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Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Lower Yuba River Fly Fishing Update

Conditions on the Lower Yuba River remain the same as the previous weeks except the trout are fully engaged on the Skwala stonefly, and actively looking for them in the drift. Fishing pressure remains to be moderate, and as expected, heavier on the weekends, but there is always plenty of room to find your own section of water too. 

The flows came up a tad during the last storm reaching 1,650 cfs. Nothing major at all and just a good little micro flush to disperse food items for the trout. Currently the flows at the Parks Bar Bridge are running at 1,236 cubes, and the water is clear. 

It's all about the afternoons right now, when the bugs are most active and you can ditch the nymph rig. First you'll see the BWOs and PMDs hatch around 12 to 1pm. Some days the actual hatch will last longer than others. I typically go out rigged with a BWO loop wing parachute to 5x before making adjustments as to what the real time conditions dictate. Every day is a bit different. On a few occasions in the last week, I have seen two different PMDs out. The fist is a more yellowish verity of PMD in a size 16, we’ve been seeing these little guys in the drift for the past few months. The second is a bit larger with highlights of orange on the thorax, and the abdomen has those same orange highlights on the top, with a pinkish hue underneath, in a size 14. Both have 3 tails which is a true indicator for a PMD.

There has been much confusion lately on the difference between the Yuba River March Brown (Rhithrogena morrisoni), and the Yuba River Brown Dun (Ameletus). The March Brown’s mottling on the wing is a bit different than the Brown Dun, but the biggest difference is the segmentation of the abdomen between the two. The Brown dun’s segmentation is very unusual, and more like a drake. The second factor is the overall size of the March Brown is a bit smaller that the Brown Dun. Lesser factors like the color of the tails and legs are different as well. Does it matter? For your everyday fly angler, no. Observe what the fish are eating, and match the hatch based on size, profile, and lastly color. For us professional guides, bug nerds, and those that write and share information with the intent of providing accurate journalism, it is important. Reports of early March Browns on the river are false.

Checkout my YouTube channel link here for the "Yuba River Scuba Skwala" behavior: 


As mentioned before, the trout are totally dialed in on the Skwalas. My guests and I were surprised yesterday as many of the grabs and blow ups came from swifter water in the riffles. Not much time for a trout to observe your pattern in those conditions, and for the fly angler this is a big bonus. 2 to 4 pm has been the best time for fishing the Skwala adult. Use stealth for an advantage, and don’t beat the water! Cast less and observe more. 

Sunny skies and warmer weather are here, perfect conditions for my favorite time of year on the Lower Yuba River. Explore your world...Know your bugs...Know your water...See you out there.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Skwala Stonefly Tips ~ Tying, Techniques, and Presentations

Fishing the Skwala stonefly hatch on the Lower Yuba River is a highlight in my life, and I look forward to it every winter. Over rated? Yes. Mysterious? To some degree. Red hot fishing? It can be. There are so many factors involved with fishing and understanding this hatch that I thought it was prudent for another post to explain what I have learned in the past couple of decades. When it comes to tying a Skwala pattern, or buying one at a fly shop, there are some considerations to take into account. The fly should sit flush in the water just like the natural, be of the right size and color, and also be durable. The Unit Skwala pictured above is really hard to find commercially. I do not sell them publicly, though I do tie a few hundred of them every winter for my guide trips, clinics, and workshops. Over the years I have refined this pattern to my specs based on its performance, and the reaction from the trout. Differences like only using a half bullet head because the natural bug has color underneath its head, not dark hair. Or using a sighter on top of the wing like EP's Trigger Point Fibers in white that scatters light naturally and is non offensive to selective trout, unlike big brightly colored posts often do. Other good commercial ties include the Double Dutch Bug by Nor Cal's own Morgan Thalkin, and the Rubber Legged Stimulator - in the right color of course. 

