Sunday, October 13, 2019
If you’re a fly angler, October is the best month of the year for good fishing in the Northern Sierra, as well as across Nor Cal. Fall colors, and the seasons changing guard are a stark reminder that another year has flown past. It’s been a great one while fishing/guiding on the water, and there are still plenty more good trips to be had. Nights have been cold, enough for me to make adjustments on where I’m camping out like up on a hill instead of down by the river or the lake. Cold air sinks to the bottom of any basin, so keep that in mind as well as if your camp will get early morning sunlight. The low air temps will increase a little bit in the upcoming days and during the daytime the highs will be mild with near 70 degree autumn weather, with a noticeable shorter length of daylight from sunrise to sunset. October is just plain special, I just wish it were stretched out over a three month period.
Lake Davis – Fishing has been great, the best it’s been in a long time but still you got to put some work in and locate the fish. Water temps have dropped a tad to 52 degrees, and during the sunny days the shallows will be a little warmer so look for trout to be there as there is abundant food and comfortable conditions. Colder water can spread fish out and that’s exactly what we are finding at Lake Davis. A higher lake level will do that too. I find that the lake is still a little too full for my liking which is currently at 80% of capacity. 65 to 70% is best for fly anglers who like to fish off the shoreline and prowl the peninsulas, points, and shoals. Fishing pressure has increased, but far from being crowded though. More conventional gear guys and gals then fly anglers.
I’ve been guiding the lake more this year than in the past 5 years and it’s been a lot of fun. Because of such I’ve noticed some variables that really effect the fishing. Glassy conditions make for tougher fishing as the trout feel more vulnerable from threats above water – They’re scared, they really are. Once there is a ripple on the water the bite will turn on. On last Wednesday’s trip we had big wind with white caps and rollers and the catching was on fire. During such conditions there is plenty of cover for the fish just under the surface, with lots of food being dispersed in the drift. The lake turned over last week meaning that there is no thermocline of cold water on the bottom with warmer water in the top column. It’s all mixed together with an up welling of nutrients from the bottom giving the water a green color with visible bio matter. The more water you cover, the better your catch rate will be, and when you do find a few stay put and fish that area hard.
Stripping flies has been way more effective than the bobber whether it’s out in open water, or on the bank. Jay Fair stripping flies, wiggle tails, and wooley nymphs just keep producing in the typical fall colors we love. Burnt orange, rust, fiery brown, black, and especially red are serious money. Some days a faster strip is better than a slow one and it’s best to experiment until you find the speed and action preferred by the fish for that day. The rainbows are showing more girth and bigger shoulders in the past few weeks which are proof they are eating well and bulking up for winter. A day off for me today, then I’m back up the hill for more trips. It’s been cool meeting new people at the dock who have given me praise about my website, blog, and reports. I really do care about sharing all things fly fishing and making sure my fellow anglers and guests are having a good time at Lake Davis, and all over the region.
Middle Fork Feather River – Conditions have changed rapidly in the last month that has affected the bite and hatches, namely colder water and air temps. I’ve been doing a lot of trips here as well and my guests and I have only seen one other angler, and it turns out he was a friend of a friend. The Chico connection is and always will be a big part of my youth while growing up and fly fishing in the town of Paradise. Water temps in the morning are at 50 degrees and the fishing is slow. Sleep in, eat a good wholesome breakfast, and get on the water around 11am when the water has warmed up. There are good hatches occurring in the afternoon with rising fish. BWOs and Mahogany duns (and spinners too) are the most prolific, and the BWO spinner fall occurs much later now and it is not as significant as the weeks prior. Caddis are still out including the false October Caddis and a few small species, I didn’t see one true October Caddis though in the last few trips even though I’m finding fresh shucks on the rocks.
Wednesday, October 9, 2019
Peak fishing is occurring on the Middle Fork Feather River, and complete solitude can be found if one ventures off the main path. Fall colors are a little late in the watershed, but overall the autumn glow in the Northern Sierra has been a checkerboard of early and peak colors depending on your location. Last week has been warm in the afternoons, yet a little chilly in the mornings. You're going to want to fish during the warmest part of the day from 11am to 4pm. There is a big difference between a shady section of the river, and one with full sun. Choose wisely. Water temps are starting out near 50 degrees in the morning and the action is slow, yet catch rates pick up as the water warms to the mid 50's
The BWO spinner fall is occurring later due to the colder air temps, look for dimples in back eddies and slack side water next to the main current. Sparse hatches of BWO duns, smaller caddis, and a few October caddis are in the air with some of the caddis ovipositing during the day. Dry/dropper rigs are a fun way to fish and very effective, but Nor Cal Tight Line Nymphing is your best technique if you want fish in the net. Good dry flies include Orange Stimulators, E/C caddis, and Loop Wing BWO's. Top nymphs include flashback PT's, LaFontaine's Deep Sparkle Pupa in brown, and Hogan's S&M and Military May in olive. The trout are in the tail outs of foam lines in both runs and pools in the morning, and creep up into the faster water in the afternoon. Cover water quickly but slow down if you start catching a few as the majority of the fish are stacked up together. 10 to 12" fish are the norm, with a few bigger ones to 16". These fish fight extremely hard for their size and are close in athleticism to a Lower Yuba River wild rainbow.
