Northern California’s Premier Fly Fishing Guide Service

Shasta Fly Fishing Guides Report: Clear cold water & great summer fishing!

RolandKlamathSpringSteelie

There might be nothing better in fly fishing than casting a dry fly to rising trout on a cool summer evening with Mt. Shasta as a backdrop.  After a couple of weeks of hot weather, temps have dropped and flows on local freestone rivers are at summer time lows with solid hatches of caddis and mayflies.  As a result, dry fly fishing on the McCloud and Upper Sac have been outstanding, particularly in the evenings.  The Hex hatches on the Fall River and Lake Siskiyou have been phenomenal and nymphing on the Pit continues to produce some exceptional days.   The Stonefly hatch on the Klamath has concluded and we are scheduling folks for fall steelheading starting in September when water temps drop to a safe level to again practice catch and release.

IMGP1598IMGP1582The McCloud has been one of our top destinations with Flows at a season low, having reached summer levels weeks ago with nearly all crossing spots open and wading at it’s best.  We’ve been taking advantage of the conditions with several guests, casting dry and droppers to the far bank and pockets all day, followed by phenomenal fishing to risers during the evening hatch of Pale Evening Duns, Flavineas along with a Rusty Spinner fall.  The July 4th crowd is gone and particularly on weekdays you can find some solitude.

Deb & Rus MossbraeGreg USac 003Flows on the Upper Sacramento River  have been at summertime norms for several weeks.  Springs on the upper river keep water temps low so the entire river remains very wadable and fishable all summer long.  Local guides Craig Nielsen, Rick Cox, Alan Blankenship, Wayne Eng and Fred Gordon have hosted several guests and found nymphing during the day continues to produce and the evening dry fly bite on Mayflies and lingering Stoneflies have been outstanding the last few weeks.  The fish are fat and happy as angling pressure has been noticeably light this season.  We have not yet seen the typical influx of Shasta Lake Rainbows moving into the lower river yet.  These feisty, hot fish average 14-18″ and provide great sport, much like half pounder steelhead and we expect them to be showing up in our nets in the coming weeks.

Jeremy with Fall River HawgHexagenia Dun a large bite for trophy trout Tom Peppas, Scott Saiki, Jason Cockrum, Jeremy Baker and George Durand report several guests are enjoying the evening Hex hatch on the Fall River which is moving up from the confluence of the Fall and Tule Rivers. This hatch allows us to nymph and swing emergers prior to the hatch and cast enormous Mayfly dries at last light to target the biggest fish of the season on the surface. Combine this action with some nymphing and casting drys to a morning PMD hatch and it makes for a very fulfilling day.  In most seasons we see the hatch continue through July and the first few weeks of August.  We still have some guide dates available, drop us a line if you have not yet experienced this amazing seasonal event.

Local guide Alan Blankenship (aka The Pit Pirate) has been finding some fish on the Pit River as flows have dropped to the summer minimum.  Several guests have enjoyed outstanding days, catching chunky ‘bows who have seen very few anglers this season.   Alan has some availability for hardy waders who have not yet sampled the bounty this fishery can provide.

IMGP1630 The Lower Sacramento River has been a bit up and down lately as flows have been fluctuating, and we have had some windy days.  Flows and weather have tempered and the bite has taken off.  PMD’s  and Hydropysche Caddis have been popping but day time temps have been a bit too much for most of us.  Cooler temps and steady flows should making the fishing as well as the catching more enjoyable in the coming weeks.

IMGP1623photo 5photo 3Local headwater creeks have also provided some excellent action casting small dry flies for eager trout.  This is a perfect venue for kids, those new to the sport, and folks who want to relax and enjoy consistent action and the visual joy of watching small trout dart from the stream bottom to intercept their flies.  For some it can’t get any better than this!

BW6H3465We have concluded our spring stonefly hatch fishing on the Klamath for the season but still have some fall Steelhead dates available starting in September, including some special offerings at the incredible Scott River Lodge.

Drop us a line if you are headed our way, we are always happy to share all we can whether you are seeking guide service or not.

Fly Fishing Freestones to Beat the Heat

McCloud As summer warms, we thought you might enjoy this article by Craig Nielsen:

First Published in California Fly Fisher Magazine, August 2006

For as long as I can remember, my favorite time of year has been summer. When I was a kid in Northern California, summers meant long and lazy adventures in canyons, playing in the cool streams to beat the heat. I would toss on a T-shirt, cutoffs, a ball cap, my black high-top Converses, and tape a rod tube to my stingray bike to launch forays deep down into the lush green canopies and cool waters of Butte Creek or the Feather River canyon to explore, swim, and fish. I would often emerge from the canyon after “kid dark,” not to be confused with “adult dark,” that time when your parents told you to be home. Probably too large a part of the attraction for me to pursue a career in education was the opportunity for time off in summer to continue this passion. There is still no place I would rather be than knee-deep in cool canyon water on a sunny summer day.

For many anglers, the summer heat, or the summer doldrums, often means few hatches and small fish. The prolific springtime hatches have come and gone. The rivers have become creeks, the water is crystal clear, the fish are spooky, and the most accessible runs have been fished over hard. By late summer, trout have seen it all, and running a big bright indicator through the run that produced in the middle of the day in the spring rarely produces happy results. Summer flows might make fishing accessible and fun, but the catching can be downright challenging and technical.

Over the years, with a good deal of help from friends, I have discovered some techniques for approaching freestone rivers in the summer that helps to keep fishing fun, improves my success rates, and doesn’t require that I purchase new, expensive equipment or develop completely new skill sets. Quite the opposite in fact, most of these techniques return my fishing to the simple approach I loved as a kid.

Before discussing specific summer techniques it may be helpful to share some basic tenets that make these techniques effective. In the summer, a trout’s need for oxygen, shelter, and food does not change, but the place fish hold in the river to find these essentials in the summer does.

Locating Oxygenated Water
High air temperatures and slow-moving water combine to create higher water temperatures, which makes water less able to hold oxygen. Less turbulent flows also result in less mixing of oxygen from the air, which further compounds this deficit. In the low flows and heat of summer, trout seek cooler water, which is better able to hold oxygen. Trout move from their softer spring lies in the hearts of runs to the turbulent whitewater head of a run or to fast-moving pocket water where oxygen is mixed in from the air. Trout (especially large ones) also prefer deep holes were cooler water sinks, and they are especially fond of places were cool tributaries or springs enter the river. Trout seek water with temperatures in the mid 50s, but temperatures into the 60s can produce in rivers, or sections of rivers, where warmer temperatures are the norm. This is particularly true on rivers such as the Pit, the North Fork of the Feather, and the upper Klamath, where much of the water is warmed in small, shallow impoundments. I have found it is often productive to make use of a thermometer to help locate the cooler water in rivers I do not fish frequently.

William enters the ShastaTrout Hawg of Fame with a McCloud River trophyBrown TroutLocating Shelter

Often, the same whitewater run or deep, cool water that provides oxygen for trout conveniently also provides cover. In the low, crystal-clear flows of summer, trout avoid direct sunlight and seek shelter from predators by holding under whitewater currents, in deep holes, or near structure (rocks, boulders, logs), all of which help obscure a predator’s view. On summer freestones, where you find oxygenated water and shelter from predators, you will often find trout.

Locating Feeding Fish
To catch these trout, you must also realize that after the large insects hatches of spring are gone, most of the aquatic life is small, so fish must feed efficiently and optimize calorie intake while minimizing their calorie output. Because trout are cold-blooded, their metabolisms slow when water temps get too cold or, in summer, too hot and they feed less actively. With less energy and smaller food items, trout are unwilling to move far to take the small morsels, so the trout’s feeding zone is smaller than it was in spring.

