Fisher Magazine February 2010

In California, we fish all winter, because we can.  Angling during winter in the Golden State might mean ice in the guides one day followed by a second application of sunscreen a day or two later.  The fishing for steelhead on the upper Klamath River in winter can provide both extremes and most everything in between.

Klamath102105.03The upper Klamath lies in a banana belt north of the Shasta Valley, in a rain shadow south of the Siskiyou Pass and west of the Trinity and Marble Mountains.  The river is also a tailwater, with regulated releases below Iron Gate Dam, which help keep the angling consistently good through all but the most severe storms.   Miles of marshland, which make up the headwaters, also provide relatively warm water temps and absorb precipitation like a sponge making the Klamath one of the last rivers in the state to blow out and  one of the first to drop, clear, and provide quality angling in days, rather than weeks after major storms.

So…why haven’t you visited?

Most likely because the Klamath is a remote river, nearly a full gas tank away from the larger population centers of California.  It is located just south of the Oregon border, in Siskiyou County, which is approximately the size of Connecticut, but with a population of only about 40,000 people.  The county is the home of several other fine trout and steelhead rivers and one of the few places left in the state where the trout and steelhead vastly out number the human population.

When to Visit?

Since the Klamath can fish well most anytime in the winter the old adage “The best time to fish is when you can” is not far from the truth. The first runs of Steelhead begin showing in the upper river below Iron Gate dam in October and continue arriving well into January providing quality angling opportunities all winter until the Steelhead spawn in April and May. Klamath fall and winter runs also overlap (unlike those on the Rogue and Trinity) without a slow period of fishing in between the runs.

There are some differences in the fish and the fishing that, depending on your appetite, might guide you  in planning a trip to suit your preferences.   Late in the fall and early winter is the time of year when the catch rate is highest.  Water temps are typically in the fifties and upper forties, the fish are actively on the grab and it is not an uncommon occurrence to hook a fish in each pass through a run.  This time of year  there are still a few Chinook Salmon spawning and it can be easy to locate the Steelhead stacked just downstream from them. With near perfect water temps it can also be an ideal time to swing flies successfully.

halfpounderSo what is the downside?  Nearly all the fish you will find this time of year will be small.  The run is made up primarily of “half-pounders”, trout sized juvenile fish that earlier in the spring traveled downstream to salt and returned in the fall.  They are accompanied by a run of adult Steelhead that came upstream the season before as half-pounders, returned to salt and are arriving once again, this time to spawn.  The half-pounders are “trout” sized, ten to sixteen inches, while the early run adult fish are typically wild and sixteen to twenty three inches or so.  The adult steelhead having typically spent just a half season in salt, followed by a year in salt which  makes them small compared to adult Steelhead in other rivers that spend two years or more in salt. A Steelhead 25 inches or longer caught in the early season on the Klamath is considered exceptional.

Jay-&-Paula-in-driftboatSometime in December temps drop and winter sets in for real.  Water temps drop into the lower forties with air temperatures on most mornings below freezing.   The fish become lethargic in the cold temps and the grab softens as a result.  Fish no longer chase down swung flies with reckless abandon, the salmon have spawned and are gone and the fishing can become very challenging.  Fortunately this is also the time the fall run of hatchery fish arrive in the upper river along with a run of bigger wild fish.  These fish are typically 21 to 26 or 27 inches long and heavy bodied with an occasional exceptional fish that can be even larger.

Rich's Klamath Chrome 1/08While the opportunity to catch these bigger fish is to be enjoyed, these new arrivals usually also spark the bite for steelhead that have been in the river for a while as well. It is important to remember steelhead do not travel hundreds of miles to eat, not even the flies you painstakingly tied. They come to spawn and their behavior reflects this primal urge.  I liken this phenomena to a bar scene.  Imagine a pub where the patrons have been sitting nursing their drinks and listening to music or watching television when a sorority arrives.  Everyone in the place livens up with not only the new arrivals ready to party, but almost everyone buying drinks and looking to dance.

Winter run fish arrive upstream in waves through the coldest months and are well conditioned, chunky and bright.  Downstream anglers call this run of fish the “ghost run” because of the speed they move upstream through the system.  They arrive today and are gone tomorrow.

Angling in the dead of winter can be slow and cold.  Although a few fish are caught each day winter steelhead fishing in the Klamath has a boom or bust element.  Most epic days come during a few weeks in midwinter when the bite is unbelievable, but unfortunately also unpredictable.  It often coincides with a warm spell, but not every warm spell. So the best plan is again to fish when you can.

How to Catch ‘em?

Ross with a big bend in his Spey rodIf you’re planning to go steelheading on the Klamath in winter, the first decision you need to make is how you choose to play the game.  Do you prefer to swing, bob, or swing & bob?  If swinging flies is your passion, you must then choose between a floating or sinking line and big leeches or classic wet flies.  If you prefer to bobb (with an indicator) you must decide if you care to fish egg patterns or stick strictly to nymphs.  If you choose eggs you must also decide between pegging plastic or limiting your game to glo bugs and other yarn based imitations.

The good news is that on the Klamath, unlike many other steelhead streams, choosing any of these games will catch fish.  We’ve enjoyed surprising success on a few occasions in the heart of winter swinging classic wets with a dry line.  The bad news for purists is that a swung wet fly on a dry line will find fewer dance partners than a well drifted pegged plastic egg, particularly as water temps drop into the lower forties and colder.  In order to have fewer decisions to make, on winter days I’ll cover all my bases and simply have two rods rigged, most often a single handed rod with an indicator to fish nymphs, eggs and legs (rubberleg patterns) and a switch rod with a fast sinking tip to swing leeches and classic wets.  On the Klamath be certain to pinch your barbs as you are much more  likely to have them checked than on any other river in the state.

For swinging flies, I typically load a four or five weight switch rod with a Skagit line and an 8 to 12 foot tip of fast sinking tungsten.   The head and tip together will usually run 350 to 450 grains total. I’ll add 3 to 5 feet of ten pound Maxima and a marabou, rabbit or Intruder style leech that is two to four inches in length.  In shallow water I prefer a size 4 to 8 classic wet or unweighted spey pattern which will hang up less and find the most aggressive fish.   I have come to believe that darker colors most often work best and save the bright flies only after I have exhausted my efforts with dark buggy patterns.  I must admit I would likely catch more fish on bright flies if I fished them with more confidence.

Most of the fish I catch swinging in winter are oriented to structure such as boulders in a run or holding downsteam from drop offs.   I find few if any fish in the tailouts and riffs that produced so well in fall.  The fish most often hold deep into the run in the softer water and getting the fly right in front of them is usually the best chance to get them to eat.  For this reason I occasionally prefer to cast from an anchored boat rather than wade.  The fly is simply moving through good holding water for more time during the swing and I believe this increases my odds dramatically.   It has the added benefits of keeping my toes warmer and reduces my chances of falling in, which in winter will probably end my day.

