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Fly Fishing on Upper and Lower Sac is outstanding!

IMGP1528March 24th

Fly fishing on the Lower Sacramento and Upper Sacramento Rivers has been outstanding and the Klamath and Trinity still have a few steelhead hanging around for those who want to sneak in their last trip of the season.  We appear to have some much needed spring showers on the way midweek with the forecast calling for clearing over the weekend. River conditions could not be much better with low and clear flows which should make for an exceptional spring and opportunities to take advantage of the best hatches of the year.

jeremylsacphoto3IMGP1524Water conditions on the Lower Sacramento River are ideal with clear, steady flows from Keswick which were bumped slightly on March 20th to 3750 cfs and there are currently no scheduled changes.  Hatches have been good on most days, sparse on others with Pale Morning Duns being the main feast.  There are still a few March Browns, Blue Wing Olives and on and off spring caddis with large Stoneflies and summer caddis starting to show.  Most fish prefer eating the small nymphs but of course our land rate is higher when they eat our large rubberleg patterns as most of the bow’s we’ve seen have been big and hot!

Northern California fly fishing guide Anthony Carruesco hooks up in an emerald Upper Sacramento runUpper Sacramento River Rainbow TroutThe Upper Sac has been mostly a nymphing affair with a Rubberleg or Goldenstone and small nymph combo.  Similar to the Lower Sac, most fish are eating the small Mayfly and Caddis offerings but our land rate on the bigger bug is better, particularly on the largest fish.  Dry fly fishing is just around the corner, we saw our first Salmonfly of the season and the big Mayfly Drakes are on the way as well.  Flows at Delta on the Upper Sacramento River have dropped below 500 cfs, less than a third of the norm and are clear and dropping, which makes access throughout ideal.  Flows upstream are nearly at early summer levels with most crossings open.  We enjoyed several successful Upper Sac trips this week with the vast majority of fish in the teens, real trophies on this river. We hope to find that illusive twenty incher in our net soon as this is the time of year we get a shot at the biggest fish in the river while enjoying some solitude, as there are few if any other anglers around.

The Pit River had been fishing well until some work began on Pit 3 and flows have blown it out.  Work is scheduled to be completed on May 7th.  Pit 5 has some limited access providing good opportunities for hearty souls.

DSCF3907Steelhead fishing on the Trinity has slowed but there are still some fish to be found.  Some of them have been the largest fish of the season, still a week or two to get in your final steelhead trip of the season.

IMGP1505IMGP1517steveklamathThe Klamath has enjoyed an influx of bright spring fish, both half pounders and small adults from two to four pounds.  Some larger winter fish continue to linger but will be spawning soon.  Nymphing has been best and despite warmer water temps into the fifties, the swing bite has remained surprisingly slow.

With the low flows,  we hope and expect this spring to be the best one we’ve seen in several seasons and recommend scheduling your spring dates on our local freestones, the Pit, McCloud and Upper Sacramento River soon!  The Upper Sac and Pit are open year round, McCloud and Fall Rivers as well as Hat Creek open April 26th.  Look for our preseason preview post and newsletter a week or so before the general opener.

IMGP1509Drop us a line if you are headed our way.  We are always pleased to set you up with the finest local guides or send you in a direction you can enjoy on your own.  We hope to see you soon, until then we wish you tight lines and singing reels!

Winter Flies: Five guide recipes for successful fly fishing on Northern California Rivers

Upper Sacramento River Fishing guide finds Winter MagicBelieve it or not, we still have a week of winter left in the Northstate and there is time to get in one last steelhead trip or target some trophy trout.  Here is an article, first published in the January/February 2011 Issue of California Fly Fisher Magazine by Craig Nielsen to help motivate you to get out to give it a go.