As a result, it is not only important to reduce the size of your flies and tippet (4X to 6X) but also to present your offering tight to a fish’s lie. Getting your fly to a trout’s nose can be complicated by the fact that with less cover, clearer water, and the angling pressure they have encountered, trout become very wary. You need not only to adjust the type of water you fish, but also your techniques and tactics to present your offering in a way that results in the joy of a dancing trout on the end of your line.

Dry-Fly Fishing
If a 12-inch wild trout taken on a warm summer day with an attractor dry doesn’t bring out the kid in you, perhaps you should consider participating in a sport that encourages keeping an accurate score. Fishing with artificial flies is inherently a qualitative experience, and perhaps there is nothing that epitomizes this as clearly as the rise of a trout to a dry fly. The summer can be a great time of year to fish dry flies on freestone streams, provided you use some common sense. It is best to fish shaded water. Deep canyons, where freestones are located, have plenty of shade, particularly early and late in the day in the summer, which is also when insects are most likely to be active.

Alan Blankenship, a Mount Shasta guide, likes to start early and fish until noon, take a break, and resume fishing around four, five, or even six o’clock, when things cool a bit. He says, “I always save some casts for the exciting last few minutes of the day. Almost always you can find a good fish rising within casting range. Some of the biggest fish my clients catch in the summer are fooled by small dry flies right at dark.”

There often is a great morning Trico spinner fall during the summer on the upper Sacramento, a hatch that sees very little fishing pressure, most likely because anglers arrive after the action has ended. The evening hatch on north-state freestones also sees little pressure, except from a few locals in the know. Heed the regulations, which allow anglers to fish until one hour after sunset. In deep canyons in summer when the sun sets late in the day, this means dark thirty.  If you are not making your last fly change with a headlamp, you likely missed the hottest action.

Rick Cox, who guides on the McCloud and upper Sac, offers a trip he calls the “Evening Frenzy” – three hours at the end of the day during which he targets summer hatches that are compressed into the last hours of light. He states: “Dry-fly fishing is all I do in the evenings. I work the pools from top to bottom and match the hatch and then just before dark put on a big Stimulator.” I have also found that adding an emerger dropper to the Stimulator can sometimes fool even the wariest trout late in the day, with the bonus of having the big Stimulator serve as an indicator in the failing light.

Dries with Droppers
Mitchell Barrett, a former guide, demonstrated the value of a dropper-and-dry rig to me a couple summers ago on a hot afternoon on the McCloud. Wading up to his waist, he caught fish after fish from the pockets in the fast water between the big pools. He rigged a Stimulator as an indicator and a small nymph with some mini shot to sink the dropper.

I was surprised to discover Mitchell’s dropper was so long. When I lengthened my dropper to two to three feet, the magic began, but I soon discovered that I preferred casting tungsten bead flies or copper-bodied flies instead of mini shot, because it helped me to avoid tangles. When fishing pocket water with this technique, keep casts very short, dead drifting the fly just 3 to 10 feet, with only the leader and buoyant fly touching the water. Wayne Eng, a guide who lives on the banks of the Upper Sacramento River refers to this technique as “shotgunning,” because we often make rapid casts to small targets as we wade quickly upstream searching for the most aggressive fish.

One of the delightful challenges of this technique is adjusting the timing on your hook sets. You’ll miss fish from setting too slowly on the nymphs and too quickly on the dry. If you fish this technique frequently, you’ll get the pleasure of hearing the groan of your partners above the roar of rushing white water when they pull the big dries out of the mouths of big, aggressive McCloud browns.

Rick Cox reveals that “a guide secret on the McCloud is to carry two rods, one with a nymph setup for fishing the deeper pools and faster pockets, and the other with a dry fly and dropper for fishing the shallow, slower water where fish might be spooked by an indicator. He says “we’ll work the dry-dropper first, then follow through the same piece of water with the nymph rig.”

If you’ve ever waded wet in the cold, spring-fed McCloud in the summer, you know that fish are less active due to a lack of insect activity, not because of higher water temperatures in the summer. When employing the two-rod strategy, Rick Cox advises that “with the nymph setup, work the water column thoroughly before moving on. The fish are there, it’s just up to you to find them.”

Hopper-Copper-Dropper
Nymphing as a technique on freestone streams is without question the most effective way to catch trout. The hopper-copper-dropper technique uses a buoyant indicator fly to support dead-drifted nymphs with less chance of frightening spooky fish in the crystal-clear runs of summer, which can often happen with indicators. The heavy Copper John was created just for this technique. On the freestones of the north state, I have had the best success with a large Stimulator (size 6 to 10), with about a three or four-foot drop to a Copper Caddis, with a small Pheasant Tail Nymph or Micro Mayfly Nymph hung a little over a foot below the copper dropper. I typically tie the droppers off the hook bend which helps to avoid tangles.

I also find that shortening the dry-fly leader a bit, say from 6 to 7 feet to the big Stimulator, seems right for most conditions. This rig can be a challenge to cast across to the shady foam line on the far bank where wary fish have been pushed by angling pressure. Excellent loop control is required to avoid tangles, but the rewards can be worth the investment.

Again, this technique is best employed on shaded runs. I have had some success fishing with it later in the morning after a spinner fall, when some of the bugs have been drowned in the wash, and also prior to an evening hatch, as the emergers begin their activity. There is a run on the upper Sac dubbed the Paranoid Pool where we’ve had some limited success fishing this technique in New Zealand style, with one angler sighting big fish and the other making the casts – good fun indeed when you hear your partner shout “set”!

High Sticking, aka Czech Nymphing
While we all appreciate the aesthetics of a well-formed loop and fishing dry flies, the object of the exercise remains to catch a fish. So . . . if you are Jonesing for the throb of a wild trout dancing on the end of your line, high sticking is the technique of choice. Provided you locate productive water, this is easily the most effective technique for freestone streams in summer.

Steven Bertrand, a guide with the Ted Fay Fly Shop in Dunsmuir, likes the fast-water riffles in between the pools. He states that “this type of water most likely holds fish all year round, but fast, well-oxygenated water is at its best when the river is at its lowest, making this water more accessible.” He notes that “I also like to fish where the topography of the canyon works in my favor, hitting areas where the canyon is narrow and gets shade early and where springs enter to provide a nice flow of stable cold water to moderate the river water temperatures.”

While Bertrand fishes this water with a dry and dropper in the shallower spots and along the edges, “when the water is more than a few feet deep, I switch to tight-line [high-stick] nymphing, which is much more effective than indicator nymphing for targeting the small, very turbulent pockets of fast water.”

The beauty of high-stick nymphing is its simplicity and the direct contact to a fish’s take. It is the easiest technique to learn, but one of the more challenging to master. Typically a tippet of 4X to 6X attaches two weighted flies to a 7-1/2 foot leader with enough split shot to get the flies down to the fish, but not stuck on the bottom. I like 9-to-10-foot fast-action 4-weight or 5-weight rods and seldom have more than a few feet of line out of the rod tip.

With this setup, the flies have to be lobbed, quartering upstream and across. Then I allow them to sink immediately into the whitewater head of the run, pocket, or seam that I have targeted. The key to getting a great drift is leading the flies slightly with the rod tip, finding the sweet spot between tension on the flies and slack in the line. With a bit of experience, most folks get quality drifts, but mastering the technique involves learning to detect strikes and developing lighting-quick hook sets.

There is a magic moment as you progress toward mastering this technique when you can’t tell what you saw or felt to detect a strike, but you just know that a fish has taken. Fly-fishing literature refers to this magic moment as the “wink of the trout.” Having said this, though, perhaps 20 percent of the fish that even masters catch with this technique hook themselves, most often just as the flies lift off the bottom at the end of the drift – a perfect result for novices fishing their first summer freestoner.

