Fly Fishing Traditions

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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Bugs - The Yuba Skwala Stone


Skwala Stonefly
Order: Plecoptera (Stonefly)
Family: Perlodidae
Sub family:perlodinae
Genus: Skwala
Species:Americana (American Springfly)

It’s late January and the word on the streets is that the Skwalas are out. It's time to tie up some big bugs and get ready. The last time I fished the Yuba I picked up a couple of nice fish with a Mercer’s Skwala Nymph. It’s a good one.

The Skwala activity on the Lower Yuba River can start as early as late December and then transitions to "strong" activity beginning mid February and generally lasting until mid April. The Skwala is a very important hatch in that it is the first big meal of the season. Regardless of how many adults there are, the fish know they are there. Fish make their living on eating the predominant insects and food sources of the season.

If you’re fishing on the Lower Yuba River and someone asks you what pattern to use for the Skwalas, tell him without breaking into a grin, “Try a Skwala Emerger”. Like all stoneflies, Skwala's crawl from the river and actually hatch on riverside rocks or vegetation, so there is no emerging period when they are available to trout, just the nymphs and adults. Hence, no emerger patterns for Skwalas.

Skwala nymphs are predatory and feed on other aquatic insects during their one year spent maturing in the river. I heard from Frank Rinella that Ralph Cutter has a theory that the Skwalas are munching on the caddis and that’s why we haven’t seen as many of them on the river. Who knows? If that's even remotely true, there must be a lot of Skwalas!

Once spring starts knocking on the door they crawl from the water, hatch as adults, and go about the business of finding a mate, an interesting process for stoneflies. They will locate mates by "drumming" their abdomens on the branches of bankside willows, a potential mate will "drum" back, and this heated "Mating Game" will continue until a match is made or they give up and try to find another mate. Another interesting aspect of skwala stoneflies is that only the females have wings, and is one of the reasons that skwala dry fly patterns will often incorporate a black egg sack. The females are the ones most often available to the trout while the males are busy crawling around on dry land, drumming up lost love.

In Mid-February (on the average every year) the water temps start to increase a bit. Water temps are always the impetus for insect emergence. The Skwala nymph starts getting active around 39-40 degrees. Just think about it. It has been a while since the trout were gobbling up eggs and they have been eating small mayflies for awhile. The rainbow trout and steelhead are getting into their pre-spawn mode and the larger trout are thinking about perpetuating the species. Their metabolism is starting to pick up a bit from the previous two months of colder water temps and they will most certainly chow down on larger types of food sources and also to prepare for the spawn. Once the water temps start coming to about 45 degrees the bug of choice is the Adult Skwala. Time to tie, buy, beg or steal Skwala Dry patterns.

The Skwala nymphs prefers fast moving, well aerated, cold, clear water with a rock and cobble bottom. This is probably why the Skwalas are present on the lower Yuba River. The nymph generally emerges in the late afternoon and into the evening. Stonefly nymphs are generally pretty poor swimmers and Skwala's are no exception. They swim, or at least attempt to, in a side-to-side type motion with most of the movement taking place on the upper body and the tail kind of dragging along.

They are still prone to getting caught up in the drift once they become very active and start heading for the banks. Fish will stage in the shallow riffle areas and will actively search for the adults drifting along the banks and under the willows. Be careful not to step and wade into areas that could be holding opportunistic fish looking for a big meal.

The Skwala hatch on the Lower Yuba River is the real deal! It is not a prolific hatch, yet it is an important food source that helps kick off every new season. Get ready! They're coming!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Fishing Report - Lower Yuba 01-19-11

I got the chance to fish the Lower Yuba River today with Mike Williams. Mike is the "Fish-Outs" chairman for the Gold Country Fly Fishers, he deserved a day of fishing. We headed down from Grass Valley, from the warm sunshine into the soup. As I drove down I could see the fog hanging at the lower elevations down in Marysville, Yuba City. I started thinking to myself, "That's OK, I'm dressed right, no problem, we'll make the best of it". I really wasn't that pumped to have another fog shrouded day on the river, and sort of shrugged to myself, and then thought a little more, "What the heck are you thinking, It'll be great day, it's what you make of it, OK , I'm good to go!" And I was. We got down to the river and the river just looked perfect, I was stoked, fog, forget-a-bout it!

As it turned out we had a light wind come and by 11:00 or so we had a sunny day, the 1st one I've had on the river in awhile. The river was flowing at about 3160 cfs when you add Deer Creek into the flow and it ended up being an absolutely gorgeous day. Who knows maybe some one was listening to me talk to myself.