I have a tutorial on my YouTube channel about tying the Unit Skwala, here is an active link: 


This is the hook I use for when tying the Unit, the TMC 2302. I also use the TMC 2312 which features a straight eye on the hook. Remember, size 12 for the male, and a size 10 for the female. The Lower Yuba River has seen increased pressure lately as it usually does this time of year, and using the smaller male size can make the difference between success and failure. Just last week I had a trout eating Skwalas in a foot of water next to a run of swift riffles. The fish refused my #10, so I waited and let it eat a few naturals, then presented the little male. On the first drift it was taken. Same pattern, same drift, same everything...except a smaller offering

All tying foam is not created equal. EVA (Ethylene-vinyl acetate) foam is made from blended copolymers of ethylene and vinyl acetate. In one sheet of EVA foam, the weight percentage of vinyl acetate usually ranges from 10 to 40%. Polyethylene material is another important element for EVA foaming production. The variation amount of foaming additives and catalysts in the molding process of EVA foam can affect its density, hardness, color, resilience and so on. EVA foam materials are of closed cell foam structure with excellent performances including good water & moisture resistance. This is the type of structure that keeps your fly floating high, and for a longer period of time. Your typical foam sheets that major fly tying distributors sell is the same formula of foam you can buy at a craft store. Larva Lace foam is much different in that is has more and larger closed cells of air, is lighter, and stretches further without breaking as easily. Since foam is the main factor in the performance of the Unit Skwala, I will only use the Larva Lace brand for my custom ties. 

Rubber legs are a key component to your Skwala pattern and will induce a trigger mechanism to the trout based on the movement of the rubber flexing from the micro currents of the water's surface. Incorporating a closed loop knot will allow the fly to move more freely while allowing the rubber legs to be more active. I use medium brown and dark golden stone colors, one look at the natural pictured below and you see the actual color. Other tips I might include is to check your pattern often to make sure the rubber legs have not been trapped by the bend of the hook, which will appear as unnatural to a trout looking up and be refused. While taking the time to inspect your fly between presentations, also look at your leader for wind knots, and test the strength of every knot within the system from the fly line to the leader, leader to tippet, and the tippet to the fly. Confidence in your terminal tackle will lead to confidence in your presentation. Many of my guests are beginners and their casting is sub par from not practicing, or fishing enough. I check the leader they are using quite often because they will drop their back cast and the leader and fly will hit the rocks behind them, and in the process will weaken the tippet, or lose their fly. If you see whitish colored marks on the tippet, change it out to some fresh material. If not, you will break off the next good sized athlete that inhales your fly.  

You'll want to have a quiver of Skwala patterns because inevitably your fly will become water logged and "tired". I treat my quiver of flies, and the one that I'm currently using, like coaching a hockey team. When the current fly I'm using is tired, I put it on the bench (my fly patch), and put in a fresh player. By resting and drying your flies, you can rotate your players and always have a fresh player in the game for a greater advantage. It's the little things like this that count...

Acute vision is everything in your approach. Seeing Skwalas in the drift is extremely hard for those that are not on the water all the time. They don't move while drifting (except for those little legs kicking back and forth), and often are mistaken for small twigs floating on the surface. Golden stones will often hover above the water dipping the end of its abdomen in the water while ovipositing. The female Skwala will lay eggs as she is drifting, or actually drop them during flight like a B-52 Bomber over the water - Even more amazing is that I've seen trout take the egg sack as it splashed down upon the water! Another aspect of vision awareness is seeing the rise forms of Skwala eaters in your peripheral view. A rise form of a Skwala eater is very aggressive, and what we call "Blow Ups". To make things a little more confusing, the same explosive rise forms happen when trout key in on salmon fry near the surface during this time of year. Milt's floating pond smelt could be beneficial in such a situation.

There is a definite misconception during the Skwala hatch that an angler just walks up to the river and chucks the big dry out there with immediate results. Nothing could be further from the truth. A big part of playing the Skwala game is using stealth and making accurate presentations to productive water. Often, a Skwala eater will be in very skinny water next to the bank. Keeping a lower profile, and not beating the water continuously can help greatly. Plan your attack, look ahead, and be aware of hazards behind you, or out in the water like a snag. You're not just fishing, you're hunting a wild animal that is so on edge and scared, that every precaution must be taken to be successful. This is not the time to be stumbling down the bank and flailing around.  

Just some random thoughts to share on a rainy Sunday afternoon. After this system, a prolonged warming spell and drier conditions will take place. Perfect conditions for fishing the Skwala stonefly, are you ready?