To use this technique to best effect it is best to remember that with lower, clearer water and less bug activity, a great run, seam, pocket, or riffle may provide only one fish. Be happy with one fish and move on to the next piece of water. Freestones have so many spots that fish well, if you pick up one fish from each spot, you’ll very likely have a very satisfying day.

Indicator Nymphing
It is no secret that indicator nymphing is universally the most effective technique on freestone streams. A small piece of advice for summer: If you must, adjust. Again, the most important factor in the summer is to change the water you target. Alan Blankenship, a guide known affectionately by locals as the “Pit Pirate” for his love of fishing and guiding on the Pit River, targets cold, oxygenated water that comes from the base of dams, turbines, the mouths of feeder creeks, or springs. Alan says that “we look for those seems and pockets in the middle of heavy fast water and are amazed at the number of fish in these sweet spots that sometimes are only a few feet long and a few inches wide.”

To avoid spooking fish, it is best to replace your large, bright indicator with smaller indicators in green, or even light blue and white and wade with stealth when heavy flows aren’t available to mask your moves. Alan sizes down to 5X fluorocarbon tippet and goes with size 16 and size 18 Pheasant Tails, Micro Mayflies, and Zebra Midges. Black Zebra Midges or tiny black San Juan Worms are great imitations of the blackfly larva that increasingly become available as they grow in masses on aerated rocks in the summer. An exception to these small-fly tactics is the behavioral drift by October caddis larvae midmorning. Then a classic pattern, a size 8 or size 10 Burlap Bomber, can be dead drifted to good effect, but it is likely that any light-colored larva pattern will do the trick.  It is also important to note that these fish are extra sensitive and extra quick to spit a hook when insect activity is low. It is helpful if anglers are able to step up their games, focus on a quick hook set, set the hook on anything, and have confidence in the river they are fishing.

Deepwater Nymphing
I’ll warn you up front: Even in the hands of an experienced caster, deepwater nymphing – dredging – isn’t very pretty. Getting your flies down 10, 15 feet, or deeper requires plenty of weight, and casting it can be an ugly chore.

But it can be rewarding. Running a heavy rig under a big indicator through schooled-up fish in a classic deepwater pool usually finds a couple fish. However, if you watch carefully you’ll see McCloud fish totally avoid an indicator rig, even when they’re down deep, and especially after the first hookup. They simply move out of the way when the bright ball comes through.

When this happens, I like to rig without an indicator, add more weight (I start with three AAAs), and position myself to lob my cast into the moving water at the head of the run. This technique is very similar to high sticking, except the line is longer – long enough to get your flies to the fish. Steven Bertrand notes that “dredging will get your flies in front of some very large fish.”

Strike detection and hook sets with this rig can be quite an adventure. I look for the slightest movement of line or wink from the fish. My favorite flies are tiny Pheasant Tail Nymphs, Micro Mayfly Nymphs, and sparse Birds Nests, but if I’m after larger fish, sometimes a Woolly Bugger or a leech pattern will do the trick. I have learned that an erratic strip retrieve at the end of a dead drift will also sometimes draw a strike.

I usually like to dredge the deepwater pools shortly before lunch. The pools make for great swimming holes, and it is pleasant to find one with a beach for the convenient afternoon nap my mother always recommended.

Easy Does It In Summer
Summer fishing on freestone streams is about the pure pleasure of the season, the pace and the place. Keep it simple – fish alone, or, better yet, with a good friend. Leave the waders and vest at home and toss a couple of boxes of flies in a pocket or small chest pack with the bare minimum of tools and accessories.

If you decide to make a day of it, target the hatches and spinner falls in the runs early and late in the day. Search for shade and fish fast pockets, riffles, and pools until the sun gets too high and hot, then take a break to eat, swim, take flight on a rope swing, and find a shady beach for a siesta.

Better yet, just stick a couple of extra flies in your hat for the evening hatch and call it good. Stay out until kid dark, hoping and waiting for the magic moment when your fly disappears in a large swirl and life gets just a little bit better.

Wading Staffs: A Northern California Fly Fishing Guide’s Review

James and Jeff wading deep

Fly Fishing Guides in the Mount Shasta area have some of the most challenging wading on the planet.  Rivers including the PitMcCloud and Upper Sacramento are located in canyons with steep gradients creating strong currents which combined with bowling ball sized slippery rocks offer a great testing ground for waders, boots and wading staffs.

Ron Hart’s Riverstalker is a local favorite for Mt. Shasta area guides.  Hart’s staff is inexpensive, sturdy, relatively quiet and very durable but does not collapse. The rubber tip can skate on slimy bedrock, the large diameter can be difficult to gain purchase in heavy current and it also floats which can occasionally interfere with line management. Ron is a great guy, a superb local guide and it feels good to support him. I own a couple of his staffs.

I am a big fan of collapsible staffs and have used and broken nearly every staff imaginable including several Folstaffs, two Riverstalkers and a few ski poles as well! Most collapsible staffs such as the Folstaffs suffer from an elastic cord that comes apart at the most inopportune times and the pieces can stick together and be a bleep to take apart. Ski or trekking poles collapse but even at their shortest are still a bit too long for my taste when stored and hang awkwardly from their attachment.

Since they were introduced I have switched to the Simms Staff. It is a clever design that replaces the faulty elastic cords with a cable that locks the staff together so that it works like a ski pole when locked but folds into three or four sections (depending which length you buy) and slips into a neoprene sleeve on your wading belt. The sections fit together well and come apart easily. A well designed cable retractor attaches to the handle to prevent loss while wading as well. The first few versions had durability  issues but Simms replaced broken ones under their warranty.  The four current ones I have used in my guiding business for the last few years have worn well. I have several hundred days of hard use on my current staff. The only disadvantages to these staffs are that they are metal so are noisy and are a bit pricey, though I believe they are a great value, particularly considering the expense of an emergency room visit these days!

A Guide’s Report: Fly Fishing in the Shadow of Shasta, May 2014

Paul McCloud dry fly RainbowWith low, ideal flows and perfect weather we are experiencing fantastic fly fishing in Northern California on all of our trout fisheries.   With the peak of our biggest hatches of the year just days away, we only expect the fishing to get better.  Salmonflies, Goldenstones, Mayflies big and small, as well as multiple hatches of caddis have been popping and with perfect weather in the forecast we expect this to only improve.   Wildflowers Tayler, McCloud Riverare in their full glory, with Dogwoods, Azaleas, Rhododenrons and Lilies lighting up the streamside vegetation.   We hope you can join us soon to wet a line, we feature the finest local guides in the north state and still have some availablility.

IMGP1553IMGP1572IMGP1556The Lower Sacramento River continues to produce good numbers of trout and incredibly high quality Rainbows for anglers of all abilities.  Flows remain low, clear and steady, at 8,000 cfs, a bit below the norm of 10,000 for this time of the year.  The weather has been terrific with the forecast calling for clear and pleasantly warm weather which we expect will get the summertime caddis in full swing and provide wrenching grabs from hot healthy fish looking to put on some weight after completing their spawn.  Hatches have been sparse but steady with some lingering Pale Morning Duns and small caddis.  The river has been fishing from Caldwell to Red Bluff but boat ramps have been noticeably busier on weekends than weekdays.

IMGP1559IMGP1578The Upper Sacramento is fishing well from top to bottom with ideal flows and our biggest and best hatches on the way.  Goldenstones have been out in good numbers and the fish are starting to look up.  A mixed caddis and mayfly hatch in the evening has produced some solid if not spectacular fishing and with steady warmer weather in the forecast we expect to see this action build.  Traffic on the Upper Sac has been very light on most days as this fishery is very under appreciated.  All techniques have been offering up fish provided you find the best water for each.  Try dries in the evening, fish dries and droppers or high stick pocket water all day and run indicators through classic runs morning and late in the day.  The water is at midsummer low levels and ultra clear so exercising maximum stealth is key.