SteelheadFor nymphing on the Klamath, most folks select a six or seven weight rod with a floating line and their bobber of choice.  You can bring your special collection of steelhead nymphs, egg patterns and rubberlegs and you will likely find something that works as well as the other guy’s assortment of special flies.  Most fish are taken while side drifting from a boat through runs, deep holding pockets, and slots.  Wading anglers can fish this water if they are able to wade within range.  Again the idea is to drift the fly right in the fishes face, as cold steelhead prefer not to chase.  This requires some line management and the ability to mend and feed line effectively.  Most anglers can learn the basics of getting an adequate drift pretty readily.

What separates the most successful winter steelhead nymphers from the rest of us is strike identification and their hook sets.  On a good day of nymphing for trout an angler might expect a couple dozen grabs or more.  A couple dozen grabs while winter steelhead fishing is considered awfully good, even for the Klamath.  With fewer opportunities it is important to take advantage of each and every one.  In cold, slow winter holding water, steelhead takes can also be quite subtle.  The anglers who are best able to recognize a strike and quickly get tight to the fish are the ones who enjoy the dance most often.  The key is to maintain a relaxed focus and to keep your hands in the best position to set the hook as you manage your line through the drift.   The mindset is  not unlike a batter hitting a fastball, a tennis player returning a serve or a soccer or hockey player scoring a one timer.  Sorry golfers, I don’t have an analogy for you.

Klamath River Access

The most popular access on the upper Klamath is the drift from the hatchery below Irongate dam down to the Klamathon Bridge (also called the Copco Ager Bridge)-and for good reason.  The reason is that there is no need to find fish.  The fish arrive in October and remain until the spawn in April.  You merely need to find a way to get them to eat your fly.

Downstream, the next most popular drift is past the hamlet of Hornbrook and the Collier Rest Stop on Interstate 5, roughly eight miles downstream from the dam put in.  The launch ramps are gravel bars, rough at best and a four wheel drive vehicle is recommended.

Whitney-&-Barb-on-raftDrifting the Klamath should not be taken lightly.  While the whitewater upstream of I5 is tame compared to the class III, IV and V rapids and drifts found downstream, it can easily spook a boatman accustomed to drifting, say the Lower Sacramento, Feather, Trinity or Yuba.  The river has  a good deal of structure that is not easy to see or read.  It is not at all uncommon to suddenly find oneself perched on a rock midstream- a rock that was all but hidden until you left a bit of aluminum gleaming on it.

Wading access upstream of Interstate 5 is confined to a couple runs, because most of the riverbank is on private property.  Public wade access below I5 is quite good, with Highway 96 running on one side of the river and a secondary road running on the other from Ash Creek about 25 miles downstream nearly to the community of Horsecreek.  Plan on enjoying this water by yourself, it is an event to encounter other anglers.

There is little in the way of amenities along this part of the Klamath River.  Plan on basing your winter trip out of Yreka which is just a few minutes down  I5 south of  Hornbrook and the Collier Rest Area.  For more upscale options including fine dining and entertainment try our hometown of Mount Shasta, about 45 minutes south or in Ashland, Oregon just 25 minutes north. Do be aware that you will need to get over Siskiyou Pass to get to Ashland which sometimes closes during stormy winter weather.

So…tell me again, why haven’t you visited?   Shake off those winter shack nasties, fill up the tank, pack the rods, and repeat after me: “The best time to fish is when you can.”#KlamathRiver,#Flyfishingguide

Seasons on the Klamath River: Fall Fly Fishing

Rich's Klamath Chrome 1/08by fishing guide Craig Nielsen

First published in California Fly Fisher Magazine, September 2010

The steelhead, some contend, is a fish of a thousand casts. In some cases, that is an understatement. Having chased these elusive creatures from California to Alaska for over 40 years, I have attained intimacy with the skunk in nearly all of its forms. Guiding for steelhead sometimes serves to intensify this stink. Guiding provides the distinct advantage of being on the river most days, following the fish, knowing their lies, and gaining some sense of their mood. Even when we find ourselves lucky enough to intercept steelhead in ideal conditions, there is still no guarantee that the most seasoned steelheaders and guides can entice them to eat.

I recently read a report that the average angling effort per steelhead caught by all methods in California is a little over 30 hours per fish. This translates roughly into three and a half days of fishing for eight hours a day for each fish caught. I know of no place where this is less true than on the upper Klamath in the fall. Fly fishers are more likely to catch multiple fish per day than get skunked. Because of this bounty and reliability, there may be no better time and place to discover the joys of fly fishing for steelhead than the fall season on the upper Klamath River.

halfpounderThe Fish

Steelhead on the Klamath begin entering fresh water in the early summer. These chrome beauties are able to migrate over 190 miles upstream, where they are blocked by Irongate Dam. Waves of fish begin arriving in the upper river sometime in September or October, providing fishable numbers from below the dam downstream about 50 miles to the community of Happy Camp. New waves of fish continue to migrate upstream, with the number of fish increasing until the steelhead spawn in winter and spring.

The first steelhead to arrive in the upper river chase the fall chinook salmon run, feasting on eggs the salmon drop, along with the insects these enormous beasts dislodge in preparation to spawn. The vast majority of this first wave of fish are the famed Klamath “half-pounders,” which have spent two seasons in fresh water and a few months in the salt. What they lack in size (they are typically 12 to 18 inches), they make up for in attitude and abundance. Half-pounders take flies aggressively and are incredibly acrobatic. It is rare to land a fish without a few screeching runs and multiple aerial displays. Anglers experiencing half-pounders for the first time find them a hoot, but are stunned to find the big trophy that fought so brilliantly turns out to be smaller in the net than they had imagined.

Often, after anglers successfully hook and land several of these charming, agreeable creatures, they encounter the real deal. Mixed in with the half-pounders in the early season will be a few adult wild steelhead that have spent an additional season in the salt, gaining the bulk that goes with it. These full-bodied brutes typically run three to six pounds, and if anglers are geared sportingly for half-pounders, these heavy, hot fish can prove to be a challenging change of pace.

Mike's Big Buck Klamath 2/08Sometime in November, after these initial runs of fish have arrived, fin-clipped hatchery fish begin to show. Increasing numbers of fall-run wild adults typically arrive in the same wave, which includes some of the largest fish of the season. The bulk of these fish will be 22 to 26 inches, or three to six pounds. A few will be in the 6-to-10-pound range, and on rare occasions, a fish over 10 pounds will find an angler’s net. While these are not considered large compared with the fish in most other famed steelhead rivers, the numbers of fish and the diversity of the runs on the Klamath mean that anglers can find willing dance partners nearly every day of the season.

The Klamath also differs from most popular steelhead venues in the United States in that wild fish outnumber hatchery fish by a wide margin. In recent seasons, as hatchery returns have declined, local guides report catching at least 20 wild fish for each hatchery fish landed. The bounty of the Klamath, along with some studies that show that wild fish are more eager to take artificial flies than their cloned counterparts, may help explain continued angler success on the river while other steelhead fisheries have suffered.