The Middle Fork Feather River closes November 15th, so if you want some good times on this awesome Wild & Scenic river, the time is now. Remember to click on any highlighted text for links to fly patterns, guides, or articles. See you on the water.
Monday, September 30, 2019
It’s been since the first week of February since I’ve guided/fished on the Lower Yuba River. Remember how it started pouring rain back then and never let up until late May. There were some pretty big flows during that deluge as well, enough to move around the cobblestones and gravel, and once again change the runs and riffles ever so slightly. That’s the Yuba River, always changing. The flows are bouncing around between 1,165 and 1,130 cubes which are very good for both walk and wade anglers, and drifters. Fishing pressure overall is light between the Highway 20 bridge and Sycamore Ranch.
Remember the water upstream of the bridge is closed until December 1st to protect spawning salmon and give them a “no pressure” environment. Speaking of the salmon, I saw very few redds, and the ones I did see had no occupants around. I’ve seen this before where salmon begin to build a redd only to abandon it and keep moving upstream to construct another. We’ll see new redds on daily basis, but I think we will see a major drop in salmon returns this year, and the next upcoming four years. Why? First off, we’ll see low returns from the effects of the drought and the low flows out of Englebright dam during that time. Secondly, the high water of 2017 occurred during a time when there were still eggs in the gravel that had not hatched yet. With large amounts of the bottom substrate moving downstream you can bet those eggs were lost. You can say the same thing to a lesser extent for 2019. We shall see in the years to come what transpires, and I’m no fisheries biologist with a truck bed full of data, but common sense tells me there will be an impact to an already sad “State of the Salmon”.
The fishing for resident wild rainbows has been pretty good though, better than expected to be honest. The two rigs that worked best was a dry/dropper set up with a large yellow or orange Stimulator with a small flashy mayfly dropper about 24” below. My guests and I were surprised to see the Stimi get some attention with explosive top water eats, the trout most likely were taking it for a grasshopper. Your standard Valley River indo rig was really the best way to go, larger bug on top, with a smaller fly as a dropper. Adjusting the depth of the indicator and adding or subtracting weight will allow you to fine tune a run or riffle and be more successful. Effective flies were Red Copper Johns, Hogan’s S&M and Military May (dark colors), eggs, and legs (rubber legged stones).
Hatches? I saw very few adult aquatics out, maybe a random caddis, or a BWO flying by – That’s it. Risers? A few “One and I’m done” here and there, nothing to make one fully commit to a dry fly rig while casting to targets (wishing for that though). Sine samples revealed lots of immature mayfly nymphs, midge larva, some Stub Wing stonefly nymphs, and the most prolific bug (as always) the free living caddis (Rhyacophila). I also saw quite a few fresh shucks of the Stub Wings on shoreline cobbles downstream of major riffles.
Now is the time I will be guiding on the Lower Yuba River, the stillwaters of Eastern Plumas County, and the Truckee area – Yeah, I’m all over the place, but in a few months will be on the Yuba full time. There will be lots of Tours and Workshops scheduled for 2020 with fly clubs, LostCoast Outfitters, and Baiocchi’s Troutfitters so keep an eye on my Blog, or my News page on the website for upcoming dates and rates. My trips are all about education, sharing the knowledge, and teaching my guests the skills to be successful on their own. All incoming inquiries for drift trips will be referred to my buddy and fellow guide Brian Clemens. Brian is a really good dude to spend the day with and fishy as all get out. I hire him for my yearly Trinity River trip and he never disappoints. Which reminds me, only about a month before I’m floating with him – Can’t wait!