Monday, January 20, 2020

The Skwala Stonefly ~ Identification, Behavior, Fly Patterns, and Presentations

As fly anglers, we all look forward to dry fly opportunities. It truly is the epitome of fly fishing, and why I relocated from Graeagle to Nevada City to be able to fish and guide the best winter dry fly fishery in the state – The Lower Yuba River. After spending 27 years living above 5,000 feet with 6 of those years at 10,000 feet, I can truly appreciate the milder temps of the foothills of the Sierra. The Lower Yuba River is well known for its winter hatches, where BWOs, PMDs, and Brown Duns make a daily appearance along with a special stonefly too. Enter the Skwala. Unlike a tiny winter stonefly, the Skwala is much larger and the first big meal of the new year for trout. It’s an overrated hatch for sure with promises of stellar action on the surface, but to me it is one of the most intriguing hatches that grace our tail waters and freestone river systems of the Northern Sierra.

This family of stonefly, Perlodidae, is same as the Yellow Sally stonefly, and a very important species inhabiting most watersheds in the North American continent. They are often mistaken for early instars of Perlidae (Golden Stones), which they closely resemble. The most notable differences between the two families are the perlodids have much longer tails and antennae, and usually a more slender appearance. 

The male Skwala is much smaller than the female at 13-15mm, and the female, a robust 18-22mm size that is a requirement to be able to carry the hundreds of eggs she will be ovipositting as an adult. The color of the nymph is a yellow/olive with hints of brown for camouflaging. They live beneath the surface for 2 to 3 years molting into several new instars as they grow before reaching maturity. The adult’s color differs from when it is first hatched, to near the end of its life. A freshly hatched Skwala on the LYR will be a brighter yellow/olive, and as it ages, it ripens like a banana and takes on the color of golden spicy mustard. The wings of the Skwala stone are mostly clear with a smokey tinge, and thickly veined. On the Truckee River, the color of a Skwala adult is a true olive and more typical of Skwala populations that reside in the West. A stonefly can live a long time for an aquatic insect, up to 2 months as it can eat and drink water, unlike a mayfly with its 24 hour life expectancy.

Skwala nymphs are predaceous and will eat smaller mayfly nymphs, free living caddis, and midge larva. Both male and female Skwala nymphs when fully mature will start staging in the idle side water downstream of major riffles about a month prior to emergence. Water temperature, and lunar cycles trigger the nymphs to crawl out in the darkness of night to cobblestones next to the bank, often some will crawl well over 30 feet from the side water. They follow other Skwala nymph’s scent pheromones which they trace to livable spaces under the cobblestones. They split their nymphal shuck and emerge into a winged adult resulting in an incomplete metamorphous. Immediately, the males seek out females to mate with, and no time is wasted during this effort. Often while flipping cobblestones on dry land searching for the adult you will find a group of them mating. During night time and cold periods, they reside underneath the larger cobblestones. As the sun warms the surrounding cobbles through solar radiation, they crawl out and sun themselves until warm enough to actively crawl and sometimes fly. Skwala stones are most active from mid-day until late afternoon. They love sunny days and will often hide and protect themselves under the cobblestones during prolonged periods rain, and cold weather.

When walking the bank while searching for active rising trout, I always keep an eye on the surrounding willows. When I do see swarms of Skwalas in the willows, it’s a good clue on where to concentrate your fishing efforts. Adult Skwalas can mate several times through the time period they are alive. Most crawl from spot to spot, or float downstream with the currents, and at times will fly to relocate themselves, lay eggs, or to find a new mate. It takes on average, a few days to a week for eggs to develop inside a female Skwala stone. The eggs are then pushed out to the tip of her abdomen and are held in place until ready to be deposited in the water. 

The egg ball consists of dozens of smaller eggs held together in a sack, the ball is sparkly and shiny and black in color and easy to identify to the naked eye. Most females will crawl to the water’s edge, enter the water, and drift placidly down with the currents while ovipositing their eggs. Other females may fly over the water and splash down to achieve the same result in ovipositing. 