IMGP1566IMGP1567IMGP1574The McCloud River  has been about as good as it gets.  We are enjoying outstanding numbers of fish and while most have been on the smaller size, there have been enough fish in the teens each day to keep anglers challenged.  While conditions are exceptional and the fish are feasting on the plethora of bugs that are coming off, the river has seen considerable pressure since the opening of the season in April.  Campgrounds at Ash Camp and Ah Di Na have been near capacity on weekends but have been clearing nicely midweek.  Flows on the McCloud are very low and ultra clear so the fishing has become quite technical.  Stealth is paramount, fishing water that has seen less pressure also helps as does fishing good imitations that these trout don’t see often.  Fly Fishers who know the river well and grasp this may catch dozens of fish a day, while those who are less experienced will find few. Even then experienced anglers will discover it is difficult to fool the larger, wary trout this river is famous for.  We have been enjoying this challenge and hope you do too!

Jerri enjoys another lunkerCraig, Fall RiverFishing on the Fall River has been improving steadily with hatches building and the dry fly fishing taking form.  On days when the wind lays down the dry fly fishing has been good.  Otherwise swinging nymphs and streamers along with dead drifting nymphs has produced well.  The majority of fish have been on the smaller size but spawners are returning in increasing numbers and good fish are coming to the net most every day, though a few of the biggest do manage to still get away.  The river is in great shape and the weeds are filling in nicely.  Fall River is in much better condition for this time in the season than it has been in the past two years.

Northern California Fly Fishing Guide George DurandJune will be your last opportunity to fish with George Durand as he will be retiring to a ranch in Idaho at the end of June.  If you have fished with George before you know what a great treat it is, if you haven’t you owe it to yourself to grab a date.  George is the consummate gentleman and fly fishing pro as he has enjoyed as many successful days guiding on the Fall River, Lower Sac and Trinity as most anyone and has taught a good number of the younger guides in the area how it is best done.  George still has a few dates available to guide the Fall River or Lower Sac on June 3,4,5,9,18,19,20, 23 & 24th.  Contact us now so you don’t miss out!

20140519_104629The Pit River has been smoking hot.  While Stoneflies and Mayflies will get grabbed Caddis have been coming off in clouds and the fish have been feasting.  We have some guide availability so if you have not experienced the new flow regime we recommend you schedule a date to learn the “new” river.  Nymphing with or without an indicator during the day has produced best with fish taking smaller bugs more often than the bigger bites but a few of our biggest fish have come on the larger stonefly patterns.  Get here now!

P1010002Salmonfly dry fly and Klamath River steelieSending her backStoneflies on the Klamath River popped early last week and we expect the dry fly fishing to take off with the warm weather this week which should make  the egg laying adults available on the surface.  Water clarity has been an issue again this spring with visibility running up to about two and half feet this last week which is poor even for the Klamath.  The Klamath is not known for great clarity, though this time of year it typically is at its best at four to five feet.  This will not help the dry fly bite as it makes it difficult for fish to look to the surface for your offering .

Flows on the other hand are quite low and very fishable, though those without experience drifting the Klamath can easily find themselves perched on midstream rocks.  The Irongate Hatchery, for the third season in a row, did not produce any steelhead smolts. They typically have released about 5,000 fish which in the past has provided not stop action on dry flies during this time of year.  Targeting spring run steelhead will be easier and along with juvenile wild fish and the few half pounders that have returned will provide the bulk of the action.   Considering these conditions, we don’t expect this spring will go down as  a banner year.

IMGP1564IMGP1561IMGP1560Paul, Upper McCloud RiverLocal creeks are accessible and fishing very well, we have enjoyed some outstanding days fishing dry flies with cane rods to eager fish, finding Browns, Rainbows and an occasional Brookie,  though they may be small, they are fun and good for the soul.  If you want to experience the feeling of being a kid again try fishing for these little gems on one of our incredible local creeks.  Many of these are fragile small streams that do not suffer pressure well so we will say no more.

Springtime guide’s view: Fly Fishing the Klamath River

Father admires Hank with his Klamath River Steelhead on a dry fly!Seasons on the Klamath: Springtime and Salmonflies, first published in California Fly Fisher, June 2010

“Silly good!” That is my favorite expression to describe the fishing on the Klamath when the salmonflies are out and the trout and steelhead are on them. “Bring the novices and kids” is my next refrain. In over 50 years of fly fishing throughout the Western states, I have yet to find a better experience for kids or first-timers. When the conditions are right, the top-water action is nonstop. Throwing big (size 4 and 6) dry flies and watching fish attack them is an absolute hoot. It can make even the most seasoned veteran feel like a kid again.

Jim with a trophy spring Klamath River SteelheadScouting a Rapid While salmonflies are one of the more consistent and predictable of hatches, arriving in the right place at the right time is never as easy as it might seem. I’ve enjoyed many epic days fishing salmonfly dries not only on the Klamath, but also on Hat Creek, the Madison, the Deschutes, and the Rogue. I’ve also had just as many or more days that were complete busts.

In the spring, when the bugs hatch, the weather and river flows can be unpredictable, with runoff and heavy rain being the most serious threats. Fortunately, the Klamath is a tailwater below Irongate Dam, so flows are more predictable than on most other rivers known for prolific salmonfly hatches. Cold weather or bright sunshine are not as detrimental, but can also hamper the bite. The ideal day is warm, overcast, and a bit windy. While a little wind can be good for the bite, too brisk a wind can make casting big dry flies a chore, rather than the joy it is meant to be.

Timing the Hatch

Hank with his lucky hat and dry fly used to land a Klamath River SteelheadSalmonfly and Juvenile SteelheadThe other major variable to consider when trying to calculate where and when to fish the salmonfly hatch is the bug’s behavior itself. Once I understood the basic timing (the bugs hatch on the Deschutes in late May and early June, while the Madison is weeks later), the biggest error I made was that I would arrive too early. It took me much longer than it should have to figure out that I didn’t want to arrive during the peak of the hatch. I’d find bugs on bushes, in the boat, crawling up my leg, in my coffee cup — thousands of the big critters, everywhere. Unfortunately, the fish had not yet found them, at least not on the surface, where I most wanted to fish.

If you are more interested in nymphing, however, then arriving during the peak of the hatch is a smart plan. The biggest fish in the river will be chasing the large morsels as they crawl toward shore to climb onto the shrubbery, pop their exoskeletons, and become winged adults preparing to mate. It can take several days or sometimes weeks before these bugs get blown in or venture onto the surface to drink or lay their eggs and the fish looking up, so it is usually not the best time for dry-fly fishing.

The surface feast is most often timed closer to egg-laying activity rather than to the hatch itself, so it is the event most folks should be looking for when planning their arrival. Salmonflies are cold-blooded beasts, so cold, wet weather and high flows generally delay egg laying, while warm, dry weather and low flows hasten it. Warmer water and air temperatures increase salmonfly metabolism and activity, while cold, wet weather lessens them, and you’ll likely find the bugs hunkered down deep in streamside shrubbery, waiting for a warmer day to frolic and fly.

On any given piece of water, the main surface feast can last from a couple days to a couple weeks. Early in the hatch, top-water action will either be epic or a total bust. Later in the hatch, the fish will be literally stuffed to the gills with bugs, and while you’ll still find many willing dance partners, the fish get particular, and the grab slows. As long as a few bugs linger, however, the fish will continue to look up, and the bite can actually pick up a bit as fish search for the few remaining morsels before the hatch dies off completely. This is often the easiest time to target for first-time visitors, because it is more reliable and predictable than the early stages of the hatch. Arriving later also helps avoid the risk of a bust, should you arrive too early.