There you have it, a real time and honest on the water report with firsthand information. Conditions will improve on a weekly basis once the river has more salmon in the system, and as we get deeper into the fall season. Don’t forget about Yuba Fest 2019 October 12th, an event that revolves around conservation, education, and an appreciation for the Lower Yuba River. See you on the water among the cobblestones and salmon…
Friday, September 27, 2019
Autumn on the Wild & Scenic Middle Fork Feather River has arrived. It’s the second season, and with it brings hungry trout wanting to bulk up for the long winter. I love this time of year on the MFFR. Solitude abounds with hardly a soul to be seen, let alone any footprints. Talk about a remote experience, and the fishing? On fire! When your guest lands 3 dozen fish for a half-day session it becomes a fantastic memory that will remain deeply ingrained forever. Yeah, it was that good. Water levels are low, which actually bodes well as it concentrates the fish in the deeper pools, slots, and riffles. We found many trout in riffles about 2 feet in depth with a faster flow. Water temperatures were 57 to 59 degrees, which are perfect for this river.
There is a very profuse BWO spinner fall in mid morning, I’m talking clouds of them. Spinner falls usually occur when air temperatures are between 57 and 67 degrees. There were a few rising fish in back eddies near the main current taking advantage of spent ovipositors, but most wanted their food item sub surface. We ran two rods yesterday. A dry/dropper rig consisting of an orange Stimulator (yes, the October caddis are out) with a #18 Hogan’s S&M in olive dropped about 24 inches below, and a tight line rig with a tungsten Pheasant tail flashback #14 with Hogan Brown’s same pattern as mentioned above as the trailing smaller fly.
The Middle Fork Feather River has rebounded exceptionally well since the drought, it’s the best I’ve seen it in over a decade or more. That tells you a lot as I have put in hundreds of days on the river, mostly when I lived in Graeagle for 14 years. Yeah, I know the MFFR pretty well. Our catch was a mixture of mostly wild rainbows with a few browns. Most fish ran 10 to 12” and very plump. I was very excited to see this as it offers some good news for the future. We’ve got a cold snap coming this weekend which could affect the river, and as long as the water temps do not go below 51 degrees we’ll be good. One thing is for sure though, with the sun arcing lower every day and colder temps, the fall colors will really pop. Like Lake Davis, the MFFR is an awesome place to take in the blazing colors of Autumn – It’s a must see event. I’m pretty much booked up for the fall season, but I’m good friends with the other two legal guides with USFS permits who operate on the river so give me a call or shoot me an email anyways. Don’t be fooled by false marketing and advertising with scammers out there. The Middle Fork Feather River is a designated Wild & Scenic river and managed by the USFS, and it is owned by the people of the United States. There is no private water, and being a navigable river the public can fish any section legally as long as they enter on public land, or (hint) at any bridge with a Cal Trans easement while working upstream or downstream.
Take advantage now of the second season on the MFFR, if you’ve got game, you will not be disappointed. See you out there…
It seems the fishing at Lake Davis is getting back to near what it once was in the past. It’s been at least 5 years or more since fly anglers have had catch rates this good. It all comes down to the California Department of Fish & Wildlife planting more fish of catchable size. There were 3 plants of trout in late May and June including Eagle Lake Rainbows, and Brown trout, both sterile and fertile. Last Monday another plant of 4,000 trout, one pound per fish, Louisiana strain rainbows entered the lake.Also planted was 2,000 pounds of Eagle lake Rainbows. More fish in the lake makes a big difference and not just for the fishing, but for the local economy and businesses that rely on such.
Current water temperatures are at 58 degrees and holding, we will see another good drop on the thermometer as a cold snap will take hold over the weekend with a chance for snow. Fishing pressure is extremely light and Lake Davis is pretty much a ghost town. 10 years ago or more, the Honker Cove boat ramp parking lot would be full, this past week there were only 2 to 6 vehicles with trailers parked there. The willows, cottonwoods, and aspens are showing signs of fall colors to come, look for the peak about the third week of October. It’s so gorgeous at the lake when the autumn glow is going off!