Ross with a big bend in his Spey rodGear for Steelhead

Most seasoned trout anglers already own the gear they need to get started steelheading on the Klamath. A 6-weight rod with a matching reel and floating line is the most popular setup. Anglers focused on half-pounders sometimes opt for a 5-weight, but find themselves undergunned for the occasional adult, while those targeting the larger adult fish with 7-weights will find that only the larger half-pounders are capable of putting a serious bend in the rod. If you have a quiver full of rods, play the game you choose. If not, realize that there is no perfect rod, and just enjoy the dance with the one you have.

The majority of fly fishers nymph with indicators, putting into practice trout tactics they’ve found to be effective on other California tailwaters. To floating lines they’ll attach a standard-taper 9-foot 2X or 3X leader with a tippet of the same test, an indicator, perhaps some split shot, and two or three flies. The most popular combination of flies is “legs and eggs,” though many standard nymph patterns, such as Hare’s Ears, Prince Nymphs, Pheasant Tails, and Copper Johns can be equally effective. Having an indicator system that easily adjusts to varying depths while moving from runs, to pockets, to ledges and drop-offs provides dividends in efficiency.

Increasingly, we’ve seen anglers arriving interested in swinging flies. In some ways, this represents a return to an era when nearly all fly fishers employed this technique. The “Klamath Swing,” where the fly  is cast down and across on a line that was greased to float, and swung across in the surface film or just under, is a style of fishing a wet fly on a floating line that found its origins here. Modern-day anglers can still find success with floating lines and classic wets, but having a sink-tip line often saves the day when the fish seem unwilling to move to the surface.

What has changed is that the majority of anglers now swinging flies are casting two-handed switch or Spey rods. Particularly in the fall on the Klamath, swinging can be more productive than nymphing, though perhaps from day to day it is not as consistently effective. One of the reasons is that the upper Klamath water clarity is moderately cloudy, a tea color that usually runs to three to five feet in visibility, which is ideal for swung flies.

Unfortunately, many of the two-handed rods we’ve seen employed are better suited to other venues, a bit too big and/or heavy to enjoy the majority of the water and fish encountered on the upper Klamath. With these bigger rods, it can be hard for half-pounders to show their stuff, and even sometimes small adults merely get cranked in after a jump or two. We have found switch rods and the lightest Spey rods available to be better matches, and most manufacturers now offer them in lengths and weights suitable for Klamath conditions. Rods comparable to a 6-weight single-hander, or about a 4-5 weight Spey designation, are increasingly popular for good reason.

Until recently, finding lines other than a floating steelhead/salmon taper for these light rods was next to impossible. A number of manufacturers now offer Scandinavian and Skagit lines in the 200-grain to 400-grain weight designations that match well with the lighter rods. While single-handers can fish floating lines, they can also employ sinking lines or simply add one of the new Poly or Versatip sink tips to gain depth when conditions warrant.  On the other hand, the new light two-handed rods are a pleasure to cast with sink tips and offer anglers an opportunity to reach water where back casts are a bit too cramped for single-handers.

Klamathclassic1The most popular and productive flies for swinging continue to be dark classic wets. Silver Hiltons, Skunks, Mossbacks, or homespun designs in similar colors are the most consistent producers, while Brindle Bugs and Burlaps make for a nice change of pace and serve as follow-up flies for fish that have already been moved. When the fish are looking up, a skated caddis or Muddler can also get their attention. Flies on floating lines are best attached to 2X or 3X tapered leaders about the same length or slightly long than the rod in use.  (See our recent post on Fall Flies)

Some anglers fish flies that have produced on other classic steelhead waters, but are a bit too big for the Klamath. Flies in hook sizes 6-10 will often elicit the most grabs here. Bigger flies, dark leeches two to four inches long, fished on sinking lines, may not get grabbed as often (fewer half-pounders play), but may be more effective in getting the larger specimens to chase. Big flies are most commonly used with sink tips, with three to five feet of tippet connecting the fly to the tip, and are most easily cast with two-handed rods. Again, the bounty and diversity of Klamath River steelhead allow anglers to choose the game they most enjoy playing and still stand better than a fair chance of success.

Mark with the trophy of the tripTechniques and Tactics

The vast majority of fly fishers pursue steelhead on the upper Klamath from drift boats and rafts. Most often, the person on the oars slows the boat, while anglers side drift flies suspended under indicators down a run. When the tailout or end of the run is reached, the boat can be rowed back up an eddy and additional drifts down the run can be made. This is a commonly used tactic on trout tailwaters and is a highly efficient way on the Klamath to cover lots of water and locate lanes that are holding steelhead.

In the early part of the fall, when the chinook salmon are numerous, steelhead are not at all difficult to locate. They will reliably hold in the deep water and pockets downstream from the salmon and feast on the eggs that salmon drop, along with the bugs they dislodge from the substrate. During this time, anchoring the boat or wading to these areas is a popular strategy. Particular care should be taken to avoid anchoring or wading on the nests of eggs, or “redds,” the salmon are building to produce their young.

An interesting and exciting minor tactic during the salmon spawn is a variation on tight-line nymphing. Anglers cast indicators, quartering them upstream toward shore from the boat, but downstream of spawning salmon. Rather than attempting a drag-free drift, the angler keeps the fly line taught or perhaps mends it with a slight downstream arc, so the flies are moving ever so slightly faster than the current, keeping them from snagging the bottom. Takes are seldom subtle, and most often, as with swung flies, setting the hook is not required.

Wading anglers are increasingly discovering the joys of steelheading on the Klamath. Anglers are able to drive or boat to likely runs and wade into a position that allows them to cover as much quality holding water as possible. Anglers who are nymphing will prospect the lanes closest to the near shore, wading deeper and working their casts through successive lanes toward the far shore, adjusting the depth of their offerings as needed. Attaining the longest drag-free drifts possible is necessary, but it is also important to manage the line in a manner that enables the angler to detect a strike and set the hook quickly. Allowing the flies to swing up at the end of the drift will get a surprising number of fish to grab.

Wading anglers who prefer to swing flies often find themselves searching the same likely runs as nymphers, but they cover the water differently. They cast their flies toward the far bank and swing them back to the near shore, increasing the length of line and arc of each successive cast. Once the maximum casting distance desired is reached, swingers can take a step or two downstream, covering the run from top to bottom.

On guided trips, I often ask guests what techniques most interest them, and we mix them up. We drift indicators through the long, deep runs and glides, tight-line nymph shorelines, and then anchor the boat or step out to wade and swing flies in tailouts, runs, and riffles with switch rods. Most often, all the techniques will find fish.

Whitney-&-Barb-on-raftTiming Your Trip

Almost every fly fisher I have met hopes to catch lots of fish, and big ones, too. I have already suggested that the Klamath may not be the best place to seek trophies, but with perhaps the strongest runs of wild fish in California, it is ideal for the angler looking for some steelhead action.

Early in the fall season, during October and early November, fair-weather trout anglers looking to extend their season and explore steelheading will find the most comfortable weather conditions, along with the warmest water conditions, which helps keep the fish active. As mentioned earlier, most of the early arrivals are troutlike half-pounders, which provide a great deal of action and are ideal for those new to the sport. Unfortunately, these early arrivals also coincide with the end of the very popular fall chinook salmon fishing season and the corresponding aluminum hatch.