The hatch generally progresses upstream, and on the upper Klamath, we’ve enjoyed great surface action down near Happy Camp in early May and a lingering hatch below Iron Gate Dam as late as the Fourth of July. Few seasons will last this long, but in most years, good fishing can be had over a period of three to six weeks. Several seasons now, however, we have cancelled the last two weeks of our guide season in late June on the Klamath when the action was really turning on, because a hot spell caused water temperatures to increase into the upper 60s, which is too high to practice catch-and-release angling safely. Even though rainbow trout and steelhead might appear to swim away unharmed at these temperatures, far too many will fail to recover from their efforts and will perish.

The Fish

The word I most often use to describe the fish and fishing on the upper Klamath in the late spring and early summer, particularly during the salmonfly hatch, is a “smoltathon.” The predominant fish are steelhead smolts, both wild and hatchery. The size of the fish varies from year to year, but most fish caught will generally be 8 to 13 inches long. These fish believe they are much bigger and can put a pretty serious bend in your 5-weight. It can be hilarious to watch even smaller juvenile trout, steelhead, and salmon attack flies over and over while failing to get their little lips around your big bites.

Gene enters the ShastaTrout Hawg of Fame with his Klamath River dry fly Steelhead The Klamath has bigger fish, and they can be caught. Folks are often curious if these fish are steelhead or resident rainbows. My standard answer is, “Yes. Do you really care?” By the time steelhead arrive, hundreds of miles upstream on the Klamath, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to differentiate them from resident trout unless they are fin-clipped hatchery steelhead, which are rare in the spring.

In March and April, there is often a nice run of smaller wild steelhead (16 to 23 inches) that most folks call “half-pounders” and that we target by swinging flies prior to the salmonfly hatch. It is possible, perhaps likely, that some of these chrome fish color up and stick around for the feast. Getting the smaller smolts to leave your fly alone long enough for one of these bigger fish to grab is most often the problem for those seeking to target them with dry flies.

One of these bigger fish on a dry fly and 5-weight will make most anglers’ days, while a half dozen or so might make an average angler’s season. These “trophies” make the salmonfly hatch on the upper Klamath an ideal destination to keep seasoned fly-fishing parents or grandparents engaged while their children, grandchildren, or novice friends enjoy the bounty of the smoltathon.

Rods, Rigging, and Fly Selection

Salmonfly & Dry FlyFly Fishing on the Klamath is rarely very technical. Water clarity with four feet or more of visibility is considered exceptional, so sophisticated flies and rigging are seldom required. For the salmonfly hatch, a 4-to-6-weight fast-action rod is the most common choice. A 5-weight with a floating line is the norm. Four-weights can be challenging to cast in the wind and for playing the biggest fish, but they are much more fun for the majority of fish. A 6-weight often seems a bit heavy-handed until you hook a bigger steelie, and then you wish you had brought more rod.

Casts are rarely over 30 feet, so we often overline rods by one line weight. To a floating line we add a 7-1/2-foot tapered 3X leader and chop it down even more if it is windy or if we opt to add a nymph with a 4X dropper off the bend of the dry fly. At the beginning of the hatch, when the feast first begins, fly patterns will not matter much, providing that the size, profile, and color are within reason. Many folks getting started fish flies that are too small, opting for “reasonable”-sized Orange Stimulators in size 8 or 10. Size 6 dry flies will get much more attention, while a size 4 will often get more still. These bugs are big!

As the fish get stuffed, and particularly if they have seen numerous flies, reducing tippet size, dropping down one fly size, and tying on a quality imitation that the fish probably haven’t yet seen will often help. When the feast begins, we’ll stick to two patterns — a Foamstone in size 4 for smooth to choppy water and a size 6 Orange Stimulator for heavy water or windy conditions to imitate the bugs fluttering on the surface. We tuck away a few patterns not available in local shops and break them out for the waning days of the hatch, perhaps adding a beadhead dropper such as a Copper John, Copper Caddis or tungsten bead nymph off the bend for fish less willing to come to the surface. This is often the stage of the hatch when we’ll discover some of the bigger fish that are still keyed in.

Techniques and Tactics

Early in the hatch, when most salmonflies are in the streamside vegetation, searching for mates, the bulk of the surface feeding by fish will be tight to the bank. In these conditions, wading anglers can move upstream along the shallows and thoroughly cover every suspecting lie as they drift flies back toward them. The more water they cover, the more fish they will find. Pounding the bank from a boat allows anglers to cover even more water and might be the most exciting method for fishing a salmonfly hatch.

Just after the bugs have hatched, but before they begin flying in mass, is when a brisk wind blowing hapless bugs into the water can make your day. Getting flies into the current under overhanging limbs in the brisk wind, however, can be frustrating. A three-quarter or even sidearm cast can help. It is usually easier to cast over the shoulder opposite from the wind direction to avoid having the fly colliding with you. When the wind is blowing toward your dominant hand, those folks who can cast effectively with their nondominant hand often have a distinct advantage. Those of us who would likely starve if required to feed ourselves with our off hand can learn to cast over our off shoulder with a cross-chest cast.

In the wind, it can also help to keep casts as short as possible without spooking fish and to shorten leaders to as little as 5 or 6 feet. The additional chop on the water from the wind and the low water quality on the Klamath reduce the risk of spooking fish and allow anglers to use very short leaders to good advantage.

Shooting a cast As the salmonflies mature and begin to get airborne, they fall to the surface and become available to fish out in the middle of the stream. This is when longer casts allow anglers to cover more water to find fish. Having the casting ability to make slack-line presentations and aerial mends, including wiggle, reach, and curved casts and shooting line can be advantageous in getting quality drifts across conflicting currents.

We have found one of the easiest and most effective casts to learn is the bounce cast. Simply overpower the cast and have it roll out a few feet above the surface, which will cause the fly to “bounce” back toward the angler, creating slack in the best possible place — at the fly, where you most often need it to get a good drift.

About the time you figure you’ve mastered dead drifting your dry fly, you’ll find that the fish prefer them dragging or skating a bit. If you watch salmonflies carefully, you’ll often see them fluttering on the surface, sometimes even creating a wake, which attracts fish and will often be key to drawing a strike. This is particularly true late in the hatch, when the bugs and anglers have been around for a while and the fish get a bit more finicky.

Salmonflies are very clumsy fliers, and once they hit the surface, they have great difficulty getting airborne again. The fish know this, and unless the water is moving very rapidly, fish will be relatively casual when they take. Most anglers strike a tick too early, while the fish is still tipped up, mouth open, particularly when the angler is excited by a large fish. They fail to hook the fish as a result. It is best to wait about the time it takes to say “Ah hah” to allow the fish to turn downward and close its mouth on the fly. Changing the timing of their hook sets is the most common adjustment most anglers have to make. Seasoned anglers who have honed quick hook sets mastered while nymphing can find this especially frustrating.

My usual advice is to relax and enjoy the scenery. It is springtime, the sun is shining, and there are blooms, birds, and wildlife to view in almost every direction. There is little need to take fishing very seriously. This advice has worked almost every time on the Klamath during the salmonfly hatch, because the fishing usually turns silly good, causing even the most grizzled veterans to feel like kids again.