It takes a period of time in the early stages of the Skwala hatch for trout to key in on both the nymphs and adults, and also to recognize when Skwala adults are most active. Once the trout dial it in, they will swim into the side water around noon time next to the bank where Skwalas will be in the drift of the foam lines, and wait patiently to intercept them. While drifting, the legs of a Skwala stone are very active as they kick them back and forth. This is a trigger mechanism for trout, and why rubber legs on fly imitations are an important component for Skwala patterns.

Cast less, and observe more for greater success

As mentioned above, there are also good populations of Skwala stones on the Truckee River as well as the East Walker, and the Wild & Scenic Middle Fork Feather River. On the Yuba, Skwala emergence is from the middle of January to the middle of March on average. As the hatch winds down in March the trout are used to seeing them day in and day out, and will continue to take artificial patterns presented properly. On the Truckee they emerge much later due to a higher elevation and an overall colder environment. The hatch on the Truckee generally is from the beginning of March to the end of April, and likewise for the MFFR, but often we see them well into May. On the East Walker, the Skwala stones are active from the middle of February to the end of March. These are general guide lines as weather, high flows, and lack of sunny days can greatly influence the emergence of the higher elevation Skwala populations.

Each river has local favorite patterns. Below I have provided a list of my “go to” nymphs and dry flies that imitate the unusual specific characteristics of the Skwala stone.

- Jimmy Legs Stone #10-12, mottled yellow olive/coffee.
- Pat's Rubber Legs #10-12, mottled yellow olive/coffee.
- Mercer's Poxy Back Stone #10-12.
- John Barr's Skwala Stone #10-12.

- Unit Skwala #10-12.
- Double Dutch Bug #10-12.
- Stimulator #10-12, yellow olive.
- Dan LeCount's Bullet Head Skwala #10-12.

On the left is the size 12 2xl Unit Skwala male, and on the right is the size 10 2xl female. This is the freshly hatched color I use. 

This is the aged color of a Skwala adult with its more spicy mustard appearance. Male on the left, and the female on the right.

Presentations for nymphing are straight forward and standard with your typical indo rig, or tight line set up. Targeting specific water downstream of riffles and obtaining a dead drift is much more important than a particular pattern. For dry fly presentations, I typically use a standard upstream approach while searching, and when a rising fish is encountered I will then use a fly first downstream presentation. The “standard” presentation for fishing a Skwala dry fly involves making a cast upstream and stripping in line with your line control hand as the fly rides the currents back down towards your stationary position. Line control and keeping slack to minimum is critical. In this scenario there are no rising fish, and the angler makes a series of “fan casts” from near to far in order to effectively dissect a small section of the river before moving upstream to explore fresh unmolested water.

“The Reach Cast” is considered to be a very technical presentation, and is often used to highly educated trout because it delivers the fly first. Simply meaning that a rising fish only sees the fly as it enters its cone of vision. This presentation is best executed by being upstream and across from your acquired target. The angler makes a series of false casts that is aimed slightly downstream towards the rising fish, this allows the angler to gauge the correct distance of line needed. On the final forward cast, while the line is still in the air, the angler moves the tip of the rod upstream. In doing so, it provides an aerial mend, and the fly lands first with the leader and fly line trailing upstream of it. Once the fly, leader, and line make contact with the water, the angler brings the rod tip back downstream and begins paying out line using the “Bump Feed”. Also known as stack mending, line is dispersed from the tip by moving the rod up and down, while the line control hand feeds the guides of the rod with a specified amount of fly line. Again, line control will dictate your success. Too much slack will result in a missed take, not enough slack will drag your fly during the drift, and the trout will refuse your fly. An adult Skwala drifts on the surface with very little movement, except for those twitchy legs.
The allure of fly fishing to the different hatches we encounter is the fine tuning of our approach to each unique individual species. From their behavior, to the flies we tie to imitate them with, it’s the intricate details that count. I often find the study of these aquatic insects and their connection to the natural world far exceeds the actual fishing. I’m truly grateful for these experiences…

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

BUFF Product Review ~ Fly Fishing Gear

Decades ago when I was a younger man, mountaineering and snowboarding were my main two passports to an adventurous life. I can remember ordering a balaclava from an REI catalog, you know, the black all-in-one model. It was a god send on those stormy pushes to the summit, and a welcomed companion protecting my face with knee deep powder face shots. I never gave it much thought back then to protecting myself from the harmful UV rays of the sun. Now that I'm on the water 200+ days a year, protection from all the elements is a must. A buff is just a buff right? Not entirely. When BUFF USA sent me my first package to test and wear, I noticed small differences in both the manufacturing process, designs, and the awesome prints they came in. I'm huge on details, so I can really appreciate the little differences that make for a top shelf quality product.