Late in November, as the fall progresses, the larger fish move in, but so does the winter weather, which along with dropping water temperatures can temper the bite, particularly for the half-pounders. If the goal is to seek out the larger fish and avoid the half-pounders and salmon anglers, though, later can be better.

Sometime late in December, winter weather and cold water temperatures set in for good. The fish remain, but require winter tactics to entice a bite.  December is also the time that the constant flows from Irongate Dam can be disrupted by flooding and blow out the fishing, though these events are quite rare. (Also check out our post on fishing the Klamath in Winter)

Klamath River Access

The upper Klamath River provides ample access for both wade fisherman and boaters. There are over a dozen established launch sites from Irongate Dam downstream to Happy Camp, though many are rough affairs best suited for high-clearance four-wheel-drive vehicles. One of the easiest and most popular drifts is from the fish hatchery below the dam five miles down to Klamathon Bridge, (also called Copco Ager Bridge), or as an alternative, another three miles down to the Interstate 5 bridge.

Drifting the Klamath should not be taken lightly. There are numerous Class III and Class IV rapids downstream of Intestate 5, along with a great deal of structure that is not easy to see or read. Several boaters accustomed to drifting the lower Sacramento, Trinity, or Yuba have been spooked or worse when encountering these challenges.

Wading anglers will find little public access above the Interstate 5 bridge, but considerable access below, because Highway 96 parallels the river. A secondary road also follows the river on the opposite bank, from Ash Creek about 25 miles down to the community of Horse Creek. The Klamath River map published by Streamtime (available at most Flyshops and on-line at can be a handy tool to find some of the launch sites and access points.

The Klamath River remains one of the few rivers in the state of California with reasonably healthy runs of salmonids and provides perhaps the best opportunity to avoid the steelhead skunk. Though the runs are just a shadow of their historical abundance, the upper river flows through Siskiyou County, which is the size of Connecticut, but has a population of just over 40,000, so it doesn’t have the development pressure other steelhead rivers have suffered. The river is not without its challenges, which the largest freshwater fish kill in U.S. history in September 2002 demonstrated.

CalTrout, Trout Unlimited, the Federation of Fly Fishers, and the Nature Conservancy, along with many other stakeholders, were pivotal in discussions to bring about a historic agreement and remove dams from the Klamath, beginning in 2020. We can only hope the fish will hang on long enough to realize the benefit of this. The Nature Conservancy has recently purchased property with prime spawning habitat on the Shasta River in hopes of restoring this important nursery and is negotiating water-use practices with landholders in an attempt to keep cold, clean water in the Scott and Shasta Rivers, which serve as important spawning and rearing habitat for steelhead and salmon. We support these organizations and their work with this watershed in every way possible. We hope that you will take the opportunity to contribute in a meaningful way, as well, so that our children and theirs might enjoy the bounty and beauty that the Klamath River provides.

Five Favorite Flies for Fall in Northern California

Klamath102105.03First published in California Fly Fisher Magazine, October 2011

As I sit on the bank of the South Fork Snake River on a warm breezy summer Idaho day, it is a bit difficult to imagine a time this fall, just a whisper away, when I will view my breath forming in front of my face in the canyon of the McCloud as I cast an October Caddis dry to a visible rise, or expectantly swing a Muddler across a promising glide for illusive steelhead on the Klamath. The leaves will have turned golden or a brilliant red along with the elephant ears on the local freestones and columns of geese will form long lazy V’s overhead on their way to warmer climes.

Summer fish on the Snake River this week have been feeding as if they were teenagers devouring a pizza. Fall trout and steelhead in the streams in the shadow of Shasta are often more discerning, acting as if they are fine diners at a fancy restaurant, enjoying a bit of reflection before they sample their next morsel.  They’ll rise only to bump the fly as if to say, “send it back it’s not quite well done enough.”

Choosing a fly in fall may be a more important factor than in any other season.  Gone is the greedy feast of spring and summer.  Gone is the high off colored water to help disguise your approach, sloppy cast and inaccurate patterns.  Hopefully we’ve enjoyed the spring and summer months and taken the opportunity to refine our technique and tactics as fall is the time to put it all to use.  While proper presentation remains paramount, by the time fall arrives trout have seen it all, and they will more frequently refuse a fake.  The first runs of steelhead also arrive in our Northstate rivers having run a gauntlet of flies on their journey from the coast, so offering a unique pattern that still stimulates a grab can often be the difference between a satisfying and disappointing outing.

Nearly fifty fall seasons have passed since I first cast a fly and my fly selection has matured over the years.  I now take some time to sort out my summer seasonal flies and replace them with fall favorites, five of which I will review.  The flies I most often employ are similar to those others use but often feature a little tweak or technique that sets them apart. I hope to share not only why I selected these flies but how I most enjoy fishing them and hopefully stimulate your thinking about the flies you fish to help maximize your fall fly fishing pleasure.

MorrishcaddisOctober Caddis Dry
The October Caddis is the most anticipated hatch in the fall in Northern California.  The bugs are large, size eight on most rivers, and provide the last big meal before winter sets in on local trout streams.  They also can be used to draw strikes from Steelhead who perhaps recall feasting on these morsels before migrating to feed on even larger fare in the salt.

For most every season, until recently, I relied on a Sofa Pillow as my go to dry fly to represent the October Caddis.  This was a pattern in a similar style but predating Kaufman’s now much more popular Stimulator.  The Sofa Pillow is typically a bit more heavily hackled and traditionally was tied in a rusty/brown orange color, rather than the rainbow of colors now offered in the Stimi.  Both the Sofa Pillow, which I still carry, and the Stimulator manage to catch a significant number of fish in the fall as October Caddis dry imitations.

I have recently switched to a new favorite, Ken Morrish’s October Caddis imitation for a very simple reason, I catch more fish.  It is a no fuss pattern that employs an extended foam body that floats high like a cork and a heavily hackled forward portion that allows skilled anglers to bump, skitter, skate and dance the fly across the river much like the naturals.

Many anglers have described their frustration to me in their efforts to get trout to eat a dry offering during the October Caddis hatch.  While Kenny’s pattern has increased my success, how I fish his pattern has improved it much more. The first important consideration to understand is that many more fish are eating egg laying October Caddis than the hatching winged insects.  The bugs most often crawl to the shallow, still margins of the river to pupate and hatch which is not often were trout hold to feed.

If you observe the egg layers you might notice that they most often dip and dive to the surface to drop their eggs, only becoming available for a few split seconds before taking off to dip and dive again.  As they tire they sometimes stick to the surface for a longer period but rarely attain the long still drift of a mayfly through a glide as it dries its wings in preparation for take off.  Most anglers however, cast their October Caddis dries as if they are fishing a mayfly hatch, with long drag free drifts through classic runs.  They will also cast well upstream from fish they observe rising, presumably to avoid spooking the fish and also to perhaps adjust the alignment of their drift.  This technique will at times catch fish, as well as some large ones, but rarely many.