The water clarity was just about perfect, clear enough for the fish to see our flies, by obscure enough for stealth. This is my favorite condition. We started out wade fishing along the willow lines concentrating on the water that was about 10' to 16' off the bank and about 3' to 6' deep. I started rigged up with a Supper Floss rubberlegs, a Prince of Darkness and a natural Troutbead. I caught fish on each of them. We wade fished from about 10:30 to 12:30 and did well. It was about 11:30 and then right before my eyes the fog dissipated and I was standing in the river in full warm sunlight. Well what do you know. I landed my biggest fish of the day about 1o minutes later. Doesn't get much better than that. I was ready to rack my rod and row for Mike the rest of the day. A nice fish does that for me. Contentment, get me behind the oars and let me try to get others into fish. Sometimes it just takes a single fish and I'm ready to row the rest of the day.

Maybe you can see from the picture that the edges are pretty clear and the overall color is much more blue green. This eddy pool has about 5 to 6' of visibility. This is just about perfect. All we really need is some bugs, hopefully Skwalas to make the river really come alive. I don't think we saw more than a handful of bugs on the water all day, a few BWO mayflies. We saw a couple of small rises in the runs and one along the willows and that was it. It was definitely a shot and indicator day. A Steak and Eggs day. A big rubberlegs stonefly and a Troutbead. Throw on an attractor nymph in between and you're good to go.

We jumped in the boat and I rowed for Mike the rest of the day and we hooked up pretty regularly. Not that we landed everything we hooked but the fishing was pretty active. All the fish seemed healthy and in good shape. Mike was rigged with a Super Floss Rubberlegs, a red bodied Spitfire and a Trout bead. If I remember right most of the fish landed were taken on the rubber legs and the troutbead. Like I said, Steak and Eggs.

One thing for sure, it was another great day on the river, with a friend,and fishing, nothing else that I'd rather do. Get out there and have some fun, you might catch a fish to boot!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Fishing the Lower Sac - January 13th, 2010

Rainbow and Clouds on the Lower Sac

I was invited to fish the Lower Sacramento River by a local fly club member, Don Steffa,who is organizing a trip to the Green River in April. He was meeting Steve Cooper of "High Plains Drifters" who has a unique Fly Fishing Guide Service and guides on Eastern Oregon's Owyhee River and Southern Washington's Grande Ronde River. I had seen Steve's slide show and presentaion at the November meeting of the Gold Country Fly Fishers in Grass Valley. Don and Steve have a long history of fishing together. I was looking forward to a day on the Lower Sacramento and fishing with new acquaintances and listening to stories and experiences of fishing the rivers that Steve knows so well.

The weather was predicted to be raining and clearing in the afternoon so I was prepared with all my rain and cold weather fishing gear. It was raining hard the prior evening so my main concern was water clarity. The Lower Sacramento River rainbows are know to get tempermental and closed mouthed with any change of water condition, mainly change in flow and water clarity. The Lower Sacramento River is more of a tailwater river up around Redding but can be affected by recent rain storms. I just hoped the conditions would find the river in fishable condition.

I met Don Steffa in Grass Valley and we drove to Redding and Don told me about fishing for large mouth bass and strippers in the Delta. He spent a lot of years in the Stockton area. Steve also lives in Stockton and has spent a lot of time chasing fish in the Delta. When we first crossed the Lower Sac in Red Bluff it was running brown and looked blown out. I kept my fingers crossed that we would have fishable water clarity in the upper river by the Posse Grounds. We arrived at The Fly Shop in Redding and met Steve at about 8:15. The shop said that the upper section was "fishable" but would be "colored up". They recomended staying up high on the river.

We decided to float from the Posse Grounds to a takeout in the "Aqua Golf" bay. This is a float of about 3 miles. Steve needed to be off the river by 4:00 as he was giving a presentation at the Fly Club in Redding that evening. Fishing with Steve and Don was spent with two friends at their best and giving each other a hard time and joking whenever they had a chance. Just as I like it!

The river was lower than I can remember and was flowing at about 3200 cfs. As it turned out the water was off color and murky green. The visibility was about 1 1/2' to 2 feet. This meant we pretty much had to get our flies in front of their noses to get the fish interested. We rigged up with rubber leg stones or other more attractor flies and ran small mayflies behind them. We hit the river and gave it a go. Even with these conditions we caught some beautiful rainbows with deep red lateral lines. We also lost a few nice ones. But as we all know that's fishing. We saw one other drift boat on the river and had the river to ourselves except for some wading anglers at the Posse Ground riffle. The day turned out to be beautifull with a few drizzles but what was strange is that almost everytime it started drizzling we were in the full sunshine. When it would cloud over the drizzle would stop. Go figure! I had my raincoat on for a total of no more than 15 minutes the whole day and that was when I was rowing accross the "Aqua Golf" bay to get to the take out.

All in all it was a great day with new friends and a fun time had by all.

A Nice Rainbow with Steve Cooper

The was a typical rainbow for the day.

High Plains Drifters

Steve Cooper works for PG&E and schedules his vacation time to do his guiding in Washington and Oregon when the conditions are best. He sets up tent camps in remote destinations and provides a camp kitchen and a couple of rafts as well as getting his clients into fish. He also does slide show presentations at Fly Fishing Clubs here in California.