Shasta area spring fly fishing report: Guide’s update

IMGP1545April 26-May 6th

The opening weeks of the fly fishing season on streams in the shadow of Shasta have been silly good.  Conditions could not be better, Dogwood trees, Indian Rhubarb, Shasta and Tiger Lilies are in full bloom (much earlier than usual) and local rivers are clear with flows that are as fishable as it gets. The weather has also cooperated with near perfect temps into the 70′s and 80′s.  The blue skies were disrupted by some showers and wind this past weekend as well as early this week but we fished through it all and the fishing (and catching) continues to be exceptional.Hatches have been showing early as well and with the weather forecast calling for more great weather, we recommend you plan a trip in the upcoming weeks as our biggest and best bugs of the year will be arriving soon!

IMGP1547IMGP1549The Upper Sacramento River is in amazing condition all the way from the Box Canyon to Lake Shasta with extremely low, clear flows and hungry trout.  We are experiencing a very small bump in flows each day with fluctuations in runoff but flows continue to be down to summer type levels. Water temps have also climbed into the mid fifties which is ideal and the trout have been active and willing dance partners.

IMGP1530IMGP1529Nymphing with big stonefly patterns accompanied by small (size 14-16) mayfly  and caddis patterns has worked best early in the day, while later we have been fishing with dries, on several occasions cutting off our droppers because the dries have been so productive.  We are seeing light hatches of Blue Wing Olives and springtime caddis along with some lingering March Browns and Brown Drakes.  Green Drakes, Grey Drakes, Salmonflies and Goldenstones will be taking stage next.  We expect these hatches to come early and with the river in this condition we expect a bonanza.  We still have some guide dates available in the coming weeks, drop us a line for the latest conditions or to schedule a great local guide.

IMGP1541IMGP1540The McCloud River is fishing as well as we have ever seen it this time of the year.  Flows are exceptionally low and clear, 186 cfs at Ah Di Na, much like you will find in midsummer so the fishing can be technical.  Anglers intent on pounding typical runs with indicators along with everyone else are finding limited success while those in the know who are fishing dry flies, with and without droppers, in tucked away spots are enjoying an incredible bounty.

Hatches have been sparse with some lingering Blue Wing Olives, March Browns, spring Caddis and Brown Drakes.  No Stoneflies yet as water temps are colder on the McCloud than it’s sister rivers the Upper Sac and Pit River, where water temps are in the mid fifties and stoneflies are beginning to emerge.  Stealth is key as fish are podded together and presenting flies, hooking and playing fish away from the group rather than spooking one that can alert the pod improves success.  The word is out, Ash Camp has filled on weekends and Ah Di Na has been half to nearly full and all the tags at the Nature Conservancy have been put to use.  Best to visit midweek if you are able.

IMGP1535IMGP1546IMGP1536The Lower Sacramento River continues to amaze us with some of the best spring time fishing we have ever seen.  This river tends to cycle and we are definitely on an upswing with many large fish hooked on each and every trip.  The bite has been most consistent on PMD’s though a few lingering March Browns and some summer caddis are getting grabbed as well as rubberlegs. The river has been fishing well from Caldwell Park all the way to Red Bluff.

Summer Caddis (Hydropsyche) hatches are building each afternoon and should help extend the good bite later into the day.  Flows were raised today to 6,500 cfs and are scheduled to raise to 7,000 cfs which is ideal for drifting the river but will reduce the number of spots waders can fish effectively.  We have some guide availability in the coming weeks including access for anglers confined to wheelchairs.  Drop us a line for the latest.

Fine New Zealand Wine (notice the pinky finger) & Fall RiverFeisty Fat 'Bows all day!Hatches on the Fall River have been sparse and the dry fly fishing has been limited but good when and where you find it.  Fish are podded and once they are located, they have been taking nymphs and streamers well.  On most days fishing on the upper river has been better than the lower river as many Rainbows, particularly the larger ones are still likely on the spawn.  We expect hatches to build in the coming weeks and the dry fly fishing to take off.  We have added a few new great guides to our Fall River Staff this season, with Vanessa Cummings, Jeremy Baker and Jason Cockrum, each who have guided the Fall River for years, joining veterans Tom Peppas, George Durand and Scott Saiki.  We recommend scheduling a great local guide now as availability during prime times is filling fast.

The Pit River has been fishing fair though few anglers are visiting as the new flow regimen limits the pocket water fishing that made this river famous.  Those who have learned the new productive spots are enjoying success nymphing with rubberlegs and small mayfly and caddis droppers.  No exceptional dry fly fishing to report, yet.  We have not received a report from Hat Creek, do stay tuned.

Drop us a line if you are headed our way, we would enjoy sharing what we can about local conditions whether you are seeking a  guide or not.  We hope to see you soon!

 

Springtime in the Shadow of Shasta: Five fly recipes for success

Paul with a bright beautiful Lower Sac trophy 'bow Springtime Flies: Recipes for Success

first published in California Fly Fisher Magazine April 2011

By Craig Nielsen

In 1998, I moved to Mount Shasta, a mountain community, from the Central Valley and have learned to cherish the time when I exchange my snowblower’s prime spot in the garage for the lawn mower. At about the same time, I break down my Spey and steelhead rods for storage and join the sections of my 4-weights and 5-weights, anticipating the bounty of hungry trout and the feast of hatches that the spring season brings.

The Spring Caddis
The first big hatch of the season is usually what locals refer to as the “Spring Caddis” and some call the “Mother’s Day Caddis,” which typically gets going in earnest sometime in March and on most rivers in Northern California has concluded by the time Mother’s Day arrives. While many local rivers feature this hatch, the astounding numbers of this bug, the Brachycentrus caddis, that hatch on the lower Sacramento River has created a devoted following over the past several seasons. Anglers also get to enjoy watching newly arrived swallows twist and turn in flight as they feed on the feast and return to their nests on the underside of bridges to feed their young.

The variable weather in the spring can make this hatch a frustrating event on North State rivers. During cold, wet spells, there are often too few bugs to get the fish active and interested. During warm spells, the bugs hatch so prolifically that there can be so many bugs, the fish have no reason to choose your offering over the naturals. There have been spring days when I have launched my boat into thick mats of dying and dead Spring Caddis, leaving me to wonder if there is a single rainbow remaining that is not already literally stuffed to the gills.

Larry lands a lunker, enters Shasta Trout Becky prepares to kiss her Good weather and rafts of bugs also brings out rafts of anglers. The increased fishing pressure can create situations where a good imitation that others fly fishers don’t feature can be the difference between a fair day of fishing and a great day of success. The vast majority of anglers utilize the most commonly used technique on North State rivers, dead drifting two or three nymphs and splitshot under an indicator.

Patterns to imitate the Spring Caddis have been around for nearly as long as trout anglers and include some of the most popular ties on the market. Bird’s Nests in dark olive and black continue to be popular and effective, as does a simple Brown Hackle Peacock soft hackle. Gary LaFontaine’s breakthrough patterns, the Deep Sparkle Pupa and Emergent Sparkle Pupa, have been go-to flies in olive since they gained recognition in 1981 when he published his masterpiece, Caddisflies.

Famed Redding tyers Mike Mercer, Jim Pettis, and Tim Fox have contributed some innovative patterns of their own. While both Mercer’s Z-Wing Caddis and Pettis’s Pulsating Caddis incorporate LaFontaine’s use of trilobal Antron yarn to simulate the trapped air in the caddis’s exoskeleton as they emerge, Pettis also uses glass beads, which when wet cause the fly to light up like a neon sign. Tim Fox achieves the same effect with a different approach by using Krystal Flash and wire ribbing on his deadly Fox Poopah, with its accurate profile and extended body. I had the good fortune of fishing some of his early prototypes as Tim refined this fly.

These patterns are most effectively fished in dark olive and black or dark gray in sizes 14 to 18, depending on the hook style. While some anglers and tiers prefer longer shanked hooks in sizes 16 and 18 that better replicate the natural, others opt for shorter shanked, heavy gauge hooks in 14 and 16 that provide increased hook gap and stronger wire to help improve their hook up ratio and prevent straightened or broken hooks that also sometimes results in the loss of a fish of a lifetime.