While, like others, I can not resist offering my October Caddis to fish in the heart of these classic runs that produce so well during a may fly hatch, I will rarely post up in the run as I do for a mayfly hatch and fish to rising trout until they no longer show.  Occasionally I will use a caddis dry as an spotter fly to fish to rises with a dropper when the light does not allow me to see my tiny dry, soft hackle or mayfly emerger alone. Most often if I am fishing a run like this with an October Caddis, I am using it as an indicator fly in a “Hopper, copper, dropper” rig to stealthily nymph the run and am pleasantly surprised when a nice fish eats my caddis “hopper bobber” fly.

To rig a Hopper, copper, dropper, I typically keep the leader short, six to seven feet to 4X with the first bead head dropper (often a pattern with a wire body like Copper Johns and Iron Sallies), tied with twenty to thirty inches of 4X off the bend of the dry fly hook.  The second dropper is tied with nine to fifteen inches of 5X off the bend of the first dropper.  I will fish the shortest leader and tippet lengths possible to acquire the depth and manage the stealth I am after, as I find it much easier to cast and avoid tangles.   I will also cast the shortest line possible while trying to keep an open loop.  I enjoy more success when I  move my feet and constantly adjust my position to get as close as possible to the fish rather than lengthening my line to cast with my feet planted.

Which brings me back to the point that the best dry fly water for fishing October Caddis dries is probably not the same run you enjoyed a magical summer evening casting tiny dries to sippers during a mayfly hatch.   Short, choppy, broken up runs and pocket water is the water I most often target when fishing October Caddis dries.  I prefer to I stay on the move, casting to likely holding spots rather than looking for risers.  If I do see a fish rise, I try to hit them on the head, just a foot or two upstream from the riseform.  The fly landing on the water is what most often triggers the strike.  Because the egg laying adults touch and go, fish learn to strike when the bug first lands and ignore bugs that are far from their lie as the bug likely will fly off before drifting within range.  After my fly drifts four to six feet or at the most eight, I will usually recast, again trying to land the fly on the spot where I believe a fish is holding rather than dead drifting it down to the fish’s suspected lie.

For fishing broken water like this,  I most prefer to fish the October Caddis dry alone on a seven and a half foot 4X or 5X leader. This allows me to bump the fly when it enters the prime zone to help it look alive as well as skitter and skate it to illicit strikes. If the action is slower than I can stand, I will then add a small tungsten bead nymph dropper twenty inches or so off the bend.  The beadhead droppers I most often fish are Pheasant Tails, Birdsnests, Hogan’s S&M’s, Two Bit Hookers, Morrish’s Iron Sallies, Copper John’s, and my favorite fall beadhead nymph, Mike Mercer’s Micromayfly which I’ll discuss next.

Before I detail the Micromay I would like to mention that the October Caddis has served well on occasions for early run steelhead, particularly when the fish have arrived in low clear water.  I will nymph as described above but will also use this dropper system to cast to sighted fish New Zealand style, with a partner keeping an eye on the movements of the steelhead and coach the angler who casts and presents the offering.  A small weighted glow bug or Pettis Egg pattern dropped below a caddis dry when cast to Steelhead holding downstream from Salmon can be very productive in the right conditions.  This can be one of the most exciting ways to fish and can get even more stimulating when an adult Steelhead decides to rise to eat the dry!

MercermicromayMicromay Nymph
While I carry and use Mike Mercer’s top producing nymph, the Micromayfly, all year round, this pattern really comes into it’s own in the fall.  Autumn is the time of year that Blue Wing Olive Mayflies take center stage and this nymph is one of the better imitations. Perhaps more importantly the oversized beadhead allows it to sink faster to the point where the trout most often feed.

I carry Micromays in sizes fourteen to eighteen in olive, brown and black, with the small olives getting the most action in the fall.  As I mentioned previously, it is one of my favorite flies fished as a dropper off a dry, and particularly as the last fly in a hopper, copper, dropper rig.  I will nymph extensively with it in a two fly rig both with and without indicators on most all rivers that hold trout in the Northstate.  It has accounted for some surprisingly large fish, including the largest trout on the Lower Sac I have ever seen, a fish in excess of ten pounds that ate a size sixteen fly!

I will also fish Micromays for steelhead on nymph rigs, particularly when fish are holding in deep slow crystal clear runs and have become highly selective or even stale. This has more than once saved the day.  For these patterns I prefer to tie them on a size fourteen or sixteen hook that is 4X strong, a Mustad R90, to prevent the hook from opening and losing a hard earned fish.  For both steelhead and trout I allow this fly to swing up at the end of a dead drift and then give it a few twitching retrieves to beg a dance when no other approach seems to turn the trick.

Gordonprince1Prince Nymph
The Prince Nymph is another versatile nymph pattern that has its place in my trout box year round and my steelhead box in season.  I carry it in sizes eight to eighteen with beads and sizes ten to sixteen without.  I have come to prefer Fred Gordon’s version that has amber colored biots for the tail and wings.  It is a bit more subdued than the standard white wing versions and the fish seem to appreciate this aesthetic.  Fred is a local artist, fellow guide, great guy, and good friend which also gives me a good feeling about fishing it.

If there is such a thing as an attractor nymph, this pattern for me would be it.  It does a good job of imitating a fair number of underwater critters that fish like to eat though no one critter in particular.  In fall, fish might take it for an October Caddis case or Isonychia Mayfly in large sizes, immature stoneflies or caddis in medium to small sizes as well as mayflies in tiny sizes.  Or perhaps they just mistake it for a snack, a chip, cracker or cookie that looks tasty?

On nymphing rigs for trout, a Prince Nymph most commonly finds it’s place as the upper fly in a two fly rig with a smaller beadhead nymph such as a PT, Birdsnest, Micromay or the like below.  I most often dead drift it with and without indicators but will let the fly lift up at the end of the drift and retrieve it in shorts strips to mimic swimming insects before recasting.

When nymphing for steelhead, most local’s standard rig is “legs and eggs,” rubberleg patterns and glow bugs.  Most often for me if I decide to take off the rubberleg or egg, it will be replaced with a Prince Nymph. I have found that a surprising number of fish will eat this fly as it lifts and swings at the end of the drift.  This has become so effective at times that I on occasion swing a Prince style wet fly with switch rods. As I mentioned in discussing the Micromayfly I will tie this pattern on a heavy hook.   I discovered the hard way that a size eight or ten Prince Nymph tied on a 2X strong hook will bend open under the pressure of a good sized steelhead so now I  prefer them tied on steelhead grade hooks to avoid suffering the same fate.

Klamathclassic2Klamathclassic1Klamath Classic
My standard swing fly in the fall is a classic wet.  There are too many flies that fit this description to count as folks have been fishing them on the west coast for as long as they have been fly fishing for steelhead.  Some of the standards include the Silver Hilton, Skunk, Green Butt Skunk, Purple Peril and some folk’s new favorite, the Paris Hilton.

The pattern that I now use most was inspired by Dec Hogan.  I read Dec’s book “A Passion for Steelhead” and met him and visited when he returned home to the Northstate to present a program to the Shasta Trinity Fly Fishers, a Redding fly fishing club.  In a chapter on flies he describes his favorite summer fly he calls the “ No Name Summer Fly.”

