Northern California’s Premier Fly Fishing Guide Service

Update: Fires & Fly Fishing in Shasta/Burney & Southern Oregon

Dry fly time on the Upper Sacramento RiverAugust 7, 2014

The worst of the smoke has cleared in the past two days in the Shasta, Fall River and Burney areas and fishing continues to be fair to good on most local streams with the exception of Hat Creek being closed.  In fact on Tuesday, a guest enjoyed perhaps the best evening of dry fly fishing local guide Craig Nielsen has seen on the Upper Sacramento River all season.

A colorful Upper Sacramento River dry fly summertime RainbowBlue skies have returned and air quality has improved to ten miles or more of visibility in the Mt. Shasta, Fall River, Yreka and Southern Oregon areas with conditions perhaps a bit worse in the Hat Creek and Burney area.  A Ranger at the Hat Creek station described blue skies and visibilities to all the surrounding mountains this afternoon.

Reports from guides on Fall and Pit Rivers is that fishing continues to be good, again with the exception of Hat Creek which is closed, silt in the McCloud reducing clarity to two feet, and Pit 5 which is suffering from 70 degree water temps, much too high to catch and release wild Rainbow Trout safely.  Highway 89 is currently closed southbound at the junction with 299 and Highway 299 is closed to nonresidents at Johnson Park.  Best to double check on lodging reservations in the Fall River/ Burney area before you leave home as the majority are in use by firefighters.

A link to current fire conditions can be found at:  Feel free to drop us a line for the latest fishing conditions if you are considering heading this way.

Fly Fishing the McCloud River remains cloudy

Carrie's McCloud RainbowAugust 7, 2014

Fly Fishing on the McCloud River remains cloudy as the river continues to suffer from an infusion of silt from Mud Creek. Folks have been calling so we thought we’d update you on conditions.

Turbid McCloud River Below Ash Camp ShastaTrout fly fishing guides have cancelled trips until conditions improve.  While the river is fishable, reports two days ago at Ash Camp were that water clarity remained at perhaps a foot and a half or two feet.   The gauging station near Lake Shasta is showing very low levels of siltation.  One good bit is that not much stealth is required and fishing pressure has been nonexistent.  While catch rates are typically low in these conditions, anglers get shots at some of the larger fish including this one a few seasons ago under similar conditions by Carrie, a guest on a trip with local guide Rick Cox.  Do stay tuned.  Feel free to drop us a line for the latest.

Umpqua & Rogue River Steelhead Fly Fishing Report

IMGP1699July 16-August 4th

For a few years now Craig and Jerri have enjoyed a tradition of friends and family joining them for a week of steelhead fishing on the Umpqua River in Oregon for Craig’s birthday. This year we celebrated Craig’s second 60th, which one friend noted makes him 120 years old (and he can still fish reasonably well!).  We enjoyed our best fishing (and catching) in recent memory and most every angler found a fish or more, including even Craig who managed to land a birthday fish.

IMGP1658photoIMGP1697The Umpqua is steeped in tradition and is famous in the lore of the sport so the camaraderie for us is what it really is about.  We most enjoyed telling some long fish tales about our success or lack of it during cocktail hour, a breakfast at the Steamboat Inn or one of our afternoon potluck BBQ’s.

photo 3A great trip for family and friends who don’t fish as well, some folks took hikes, biked, toured Crater Lake, swam, or whitewater rafted.  A few folks new to the river, as well as a couple not so new, opted to fish with some great local guides who we heartily recommend, Rich Zellman and Tony Wratney.  A big thank you to Dan, Ed & Melinda, Joel, Tim & Judy, Gui, Rick, John and Tim for helping to make this year one of the most memorable visits ever.

Craig also joined a great local guide Carl Mogerly for a morning on the Rogue this week.  The steelhead seem to be arriving in good numbers this year as they hooked three fish in a morning session of swinging dry lines with their two handed rods.  We can’t wait to see what the Klamath brings us this season.  Early reports on the lower river have been encouraging.  Do stay tuned.

