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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Fishing the Klamath River December 2009

I traveled to Northern California this week to fish the Klamath River with Craig Neilson of Shasta Trout. I went with Blake Larsen a long time friend and fishing buddy. This was sort of a thank you trip to Blake who is my Project manager for my Custom Home Building business. We were hoping to hit the river and catch some action for the winter run steelhead. We had communicated with Craig Neilson earlier in the week and he said that it had been brutily cold. There were times last week where he had to use hot water from one of his thermos bottles to un-freeze the anchor rope for his drift boat so he could set the anchor. None the less they had been catching fish. The fishing had been good for half-pounders and winter run steelhead. So we were prepared with lots of insulated layers, waders, fleece gloves, hats, rain gear etc. This was a steelhead trip after all. It's not steelheading unless the conditions are miserable.

Blake had traveled down on Monday morning, leaving Truckee in a light snow storm. We had planned on leaving Grass Valley at about 5:00 am. With the snow on the highways we left at about 5:30. Our plan was to meet Craig Neilson at about 9:00 in the town of Mt. Shasta. We made good time and were able to get there on time.

We were going to be fishing a 5 1/2 mile stretch of the Klamath River below Iron Gate Dam. It is about a 50 minute drive north of Mt. Shasta. This portion of the river is east of Yreka and almost touching the Oregon border. It is more of a a high desert environment. Not really what you think of when you contemplate Northern California or South-western Oregon.

On the way driving to the river, I had a vision of taking my sunglasses off my rear view mirror in my SUV, and my lanyard with my license and steelhead card attached to it. Unfortunately it was still hanging there in Grass Valley, Smart! Fortunately there was a gas station real close to the river where I could pick up another one. We set up our shuttle and were on the river at about 11:15 to start the fishing day. This is later than everyone had hoped for, but at least the temperature had warmed up to a balmy 39 degrees. The day started with a solid high overcast and was looking to improve during the day. We later had periods of full sunshine. This steelheading isn't that bad!

I was rigged up with a thingamabobber with a tapered leader that was about 8 ft to 9ft. above the split shot. I had one lead shot and one AAA standard shot. I started with a size 10 troutbead with a size 8 egg hook. A second fly, which was a brown rubber legs, was tied to the hook bend of the egg hook.

Blake was rigged up basically the same with a troutbead, except his bottom fly was a fly similar to an Idlwylde Fly called a "Fuglybug". This fly had been good in November of the Klamath.

Later in the day a BWO hatch came off and and we added a BWO nymph as a third fly. We also tried an Alevin pattern. That was pretty much it. That's what had been working for Craig earlier in the week and there wasn't much need to start changing and experimenting with a bunch of different flies. The steelhead were either going to eat them or go back to sleep.

On Monday we caught some half pounders early on, had a couple of hatchery steelhead landed during the rest of the day. It was a "steelhead day" as compared to a November "egg bite day" when there are a lot of salmon in the river and every trout, half pounder and steelhead are gobbling up eggs. We only saw a couple of late salmon and Craig stated that the salmon run is done. Subsequently, even though the steelhead still will take a troutbead, a lot of the half pounders have already migrated down stream. The numbers of fish in the river in December are less than in November when the salmon are thick. Don't get me wrong there are still half pounders in the river just not as many as in November. Essentially if your after a big number day head up there in November when the salmon are thick and if you are looking to land a large adult steelhead head up there in December through February. It also pays to keep updated as to the timing of the steelhead run. Check out Craig's fishing reports at before you go.

Blake with a "typical" Klamath River "Half- pounder"

As mentioned we also fished an Alevin pattern on both days and had sucess with it. The photo on the right is the "Fox's Fertilizer. We used a fly similar to this one.

On Tuesday, the air temperatures were warmer and there was a drizzling rain off and on for most of the day. There were a few runs where the fish woke up and the bite turned on and was steady. Of the two days, Tuesday was definitely more of the "numbers" day. We had the river to ourselves on Tuesday and I believe that also made a difference.

The fish seemed to be pretty sluggish on both days and we had the feeling that you had to drift a fly across their noses, essentially be right on the line or in the right slot. Once hooked most of the fish just hunkered down and "dogged it". We landed a number of larger steelhead with the biggest once going about 23". Blake hooked a fish that was larger than that but we lost when it wrapped itself up and popped off.

Blake with Craig ready at the net

Teamwork Pays Off - Blake with a nice "Hen Steelhead"

Even I get lucky once in a while!

Craig Neilson is also an accomplished switch rod enthusiast, so we set up in a few runs and swung flies with switch rods on both days. This was another reason that I wanted to head up there. I was using my Sage Z-Axis 11 ft. 6 weight switch rod and Blake used one of Craig's switch rods. We were rigged up with mini Skagit Heads attached loop to loop with a level running line. I had a 7 ips versaleader attached to my Skagit Head. Craig worked with both Blake and I on the spey casts that we needed to incorporate when fishing from the front and rear positions of the drift boat, from river right and from river left. The casts required change with the front and rear boat positons and also from river right or river left. Swinging flies from the drift boat is sort of cool, it's like having a portable rock that you can stand on and fish from where ever you want it. There is some coordination that you have to work out with the two angling positions but we really didn't get tangled up much at all. I will say that if you just casted willy nilly and paid no attention to what the other caster was doing it could get messy.

The water temps were in the low 40's and getting colder which Craig said tends to put the steelhead off the bite. Steelhead tend to get grabbier as water temperatures increase. Even by 1 degree. He says in pays to monitor water temperatures closely. Buy a good stream thermometer and keep records of water temperatures. If a warm storm was coming in after a period of colder weather. Head to the river and start swinging flies. Good to know.

The Klamath is a great river to swing flies for steelhead and booking a trip with Craig would be a great learning experience with the added chance of landing a 10 pound or bigger steelhead when swinging a fly.

Give Craig Neilson a call at 530-926-5763 or e-mail him at You will thank me for the heads up.

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Have any Questions or Comments? Let me know, Clay.