As a company, BUFF USA produces the original multifuncitional headwear, and so much more. Besides buffs they make headbands, arm sleeves, gloves, hoodies, hats, beanies, finger guards, balaclavas, scarves, masks, neck warmers, arm warmers, and even buffs for your dog! (preferably a Queensland Heeler) Plus there are different materials or versions with each product like CoolNet UV+, Insect Shield, Merino Wool, ThermoNet, DryFlx, and Polar Fleece. You could literally spend hours on their website choosing all the different available options that are made specifically for the activity you desire, and the harshest conditions that you will endure. That's next level right there.

The Derek DeYoung signature series of products are Cat Toy's and my favorites. Whether he’s fly fishing in Montana, Alaska or the Florida Keys, renowned contemporary artist Derek DeYoung captures the beauty of his adventures in his rich, colorful and sought after paintings. He captures all the intricacies that all fish possess; their scales, patterns, dimension and texture. Derek's art really inspires me to get out on the water, fish,and experience everything that comes with that.

The colors of Derek's design really "pop" and make for better images like this photo shoot on the Yampa River in Colorado this past December. 

From UV arm sleeves to protect you from the sun...

To the Pro Series Angler 3 gloves complete with Tarpon scales that protect you hands while fishing all types of water, or rowing a drift boat.

To much flash or color for you stealthy ninja trout warriors? Derek has you covered with more subtle earth tones to mask your way closer to selective and shy skinny water eaters next to the bank.

The finger guards are really cool for those of us that strip flies all day long in the salt, or some of the more high alkaline lakes in Northern California like Eagle Lake, or Pyramid Lake in Western Nevada. Brackish water will ruin your hands, fly lines, and anything else it has constant contact with. You won't get the blood laden "groove" in your finger with this on. it's a must have...

I'm really stoked on the merino wool series of products. I'm currently running the buff which I have used numerous times on the Lower Yuba River lately when the fog from the Greater Central Valley creeps upstream. Its warmth that it provides makes a significant difference in being more comfortable. It's also an essential part of my gear when snowboarding. Merino Wool is a soft, warm, wind-resistant, and lightweight layer made with 100% Merino wool. It features the natural moisture management and odor control properties outdoor enthusiasts love about wool.

Just another Trucker Hat, right? Not really. Right out of the box this hat is one of the most comfortable hats I've ever worn. Not sure why, but it is, and it does not become bothersome wearing it all day long. A.D. Maddox is another artist that is featured by BUFF USA on many different products. Raised in an environment that encouraged artistic thought, A.D. Maddox has been painting for as long as she can remember. After traveling extensively through her 20s, she began her professional career in Wyoming, painting trout. Fascinated by the vibrant colors and unique beauty of fish, Maddox develops each piece of art through her signature layering technique. In her own words - “Trout are chameleon-like, constantly changing color in and out of water. They represent an intriguing and beautiful color palette, and incorporating the water is an artistic challenge.” I love her work!

I'm really hard on gear and out in the field more than I am under a roof of a house. It's just my life. I've blown up more products from everyday use than a career terrorist, and it's a shame that more fly fishing companies do not tap into my knowledge on research and design to make a better product for the general public, like the snowboard industry did in the past. So far, BUFF USA products have withstood my wrath. Nothing has torn or faded yet, and even stuffing wet buffs in a pocket for a few days has yet to see any nasty mildew experiments. Their buffs are simple, effective and infinitely adaptable, and at its core is a moisture-managing microfiber fabric that is wind resistant and able to control odor. Guide tested...Baiocchi's Troutfitters approved. 

If you do a guide trip, participate in a tour, or a workshop with me and you want to try some products out, just let me know. I think you will be pleased. Check out the 2020 line of products, I'm pretty stoked on them!  