Fly fishing in the Shadow of Shasta: Five flies for summer

Summer Flies: Five Recipes for Success

First published in California Fly Fisher Magazine, Summer 2011

By Craig Nielsen

Upper Sacramento River I learned to fly fish growing up in Paradise — not figuratively, but literally. Summertime vacation was my favorite time in my hometown of Paradise, which is located on a ridge just above Chico, California, between two tumbling freestone streams, Butte Creek and the Feather River. I would ride my Stingray bicycle to the rim of the ridge and hike down into the canyon to test my latest fly creations on the native rainbow trout. Often, I wouldn’t return until well after adult dark (the time my mother called for me) and would fish until kid dark, when the fish bit best and when I could no longer see my fly — or much of anything else.

These formative years shaped the way I fish and my fly selection to this day. The steep-walled freestones had a variety of water types and a wide diversity of insect life. Hatch matching had not come into vogue, and if it had, I might have needed to carry a backpack full of flies. I kept my attire and equipment simple and efficient, but most importantly, effective. I wore jeans until the knees blew out, then cut-offs, a T-shirt, and high-top Converse shoes (black ones, preferably) with carpet glued on the bottoms, all topped off with a Giants baseball cap. I carried a single box of flies (mostly dries), some Mucilin, a few split shot, and a spare leader in a shoulder bag that doubled as a creel.

I learned that a well-placed and well-drifted fly will work better than the perfect fly poorly placed. My fishing and tying have evolved since that time, but some things remain the same. The rods, lines, and equipment I carry fifty years later allow me to use a variety of techniques from the top to the bottom of the water column, and the flies that are in my boxes are versatile ties that help meet the uncertainties provided by the natural world I am forever trying to understand better.

Eighty to 90 percent of the trout I catch each summer come on 10 patterns that I carry year round. The dry flies are the Humpy and Parachute Adams; the nymphs include the Bird’s Nest, Pheasant Tail, Prince, Copper John, Micromay, and Rubberlegs; I also carry soft hackles and a streamer — a Woolly Bugger. The other fish come on specialty flies that I carry seasonally. In this review, I discuss 5 patterns. Three can be found in my box year-round: the Humpy, soft hackles, and the Bird’s Nest. Two I use seasonally: the Iron Sally and the Fox Pupa. I will detail why I have chosen these flies and why and how I fish them. None of this is meant as a prescription, but I hope it will stimulate your thinking about how you most enjoy fishing and help you select flies that add to the pleasure of your pursuit.

Upper Sacramento The Skinny Humpy (or Hatchmaster)

If I were forced to fish only one dry-fly pattern, the Humpy in a sparse tie would be my choice. I have been fishing it for as long as I can remember. While it is a popular fast-water attractor pattern that floats high on the rough-and-tumble local freestones such as the McCloud, Pit, and upper Sacramento, I also use it to represent a host of different insects, including all stages of mayflies, caddisflies, stoneflies, and even terrestrials.

My affection for this pattern was sealed for me a few seasons ago when Dick Galland, owner of the Clearwater House on Hat Creek, held up a size 18 Hatchmaster (Dave Lambroughton’s knockoff of the Humpy) and remarked, “If this fly doesn’t work for you, it’s not because it isn’t the correct pattern.” Hat Creek is known for its fussy fish, and the selective feeders I had targeted for the evening hatch were all that and more. But as usual, Dick’s advice was spot-on. The fly, tied on a long leader and 7X tippet, fooled some of the best of them, including a 20-plus-inch brown sipping emergers tight to the far bank.

While this pattern has proved its worth chasing challenging trophy trout on famous technical rivers such as Hat Creek, the Fall River, the Rising River, Silver Creek, the Henrys Fork, the Firehole, the Big Horn and Slough Creek, the most fun I have with it is on eager, small trout on a warm summer day, wet wading the kind of tiny creeks and canyon water I first fished as a kid.