Lower SacramentoErika is all smiles with a trophy Lower Sacramento River RainbowFall fishing at it's finest on the Lower Sacramento River While I often enter the fly shop intent on stocking up on my favorite patterns, like most, I succumb to the persuasion of a savvy clerk or local friend to test their latest hot fly, so I was interested when my good friend from Redding, Ross Morrison, who knows the lower Sac intimately, shared his new pattern, which uses some dubbing he claimed has magical qualities — Ice Dub. It is available in myriad colors that can be used to match the naturals accurately, including some “UV” colors. The magical qualities I believe are related to the material’s ability to reflect light and mimic the caddis’s gas bubbles trapped in the exoskeleton during emergence. The results were undeniable, so I picked up some of the dubbing for my personal ties.

As a guide, I need a pattern that is quick to tie, durable, and effective. The basis of the caddis pattern I tie is what LaFontaine called his Simplified Sparkle Pupa. The simplified pattern does away with the Sparkle Pupa’s overbody and uses Ross’s picked-out Ice Dub dubbing to trap air bubbles and reflect light. I also incorporate LaFontaine’s original ostrich herl head, just as Tim Fox does, rather than the dubbing that LaFontaine suggests to commercial tyers, because I have found it to be adequately durable and more effective. I have also found that wood duck flank adds some allure to cheeks on the Deep Sparkle Pupa and as the wing on the emerger. I add a nickel or copper bead if I want some weight and an overwing of Flashabou, which serves as a strobe light to call in feeding fish. A trick that I picked up from reading Ralph Cutter’s California Fly Fisher columns is to dip the wet fly into some Dry Shake (normally used to float dry flies) to enhance the air-trapping qualities of the dubbing while nymphing. I hope you are as pleasantly impressed by the effect as I was.
I will not claim that the go-to pattern I have put together is a better imitation of the natural or revolutionary in any way, or even that it works better than any of the others I’ve mentioned. It is simply a rearrangement of parts of the previous flies that I have suggested work well, combined in a formula that is enough the same as all the others to be a good imitation, yet different enough that pressured fish have not yet come to refuse it as a fake. I also vary the color and size for other caddis hatches. I suggest you take the parts of patterns you find most attractive and construct your own new hot caddisfly imitation. The results can be very satisfying.

Getting Good Drifts
Perhaps as important as a good fly pattern is a good presentation for the Spring Caddis. When guides are asked “What are they eating?” they’ll often joke “A good drift.” More often than not, there is significant truth to the matter. While the vast majority of fish are taken during the Spring Caddis hatch with the standard procedure of sinking multiple flies under a dead-drifted indicator, some anglers have considerably better success than others. I have come to believe they are most often the ones with superior strike detection and hooks sets, particularly, during the Spring Caddis hatch, because the flies and hooks are small.

Besides improving one’s drifts, strike detection, and hook sets, there a few tricks that can also lead to more success and enjoyment. Nymphing blind is essentially a prospecting game, so anglers who cover the maximum amount of productive water increase their odds exponentially. For my own fishing, I try to nymph the water systematically, starting with drifts close in and working out to a comfortable distance, with three to five drifts down each lane. If I find fish in a lane, I take a few extra drifts there, but avoid the mistake of parking on the spot. The width of the lanes I fish is determined by the water conditions and fish behavior. Rainbows in clear water that is an optimum temperature of 55 degrees will likely be willing and able to move to a fly in a wider lane, say two to three feet in each direction, while in colder or off-colored water, I fish narrower lanes.

Almost everyone who fishes nymphs experiences the feel of a wrenching grab at the end of a drift as their flies lift off the bottom. Incorporating this bonus into each drift can increase the day’s catch measurably. I like to avoid stripping in as soon as my flies come tight, so the flies have a chance to lift and swing a bit, mimicking emerging caddis. I also lengthen my line on each drift so my flies lift up at a point slightly farther downstream, increasing my odds by targeting a new lie each time. With this technique, be certain to tie good knots, because the strikes can be hard.

Anglers can also change their rigging to help improve their drifts. Lower Sac veterans often replace their standard tapered leaders with a length of straight tippet — 5 to 9 feet of 2X is most common — tied directly from the indicator to the 3X or 4X tippet used to attach the upper fly in their multifly rig. They then attach split shot just above the tippet knot. This system has the advantage of less drag created by the tapered leader, so flies drift more naturally and sink more quickly and strikes get transmitted more readily. One disadvantage is that to adjust the depth at which you are fishing your flies, tippet must be added or subtracted, which cuts into the time your flies are fishing. A longtime former Lower Sac and Trinity guide, Gabe Duran came up with a clever solution by running his tippet through rubber “bobber stops” used by bait casters, to hold his indicators in place.

While the majority of fish during the spring caddis hatch are caught while nymphing, do not make the mistake of overlooking opportunities to fish dry flies. I will not soon forget March 22, 2002, on the lower Sac, the best day of dry fly fishing I have enjoyed anywhere, anytime. The conditions were just right, and the fish were looking up. At one point, I hooked and landed three fish over 20 inches on consecutive casts.
If you are fortunate enough to find fish moving to the surface during a Spring Caddis hatch, understand that the fishing is most often demanding and technical. Rather than targeting fish in four to eight feet of water with nymphs, most often, you’ll be casting to rising fish taking emergers on shallow flats and in tailouts, and they are easily frightened. Leaders need to be long and light — 10 feet of 5X is a good starting point — and long casts are often necessary.

I typically target one fish, doing my best to pick a large one, and observe and time its rises. My first cast is deliberately a fraction short to avoid lining the fish, because I am hoping to get it to move closer to me and the fly. I make a couple more casts, drifting the fly onto the trout’s nose, I hope without spooking it, and then I rest the fish while changing patterns and again observing the rises carefully, looking for the telltale bubbles left by fish eating on the surface or, more likely, the bulging forms left by fish taking emergers subsurface. I most often fish an Elk Hair Caddis, or, better yet, a Cutter’s E/C Caddis or Missing Link, with a pupa dropper tied a foot or so off the hook bend. If I fail with dries, but am able to position myself upstream from the fish, I often switch to swinging a pupa or soft hackle into its feeding lane. As when nymphing, you must take care to tie good knots, use strong hooks, and make gentle hook sets, because the takes often test your tackle.

The Parachute Adams
If you don’t hit the spring caddis hatch, you probably have not missed the best dry-fly fishing of the season. While the peak of the mayfly hatch might be in May, several species get started as early as March and build through April into May. On local freestones such as the McCloud, upper Sacramento, and Pit Rivers and on spring creeks such aas Hat Creek and the Fall River, mayfly hatches most often overlap in a a dizzy parade starting with Blue-Winged Olives (the Baetidae), size 16 to 20, and March Browns (Rhithrogena s.), size 12 to 4, followed not necessarily in this order by Pale Morning Duns (Ephemerella s.), size 16 to 18, and Pale Evening Duns (Ephemerella s.) size 14 to 16 (called “Sulphers” by some with East Coast roots); Green Drakes, both large, size 8 to 10 (Drunella grandis and doddsi) and small, size 12 to 14 (Drunella flavilinea), often called simply the “Flavs”; Gray Drakes (Siphlonurus occiderntalis), size 10 to 12; and Creamy Orange Duns (Serratella tibialis), size 14 to 16.