Dec explains that while the ingredients for his recipe remain similar for each no name fly, each fly will be unique, a bit different from the previous version.  The fly will most often have a tail, body of dubbing or chenille, some ribbing, a hair or feather wing, a hackle and thread head.  The materials and colors used are up to the creativity of the tier.

This concept has created a renaissance in my tying.  I began tying early in my fly fishing career and actually sold some of my creations while in my early teens. Recently as a guide I would tie flies for myself, my family as well as guests that I could not find at the fly shop.  While we enjoyed fishing the flies, tying them becomes a chore.  The task most often involves tying as many well made flies as quickly as possible so I might turn in and get some sleep before getting an early start guiding the following day.  I now enjoy tying steelhead flies and in particular, my Klamath Classic, unique flies named after the river I fish for steelhead most frequently.

I tie the fly on steelhead hooks sized four to ten that include a tail, perhaps a tag, a body of dubbing, herl, floss, or chenille, a hair or feather wing, a few turns of hackle, a thread head and if I really like the way the fly turned out, I might even include jungle cock eyes.  I often tie a fly with an overall objective, say a big bright fly or small drab fly, or find a material new to me and design a fly to incorporate it.  While the steelhead may not fully appreciate the aesthetics, enough of them usually do that the added creative aspect makes my fishing more enjoyable.

The preferred method is to fish these flies a bit below the surface with a dry fly line, long leader and cast them quartered downstream swinging them across likely steelhead holding water.  As fall progresses and water temps drop into the low fifties and forties, fish often become more reluctant to move up to eat a fly and we’ll employ light sink tips to run flies deeper in the water column.  I most often fish as far upstream on the Klamath and Southern Oregon steelhead streams as steelhead can travel so they have seen a number of fisherman and their flies on their journey.   While the techniques I use are the same as many of these anglers, the fly I use is unique, sparking what I hope is a bit of curiosity to entice a grab.  If not, at least I am casting a fly I enjoyed tying.

Morrishcaddis_1Muddler Minnow
If there is something more exciting in our sport than seeing an adult steelhead take a dry from the surface I have yet to experience it.  I feel very fortunate that in our part of the world the annual cycle brings us the magical, illusive steelhead, and in late summer and early fall, some of them are willing to rise to a waked or skated fly.

When conditions allow, skating, chugging and waking a dry steelhead fly is the most exciting fishing for me. Fish are willing to take flies on the surface in temperatures from the low fifties through the mid sixties, with water clarity good enough for the fish to readily see the surface.  The fly is attached to a floating line and long leader, ten to fifteen feet tapered to six or eight pound test and cast across and downstream, how much across and how much downstream is dependent on the current speed.  This is an ideal technique for those new to swinging flies for steelhead as the swing is so visual, allowing anglers to understand quickly how the angle of the cast and mending of the line affects the speed of the swing.  I prefer two handed rods and have been fishing switch rods in this style since the eighties. I cast them both one and two handed overhead as well as spey style.

The goal is to cover as much water as efficiently as possible to find a player.  If a fish rises but isn’t hooked, I’ll give them another cast or two and then switch to a smaller dry.  If that fails, I’ll switch to a small Klamath Classic, and then a larger Klamath Classic, making a couple casts with each.  I might add a sink tip and make a couple more casts with the large Classic or go back to the original fly that drew the rise and make a few more casts before continuing to move downstream through the run. On the second time through I will flick my rod tip causing the fly to pop or chug much like a bass popper to try and tease the fish into striking.  If this fails, I’ll mark the spot and return in my next fishing session hoping the fish is in a more playful mood.

My Muddler fishing is not limited to steelhead in summer and fall.  Trout in our local freestones, the Upper Sacramento River, Pit River, and particularly the McCloud River will eat streamers and the Muddler has a place in my streamer box.  I have found that Kelly Galloup’s version he calls the “Zoo Cougar’ to be particularly attractive to large Brown Trout on the McCloud.  It is my go to fly particularly in any situation when a weighted streamer will hang on the bottom.  I fish it attached to a fast sinking tip with a short, three to five foot leader made with OX tied to 2X tippet. I use an open loop knot to allow a bit more movement.  Kelly’s design has more movement than conventional muddlers which adds to the attractiveness.

Swinging the fly through riffs, around structure and through the shallow heads and tailouts of runs will get some impressive fish to grab. I will most often add short strips or tease the rod tip to add some action.  Do keep in mind that a good portion of the trout we catch with other methods will not be in the game as only the larger fish are being targeted when fishing these big bites.  The simple formula that the more water you cover the more fish you catch is doubly true with this method.  This technique gets really exciting in the fall when large Browns can be sighted in the low clear water and you can watch them chase and eat.  Do tie your knots with care!

With the Halloween and Thanksgiving holidays on the horizon I hope the recipes I have offered help provide a bit of magic to your fly fishing feast this fall.

Here are the tying recipes for five flies if you’d care to tie some for yourself or a fellow fly fisher:

Fall Fly Pattern Recipes

MercermicromayMike Mercer’s Micro May
Hook:  Tiemco 3769 sizes 14-18
Bead: Copper Bead, sized a bit larger than normal
Thread:  Uni Thread 8/0 color to match fly
Tail: Ringneck Pheasant fibers, color to match fly
Abdomen: Stripped Peacock Herl
Ribbing: Small wire, silver or copper to compliment fly color
Wing Case: Turkey Tail
Wing Case Strip: Pearl Flashabou
Thorax: Dubbing to match fly color (Brown, Olive, Black)
Legs: Ringneck Pheasant fibers, color to match fly
Collar: Dubbing to match fly color

Morrishcaddis_1Muddler Minnow
Hook:  Tiemco 5262 or 300 sizes 2-10
Thread: Uni Thread 6/0 color to match fly
Tail: Mottled Turkey
Body: Gold Tinsel or Diamond Braid
Rib: Gold Oval Tinsel (optional)
Wing: Mottled Turkey over Natural color Squirrel
Head: Spun Deer clipped to cone shape with some tips facing back to hookbend

Zoo Cougar (Kelly Galloup’s Muddler style streamer)
Hook:  Tiemco 5262 or 300 sizes 2-10
Thread: Uni Thread 6/0 color to match fly
Tail: Marabou, color to match fly
Body: Diamond Braid, color to match fly
Wing: Mallard Flack over calf tail
Head: Spun Deer clipped to cone shape with some tips facing back to hookbend

Gordonprince1Prince Nymph
Hook: Tiemco 3761 sized 8-18
Bead: Gold (Copper for Gordon Prince)
Thread: Uni Thread Black 6/0 or 8/0 in small sizes
Tail: Brown Turkey or Goose Biots (Amber for Gordon Prince)
Underbody: Black Dubbing
Body: Peacock Herl
Rib: Fine Gold Tinsel
Legs: Brown Hackle
Wing: White Turkey or Goose Biots (Amber for Gordon Prince)