I typically attach a size 14 or 16 Humpy to a 6-foot or 7-foot 5X leader and fish a 3-weight or 4-weight rod (preferably bamboo) and a floating line to match. Walking into an out-of-the way place with a few spare flies stuck in my hat, I enjoy the solitude or, better yet, the companionship of a good fishing friend. I have found this style of fishing to be soothing to the soul, because it offers minimal technical distractions and returns me to my roots, allowing me to experience both the natural world and the magic that fly fishing offers at their fullest.

I carry sparsely tied Humpies in my box year-round. My favorites feature yellow and rusty orange thread bodies in sized 8 through 18, as well as dark olive or black bodies in sizes 16 and 18. The versatility of this pattern offers the opportunity to carry one pattern to solve fishing challenges throughout the season. I use large Humpies to supplement my patterns that imitate Salmonflies and Golden Stones in the late spring and early summer. As these hatches progress on popular public waters, trout begin to reject standard stonefly patterns, so throwing a large orange or yellow Humpy into fast-moving, choppy runs to represent a fluttering bug can get fish to commit when the more accurate pattern they’ve already seen might not.

The large Humpies stay in my box throughout the summer to serve as attractor dries, the yellow ones perhaps taken as small grasshoppers. More often, they serve as ideal high-floating attractor dry flies to present nymph droppers off the bend of the hook. For short drifts, particularly when fishing pocket water, I often tie on a fast-sinking wired-bodied fly such as a Copper John, Copper Caddis, or an Iron Sally (more about this fly later) with 2 feet of tippet off the hook bend. This can be a very enjoyable and productive method when there is little or no hatch activity or surface action. If there are emerging insects, I might opt for a tungsten beadhead dropper that better imitates the nymphs and emergers.

The evening hatches of summer are a thing to be savored, and the Humpies in my box most often serve as my first option. Early in the summer, a size 14 or 16 Humpy in rusty orange is one of my most productive flies during the hatch of Pinks Alberts (Epeorus) that we experience on the upper Sacramento and McCloud. Later in the season, hatches of Pale Evening Duns (Heptagenia) are matched with size 14 to 18 yellow Humpies tied to long, light leaders.

This fishing sometimes gets a bit technical, especially with fish that see significant fishing pressure. I sometimes clip the bottom hackle even with the point of the hook (thorax style) or even shorter to sit the fly deeper and create a “cripple.” Andy Burk once noticed the effectiveness of a torn-up, partially submerged Humpy and substituted a body of marabou to create an original cripple pattern that remains effective today. (See the March/April 2011 issue of California Fly Fisher for my description on fishing Andy’s Green Drake Cripple.) If the Humpy doesn’t entice a grab, I often hang a soft hackle off the bend as a dropper.

Soft Hackles

If you’ve read some of my previous articles, you’re familiar with my fondness for soft hackles. Though they have a place in my box year-round, summertime is when I fish soft hackles the most often. In the January/February 2011 issue of California Fly Fisher, I discussed the merits of the Pheasant Tail Soft Hackle, which I carry year-round. I add some additional patterns to the box for the summer, including the Partridge and Yellow, Partridge and Orange, Partridge and Olive, and Ginger and Yellow. I enjoy tying the variations of this simple pattern with Pearsall’s silk in the Materelli holder designed to hold small, sewing-machine bobbins.

For fishing soft hackles, the method I use least is the traditional approach of swinging a brace of flies. Instead, as I mentioned, one of my favorite methods is to hang soft hackles off dry flies for difficult fish during hatches. My dry fly will most often be a Humpy or a Parachute Adams, particularly when fishing freestone streams. When the Parachute Adams or Skinny Humpy gets bumped and refused, I take that as a signal to attach a foot to 18 inches of 5X or 6X tippet off the bend to a soft hackle. Soft hackles by design produce movement and the illusion of life.

