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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Fall Prognosis for the Northern Sierra

The Wild & Scenic Middle Fork Feather River glows with autumn color.

The much anticipated wait for the best fishing of the year is nearly upon us. Fall is a very special time of year if you’re an angler; there are so many fantastic opportunities, yet only so much time before winter takes hold. It’s short and sweet. An angler has to choose just where to concentrate their efforts and what species one decides to hunt. You can’t be everywhere at once. I’d like to share with you my favorite locations for fall in the Northern Sierra, waters that not only produce great fishing, but stunning fall colors that will surely move you.

Lake Davis in Fall; Stalking trout in ankle deep water.

Lake Davis is at the top of my list and I consider it the best game in town when fishing for trout. The rainbows that inhabit the lake have fed on the best aquatic insects that Mother Nature can provide all season long and are usually fat and spunky. These fish also start coming into the very skinny water for the comfortable water temperatures and abundant food supply to fatten up for the long winter ice over. This is when an angler can fish right off the bank and sight fish to individual trout that can be so exhilarating!
The lake fishes so well that all methods will work depending on the game you like to play whether you’re fishing off the bank, in a float tube, or trolling some big and ugly flies behind a boat. The trout know winter is coming, they can feel it and their instinct is to feed like crazy! Big flies, heavier tippets, and faster retrieves come into play now. Multiple strikes and big number days are the norm if you can find the fish. Fly selection is not that critical though the rainbows do favor flies such as wiggle tails and woolly buggers in burnt orange, rust, and brown in sizes 6-12. With the aspens glowing, the Sand Hill cranes flying overhead, and your rod bent, Lake Davis is unbeatable for an outstanding autumn fly fishing experience!



The Big and Little Truckee Rivers come alive in fall and if you’re after a big brown trout now is the time as these predators become active. Presenting baitfish streamer flies in the Big Truckee is much like steelhead fishing in that you must cover lots of water, and make many casts to every available spot a big fish can hold. Shorter stout 7 foot 8-12 pound leaders matched with a quick descent sink tip is the preferred rig for stalking these monstrous trout. It also is important to vary your retrieve, make your streamer look alive like a fleeing or wounded minnow with erratic movements. Effective streamer flies would include Bunny Leeches and Zonkers in black, black & gold, brown & yellow, and barred olive in sizes 2-6. The lower river from Hirschdale down to Reno is where an angler should concentrate their efforts when seeking a trophy trout. If you’re lucky enough to hook a big brown trout you’ll understand why “the tug is the drug!”
Challenging fishing; Sight fishing to sippers on the Little Truckee River.

Fishing the Little Truckee River in fall is a whole different scenario than its big brother that requires stealth and careful observation. The low clear water makes sight fishing easy but if you can see the fish they can see you even better. Midge flies are the most predominant food item on the menu and Blue Wing Olive mayflies become active in the crisp autumn air. Tiny dry flies sizes 16-20 are often needed to fool the savvy sippers, it’s best to check that day’s hatch before committing to a particular fly pattern.  Casting less and observing more will pay off now, and if an angler finds a willing trout to play the game a perfect cast with the perfect fly will be needed. You may find yourself changing flies a dozen times to a single rising trout before you get a take. Challenging and rewarding fishing; that’s what the Little Truckee is really all about.

Both the Little Truckee and the Big Truckee also have a good population of the October Caddis, fishing the big bug is high on the list for the seasoned Northern California fly fisher. See below for a few more clues on this great hatch in the North Fork Yuba paragraph. I will say this though, the October caddis adult can be around for many weeks until the snow flies. If you can time it right and be on the river during the first snow fall you’ll have October Caddis flies falling from the stream side foliage and pine trees and into the water. Trout being opportunistic know exactly what’s going on and will take full advantage of it – Be there!



By the time fall arrives at Frenchman’s Reservoir the water ski crowd and campers are gone and only the serious anglers ply her waters now. Frenchman’s is without a doubt Lake Davis’s little sister and the tactics, techniques, and flies are the same for both bodies of water. The rainbows are not as big on average as Lake Davis, but there are more of them and an angler can have some big number days here. The one fly and rig that does shine here is the Sheep Creek Special fished with an intermediate clear camo sinking line. This rig is best fished from a personal watercraft covering lots of productive water in 4-9 feet of depth. As temperatures drop and shore ice forms in the northern part of the lake, the trout will move down to the southern end of the lake as it offers more comfortable water temperatures. This is the time I like to fish here as only the hardiest of souls will be out, and sometimes solitude can be found on the quiet snow lined banks. Keep in mind that Frenchman’s will not ice over as quickly as Lake Davis due to its high desert location. This is the ideal still water for anglers traveling from Reno, Nevada as it is close by and easily accessible. If you have not fished Frenchman’s before I encourage you to check it out this fall, you won’t be disappointed.


Autumn is a very special time on the North Fork Yuba River, fall colors explode from the many oak trees casting a golden glow that can be seen for miles. Water temperatures are much cooler in the lower river this time of year and being high up in the water shed is not of importance now that the summer heat is gone. The lower river from Downieville downstream to the last bridge on highway 49 also holds the highest population of a very special aquatic insect; the October Caddis. The largest caddis fly found in North America resides here and the pupa and adult give the trout their last prime rib dinner before winter takes hold. The October caddis looks like a large burnt orange moth fluttering about, but upon careful observation an angler will notice how the female will dab its abdomen on the surface of the water. This is how she lays her eggs for future generations of the species. Tactics for fishing the adult is simple really; a long 6 pound leader to 9 feet with a size 8 orange Stimulator dry fly is all one needs when fishing the adult. The key to success though is using a shorter amount of line and twitching your fly, lifting it on and off the water just like the natural. Pocket water, seams, and the tail outs of big pools are the best place to make your presentations. Finding a nice sunny bend in the river that gets all day sun is important too, the big bug loves to fly in the warmer air. Once you play the top water game of puppet and puppeteer with the October Caddis you’ll have a hard time putting the rod down; it’s addictive!

Where ever you may roam this fall enjoy every minute of it, because once winter takes hold the show is over, and the long wait for the best fishing of the year begins again. 


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