MorrishcaddisMorrish October Caddis
Hook: Size 8 Tiemco 100
Thread: Uni Thread 6/0 Black
Body: 2mm Orange Foam
Rib: Black Thread
Wing: Stacked Elk Hair
Nose: 2mm Tan Foam
Legs:  Brown Hackle, clipped on bottom thorax style


Klamathclassic2Klamath Classic Steelhead Wet Fly
Hook: Tiemco 7999 or 202sp
Threaad: Uni Thread 6/0 color to match or compliment fly
Tail: Hackle Fibers or Pheasant Crescent Feather
Body: Chenille or Dubbing, color of choice
Rib: Tinsel, color of choice
Hackle: Rooster or Hen Neck or Duck Flank feather wound
Wing: Paired Rooster or Hen neck Feather, or Polar Bear substitute, color of choice

Shasta Trout hosted trip to Oregon, Idaho & Montana

IMGP1829Oregon, Idaho and Montana,

July 15-28th

Shasta Trout owner and guide Craig Nielsen hosted a trip to Oregon, Idaho & Montana with Jason, a longtime family friend and fishing partner.  The trip covered two weeks and ten rivers : the Owyhee, SF Snake, Lamar, Soda Butte, Slough Creek, Ruby, Bighole, Rock Creek,Lochsa and Selway, as well as over 2,000 miles on the road.  A few of the rivers we knew a bit about, a couple others we had never fished.  It rained all eight days we spent in Montana, something we hope we will soon see to help quench the drought here in Northern California.  Unfortunately the rain blew out some of the rivers we had planned to visit but we were able to enjoy beautiful places and find fair to good fishing despite the conditions.  In fact the fishing in Oregon and Idaho on the way out and back was exceptional.  We hope to visit again soon.  Here are some pics of the highlights:

The fish of the trip, Owyhee River

SF Snake, Idaho: IMGP1753IMGP1758IMGP1756IMGP1761P1030557

Slough Creek, Yellowstone National Park: IMGP1762IMGP1774IMGP1769

Big Hole & Ruby Rivers, Montana: IMGP1752IMGP1784IMGP1780

Rock Creek, Montana:  IMGP1791IMGP1817IMGP1787IMGP1806

Lochsa & Selway, Idaho:  IMGP1821IMGP1825IMGP1823IMGP1842

Owyhee River, Oregon: IMGP1828P1030580IMGP1833P1030587P1030590

Dining in Mount Shasta


Dining in the Shadow of Shasta

First published in California Fly Fisher Magazine July 2014

I first began visiting Mount Shasta to fish, camp, hike, climb, boat and snow ski nearly forty years ago and can still remember a magical evening sitting on a restaurant patio enjoying a meal and drink as the sun set, creating alpine glow on The Mountain.  This evening and several others similar to it got my wife and I started thinking about moving to the area.  It has been seventeen years ago now since we made the move and we still enjoy having a fine meal while watching a magical sunset on the mountain that leaves us in awe.  One of the few things that we do miss has been some of the dining options that our home in Chico offered.

The city of Mt. Shasta is a charming small community at the foot of Mt. Shasta with exits off I5 about an hour south of the Oregon border.  Small towns often have limited dining options but Mt. Shasta has more choices than most its size as it serves as a playground and tourist destination for skiers, hikers, climbers, cyclists, whitewater boaters, and fly fishers.  Summer temperatures are typically ten to twenty degrees cooler than the Central Valley to the south and the Medford Valley to the north, making it popular as a basecamp for folks vacationing and pursuing adventure in the shadow of Shasta.

Mt. Shasta is also a mecca for flyfishers who are able to head most any direction and within an hour (sometimes within minutes) find perhaps the finest year round angling for trout and steelhead in the state.  Fabled Rivers include the Upper and Lower McCloud, the Upper and Lower Sacramento, the Klamath, Pit and Fall Rivers as well as Hat Creek.  If stillwaters are more your game then check out Lake Siskiyou, which is a sleeper for trout and smallmouth without leaving town, while Castle, Gumboot and Mumbo lakes are a short drive through some incredible scenery.  If you are willing to walk you’ll find countless high lakes, tributaries and little creeks with hungry trout that see very few anglers each season.  Destinations a bit over an hour drive but within day trip range include Baum Lake, Medicine Lake, Ahjumawi Springs, Eastman, Manzanita Lake, and just over the border in Oregon, Klamath Lake, the Williamson and the Rogue Rivers.  There is more water than anyone could possibly fish in a lifetime let alone during a visit to the area.

While Mount Shasta doesn’t offer the number or variety of eateries that larger communities such as our home in Chico typically provide, there are still some quality options. In the time we have lived here we have sampled most of the fare offered in local restaurants with family and friends, while witnessing many restaurants come and go.  This small mountain village took the recent downturn in the economy hard and several of our favorite restaurants closed but a couple new ones have recently opened that we now enjoy regularly.

Several restaurants I visited prior to moving to town have retained their charm and are popular with tourists and locals alike.  A few restaurants since I moved to town have changed their operations with a new look or new location. Some new restaurants have opened recently and have become instant favorites. I’ll review the old standbys first, then those featuring a new look, concluding with those that most recently opened their doors.

BW6H7030Old Favorites:
Black Bear Diner:
The Black Bear features classic diner fare and has been successful to the tune of 63 franchised locations. Bruce Dean and Bob Manley opened in 1995 in this original location (and still the best?) in Mt. Shasta just off Interstate 5.  They feature fresh ingredients, friendly service and huge portions.  You can get your bacon and eggs cooked the way you like them as early as 5:30 am but plan on drip coffee, you’ll have to go elsewhere for your double latte.   Open everyday until 10 pm, Friday and Saturdays until 10:30, so you can grab a bite long after your drive back from an evening hatch session on the Lower McCloud.  For dinner I favor their simple offerings, a burger and fries or chef salad, while my wife Jerri prefers their classic comfort food like old fashioned meatloaf, pot roast, chicken pot pies, or their liver and onions cooked the way her mother use to make it. I’ll sometimes opt for a sirloin steak and baked potato and would normally order a glass of red wine or a beer but they do not serve alcohol. When the blackberries are in season we’ll share an old fashioned milkshake for desert. Meals run $9 to $19 with beverage extra.  We’ll often wait for a booth to open to enjoy a view of The Mountain. 5:30 am to 10:00pm, Fridays and Saturdays until 10:30, 401 W. Lake Street.  530-926-4669

Casa Ramos
Another local franchise, Casa Ramos, was opened in 1997 by Yreka local Marco Ramos who now has 13 franchised locations in Northern California.   The restaurant features a full bar and in summer an outside patio with a sunset view.  This is a popular place for groups so can get crowded during peak season but the service is quick and tables turn fast.  They offer standard Mexican fare, fajitas, burritos, enchiladas, and combinations but the “Mexican Favorites”, Ramos family recipes, are the real deal. Try the Molcajete, sautéed chicken and beef strips with vegetables in an outstanding spicy sauce that can be eaten like stew or fajita style with tortillas, avocado and sourcream.  Their Carnitas Uruapan a marinated pork dish is another favorite.  Portions are sizable so try not to fill up on the complimentary all you can eat chips and salsa with your beer or margarita. Open for lunch and dinner 11am to 9:30pm, Fridays and Saturdays until 10:30, meals are typically $8 to $18 dollars plus bevy.  They are located on the south end of town on the main drag, 1136 South Mount Shasta Blvd. 530-926-0250.