In the especially challenging situations that occur on California spring creeks such as Hat Creek or the Fall River, I might drop to 7X tippet and pick out a dry that floats well, but that represents the hatching mayfly duns as accurately as I can manage. The dry fly allows my failing eyes to track the soft hackle as it sits flat in the film, a juicy, vulnerable cripple or spinner for savvy big trout. You need to observe closely, because takes can be quite subtle. It also serves best to use a soft set on the light tippet, because the fish can often be larger than anticipated.

I most often dress soft hackles with Dry Shake to float them, and when that doesn’t do the trick, I wet the fly and tippet and let them sink a bit into the film. Fish prefer to feed just beneath the surface more often than I might wish. The Humpy, Parachute Adams, or match-the-hatch dry gets treated with liquid floatant, as does the leader from the fly line to the tippet. I leave the tippet untreated so it sits in, rather than on the surface. I then use only Dry Shake on the flies. If they continue to sink, I re-treat the leader with liquid floatant and the flies with Dry Shake. After several fish chew on the dry fly, it sometimes will continue to sink. When this occurs, I’ve found it to be most efficient just to tie on a fresh fly, rather than fuss with liquid floatant.

Soft hackles also serve regular duty on my nymphing rigs, both with and without an indicator. Along with Bird’s Nests, they are my first choice when selecting unbeaded nymphs. Fished as nymphs, soft hackles do a very credible job of imitating emerging mayflies, caddisflies, and midges, as well as crippled emergers and spent adults. Again, their movement, particularly in the slower-moving flows of summer, breathes life into the presentation, and they get grabbed when more traditional, lifeless nymphs do not. At the end of the drift, I almost always allow the flies to lift up off the bottom, which draws a surprising number of strikes, and in slow flows, I retrieve them in short strips as they swing.

I do sometimes swing soft hackles, but rarely in the prescribed manner. Most often, I swing to fish that I have seen move on the surface, but whose rise form reveals they are taking subsurface. (The lack of a bubble is one sign.) I like to quarter the cast downstream above the fish, as if I were dry-fly fishing, and present the fly greased-line style, alternately feeding line and swinging to keep in touch with the fly. This technique can fool some very wary fish on some challenging waters, including big browns on the McCloud, Trinity, and Truckee and rainbows on the Fall River, Hat Creek, and lower Sacramento. Steelhead also have fallen prey to it.

The Iron Sally

When Little Yellow Sallies are hatching, which they do throughout a good part of the summer where I live and fish, Ken Morrish’s Iron Sally replaces my Copper Johns. Iron Sallies are constructed in a similar manner, with bead heads and wire bodies. They sink quickly and spend a good deal of time were the fish like most to eat.

On my nymphing rigs, I place a size 14 or 16 size Iron Sally closest to my split shot, with another nymph the same size or smaller trailing off the hook bend. The Iron Sally is also my go-to fly when fishing a dry fly and dropper in pocket water during the summer, again because of its sink rate. Iron Sallies can be tied or purchased with tungsten beads, which further increase their sink rate, but the weight must be compensated for by a really buoyant dry fly. It is important to get enough drop for the fly to get grabbed — 20 to 30 inches of drop is usually about right.

My very favorite way to fish Iron Sallies is when the water I am targeting features longer runs, glides, slots, or glassy water such as you find on the Pit, upper Sacramento, Feather, or particularly Hat Creek or the McCloud — water where stealth is key. I rig a large Humpy or Parachute Adams, size 8 to 12, in a hopper-copper-dropper configuration by adding an additional dropper below my dry-and-dropper rig, most often a caddis or mayfly nymph. The key to avoiding tangles with this rig is to keep the distance between your fly line and the dry fly short — a leader of 5 to 7 feet to the dry fly works best. The distance between the two nymph droppers is also critical — 9 to 15 inches apart will allow the flies to turn over together, rather than tumbling and tangling. To avoid tangles, it is safest to start with shorter leaders and tippet lengths in the beginning.