You’ll find most of the trout near the top water column (2 to 10 feet down) in deeper water with a depth of 12 to 24 feet, and as of late they are starting to come into the shallows. With so many plants of various sized trout you will find rainbows from 9 to 26”. We did finally manage to catch a brown and it was right round 11” and clean. The middle of the lake to the northern end on the west side seems to be the best right now. The fish are scattered and in small pods that move continuously day to day, and during the day, where you found them an hour ago may change so move around until you either see rise forms, or are getting hook ups. A size #14 blood midge is hatching from about 9am to noon, mixed with sparse Callibaetis mayflies, and the occasional Hex. Your standard Lake Davis patterns are all working like Sheep Creek Specials, Flashback Pheasant Tails, smaller Damsel nymphs, Hare’s Ears, and Albino Winos. Color does make a difference with wiggle tails, buggers, and leeches, and the colors of the Fall season include burnt orange, rust, fiery brown, and bad ass black. Also use strong hooks as a few of the bigger athletes have bent the points outward, 3x heavy if you can find them. Stripping presentations seem to be working better than indicators and the retrieve will vary day to day. This past week a faster strip with the leech patterns seem to work the best. Keep in mind your favorite cove may be choked out with weeds, which is good in the way of a profuse bio mass of aquatic insect, but poor for keeping your fly clean during an honest presentation. I can’t recall the last time I saw weeds growing up to the surface in 20 feet of water. The fishing will only get better from here on out, and improving on a weekly basis. I only have two days left that are available for October, and a few in November (I’m hoping for an Indian summer well into November). If you have an inclination to get out on the lake with me, you know where you can find me: firstname.lastname@example.org / 530 228 0487. See you on the fertile waters of the Lost Sierra
Though this iconic point on the west shore is submerged, it was the bucket where Jay Fair would guide his clients while he was alive. I would be across from him on the south point guiding as well and he would shout out a color, followed by a number to me. "Burnt Orange....12". What he was telling me was the color of fly the fish were on, and how many seconds to count down after the presentation was made. I sure miss Jay and his son Glen, they were very genuine people who loved to share anything with fly fishing...
Saturday, September 21, 2019
It's so awesome to be back on water at Lake Davis. When you're away from something you love for a period of time you kind of forget just how beautiful it can be. After a thick blanket of fog burned off in the morning, sunshine and blue skies returned once again. What makes this lake so special to me is just how gorgeous the landscape is, and the bird life. Lots of game birds, namely Mallard ducks were huddled down in secluded coves. The coot are back, and the California gulls and white pelicans were stationed in their usual spots on the shoreline. Western grebes and pie billed grebes trolled the surface for food and dived underwater for pumkinseed and bass minnows. It's definitely fall as flocks of Sand Hill cranes were migrating overhead for the greater Central Valley, and willows, cottonwood, and aspen trees showed signs of the beginning of autumn colors. So impressive.
What a difference a few cold storms can do for Lake Davis as water temperatures have dropped considerably in the last week. The current surface water temps are 59 in the morning rising to 61 in the afternoon. With below freezing temperatures at night they will continue to plummet. Fishing was better than expected with a mixture of Eagle Lake rainbows planted in spring, and larger athletes up to 20 inches. Fishing pressure was extremely light and so quiet you could hear a blood midge hatch. Grasshopper campground will close October 15th, but Lightning Tree campground will be open until the snows of winter engulf the lake.
The trout are spread out, and with the drop in water temperatures they are abandoning their summer homes and searching for new areas to feed and fatten up for winter. No newly planted brown trout were caught but it's only a matter of time. From 9am to noontime, there is a good blood midge hatch in a size 14, and sparse amounts of the last brood of Callibaetis mayflies. Right now, covering water with an intermediate line and stripping Jay Fair buggers, wiggle tails, and trolling flies in brown, rust, burnt orange, dark olive, and black is your best bet. We caught our fish in water that was 10 to 23 feet deep, 3 to 5 feet down. I didn't see any rise forms next to the bank, but that will change very soon.
Every week will get better from here on out, and the fishing should peak near the end of October. If you fish the Lake, please take a few minutes out of your time and go to J&J Grizzly store and give them a fishing report, good or bad. It will be very appreciated. I'm excited to see what transpires in the coming weeks, maybe we'll see days of old return once again. I'll be up at the lake quite a bit, so if you see me, say hello, and let's swap some fish stories. See you out there...
Friday, September 13, 2019
Back to work, and to be honest I was pretty excited to be back on the water, though Colorado love is still deeply on my mind. The canyon is pretty much a ghost town now, the hustle and bustle of tourist and a busy hwy 49 is done. Now more than ever, complete solitude can be found. When I have the right guests who are in shape, I can take them to the more remote sections that receive very little fishing pressure, so I a bit surprised to see the fishing was so good on Beat #16 for this time of year.
Water temps recorded mid day in the upper watershed were at 57 degrees and rose to near 60 in the late afternoon. There were a lot of midges in the air with the occasional mayfly. The bigger size caddis are mostly gone but plenty of smaller ones in a size 18. The middle of the day will be the best time to be on the water and the rainbows will start looking up more frequently just before noon time. Ant patterns have lost their luster with the trout, hoppers too. larger size yellow and orange Stimis with beaded bright and flashy nymphs hanging below in a size 16 worked the best. Another observation we had yesterday was the overall size of the rainbows were bigger with many at 8 to 10 inches, and they have their autumn colors as well with more vibrant coloration and darker hues - Stunning!
