Fly Fishing Traditions

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Monday, January 6, 2014

Fishing the Soft Water

Lower Yuba River 01-05-11

A "Knothead" right where it's supposed to be!

I've been watching the flows on the Lower Yuba since Christmas or so and have been feeling the urge to get out. Sitting at your tying bench and dreaming up fly patterns only gets you so far. I have come up with some Skwala patterns so the time between fishing hasn't all been non-fishing related. I went to the Gold Country Fly Fishers meeting and decided it was time. The river's still flowing at 5,000 +/- but the weather was supposed to be clear, so what the heck. I called my buddy Blake, and then talked to Frank at the meeting and we made a plan to meet in the morning.

I got up early hooked up my boat and threw the gear in the Mitsubishi, I had to get this done before I dropped Zack off at school. This is sort of my fishing routine, get Zack up, get some breakfast down, load up the fishing gear and Zack's backpack with his books, jump in and dash to school.

I typically drop Zack off at about 8:30 and then head downtown to meet my buddies. Only problem was, this time is I still had to round up my 2011 fishing license and Steelhead Report card. No problem I thought, I can get one at SPD. That took all of 15 minutes, so I'm still in pretty good shape. As I headed to the meeting place at the coffee shop, I was running down my mental check list and thought to my self, "My Boat Bag was in the back of the rig wasn't it?" I pulled over and sure enough it wasn't. So back home, pick up the boat bag with my flies, reels and you can guess what else and back on the road.

Any way, so now I'm a good 30 minutes late, Good thing it's just my buddies, they could drink coffee and shoot the bull for at least another hour, ha! I called Frank and he said, "Meet you at the river, Blake needs to get his license, too". So at least I wasn't the only one with morning, opps!

With all our running around out of the way, much coffee drunk, we met at the river and everyone was in good spirits and laughing about the morning mishaps. That's what I like about real fishing buddies, they quickly forget. As soon as the joking starts, it's all about making the best of the day, whatever comes. That's an essential spirit of going fishing and for life too for that matter. Keep a good attitude and good things usually happen, and I don't necessarily mean catching a bunch of fish. I'm talking good times.

The river was looking big and green and bigger than 5,000 cfs. although I'm sure the charts are right. When it's that big and only about a foot or a foot and a half visibility on the edges, it's sort of like, "How the heck are we going to fish this?" The answer is edges.

You've got to concentrate on the edges and the water that is flowing at walking speed or less. There's actually quite a bit of it if you look and search it out. Pretty much anywhere there are willows there's softer seams along the shore. There's soft water in eddy pools as it works it's way back up stream. There's softer water where the water below the eddies starts heading towards the banks at a sort of diagonal headed downstream. How about where the river makes a sharper bend. There's always softer water on the inside. There's also the runs. That's the key. Where there's soft water, There's usually going to be fish.

Frank with a fish caught along the edges of the willows.

One of the problems we had when nymphing the edges was sticks, There were sticks everywhere. The high flows have torn the deadwood out of the willows and deposited them in the soft water, probably right with the fish. Each time we fished the edges with indicator and shot, we'd get hung up. "Was that a fish?, nuts another stick". We stick farmed a lot. By eliminating shot, or using very little, we could fish for trout along the edges, instead of sticks. Eventually we figured it out and the sticks started swimming around in circles and throbbing. We also got a few of those "Oh, nuts, another snag". Then the snag started swimming upstream. Blake lost a few of those sticks.

This Fish was caught in crawling slow water to the side of a run.
Another tactic to fish the edges is what every guide in Montana does in the spring time. Pound the banks from a drift boat. In Montana just after the spring runoff everyone is looking for that 3 feet of visibility along the banks. The key is position your boat an easy casting distance from the bank. The rig is typically a Thing-a-ma-bobber and about 3 feet to light shot with two or three lightly or un-weighted nymphs, below the shot. You can also use a streamer with nymphs or eggs below, sort of a steak and eggs thing. This way you can target the clearer water right along the banks where the fish probably are instead on stepping on them. Try this the next time you're out.
Later in the afternoon, Frank said, "Why don't we string up a dry rod and try some of those new Skwala patterns?. I thought to myself, "Jeez, we haven't seen a Skwala all day, but I can guess we can test and see if they float right, and how they ride in the water column". So we did, I switched places and let Frank row the boat and I tied on a "Skwalanator" prototype. Blake tied on a "Knothead" prototype. We messed around a little in some eddy water and found that they did float pretty good, and both patterns sunk nicely in the film. The "Skwalanator's" Krystal Flash underwing made it pretty east to see and the Orange Dyed Deer Hair made the "Knothead" even easier to see. So they passed the first test, anyway. Can't wait until the Skwalas come out to do the final testing.

It was time to see how they floated in moving water along the willows, where the trout usually hang out waiting for the Skwalas to plop down into the water. As we floated on down to our take out we fished the soft water along the willows. I Thought, "Man, they float pretty good". I'll be darned, but Blake's "Knothead" brought up a big boil. I about soiled my pants. The following laughs that we shared and the picture at the top tells the rest of the story.

We had a great day, the weather was clear and bright, we got to take a trip down the river and look at the changes from the previous high waters, told tales and stories, sometimes I think we do that as much as we fish, and caught some fish. Not bad for a high flowing Lower Yuba in January.

Get out there, enjoy the outdoors, try something new and most importantly concentrate on having fun!

Clay's reward from the rowing gods!


  1. Man, the Lower Yuba looks good. The American is still at 7000, but dropping daily. I could do a bit under 5000.


  2. jealious, thats all I get out of that... thanks


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