I am not a believer in silver bullets when it comes to fly patterns. I currently spend roughly 250 days a year on the water, yet seldom have I found a particular fly pattern to be the sure-bet solution to a fishing problem. Still, some flies work better than others, and perhaps 90 percent of the fish I catch in a typical season come on a dozen essential patterns. The flies I most often use and the recipes that I offer here are not so much patterns per se, but versatile pattern types that can be fished using a variety of methods, both conventional and unconventional, to meet fishing conditions and adapt to fish behavior.

In California, we fish in the winter because we can. Winter conditions, however, often make it difficult to find rivers in prime, fishable shape. Storms come and go, bringing increased flows, discolored water, and muddy or snowbound access. When the opportunity arises, often the window stays open for only a short period, so it is best to be prepared. Days are short and hatches are often compressed, which means winter is not the time to empty you fly box while experimenting with patterns. Having reliable flies and, more importantly, knowing how best to present them in challenging conditions is often the difference between a winter of cold discontent and success.

Soft Hackle PT The PT — Pheasant Tail Nymph

The Pheasant Tail Nymph is a staple in my box year-round. Frank Sawyer’s nymph pattern, originated for chalk streams in England, is incredibly versatile and has stood the test of time. The pattern has been modernized by recent anglers with variations that might include peacock herl, bead heads, curved hook shanks, a variety of modern dubbings, colored wire, and flash materials. That’s why I regard it as a style of fly, not a specific pattern.

I have found most anglers on this part of the planet carry Pheasant Tails for trout streams in a beadhead flashback version in sizes 14 and 16, along with a few who pack a size 18, as well. On occasion, I find a seasoned angler with a few classic nonbeaded, nonflash patterns in his box.

These flies all appear in my winter box, but so does a local favorite tied by Bob Grace at the Ted Fay Fly Shop in Dunsmuir — Bob’s Soft-Hackle PTs in size 14 and 16. I don’t leave home without them, particularly in the winter.

The Pheasant Tail Nymph in all of its incarnations is a reasonably good imitation for nymphs of the Blue-Winged Olive, one of the most prevalent winter hatches on many Northern California streams. It is most commonly dead drifted, either under an indicator or without one. A minor variation of this technique that increases success measurably is the Leisenring Lift, named after its originator in the 1940s, Jim Leisenring. At the end of the drift, hold the rod tip still and allow the fly to lift up with tension off the bottom. In underwater observations, Gary LaFontaine concluded that this lifting action can be so enticing to a feeding trout that the pattern doesn’t matter. Adding tiny strips at the end of the lift and beginning of the retrieve, which mimics the behavior of the emerging insect, can also bring another fish or two to net during the day. A word of warning, however: Care must be taken to not set the hook abruptly, because the line is already tight, and too strong a hook set is likely to break the fish off.

While the PT is a nymphing staple for trout on our local year-round trout streams, the lower Sacramento, upper Sacramento, Feather, and Pit Rivers, I have found it equally effective for steelhead, particularly when the water is low and clear. For steelhead, it is best tied with heavy-gauge hooks. On a number of occasions it has been the go-to fly on the Trinity in the cold, slow, slack water where winter steelhead can be found. The big browns on the Trinity are fond of PTs, as well.

A technique for fishing the PT Nymph for steelhead in the winter that is often overlooked is the classic swing. While a few folks swing leeches, Spey flies, and large streamers for steelhead with conviction, I have seen precious few swinging small nymphs. Particularly during midday, when the Blue-Winged Olives are hatching and especially if a few fish heads are showing, swinging a small wet fly can be surprisingly effective.

Bob Grace’s Soft-Hackle PT attached to a long leader and a floating line and swung greased-line style can be productive, as well. As “Jock Scott” put it in the classic Greased Line Fishing for Salmon, based on the papers of A. H. E. Wood, “The basic idea is to use the line as a float for, and controlling agent of, the fly; to suspend the fly just beneath the surface of the water, and to control its path in such a way that it swims diagonally down and across the stream, entirely free from the slightest pull on the line.” Fishing a greased-line swing involves letting some slack slip through your stripping hand while keeping a slight bit of tension on the line as the fly swings into and across a feeding lane or holding lie. The grab is most often visible and can be wrenching, so take care to tie solid knots.