Try casting a short line until you gain some experience controlling the open loop required when fishing this rig. To cover water as you are learning this technique, you might try moving to a new position whenever possible, rather than lengthening line. With the hopper-copper-dropper rig, classic runs that are typically nymphed with indicators during the high flows of the spring can be fished effectively with much less chance of spooking fish in the low, clear flows of the summer. (The rig works magic during the October Caddis hatch in the fall, as well.) Most often, grabs come on the nymphs, but I have been pleasantly surprised by the number of fish, particularly larger ones, that are willing to eat my “bobber fly.”

Skinny Bird’s Nest

If I had to fish with only one fly, the Bird’s Nest tied sparsely would be it. I fish it with and without bead heads as my all-purpose, go-to nymph, emerger, cripple, scud, drowned ant — you name it. I fish it most in the tumbling freestone streams that I frequent, but it has served me well on tailwaters, spring creeks, and still waters across the West, as well. The reason I rely on it is that it has helped me to solve more fishing problems than any other fly I have ever carried.

I have been fishing this pattern for nearly fifty years, but a little over thirty years ago, Paradise guide Tom Peppas demonstrated his Bird’s Nest tie at a meeting of the Chico Area Fly Fishing Club I attended. His tie, like mine, was considerably sparser than commercial ties, both then and now. Unlike, me he used wood duck flank, rather than mallard flank, for the hackle legs. He also flared the wood duck, with an effect that circled the fly much like a soft hackle, styles I have incorporated ever since. For nontyers, I am sorry to say I have yet to find a commercial tie that fishes half as well.

The Bird’s Nest is my go-to fly whenever I encounter emerging caddisflies, which is frequently, during the summer months in Northern California. I carry it in sizes 12 to 18 in the standard tan color with a gold bead, in an olive-brown color with a copper bead, and in black with a black/nickel-colored bead. Most often I fish the beaded pattern as the upper fly in a tandem nymphing rig, with my trailer fly nearly always a Pheasant Tail or Micromay Nymph when prospecting during nonhatch periods. It’s also a go-to fly tied with a tungsten bead on dry-and-dropper rigs and as the point fly on a hopper-copper-dropper rig. I sometimes switch to an unbeaded Bird’s Nest as the dropper when emergers are present or when fishing soft water.

One of the strike triggers present in this fly is the spiky dubbing, which traps air bubbles, simulating the gas-filled exoskeleton of emergers. This effect can be further enhanced as suggested by Ralph Cutter by regularly dipping the fly in Dry Shake, as you would a dry fly.

The Bird’s Nest has been the most effective fly I have used on the swing for trout. I swing it up at the end of the drift when I’m nymphing runs and when dredging deep water, but also swing it on the surface to active risers, as I described with soft hackles. If I am swinging a small streamer or leech pattern, I often tie on a Bird’s Nest or soft hackle and swing and retrieve them in tandem. This can be very effective on technical spring creeks, as well as on still waters such as Manzanita Lake, which is known for its educated trophy trout. I have had considerable success when retrieving it as an emerging Callibaetis, when dead drifting it as an emerger, and even when floating it as a cripple dropper off a parachute dry.

Fox Pupa

I would be remiss if I did not include Tim Fox’s incredible fly, the Fox Pupa, in a review of North State summer flies. I have witnessed a parade of flies that have had their day on the lower Sacramento River, including the Bird’s Nest, Lafontaine’s Deep and Emergent Sparkle Pupas, Mercer’s Z-Wing Caddis, and Pettis’s Pulsator. The Fox Pupa has outfished them all and has stood the test of time.

There is no fly that matches its performance when imitating the prolific summer Hydropsyche caddis hatch that starts on the lower Sacramento in the spring and continues well into the fall. Defying logic, the fly continues to be the top producer, despite the fact that most anglers now use it most of the time. One would think that selective trophy trout would discover the fake and become immune. The only explanation that I can offer is that it simply imitates the natural so well that they are unable to refuse it.