Carrying the patterns needed to cover duns, cripples, emergers, and spinners in all the necessary sizes would require a backpack full of fly boxes. Just trying to figure out which bug and which stage of the insect a fish is taking and searching through fly boxes for just the right pattern can be truly maddening. I recall one particularly memorable evening on the McCloud, surrounded by freely rising fish. At least half a dozen different bugs were hatching, yet none of the fish I cast to showed the least interest in the dozen different marvelous creations I had brought. Out of shear frustration in the failing light, I discovered the magic of the Parachute Adams.

My first choice is now nearly always a Parachute Adams, and I most often change sizes before I change patterns. I currently carry the fly in sizes 8 through 18. The large ones have the classic white hair wing, while on the smallest sizes, I opt for a bright wing, preferably an orange turkey flat, to aid my failing eyesight. I often tie on a soft hackle such as Bob Grace’s Soft Hackle PT (featured in “At the Vise” in the January/February 2011 issue of California Fly Fisher) with 5X or 6X dropper and fish the Adams as an attractor/indicator fly. When tying my own Adams patterns, I try to mix several colors of dubbing together, because I believe it helps to fool trout that are being selective regarding a particular color of insect. I have been pleasantly surprised by the results, even on demanding spring creeks. On the other hand, sometimes going to the specialty box for just the right pattern does turn the trick.

The Green Drake Cripple
I like to think of the Parachute Adams as my meat-and-potatoes fly and the Green Drake Cripple as dessert, a bon-bon pattern. Unlike caddisflies, which prefer warm, dry weather, mayflies hatch on overcast, drippy days, though preferably not in a hard rain. While there are occasional massive hatches of other mayflies, the Green Drakes hatch only sporadically, at best, so if I see a Green Drake or two drift or fly by, I am tempted to tie one on. The big bugs, size 8 to 12, typically drift long distances to dry their slate-colored wings before taking flight, so they make for an easy treat for trout that are looking up.

Because the Green Drake hatch is so sporadic, I have had little success trying to target it, but I am always on the lookout for them in the spring, particularly while fishing another mayfly hatch. If the trout aren’t interested in the imitations I’m fishing, I show them a Green Drake and see what happens.

For most other mayflies, I’m typically fishing at least an 11-foot leader tapered to 5X or 6X. I dead drift the flies to rising fish or target holding water using aerial mends, including bounce casts, reach mends, and curve and wiggle casts. If I raise a sizable fish that doesn’t take, I note my position by triangulating it, measure my cast another time or two, and leave the line on the reel at the correct length for my cast. I continue fishing to other fish and then return to this exact spot. I cut my leader back a bit to 4X or 5X tippet and tie on a Green Drake. Many times, this won’t work, but on the occasions when it does, I land some of the biggest fish of the season, and it helps make me feel like a very clever fellow.

The Sofa Pillow and Foam Stone
I still have not yet discussed the truly big morsels that hatch in the spring — the stoneflies, in particular the Salmonflies (Pteronarcys californica) and Golden Stones (Calineuria californica). Hat Creek is the first place where I encountered Salmonflies, and I have gone on to chase this famed hatch across the West, including trips to the Madison, Deschutes, and Rogue Rivers and, most recently, the Klamath River. There are also fishable hatches on the McCloud and Pit, with increasing numbers showing on the upper Sacramento, because it took several years for these bugs to recover from the toxic metam sodium spill on the railroad at the Cantara Loop in 1991.

I discussed techniques for fishing this hatch extensively in “Seasons on the Klamath: Spring” in the May/June 2010 issue of California Fly Fisher, but a few points are worth repeating. For dry-fly fishing, it is best to target the egg-laying period, rather than the hatch itself, because that is when the fish will be looking up. The nymphs emerge on midstream rocks or crawl to shore. During the early stages of the hatch, it is best to target banks where emerged bugs fall or get blown into the river from streamside vegetation as they cling and crawl in search of mates. These big bites bring the largest fish in the river to the surface. The insects prefer the warmth of late morning and afternoon, allowing anglers to sleep in and enjoy a hearty breakfast, and they remain active into early evening, then return to streamside vegetation at dusk in time for you and your fishing partners to enjoy cocktails, dinner, and a show.

Golden Stones are more diverse than Salmonflies, with several species hatching on all but a few streams in Northern California. They typically start emerging a bit later in the season than the Salmonflies, but most often overlap a bit. Some species’ adults are a rusty or golden color, while others tend toward a bright yellow. On more than a few North State streams, some species can be found hatching well into July.
The patterns, strategies, and techniques for fishing both Salmonflies and Golden Stones are nearly identical. Adult Salmonflies and Golden Stones are best imitated with high-floating dries, sizes 4 and 6 in orange for Salmonflies and in sizes 6 to 10 in yellow or brownish gold for Golden Stones. While specific risers can be targeted on occasion, most action comes from prospecting, as when fishing with an attractor dry fly. Make a few casts to likely holding water, keep moving, and cover as much quality water as you can manage.

If the fishing is at all slow, I attach a small nymph dropper to imitate a mayfly or caddis that is hatching during the same period. Because these stonefly patterns are large and float high, they make particularly good indicator flies for a tandem of droppers fished like nymphs. I most often attach a Copper John or Ken Morrish’s Iron Sally with a small beadhead nymph hung a foot or so below it.

My favorite stonefly patterns are the Sofa Pillow, precursor to the now more popular Kaufmann Stimulator, the Chubby Chernobyl and the Rogue Foam Stone. I typically fish the Foam Stone in smoother flows and the fluttering Sofa Pillow and Chernobyl in choppy, more turbulent flows. All three can be equally effective and can be found in colors and sizes to represent both Salmonflies and Golden Stones.

Again, the flies, strategies and techniques offered are not meant as a prescription for your spring fishing but an offering of ideas meant to enhance your experience. I hope you have found something useful and fun that will contribute to your enjoyment on your next fishing adventure.

Fly Patterns and their recipes:

Spring Caddis Spring Caddis
Hook: Tiemco 206 bl sizes 14-16
Thread: Brown 8/0 Uni-Thread
Body: Olive Brown UV Ice Dub
Wing: Wood Duck Flank Fibers
Overwing: Pearl Flashabou
Collar: Brown or Dark Grey Ostrich
Head: optional Copper or Nickel Bead

 

Parachute Adams Parachute Adams
Hook: Tiemco 100 sizes 8-18
Thread: Rusty Dun 6/0 or 8/0 Uni-Thread
Tail: Mixed Brown and Grey Hackle Fibers or Brown & Black Moose Hair
Body & Head: Mixed Superfine dubbing colors achieving an overall grey/brown coloration
Wing: White or Orange Calf Tail Post or Turkey Flat
Hackle: Mixed Brown and Grizzly wound Parachute style

 

 

Green Drake Cripple Green Drake Cripple
Hook: Tiemco 100 sizes 8-12
Thread: Olive 6/0 Uni-thread
Tail: Olive Marabou
Body: Wound Olive Marabou
Thorax: Clipped butts from Olive Deer Hair Wing
Wing: Olive or Black Deer or Elk Hair
Hackle: Dyed Olive Grizzly or Dark Dun

 

Rogue Foamstone Rogue Foam Stone
Hook: Tiemco 5263 or 200R
Thread: Orange or Yellow 6/0 Uni-Thread
Body: Orange or Yellow closed cell foam, 3mm
Wing: Black or Golden Yellow web wing over pearl crystal flash
Overwing: Elk Hair
Legs: Black or Golden speckled rubber
Head: Black or Golden Deer Hair

 

Sofa Pillow Sofa Pillow
Hook:  Tiemco 5263 or 200R  sizes 4-10
Thread: Orange or Yellow 6/0 Uni-Thread
Tail:  Elk Hair Flared
Body: Brown with bits of Orange & Yellow fibers blended in
Hackle: Brown palmered up abdomen
Wing:  Elk Hair Flared
Hackle:  Brown or Furnace in front of wing