I recall a magical winter day recently on the Holy Water of the Rogue with rod builder Bob Meiser and Ashland Fly Shop owner Will Johnson when I shared Bob’s Soft-Hackle PT and we swung up some fine fish with light Spey rods. Will ran my fly box empty, coming back for flies again and again as sizable fish headed off with his offerings on a day when the rest of the river was high, muddy, and unfishable. I’ve enjoyed similar success with this technique on the upper and Lower Sacramento, Klamath, Trinity, and Feather Rivers, along with a few small streams that will remain unnamed.

While greased-line fishing can be a pure joy, my favorite winter technique is fishing a hopper, copper, and dropper combination. This rig allows presentations in low, clear water to fish that have become increasingly frightened by anglers with bobbers. The big dry (hopper) I use is actually an October Caddis, while I use the Copper John as a weight to deliver the Soft-Hackle PT to wary trout. I tie the October Caddis to a 4X tapered leader 6 or 7 feet long, with the Copper John 2 feet or so off the bend of the hook, then attach a Soft-Hackle PT a foot off the bend of the Copper John for a total leader length of 9 or 10 feet. At midday, when Olives are hatching and the fishing is best, this rig has been as effective as nymphing with split shot. Trout also seem willing to take the big dry much more often than seems reasonable.

When the hatch is strong and individual risers can be targeted, I lengthen the leader, cut off the droppers, attach the Soft-Hackle PT on a foot or foot and a half of 5X or 6X tippet, and fish it in the film as an emerger or cripple. If the light is poor, I can see the take by using the October Caddis dry as a strike indicator to aid my old, failing eyesight. If the light is better, I tie on a favorite Blue-Winged Olive dry with the Soft-Hackle PT dropper. This fishing can be exciting as well as exacting, with long, accurate casts over thin water to wary trout, but this is also the time of year when some of the biggest fish show, so the rewards can be great.

The Copper John

CopperJohnFrom what many fly-fishing retailers tell me, the Copper John is one of the most popular trout flies in America. I believe that those who fish the Copper John with success do so not because it is an accurate imitation of aquatic invertebrates, but rather because it sinks quickly and stays in the strike zone for a longer period of time than most of the more accurate offerings. The winter, with its limited bug activity, is a time when trout must become less selective and more opportunistic. For these reasons, the Copper John has found a place in my box and on my nymphing rigs in the winter, including in my hopper, copper, and dropper rig, where it serves primarily as the sinker for my “business” point fly.

I must admit that I don’t fish the Copper John much during the regular season, but when nymphing for trout, I most often fish Copper Johns in sizes 14 and 16 as the fly closest to the split shot, with my point fly tied off the bend. For steelhead, particularly in very cold, clear water, I fish the same rig, but more often fish the Copper John as the point fly, hanging it off the bend of a Rubber Legs or egg pattern. Again, for steelhead, you may want to consider tying it on heavy-gauge hooks.

When nymphing for steelhead, a larger version of the fly, up to a size 6 on a curved shank, can be used to good effect. I also carry a Copper John–style pattern with rubber legs that has more than once turned out to be the hot fly, particularly when steelhead turn stubborn and stale. While Copper Johns in brighter colors — red, chartreuse, gold, silver, and the standard copper color — work best for me on active fish, I more often rely on black or sometimes even blue versions to save the day when conditions become the most demanding.

Rubber Legs

RubberlegEven more so than the Pheasant Tail Nymph, I consider the Rubber Legs to be a style of fly, rather than a specific pattern. Most rivers in Northern California have significant populations of Salmon Flies and Golden Stones that have multiyear maturation cycles, making the nymphs that these flies imitate available year-round.