Many of the larger trout were found in the smaller pockets instead of the big pools. Many anglers get fixated on those big plunge pools and work them for too long, if you're not catching or getting hits, move upstream to fresher water. High sticking with a dry fly / dropper rig is really the way to go when fishing these pockets, you'll get better drifts with more control, and greater success when it comes to making a solid connection with a hook set.
The fall season on the North Fork Yuba river is short and quick, so act now and get in on some really fun fishing with your 2 to 3 weight rods. If it's your first time in the canyon, check out the North Fork Yuba River GuideBox HERE - It's got everything you need and more! October Caddis are currently starting to munch their way out of there fine pebbled cases, we should see them flying very soon. Love the pumpkin bug.
See you out there...
|Mimulus lewisii ~ Lewis's Monkeyflower|
Sunday, September 8, 2019
Up until this trip it had been 14 years since I took an extended vacation to fish on my own time. 14 years of grinding out guide trips and sharing the wisdom of some 40 years plus of fly fishing knowledge. I guess you could say it was long overdue. My last trip was in 2005, a yearly pilgrimage that my dad and I use to make to Montana since 1995, where we would spend 40 days at our base camp located near West Fork on the banks of the Madison River. This trip was going to be extra special as I would visit friends I have not seen in decades, and revisit my old stomping grounds from canyon water to meandering meadows. I will say that overall the fishing (or catching) is so much easier in both Colorado and Montana than in California, mostly due to in my opinion to more trout per mile, and obviously better fisheries management.
My drive out was pretty straight forward and I banged out 12 hours of scenic driving across Nevada, slept for 4 hours at a rest stop near the Utah/Colorado border, then continued on for 4 more hours until I reached Breckenridge. The town itself has exploded with people, buildings, and a greater infrastructure than I could have possibly imagined. I was blown away. Breck certainly did not look like the town I left in 1996. I immediately went to Mountain Angler Fly Shop and met Luke who filled me in on the current conditions and paid for my fishing license. Then I went over to The Underground Snowboard Shop where I use to be a tech in the evenings after training on the mountain all day. I was stoked to see that Andy and his wife are back to being the sole owners again, and with a much better location right on Main Street offering more services and product for the masses. After that it was lunch with my long time Pisano brother Nic. We talked about the good old days, moto, and the latest on where the original crew from some 25 years ago was up to. Next up was paying a visit to another long time buddy Cory, owner of the Al-Mart General Store in the town of Alma. Good dude with a long history involvement with the early days of snowboarding in Summit County. That evening I made my way down to my good friend Cat’s house in Denver where I would not only make a temporary base camp, but be greeted with a fishing buddy every morning. So, here is where the adventure begins…
Day 1 – The Blue River
Driving north on Highway 9 out of Silverthorne was a real eye opener, more new homes, ranches, and growth. It was unbelievable. I reminisced about the private land I was fortunate to fish on within a section of the Blue, and some private ponds that held some monster trout – Like Don B’s 33 inch brown caught at night using a mouse pattern. I met up with a longtime friend who worked alongside of myself at the Underground Snowboard Shop and also slaved with me in the finishing department at Solid Snowboards MFG. Chris now lives on the flat lands of the Front Range and still fishes as much as he can. We fished a section way downstream that I have never been to using an official state access area (there are so many of them scattered about the state – so cool).
The four of us including Cat and Jen (Chris’s better half) worked our way upstream, which was not easy. First off the river is slippery not only with algae, but polished basalt rock. Within the first 5 minutes of fishing I fell in and was soaked from the chest down while trying to navigate some swift water to reach a prime lie. Luckily the weather was very hot with zero precipitation and I dried off quickly through the early part of the day. Secondly, the riparian habitat and woods surrounding the river was thick as shit, and if you missed a take on a dry fly presentation it was bound to end up in the bushes or the trees behind you. Being that it was the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend there was SO many anglers out fishing while displaying very poor etiquette to fellow anglers. The fly fishing industry is apparently in good shape right now as there are so many new fly anglers out getting some. Just driving down the highway there were numerous guides spotted heading to work, some pulling boats, and everybody has a Rod Vault on top of their vehicle like it’s some kind of status symbol. From what I’m told by my friends who own them, they work pretty well if you’re in a hurry to get on the water and go fishing. I was not in any hurry on this trip.
