Spring Edition

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Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Lower Yuba River Fly Fishing Report ~ 2/23/2021


Quality over quantity. The last week on the Lower Yuba River has provided some unreal fishing opportunities for my guests and me. With the right day (warmer weather), the right fly, and the perfect downstream fly first presentation, you too can hook into a Skwala eater in less than a foot of water. It’s SO frickin cool! 

The game I like to teach is more about hunting individual trout feeding next to the bank in the foam lines. It takes patience, and a good game plan that is executed as flawlessly as possible. It’s not easy. There is so much hype with the Skwala hatch where most visiting anglers think you just walk up to the river’s edge and chuck out a big dry fly and instantly hook up. There’s so much more to it than that, and if you re read my blog post HERE “6 Keys to Fishing the Skwala Adult”, you’ll be more prepared to have a winning day.

We’ve had more wimpy storms roll through with just enough precipitation to add a tint of color to the upper river and keep the native grasses ultra green. Currently the flows are at 750 cubes and it looks like we’ll see extended sunshine for the next week and warmer air temps (the Skwala Nation is smiling) followed by cooler and some unsettled weather and a few shots of precipitation. 

Fishing pressure is about the same as my last report, and it just depends on the day and the location as to how many anglers you’ll see on the water. This past month I’ve seen more steelhead spawning than in years past, and from recent trips from myself and close friends, many of those steelhead are “clippers” coming from the Feather River. 

A guide buddy, Joe Garza of JAG Fly Fishing said it could be that the PH levels in the Feather River are out of whack from the forest fires last year in the Middle Fork and North Fork Feather drainage. I thought that was an interesting observation. I have seen many anglers fishing the steelhead and trout redds upstream of the bridge at the tail out of the Toilet Bowl, it’s not against the law, but really up to the individual angler as far as ethics are concerned. I know in Colorado and Idaho, anglers have no problem fishing on active redds with barbed hooks…Do as you wish…

Fishing has been pretty good overall on most days, but typical Yuba, every day is different with a few slower days thrown in to keep one humble. Nymphing has been a little slow in the mornings, and for my guests and me, most of the action is mid-day to late afternoon with dry flies. Long Line Euro Nymphing or swinging alevins/salmon fry in the mornings, then setting up on a productive flat around noon for the PMD, Pinky, and BWO hatches, followed by hunting heads with the Skwala adult all afternoon has been our game plan day in, and day out. 

My best advice is to stick and move, while covering plenty of different water. Too many anglers stay in the same spot for far too long. Either the fish are there and will eat your fly right away, or they are there yet don’t want your offering, or the fish are not there at all. Stick and move…

It definitely helps to keep a low profile when making presentations close to the bank in skinny water. Enter the stealth mode with ninja tactics for more success. Also rippled out water, rough water, or blurry water can help you get closer to your quarry without being detected. 

Hatching aquatics in the mix right now include the Brown Dun mayfly around mid-morning. These big drake like mayflies are not present in big numbers, but I’ve seen a few fish eat them. Swinging a pheasant tail soft hackle with some grouse mixed in can be productive as well.  By the middle of the day PMD, Pinky, and BWO hatches fire up on certain transition zones of riffles into flats. The PMDs and the Pinkies look a lot alike and one pattern can cross over to imitating them both. The best size fly for such dry fly presentations has been a size 16. For the BWOs, a size 18 is about right. This is considerably larger than the size 20 Pseudos (little blue wing olives) that were hatching about 6 weeks ago. 

I have yet to see any March Browns riding down the currents, but it’s only a matter of time. Since the nymphs are from the clinger family and live in fast riffles, be observant of the water directly downstream of these areas for their mid-stream emergence rising up through the water column. 

Because we have had such a warm and mild winter, there has been an increased amount of caddis hatching of late. Typically splashy rise forms this time of year are from Skwala eaters, or trout pushing salmon fry near the surface and wreaking havoc, but now you can add emerging caddis for such rise forms as a cause with their quick exit from the water’s surface.

The Skwala Nation remains strong, and the hatch has been consistent with more bugs in certain sections of the river than others. The air temps and weather greatly affect Skwala activity, the warmer the better, and why fishing during the warmest time of the day from 1pm to 4pm is prime time. In the past week around the the more popular fishing access areas, most of the trout have wised up to imitations and are being selective. I’ve seen this type of trout behavior in years past where you can watch individual fish eat a few naturals, but totally ignore your fly. This is when you’ll need to downsize your adult patterns and fish the male in a size 12. If that doesn’t work, try clipping the rubber legs short and dropping down to 5x. If that doesn’t work…go find another fish to play the game with.


In the December issue of California Fly Fisher and my article “Skwala Primer 2021 – Lessons Learned” I wrote about finding an area where there is evidence of numerous Skwala shucks on a wall of rock. With a location like this above, I’m able to wipe the slate clean of old dried shucks, then checking the same rock wall a few days later to see just how many new shucks have appeared, which translates to the intensity and numbers of newly emerged nymphs. The big picture tells all.

All in all, it’s been so much fun on the Lower Yuba River, and why moving down to Nevada City full time in 2011 was one of the wisest choices I’ve made to be able to experience and share the best winter dry fly fishery on the west coast. It’s simply phenomenal. This has been the busiest winter for me guiding, along with all the other special projects I do (presentations, writing articles, workshops, etc.), and I’m loving it. I may be running on fumes, but every morning I look forward to being on the water with my guests and teaching them the ways of the Jedi. March is nearly booked up with only 3 days available, and as we enter April, I will be transitioning up to my second home of the Northern Sierra for the warmer months -which I can’t wait for!

See you on the water…

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