My fly box in the winter contains anywhere from half a dozen to a dozen different versions of this fly in sizes 4 through 10. Some have legs made from rubber, others have legs made from Super Floss. Colors for the legs include black, brown, olive, white, and Golden Stone. My favorite body colors are black, brown, Golden Stone, copper/gold, and black sparkle. I have tested other, more exotic colors with limited success. However, for steelhead, I carry fluorescent orange beadhead versions I call “Hot Heads” that have been particularly effective for larger fish.

Most often, I dead drift these patterns on a nymphing rig in deeper runs and slots where trout and steelhead are known to hold. The strategy is to make the fish’s decision an easy one — stick a big fly with movement right in its face. For this reason, I most often fish a large, weighted Rubber Legs with a nymph or egg pattern tied on the bend as a dropper.

I am searching for fish that are hanging deep in the water column, so I am looking for the fly to be ticking the bottom, but not sticking to it. Adjust the distance from the indicator or add or subtract split shot to achieve the most effective drift. The more intimate I have become with the runs where fish are holding, the more success I have found with this technique and this fly.

I know a few folks who use a Rubber Legs pattern as their principal fly when swinging for steelhead on both single-handed and two-handed rods. I have been schooled by a couple of them on the Dean River in British Columbia, as well as closer to home on the Rogue, Smith, the Klamath, and Trinity Rivers. Their success far outpaced that of all other anglers we encountered who were swinging flies. These guys often skip the classic, broad runs and target less pressured slots, pockets, and tailouts that other fly fishers often overlook. The key is to find fish that are on the move and aggressive, but resting in holding spots, then put a large, heavily weighted fly with movement on their noses. In clear water, these fish sometimes can be sighted, which can be very stimulating, provided you are able to remain composed.

Egg Patterns

GlobugEgg patterns are undeniably one of the most effective patterns for steelhead during the winter in Northern California and may account for more fish than any other imitation. While some embrace them, other fly fishers do not consider egg imitations to be flies at all and refuse to fish them. Although my personal preference is to swing flies for steelhead with two-handed rods, winter steelhead can prove stubborn when offered swung flies, particularly where I most often fish, well upstream from the coast. As a result, I have adopted a few egg patterns that, when attached to a nymphing rig, often entice a grab from a fish long after it first tasted fresh water. Classic Glo Bugs in size 8 through 12 in a variety of shades, including bright and pale orange and pink, have been a staple for as long as I can recall. I have more recently added Pettis’s Surreal Eggs, Fox Fertilizers, Micro Spawns, and weighted Thunder Eggs to the scramble.

I fish egg patterns most often in tandem with Rubber Legs or nymph patterns. When fishing them with nymphs such as the Copper Johns and PTs, I attach the nymphs to the bend of the egg hook, with the egg closest to the weight, and as a result, the egg fishes tight to the bottom of the river. I often swap the placement top-to-bottom when fishing eggs with Rubber Legs, though, finding that the fish sometimes prefer one of the patterns or the other higher in the water column.

Again, the action occurs when the fly is ticking the bottom, so adjusting the weight you use, as well as the length between the fly and the an indicator, if you’re using one, can be key to finding fish, rather than spending precious winter light tying on new flies. It bears repeating that letting the flies swing up at the end of a dead drift will sometimes find another fish or two.

Fly fishers often overlook the possibility of mending line creatively to get their flies to the depth they desire. While most anglers are accustomed to mending upstream to achieve depth and a drag-free drift, few attempt to mend downstream to lift flies through the shallower portions of a run. To achieve that, make a gentle, long, arching mend downstream from the flies, with little if any slack line.

Leeches

LeechIn the winter, finding fish and getting them to grab can be a challenging affair. For years, I would tie and fish leech patterns that use rabbit or marabou to provide some bulk as well as movement to help beg a bite. I now typically fish large leech imitations, two and a half to four inches long, inspired by Paul Miller’s Phantom and Super Spey Leech patterns. To I attach a classic small wet or alevin pattern with 30 inches or more of tippet and fish the flies in tandem. I swing the flies slowly and enticingly, searching for a fish’s nose, much like teasing a cat into playing with a string.