I used a North Fork Yuba rig. A Rubber Legged Yellow Stimulator with a brown #16 Hogan’s Military May for a dropper about 24 inches below. During the day I hooked 12, landing 5, 8 to 17 inches, mostly browns. During my session, I quickly learned to fish the fast riffles with a depth of 2-3 feet while dissecting where lanes of slower water flowed downstream of large submerged boulders that were in the middle of the river. Areas that were hard to get to without using some aggressive wading. Chris hooked into a very fat rainbow at the most upstream point of our session where a side channel came into the main stem of the river. I manned the net and got the scoop for a photo op. Day 1 was in the books and I was really stoked with the results!
Day 2 – Middle Fork South Platte River
This section of the South Platte is very dear to me. it’s where I use to fish while living in Breckenridge and the town of Alma all the time. The Tomahawk Wildlife Area (now called Butterhawk) 24 years ago was really not too well known, but it sure is now. Imagine if you will a smaller stream like the Little Truckee special regs section flowing at about 40 cubes in a vast open meadow with undercuts, riffles, deep short pools, slots, and side channels. Some sections have willows lining the stream and often are over hanging the cut banks. It is one of the most beautiful valleys I’ve ever laid eyes on with fourteen thousand foot peaks in the distance like Mt. Bross, Democrat, Lincoln, and Quandry, rich with wildlife, and raptors circling overhead. If I spent my last day here on earth it would be just fine by me – It’s that moving to the soul.
It was another gorgeous day as well with Cat, Chris, and Jen accompanying me. Being Memorial Day it was busy and even finding a parking spot was challenging, though once out in the meadow we all had plenty of water to work. A few anglers raced up to us, made the pass (again poor etiquette, with no communication), and kept on going. Too fast in my opinion since I know for at least on this stream, it’s best to hit every square inch of fishable water methodically. These trout are often found in some skinny water and being stealthy can pay off in big dividends.
My first rig was the same as the previous day on the Blue but I trialed a #18 Hogan’s S&M in olive, and it worked quite well. I also had an extra 6 weight rigged with a fast sink tip and a black and purple Pistol Pete (Yep, the streamer born in Trinidad Colorado with a propeller mounted behind the eye of the hook) to hopefully lure out a big brown from the undercut banks. There was a small and short hatch of midge mixed in with some very small PMDs for about an hour and a half with rising targets. Cat pulled off one of her typical magic acts and landed a nice toad of a rainbow on a 99 cent special PMD dry fly from a sporting goods store. That was really awesome to witness!
As the day progressed I switched to a “Jonny B” club sandwich hopper and with about a zillion hoppers bouncing about in the meadow it was clear the trout were super keyed in on them. There was one long stretch with an undercut bank and as I was walking downstream observing, I heard and saw a big splash next to the bank. At first, I thought someone was playing games with me by throwing a rock in the river, but it was indeed a large trout. I ran my hopper down several times and nothing. Then I went upstream and swung the Pistol Pete into the bank and stripped it back upstream aggressively. It took 3 times but I was briefly hooked into a 22” brown that made two big leaps before spitting the fly. Oh well, not the first time, and it won’t be the last - at least I got to see him and knew where he lived. I hooked 10, landed 6, and missed some nice ones too. As we walked back to the car I promised myself I would be back again before this trip was over, and just maybe get another crack at Father Brown.
Day 3 – The Yampa River
New water. Though I snowboarded quite frequently at Steamboat Springs and shredded its famed “Blower Pow”, I never fished the Yampa River. This tailwater located below Stage Coach Reservoir starts in a narrow gorge filled with pocket water, and a few long glides and riffles that eventually broaden out into flatter water downstream. Another fabulous State Wildlife access area, it too was very busy with anglers and poor stream etiquette. So poor that other anglers don’t have a problem fishing the same run you’re on, or even across from you. This river is heavily stocked and these rubber trout are big and very well educated. They don’t spook very easily as well, and it was common to have a large trout a few feet away from you just minding its own business and constantly eating away at food items in the drift.
Perfect presentations, whether wet or dry with the right pattern would equal success. Lucky for me this is Cat’s favorite fishery and she knows it well, which shortened the learning curve for me. The flows were at about 150 cubes and the smell of the water coming out of the dam was stinky, kind of like urine. Once you got past the smell though, it’s a very beautiful little gorge with a charm all its own. It was another fantastic warm and sunny day mixed with a few clouds, and the thunderous roar of the river in the air. The food base in the Yampa River consists of scuds, midges, and aquatic worms for the most part. There was the occasional mayfly, caddis, and a stray yellow sally flying on by though.
