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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Techniques - The Lower Sacramento River

I'm a technique geek as you've probably come to know. There is a definite technique to hooking playing and landing fish out of a drift boat and especially on the Lower Sacramento River. It's sort of a multi-step deal. I'll take you through it.

Adjust your Drag Properly

Adjusting the drag properly is probably the most important things to do before you start fishing. Having a reel with a good quality drag system is a must! The drag must be set so that when you have your rod tip up at about the 11:30 position it will feed line consistently and with the correct amount of tension. This will take a little experimentation. Set it right and it will enable you to catch fish, set it wrong and you consistently lose fish.

Setting Up and Managing the Drift

When casting your rigg from the drift boat, you typically want to keep at least 2 1/2 rod lengths away from the boat. You need to manage your drift properly. With that said, this means you need to mend either up or down stream depending what the currents are doing between you and the indicator, but the key is don't overdo it. The flies need to drift, not jigg. To do this you've got to let them drift. Set it up and let them ride. Better a little drag than constant jigging from micro managing your drift.

The technique is, cast the flies to the target area, throw a big upstream mend, or preferably a stack mend behind the indicator and let them run. You can manage the line closer to the boat and probably 1/2 way to the indicator, just try not to move the indicator. When it starts dragging to much or too much line gets downstream of the indicator, pick the rigg up re-cast and re-set the drift.

Rod Position During the Drift

Once you've got the drift set up, lower your hands to belly button level and point your rod tip at the indicator. Flip small mends upstream and downstream as necessary during the drift, making sure that you move the indicator as little as possible. Feed or strip in line as necessary to maintain your drift. Most times if you don't feed line occasionally the indicator will start getting very slowly pulled back towards the boat. Micro drag, this is a not good. Again with this said micro drag is better than jigging your flies.

The Set

If the indicator moves, and we're talking sometimes only 1/2 an inch, rotate your wrist up keeping the butt of the rod chest mid high to set. Rotating your wrist up brings the rod tip up vertically but keeps your hands "In the Box". By keeping your hands "In the Box" you can strip immediately if the fish runs towards you. This is all about line handling ability. As we all have probably done. raising your hands above your head with a fish is running towards you leads to many lost fish. Its just darn hard to keep up.

The Fight and Playing the Fish

The cardinal rule when fighting a fish on the Lower Sac and when fishing out of a boat is to keep the rod tip up. The bend of the rod and the drag of your reel is what will enable you to land big fish consistently. The drag needs to be set so that when the rod tip is high at the 11:00 to 11:30 position it will feed line as the tip bends without having to "give in" to the fish. The bend in the rod is your shock absorber that keeps you flies set tight in the trout's mouth and protects your terminal tippet. When you have to lower the rod position either because the drag is set too high or you feel you need to lower it because the fish is off to a big run the fish will win the battle. The fly will slip out or break off. Now this isn't saying you need to battle fish like a statue, its just that a keeping a high rod position is definitely preferable until the fish settles down.

Landing the Fish

Most of the times when fishing a big river like  the Lower Sacramento, you are rigged with an indicator and shot with 2 or 3 flies. The shot can be from 5' to 7 1/2 feet below the indicator. The flies are spaced approximately 18" apart. With 3 flies this can add up something like this.

Indicator to Shot = 7 feet
Shot to first fly = 18"
1st fly to 2nd fly = 18"
2nd fly to 3rd fly = 18"
Total = 11 1/2'

In the event the fish took your bottom fly and you reel up to your fixed indicator you are still 11 1/2 feet away from the fish. This takes a straight up lift with your arms over your head and a long handle on the net. It also takes skill ans some luck.


I spent a day fishing last week with my son Zack and fly fishing guide Mike Hibbard who showed us how to put all these techniques to the test. With his coaching we had a very respectable landing percentage. With that said you never catch them all.

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