The basic strategy is simple: The more water I cover and the more fish that see my flies, the more I am likely to find a fish willing to take. Sometimes giving a little additional motion to the fly with the line hand or rod tip can turn the trick. I’ve found that with leech patterns, a little retrieve before stripping in and recasting can draw strikes, as well.

There are no silver bullets in my winter fly boxes, but there are a number of fly styles and pattern variations that, when fished as conditions dictate, can help make winter fishing more enjoyable and effective. Get out there with them, and you may just find a wild winter trout or steelhead at the end of your line.

The go to box Recipes

Soft-Hackle Pheasant Tail

Hook: Dai-Riki 075, size 14 through 18

Thread: Olive 8/0 Uni-Thread

Tail: Three to five olive pheasant tail fibers

Rib: Fine copper wire

Body: Three to five olive pheasant tail fibers

Wing case: Pearl Flashabou

Thorax: Peacock herl

Wing: Two or three fibers of pearl Flashabou

Hackle: Two or three turns of grizzly or blue dun hen hackle

 

Copper John

Hook: Tiemco 3761

Bead: Gold — brass or tungsten

Thread; Black 8/0 Uni-Thread

Tail: Two black goose biots

Body: Ultra Wire — your choice of color

Wing case: Pearl Flashabou and epoxy

Thorax: Peacock herl

Legs: Partridge

 

Glo Bug

Hook: Tiemco 105, size 8 through 12

Thread: Bright orange or pink Kevlar

Body: Glo Bug yarn — your choice of color

 

Hot Head Rubber Legs

Hook: Tiemco 700, size 4 through 8

Bead: Bright orange brass

Thread: Black 6/0 Uni-Thread

Tail: Black round rubber

Underbody: Lead-free round wire (optional)

Legs: Black round rubber

Body: Copper, gold, and black New Age Chenille

Wing: Ultrafine pearl Flashabou

 

Spey Leech

Hook: Tiemco 7999 or Waddington, with size 2 or 4 Gamakatzu Octopus Stinger

Wire: 17-pound or 26-pound Surflon Micro Ultra

Thread: Black 6/0 Danville

Tag: Bright green Ice Dub or Angel Hair

Body: Peacock Lucent Chenille

Body Hackle: Black burnt Spey

Hackle: 1 dozen each black and bright green Rhea fibers,

fronted by bright green Hareline Pseudo Hackle

Wing: Four matched black hackle tips

Side Accent: Four or five Lady Amherst pheasant fibers

Throat: Jumbo guinea fibers

Cheeks: Jungle cock (optional)

Fly Fishing the Klamath River in Winter

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 as trailers.  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.  I most often will add a size 6 to 10 classic wet as a trailer fly about thirty inches off the hook bend of the leech.  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 often 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 to 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.”

Fly fishing guide’s report: Klamath & Trinity Steelhead, Lower Sacramento River Trophy Trout

Gabe poses Lower Sacramento River Hawg of Fame EntryMarch 2014

After a long period of drought, rain has returned to the Northstate and has sparked the bite for trophy trout on the Lower Sacramento River and steelhead on the Klamath and Trinity Rivers.  Ducks, Geese, and Osprey are returning to begin their annual mating rituals and blooming Redbud is marking the beginning of spring.  Consider this your invitation to get here now, it doesn’t get much better.

IMGP1504IMG_5414Despite the long period of dry weather we have experienced and angler’s misunderstanding that this offered only poor fishing, the Lower Sacramento River and Klamath in particular have been fishing quite well.  With the recent precipitation, the Trinity has joined the parade of rivers that are currently outstanding. The weather forecast is calling for a few more days of rain or showers followed by sunny days into the weekend with temps into the 70′s in Redding.  It appears this pattern of showers followed by sunny days will continue on and off through next week.