Mike and Tony’s
Not destined to franchise, this local favorite has been serving Italian American family style dinners since 1945.  Their offerings are served family style in courses beginning with their homemade minestrone and antipasto plate, followed my entrees including a variety of pastas, veal, steaks and seafood.  Our favorites include Veal Piccata, Eggplant Parmesan or the Stuffed Portabello Mushroom.  Entrees are also served ala carte.  $11-$22.  Mike and Tony’s features a full bar, with modest wine and beer offerings.  Open 5-9pm Mondays and Thursdays, ‘til 10 Friday and Saturday, Sunday 9am to 2pm, closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays.  501 Mt. Shasta Blvd.  530-926-4792.

BW6H3625Favorites revisited
The Goat Tavern
Opening in fall of 2006 and located at the “Y” in downtown Mount Shasta where a number of restaurants have come and gone, this is our favorite local dining option.  They advertise “The Goat” as a “Watering hole for Bohemians, Mountaineers, Fishermen, Skiers, Snowboarders, Rich Weekend Bikers with no felonies (Misdemeanors Overlooked), and Chimney Sweeps.  You should fit right in.”  Not everyone does but we do, and locals pack the place nightly with patio seating open from the end of March until mid October.  In winter inside seating is very limited so it’s best to arrive early and stay late to catch up on the local gossip, including the skinny on the area’s fishing from the guides and fly fishers who have bellied up to trade lies with the friendly and entertaining bar staff.  Bill Truby, also owner of the Trinity Café has created a menu he describes as upscale pub grub, finger foods, salads, sandwiches, burgers and specials.  Our favorites include “Possibly the best burger in the world,” (a kobe beef burger), grilled portabella and pulled pork BBQ sandwiches, fish tacos and a grilled chicken spinach salad.  They often have specials including grilled steak or seafood.  Specials and sandwiches come with a salad, fries or onion rings (with chipolte mayo) priced at $8-$16  A dozen taps to choose from along with a small but adequate wine list.  Everyday 11-9.  107 Chestnut Street, 530-926-0209

Trinity Cafe
Originally opened by chef Brett LaMott, this local bistro has for years been the best choice in Mt. Shasta for fine dining.  Brett purchased Cafe Maddelenna in Dunsmuir and his assistant chef Billy Truby  has been largely able to preserve the Trinity’s reputation for service and exceptional dining. The Trinity is the only restaurant in town featuring white tablecloths but in this mountain town you can comfortably dine in your fishing clothes, though you may want to take off your hat and part your hair, provided you are not still fishing in cutoffs and Converse tennis shoes.

The setting is intimate but seating is limited so it’s best to make a reservation particularly in peak season. Menus change weekly.  The Trinity is located on the north end of the downtown area and can be a bit tricky to find, particularly with cars parked in front of their sign.  They are one block north of the Alma street stop light (one of only three in town).  Appetizers typically run $7 to $15, entrees $17 to $28 and do not include a salad or side.  Beer and the most extensive wine list in town. Wednesday through Saturday from 5 until 9:00. Reservations are recommended. 622 North Mount Shasta Blvd. 530-926-6200

Wayside Grill
Formerly named the Wayside Inn, the Grill has had a complete renovation and reopened in the summer of ’07.   If you have a group and want to party this is the place!  They have plenty of room for dancing with a jukebox and weekly live music, a fireplace, shuffleboard and big screen televisions.  They also feature a full bar, wine and a dozen beers on tap. Also known locally as a likely locale to pick up a DUI, be certain to have a designated driver to avoid arriving on vacation and leaving on probation. Their menu offers something for nearly everyone, including finger foods, pizzas, burgers, salads, seafood, southwest specialties and steaks and ribs.  Our favorites include brick oven pizzas, fish tacos, salmon salad and their award winning lobster bisque.  Lunch, Wednesday through Sunday 11am – 2pm.  Dinner is served from 4-9 pm, Fridays and Saturdays until 10pm., $8-$18. They have a great patio to catch the sunset.  2217 South Mt. Shasta Blvd. They are on the far end of town just before highway 89, turn left just as the I5 overpass comes into view.  530-918-9234

A long time Natural Foods Grocery, Berryvale opened a deli style café a few years back.  They feature great Soups, Wraps, Salads & Sandwiches and vegitarian options. We will on occasional opt to stop in the morning on the way to the river for an Espresso, muffin, pastry or quiche. Everyday 8:30 am – 7:00 pm (grill closes at 4:00), 305 S. Mt. Shasta Blvd. 530-926-3536

Poncho & Lefkowitz
Opening in 1992 as a Taco Wagon, Poncho’s moved downtown to become a full service Mexican Restaurant and Blues Bar.  They have returned to their roots and reopened as a grab and go Taco Wagon with Burritos, Tacos, Tostadas, Tamales, Sausages & Hot Dogs. My favorites include the plain rice & bean burrito, and the Big Kahuna that features chicken and pineapple.  They have an outside patio with an awesome view of the mountain with no need to change out of your waders and boots to order or eat.  Tuesday through Saturday 11-4.  401 S. Mount Shasta Blvd.  530-926-1505

Fall River FeastNew Favorites
Mount Shasta Pastry
Chef Steve Hector opened this breakfast and lunch Bistro so that he could follow his passion to create world class pastries and after a recent visit to Europe where we sought out the finest bakeries to sample their pastries every day, my wife and I agree he has succeeded.  Steve’s Bear claws and Almond Croissants are as good as any we have enjoyed anywhere!  Besides pastries, breakfast also includes outstanding Oatmeal, egg dishes, Frittatas, Breakfast Burritos, French Toast, a couple scramble options, including my favorite the California with three eggs, mushrooms, avocado, spinach and cheese served with tasty breakfast potatoes.  Try Steve’s quiches, they are out of this world!   Espresso drinks are available but we usually opt for a hot cup of their featured Pete’s Coffee.  Lunch offerings included Croissant or Focaccia Sandwiches, Wraps, Salads, bakery items, quiche and fabulous fresh made soups. $2-$12,  open daily 7am-2pm.  610 South Mt. Shasta Blvd, 530-926-9944.

Phuket Thai Cafe
Thai cuisine is a favorite in our household and we typically indulge at least once a week.  Since the new owners have taken over Phuket has become our favorite.  Nothing fancy but good food at much more reasonable prices than the other Thai options in the area.  Lots of room for a large group and rarely a wait to be seated even on the busiest of holidays, service is always friendly but not always the speediest so we most often call in an order to go. $7-$15, Tuesday –Saturday 12pm-9pm, Sundays til 6:30.  1328 South Mt. Shasta Blvd, 530-926-4444.

Some other dining options are available in Dunsmuir about 10 minutes down Interstate 5 from Mt. Shasta but I’ll save those secrets for a future foraging angler piece.