I finally had time to commit to tight line nymphing, but I also had a rod rigged just for dry flies, which I was hoping I would be using more of. Cat’s strategy was a good one. She would fish a dry fly rig to either rising fish, or by sight fishing and dropping the fly into a lane that drifted to your desired quarry at the receiving end. Yep, two dry flies, the 99 cent PMD special and a parachute midge emerger, both a size 18 with a short amount of tippet in-between them. Once you covered a section on the surface, you would then go back through with a nymphing set up. On the tight line rig I had a RS2 in brown and a either a zebra midge, or a black beauty as a dropper. All tied on with 5x. You would often get more takes on 6x, but you would be hard pressed to land them unless your rod had a very soft top section to protect light tippets. I didn’t go that route, and that was just fine. I hooked 10, landed 8, 9 to 18 inches, mostly on the nymph rig, but also enough on the dry rig to keep me satisfied.
The two 18 inchers I landed were fat and fought very aggressively with big aerial displays. It was some serious work to get them to the net, and I must thank Cat for her superior net handling skills to make the final scoop. After landing the last one, a new to fly fishing angler wanted to know about my rig, the flies, and basically everything. I looked at his rig and it was just plain hack, my guide instincts kicked in and I wanted to help the dude. Here I am 1,200 miles away from home and I’m rigging a rod and guiding someone. Yeah, you could say guiding anglers is in my blood. I outfitted Ian with a new leader, indicator, flies, and then coached him for a bit. Minutes later he landed his biggest trout ever at 19 inches. He was so pumped, yet was blown away at my generosity. I just can’t resist helping and seeing new anglers be successful on the water. Overall I was pretty stoked on the day and the Yampa grew on me to the point where I was anxious to fish it again in the morning.
Our fearless guide Wendell
Day 4 – Yampa River, Part 2
I rented a 2019 Dodge minivan so I could carry all my gear and also to be able to sleep in it, which was a wise and comfortable choice as we camped out downstream at a primitive site that evening. The vehicle was loaded with all the bells and whistles and got good gas mileage. With fuel prices as low as $2.29 a gallon in the state of Colorado, this road trip was very affordable. Clouds and partly sunny skies greeted us at daybreak, and once we made it on the river a few sprinkles came down.
More of the same as the day before but nothing big for me, I think my largest trout was 15 inches. I hooked 8, landed 8, 7 to 15 inches. It’s worth noting that the smaller fish are wild, and that also the Yampa has the occasional Brook Trout, Brown, and the elusive Grayling. They jacked the flows up a tad during mid-day, but overall it was not as good as the previous day for whatever reason. That’s fishing, right? We ended our session at around 2pm and headed back to the flat lands of Denver. It was such an awesome trip with new sights, and fights with large rubber trout. I’m coming back here for sure.
Day 5 – Back to Butterhawk
Solo trip back to the upper South Platte River valley and I was greeted by blue bird skies and very minimal angler traffic. Forecast for the day was thunderstorms with a 50% chance of rain in the early afternoon, so I got on the water by 9am. I stared out with a Rubber Leg Yellow Stimi with a #18 Military May dropper in olive. I hooked a few dinks, both rainbows and browns and kept working up the meadow. I then put on the “Jonny B.” hopper and the trout were all over it, so much in fact that I ditched the dropper fly. I hooked 7 decent browns up to 14” and missed many more. Those brown trout take the fly ever so slowly and one has to wait until they close their mouth before setting the hook. I paid a visit to where the big brown lived that I had hooked a few days earlier on the Pistol Pete. He rose slowly for my hopper on the first drift with a “I don’t think so” response. He knew better.
Most of the fish came from fast shallow riffles, and foams lines that flowed right next to the bank in dark water (shaded water from the high bank). Also areas your average fly angler would not make a presentation to, like small braided sections where a short pocket of water was extremely small, yet had all of the necessary requirements a trout needs to survive. While during my productive session, bumpers where forming in the sky, and around noon time big black clouds and lighting bolts dominated the skies to the North West. It was time to get back to the support vehicle and take cover. After packing the van, I made my way through Hartsel and over to the town of Lake George where my final fishing destination was located.
What an awesome drive it was, the landscape is so open and vast that one can truly understand the term “Big Sky Country”. Along the way I saw small herds of Elk and Antelope right next to Highway 24 just munching away on native grasslands – So Colorado. The rain was pretty intense at times, especially over Badger Mountain Pass. I reached the gate to 11 mile Canyon, paid my $7 dollar entry fee and drove up scouting the water I fished decades ago, and also to look for a camp site for the night. The heavy rain continued into the evening and I hunkered down in the van and pulled out the laptop and began writing this report, which was pleasing to end the day as darkness fell.