IMG_1018IMGP1486IMGP1488This is the time of year when we some of the Lower Sac’s trophy trout come out to play. The bite has been good to excellent with caddis on clear sunny days (a few blizzard bug days have popped already) and small mayflies hatching on the drippy days.  Flows on the Lower Sacramento River have been low at 3340 cfs, clear and steady on upstream beats but blown out and dirty on occasion during the heaviest storms downstream of Anderson.  Egg patterns and rubberlegs have found fish during non hatch periods as well.  The peak of the famous spring Brachycentrus caddis hatches  (our favorite hatch on the LSac) and March Browns  are just days away.  Crowds have been non-existent.  We recommend you schedule a trip with one of our great local guides while prime dates are still available.

IMGP1492IMGP1480IMGP1497Now is also the time to fit in your last steelhead fix of the season. The Klamath River has been consistently great with some epic days mixed in.  Several guests have recently enjoyed their best day fishing ever!  We have been finding most steelhead while nymphing but now that water temps have increased to the mid forties more fish are coming on the swing as well. The majority of steelhead are adults in the 2-5lb range, with a couple trout sized half pounders each day and a trophy 5-12 pound fish on occasion. We rarely see another angler. Flows have been low, clear (2-4′ visibility) and steady.   If solitude and multiple steelhead per day fit your style, drop us a line, there maybe no better place than the Klamath!

187Jason Cockrum poses Ed's colorful Trinity SteelheadStorms have brought some much needed rain, moving some fish and sparking the bite on the Trinity River and our great local guides have treated our guests to some of the best fishing they’ve enjoyed all season.  March Browns are popping and some Brown Trout as well as a few steelhead have found them.  As a result,  some lucky folks have enjoyed the rare experience  of hot spring run steelhead on a dead drifted dry fly.  There are steelhead beginning to spawn as the season concludes and we suggest being aware to avoid fishing over their shallow spawning gravel beds this time of year.

For more great pics of our recent trips with guests, just click on any photo or check out the Shasta Trout Flickr site.  Please do drop us a line if you are headed our way, we are always happy to share all we can whether you are seeking our guide service or not.

 

Shasta Trout exhibits at Fly Fishing Show in Pleasanton

Feb. 21-23rd, (Fri-Sun)fly-fishing-logo-largest_5gkd1

Alameda County Fairgrounds
4501 Pleasanton Ave. Pleasanton, CA 94566

Shasta Trout will be exhibiting at the 2014 Fly Fishing Show in Pleasanton February 21st -23rd. Craig Nielsen will also be giving presentations on “Fly Fishing for Steelhead, stepping up from trout”, discussing successful techniques and tactics, as well as Switchrod & Spey casting demonstrations. If you are in the area, please stop by our booth and say hello, and enter our drawing for our free trip! For more info, check out the event website for the 2014 Fly Fishing Show.

Fishing Guides report: Klamath, Upper & Lower Sac & Trinity Rivers

IMGP1449February 2014

We continue to experience phenomenally fine weather in the shadow of Shasta which our guests have enjoyed to the fullest.  We finally saw some light rain last week, with fair skies forecast for the near future and possible showers on Wednesday and Thursday.  Blue bird days in winter are to be savored with sunny skies and daytime highs in the 50′s which means steelheading on the Klamath River in shirtsleeves midday while the Lower Sacramento River has required an extra layer of sunscreen while chasing trophy trout. Both seasoned anglers and beginners alike experienced some of their best days of steelheading ever recently. We are certain to get some more weather before winter (?) is over but we plan to take advantage of the year round fishing and sunshine while we can.