I have used it effectively for summer caddis hatches on other local rivers, including the McCloud, Pit, upper Sacramento, Feather, Yuba, and Hat Creek, and while the results may not be quite as dramatic as on the lower Sacramento, the Fox Pupa has many times been the difference between a fair day and an excellent one. I carry the tan version (almost a peach color) in sizes 12 to 16, with the 14s receiving the most work.

When the grab is on, I often dead drift Fox Pupas under an indicator in tandem with a beadhead upper fly and an unbeaded fly hung off the bend. The fish grab this fly hard, so I often will fish a bit heavier tippet — 3X to the first fly and 4X to the trailer. The grabs can be wrenching when you let the flies lift up and swing at the end of the drift. In addition to tan, I tie this pattern in olive, green, bright (“insect”) green, and black, which I carry mostly for the spring caddis hatch in size 14 to 18.

Try some of the flies I have suggested, or, if you fish them already, try fishing them in one of the new way’s I’ve mentioned. I hope I have simulated your thinking about the fly fishing you most enjoy and how you might best fill your box with flies that enhance your fly-fishing experience.

Fly Recipes:

Birdsnest Birdsnest:
Hook:  Tiemco 3761 (12-18)
Bead: Gold, Copper or Black Nickel (tungsten optional)
Thread: 8/0 Uni color to match dubbing
Tail: Wood Duck Flank Feather Fibers
Body: Hare’s Mask Dubbing (guard hair removed)
Rib: Gold, Copper or Silver Wire
Wing/Legs: Wood Duck Flank Flared
Thorax: Hare’s Mask Dubbing (with guard hairs)


Soft Hackle Soft Hackle:
Hook: Tiemco 3769 (14-20)
Thread: Pearsall’s Silk
Body: Pearsall’s Silk
Thorax: Hare’s Mask Dubbing, color to match thread
Hackle: Partridge or Hen Hackle
Head: Pearsall’s Silk


Humpy Humpy:
Hook: Tiemco 100 (8-18)
Thread: 8/0 or 6/0 Uni color of body
Tail: Moose or Elk Hair
Shellback: Elk Hair pulled over to form wing:
Body: Uni Thread
Wing: Elk Hair from Shellback
Hackle: Mixed Brown and Grizzly Rooster


Fox Poopah Fox Poopah:
Hook: Tiemco 2312 (12-16)
Thread: 6/0 Uni Thread Brown
Underbody: Pearl Flashabou
Body: Tan (peach colored) Vernille
Rib: Fine Copper Wire
Legs: Brown Henback
Antennae: Wood Duck Flank Feather Fibers
Throax: Brown Ostrich Herl
Bead: Copper (optional)


Iron Sallie Morrish Iron Sallie:
Hook: Tiemco 5262 (14-16)
Thread: 8/0 Uni Gold
Bead: Gold Brass ( tungsten optional)
Tail: Gold Goose Biots
Body: Gold Wire and Black Crystal Flash
Legs: Black Crystal Flash
Wing Case: Turkey Tail
Thorax: Gold Dubbing
Antennae; Gold Goose Biots


Guides report: Summertime fly fishing in the shadow of Shasta

DSCF4036The Blackberries are ripe, the weather is perfect (no local fires), the trout are fat and feisty and solitude is easy to find. We recommend you join us soon!  To help you take advantage of the great local fishing we are offering a group special.  Bring family or friends and hire two guides for a day (or longer) and receive 20% off.  Save $180 per day, guide fees are $445 per day reduced to $355, or $90 off per guide per day.  Contact us now to schedule remaining summer dates with the finest local guides, this offer expires August 31st.

IMGP1654Fall is still a few weeks away, and we are enjoying some exceptionally fine weather and the final days of summer, enabling us to wade wet on our local freestones, the McCloud, Upper Sac and Pit Rivers.  As is typical of summer, this is not the time of year we expect epic days catching loads of big fish.  It is the time of year we enjoy the simple pleasures of fly fishing, the solitude of casting dries on scenic creeks to native fish, nymphing pockets for hot rainbows and perhaps even a streamside nap.  With flows at their lowest we can chose a water type and technique to suit our mood, whether it is high sticking pocket water, fishing a dry dropper through a classic run, or casting tiny dries to selective evening risers.