Monday, January 13, 2020

Lower Yuba River Fly Fishing Report ~ 1/13/2020

It’s been fun fishing on the Lower Yuba River the past couple of weeks. I really enjoy sharing the rhythms of the river with my guests and improving their skill set. If you want to catch more fish on the Yuba, hire a drift guide as you will cover more water, learn the go to flies, and the indicator rigs that constantly produce. That’s great and all, but what are you really learning to be successful on your own? My approach to guiding the Lower Yuba River is so much different as it is from a walk and wade perspective, where deciphering hatches and the clues that Mother Nature provides to usable information for the common fly angler. Reading water, proper presentations, casting, the best access, river history, local flora and fauna, flies, fish handling, the best flows, hook sets, fighting fish, and special leader formulas for every application known. I take pride in my trips, and not once in the last 23 years of guiding have I woken up at 4am and said “I don’t want to go to work today”. I really do love it.

Flows have been stable, right around 1,370 cubes, which is good as the trout can set up some long term homes and feeding lanes. Speaking of which, check out my last blog post HERE on explaining the nuances of foam lines. Fishing pressure has increased, and some days are downright silly. I see way too many anglers racing upstream to try and beat the next guy, when they are passing up some really good water. Oh well, my approach is to slow down, and if need be, my guests and I will clean up the wake of their mess that they left behind. All types of rigs are working right now but if want to play the dry fly game, you can take your time getting to the river ‘cause those heads and rise forms don’t even appear until after 12pm.

So, what’s on the surface menu? BWOs, PMDs, Brown Duns, and Skwala stones. In the last week I’ve been observing more with my guests and helping them identify when a hatch is about to go off (it’s all about the song birds), the different species of mayflies, and trout behavior. The mayfly hatches have been really short, about 20 to 30 minutes, a little longer on cooler moist days as it takes longer for the mayflies to dry their wings from emergence and be able to fly off – Trout like that, they can take their time eating. One key to being more successful is to actually watch what specie of mayfly an individual trout is eating.  With 4 different aquatic insects to choose from, it varies. Here is an example; yesterday my guest and I were fishing multiple foam line/feeding lanes in an area, and there were about eight different fish rising consistently. We were close, like 10 feet away so you could see every detail – To be honest it was incredible! Most of the fish were eating BWOs, but a few ignored them and would only take PMDs. There were Skwalas and a few Brown Duns circulating in a Merry-Go-Round foam patch, and the fish ignored both of them. Just plain weird. Trout behavior never ceases to amaze me. A classic “Masking Hatch” was happening, where other aquatic insects mask what most of the trout are really eating. To complicate matters even more, they can switch to a different preferred food item at any given moment. This is what trout fishing is all about – Solving the ever changing riddle.

Not many Skwalas out yesterday as it was too cold and not a lot of abundant sunshine. They chose to hide out under the cobblestones until a better day. They sure do like it warm. I’m amazed at how many anglers do not see them crawling around or in the drift. But then again you need to be on the water often to pick up the subtle clues and train your eyes to be able to pick up on those particular variances. When it comes to that, I might as well be an Osprey. I just see the surrounding conditions of such so clearly – it’s all about putting in time on the water, and I’m very fortunate to be able to have those skills, and the time/job to hone them. I want to help other anglers though, and why I created affordable workshops to help increase a fly angler’s skill set. 

On February 12th I will have a Skwala Workshop on the Lower Yuba River. You’ll learn identification from male to female, habitat for the nymph and the adult, where and when they hatch, plus other rivers that hold good populations of them, emergence behavior, egg laying behavior, trout response to the hatch, recommended equipment, leader formulas, flies, presentations, and a highly informative handout that covers everything within the workshop. $150 per angler, limited to 4.  You’ll walk away after the workshop with a clearer understanding of the Skwala hatch, and how to be more successful when plying the water. Shoot me an email if you want in: baiocchistroutfitters@yahoo.com

It looks like we are getting some real precipitation this week, with rain, snow, and below average temperatures. We’ll see what transpires with the flows, and just have to wait and see how much falls from the sky. Feel free to contact me with questions, it’s that time of year when I have a little more time to answer emails (ha ha! up at 3am this morning to do so and get caught up!). Put the resource first, give back, help a newbie, and I’ll see you on the water…

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