IMGP1419IMGP1422IMGP1452The Klamath River continues to be exceptional.  Conditions are nearly ideal, with fair weather and higher flows than most visitors expect.  While water levels are about 1/3 of normal at 950 cfs below Irongate dam and very bony in a boat, this has the fish concentrated and grabby as they are not able to enter tributary streams.  Water temps have also increased slightly with the longer days so we have been enjoying a wide open bite most every day.

IMGP1404IMGP1442IMGP1413IMG_9635Water temps are hovering in the lower forties into the mid forties in the afternoon which keeps nymphing still considerably more productive than swinging but a  few dedicated anglers have found some hot chrome fish taking swung flies. Nymphing with legs, eggs and classic nymphs however continues to be the most consistent bet.  Some of the steelies we’ve enjoyed this season have also been a bit heftier than the norm on the Klamath with Steelhead in the 5-8 lb range most days and an occasional fish going 8-12lbs.

larrylsacFishing on the Lower Sacramento River has been great as well though the catching has varied from day to day.  While the number of fish to net each day might not be what we expect to see in spring, the size of the fish has made up for it more than once.  On most blue bird days the hatch has been light and anglers need to search for grabs.  It has been hard to find pods of feeding bows which is more the norm, allowing anglers to target the pods with multiple passes. On overcast or days with light rain the hatches have been better, and results improve provided it doesn’t blow too hard.

Flows on the Lower Sac  increased to 3,8500 cfs from Keswick on January 27th and are holding steady with no scheduled releases.  The  fly of choice on the Lower Sac has varied considerably with a mixed bite on eggs and small nymphs, and rubberlegs.  Little to no dry fly action to speak of yet…

Springtime fly fisher on the Upper Sacramento River lands a lunker! Classic runs, gorgeous fish and a beautiful winter day fly fishing the Upper Sacramento RiverPit River springtime RainbowThe Upper Sacramento and Pit Rivers are low, clear and ideal for those wanting to sneak away for some solitude and winter walk and wading.  Guests enjoyed some unexpectedly great fishing the past few weeks. The catching is by far best during the warmest part of the day and though your catch rates won’t be as high as they are during peak season later in spring, the average fish will be considerably larger.  Expect most Rainbows to be in the teens, with a real shot at a trophy this time of year.  Nymphing with both small and big bugs works best, and stealth is key in these “late fall” like conditions.  You can always keep your fingers crossed that you’ll bump into midday risers sipping Blue Wing Olives, usually best on drippy days.  What a winter treat!

The Trinity remains trying, mostly due to a lack of water.  With a weak front forecast for midweek, we are hoping flows will increase and some fish will move to help spark the bite.  Anglers are working hard with low clear water and stale fish for a couple grabs per angler per day.

If you are considering heading our way, just drop a line, we are always happy to share all we can whether your are seeking guide service or not.  We hope to see you soon!

Craig Nielsen presents “Best of the Best” at Russian River Fly Fishers

Rich's Klamath Chrome 1/08Wednesday, January 8th @ 7:00 – 9:00

Russian River Fly Fishers

Craig Nielsen, owner of Shasta Trout and a fly fishing guide based in Mt. Shasta, will be presenting a program called “Fly Fishing in the Shadow of Shasta, the Best of the Best,”  at the monthly meeting of the Russian River Fly Fishers. The meeting gets started at 7pm at the Lodge Room, Santa Rosa Vet’s Building, 1351 Maple Ave, Santa Rosa .

“The Best of the Best” is a multimedia presentation describing, strategies, tactics and tips refined on the legendary rivers of Northern California  including the McCloud, Upper & Lower Sacramento, Fall, Trinity, Klamath &  Pit Rivers as well as Hat Creek.  Craig typically provides an engaging presentation and encourages participants to provided some tips of their own.  The members are incredibly friendly and helpful particularly to those just getting started.  If you live in the area we suggest you join us for the festivities, we could not recommend the Russian River Club more highly.

Shasta Trout has donated a free trip for the club to auction at their annual fundraiser.  Contact us is if your group or club is looking for a speaker, we have multiple presentations available.