With the warm weather as usual, the fishing has been best early and late in the day when the sun is off the water.   Evening hatches on local freestones have been compressed, sometimes lasting an hour or more but seldom longer, mostly small to tiny mayflies and caddis with a few lingering yellow sallies.  Nymphing, as well as fishing dry fly attractors with droppers, has been effective before the hatch as well as earlier in the day.

IMGP1712Local creeks have been outstanding all during the day.  A number of families have joined us to share the joy of fast action, casting dry flies to eager trout, perfect for folks new to the sport.  Most of the native fish are small but a few places harbor some larger natives along with some hatchery plants that keep it exciting for the more experienced souls.  Not just for beginners, local creeks are one of our guides’ favorite places to go on a day off.  We take a picnic lunch, enjoy a swim and perhaps a midday nap making for a very soulful day.

IMGP1703IMGP1706IMGP1715The Upper Sacramento River is low and clear and fishing well even midday for anglers searching fast water pockets with nymphs or dry droppers.  Dry flies and droppers find good numbers of small fish, while nymphing fast water pockets has found some of the larger specimens in the river.  For those who know where and how to “high stick” the fishing has been terrific at times.  The bite has been best on Black Fly larva imitations, small to tiny caddis and mayflies, and October Caddis case patterns.  The evening hatch has been light and difficult to find at times, fish are very wary so stealth is at a premium.

The Pit River has been a bit on and off during the day, with fishing being tough for a few hours but when it turns on it has been exceptional with folks enjoying a couple hours of the their best fishing ever.  The bite is usually driven by a caddis hatch which comes off later in the day.  Nymphing earlier in the day has been less reliable.

IMGP1707IMGP1656The McCloud experienced a glacier silt event two weeks ago (same as last year at this time) and is still colored but is again fishable.  Water clarity dropped from ten to fifteen feet to less than a foot and is back to a foot or two.  As it clears more, fishing will improve and actually be better than having the crystal clear water that made fishing technical prior to the event.  Prior to the silt, the action was nearly non stop but most of the fish were small, with a few fish in the teens mixed in during a day.  Best action was on dry dropper rigs with nymphing fast water finding fewer but larger fish.  Not a bad time to consider streamers!

Fall River Hexagenia Hatch SunsetA Handfull of Hexagenia MayfliesWe have enjoyed some great dry fly fishing on the The Fall River with a mixture of Callibaetis, PMD’s and Tricos from morning into the afternoon with some nymphing and streamer fishing before and after.  You can have the place to yourself.  On most days the fishing drops of completely mid-afternoon and doesn’t pick up again until the last of the Hex hatch during the last hour of light.  In early fall as the weather cools we expect Blue Wing Olives and PMD’s to reappear along with some Mahoganies providing some top water action.

Those who like it hot have enjoyed some fine catches on the Lower Sacramento River of late with plenty of big ‘bows.  Daytime temps have been in the hundreds, so it is most comfortable to fish later in the day.  Flows have been steady, around 10,000 cfs making hatches of summer caddis and mayflies more predictable and fishing has been consistently good.    A good place to visit after sleeping in, the grab has been best later in the day with some mornings and early afternoons being unusually slow, more than made up for by the late afternoon and early evening bite.

photo 1photo 2We have enjoyed some summer evenings on Lake Siskiyou casting poppers to smallmouth and finding some Rainbows as well at dusk with our Hexagenia dries.  Watching the alpine glow build up the mountain at sunset is a great way to cap off your day in the shadow of Shasta.

Breakfast-in-LodgeSummer fishing on the  Klamath has concluded for the season but we still have some fall Steelhead dates available starting in September, including some special offerings at the incredible Scott River Lodge.  Now is the time to schedule your fall Steelhead trip as bookings for prime dates fills early.

We hope to see you soon, 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.

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


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.”

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.