Day 6 Middle Fork South Platte River - 11 Mile Canyon
For this session, my final one of my beloved trip, I tied on a custom Hogan Brown’s #14 S&M nymph on a jig style hook with a tungsten bead in a PMD scheme, and trailed a small olive Military May dropper in a size 18. The water felt really warm to me so I pulled out the thermometer and recorded a 63 degree water temp at 7am. The river is fed by 11 Mile Reservoir, and like Lake Tahoe the releases were coming from the top of the lake’s water column. I knew the fish would be in the bubbly aerated sections and faster runs and riffles that provided more oxygen, so that’s where I targeted my presentations. 2nd cast, boom! I hooked into a nice butter belly brown and it provided me with a vicious fight. All of the trout I hooked were well fed, plump, and fought extremely hard like a Lower Yuba River wild trout. So gutty and gritty.
The wading here is not easy due to being in a canyon, but the rocks below the surface are very grippy with zero algae – Hero wading at its finest. I felt 30 years younger navigating from pocket to pocket. While standing in the river next to the bank I was untangling the end of my line, head down with the readers on and sorting things out when I looked up to see another fly angler. The dude was sporting big black rubber boots and jeans, with some pretty old equipment, then he steps in the river 25 feet upstream of me and starts fishing. “WTF” I muttered under my breath and simply asked him out loud “What are you doing?” I tried to explain proper stream etiquette, but he just didn’t get it and told me I was being rude. He finally got with the program and gave me about 300 feet of a section to work upstream, then he simply disappeared. During my trip to Colorado I witnessed the worst river etiquette I’ve ever seen in my life (and that’s a long ass time). Way worse than a crowded day on the Little Truckee River. Communication with other anglers is the key, plain and simple.
This section of the South Platte River gets a lot pressure, so much there are now well worn trials that border the water’s edge like cattle paths. Most of those trails were not there 24 years ago, and certainly not beaten down like they are now. As the fishing goes, I could do no wrong and was so deeply immersed into my tight line Zen state of mind nothing could defeat me (except the big one I broke off when it decided to put on the afterburners to Lake George). A ”boom” here, a “boom” there and after being on the water for four hours with about 3 hours of actual fishing time, I hooked 24 and landed 19, 10 to 16”. I ended the session with one more good brown, and reeled up. Mic drop - and walked away with a huge smile while heading back to the van. What a killer day!
It was kind of sad leaving the canyon, I could have spent another 3 days there easy, but Nor Cal was calling with a reality check of trips to do on the upcoming guide calendar. As I made my way over Hoosier Pass out of Alma, another big thunderstorm hit. I dropped into the Breckenridge and the Blue River valley and there was one promise I needed to fulfill, and that was seeing my buddy Jay who lives deep in “The Gulch” above Breckenridge in the shadow of Mt. Guyot.
Jay came to Breck a year later than I and for the same reason, to take his passion of skateboarding to the snow and ride the summit as a professional snowboarder. He was a good rider back then with a super clean style, something that is mostly missing in today’s modern era. It was pretty awesome reminiscing about old times and the characters involved back in the day. Life in the Gulch is as good as it gets if you appreciate a slower pace, being among nature, and the high peaks of central Colorado.
What a fantastic fishing trip it was! New water, old friends, fishing buddies, and really productive catch rates that makes it all the more enjoyable, and so special to be on the water. I learned a few things on my trip, or more like reminders. First, don’t wait 14 years for the next trip out, or any multi day trip for that matter. I have already marked off the calendar to be back out from September 1st to the 15th, you can bet on that! I may even be hosting 4 anglers on a five day trip if I can get all the logistics to fall into place for 2020. Keep an eye on my “News” page on my website, or my blog for all the details, and to sign up. Secondly, when I can fish day after day and not be involved with instructing other anglers (guiding), I can slay them like the best of the very best. I’m tooting my horn here and not the least humble in saying I’ve got some game. My long time experience shines on trips like these and provides me with the confidence that spills over in everyday life. Three, Colorado has a special meaning to me. I have deep roots embedded there and it was so cool to revisit the waters of my youth and re fish the same runs while admiring the natural wonders that the land provides.
I want to give special thanks to Cat Toy for being an awesome host and inviting me into her home, and showing me the Yampa River. By far one of the fishiest gals I know of, sweet too, and the epitome of adventure and living life to the fullest. To Chris, who showed me another part of the Blue River and mentioned some other areas in the state to explore. I’ll be seeing you in a few months for our steelhead trip in November on the Trinity – Can’t wait pal! Also a shout out to all of my old friends who still make Colorado their home, and hey Nic, thanks for lunch buddy! Eric, Sandeep, and Chris at Enterprise Car Rental of Grass Valley, Ca for setting me up with a sweet minivan that exceeded my expectations.