Grande Ronde River - Steve guides on the Grande Ronde that flows through the high plains of Oregon and Washington. He guides the remote roadless section from Highway 129 to the confluence of the Snake River. The two day float covers a 36 mile stretch of the river that offers stunning scenery, uncrowded blue-ribbon water and fishing for small mouth bass. You can expect to fish for quality Small Mouth Bass from one to three pounds with opportunities for trophy fish up to six pounds.

Owyhee River - Steve also guides on the Owyhee River which is located in the badlands of eastern Oregon. The river is a tailwater fishery that flows from Owyhee Lake. The river is a bug factory and grows an amazing number of large Brown Trout. Steve sets up river side camps and will show you how to hook up with these trophy browns.

You can contact Steve Cooper and "High Plains Drifters" and get more information or custom design a trip at;

High Plains Drifters

3047 Sleepy Hollow Drive.

Stockton, CA 95209



Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Nuts & Bolts #3 -Rigging for Different Water Types on the Lower Yuba

One thing I think most fishermen are guilty of, is not changing their tactics and rigging enough, based upon the changing characteristics and water types of the river we are fishing. I know I am.

I have fished the Lower Yuba River for many years and quite a bit in the last couple of years or so, mainly from a drift boat. When fishing above the Parks Bar Bridge I wade fish more than below the bridge. I've been thinking lately about the structure of the river and the character of the runs and how that should effect the way I rigg and present my flies. I've broken the river into four water types. The different structures and water types requires changing tactics as you move from type to type. I think we all have a tendancy to rigg up a certian way and just stick with it. We may change our rigg slightly or the way we present our flies but we probably don't change enough or effectively.

I'm mainly discussing tactics used from a moving drift boat which is what I do most of the time, although many of the tactics are similar to what I'd use when wade fishing.

I have broken the Lower Yuba River into 4 structure/water types. They are;

(1) Runs

(2) Tailouts

(3) Deep slots and pools

(4) Shallow Runs and Redd areas.

These are typical water types that can be found on most western rivers. The point here is how should I best rigg to fish these different water types on specifically the Lower Yuba River?

Water Type #1 - Runs

Runs - I classify runs as water that flows at a fairly consistant velocity and has a consistant depth. The depth can be from 4 to 10 feet deep. The key here is that these sections of the river have relatively consistant depth and relatively consistant speed. Idealy from walking to fast walking speed. For these runs the choice is either set up with (a) indicator, or set up for (b) "Tight Line Nymphing."

Rigging Indicators for Runs - For runs you can rigg up with an indicator and about 6' to 9' of tippet from the indicator to the shot depending on the depth of the run. I usually rigg up with a tapered 2x x 10' leader. I prefer to use the tapered leader so I can adjust depth easily. On runs I prefer a "Thingamabobber", large size, white color. Being there is a fairly consistant water speed, I'm know pretty well where my flies are running. I can use variations of this indicator set-up to fish the whole Lower Yuba River.

Fly Rigging - I'll run three flies under the indicator, each spaced from 12" to 18". The deeper the run the larger the spacing. I use 3x flurocarbon from the shot to the 1st fly (largest fly), 4x flurocarbon from the 1st to the 2nd fly ( 2nd largest fly) and 5x flurocarbon from the 2nd to the third fly (smallest fly).

Presentation - I believe that the Yuba requires stealth with your presentation and set ups for your drift. I usually try to be at least 2 rod lenghts (18 to 20 feet) from the boat and sometimes even further than that, closer to 3 rod lenghts. (28 to 30 feet). I personally use a 6 weight 9'6" Sage XP or Z-Axis and it does just fine. Keep mending as required to keep the indicator moving in a straight line downstream. Keep your rod tip pointed at the indicator and mend to keep a fairly straight line to the indicator. Set at any movement of the indicator.

Tight Line Nymphing Rigg for Runs - The rigging for tight line nymphing is the same for indicator but without the indicator. It also requires more weight. Add shot untill you can tick the bottom. Keep the flies running in line with your fly line if possible or even better leading the way. If you are managing your line properly and keeping in contact with your flies you will feel the take.

I use a Rio Nymph Line with an orange tip section. When the flies are settling into poistion and when you are mending watch this section at the tip/ If it moves suddenly or stops, Set. You will probably not feel the takes as the flies are moving down in the water column. or when you are stacking or feeding line.

Water Type #2 - Tailouts
An effective way to fish tailouts is also using tight line nymphing methods or swinging soft hackles and nymphs through the tailout. -

Tailouts - I'll classify tailouts as the shallowing of the river as in flows to the lower end of a run or pool before it transitions to a riffle.

Rigging for Tight Line Nymphing at Tailouts - The rigging for fishing the tailouts is the same as for indicator fishing, except the indicator is removed. This is one reason I really like the "thingamabobber" as it is easy to remove and put back on. You will also have to strip some weight off so the flies don't hang up.

Another good idea is to have a 5wt rod strung up and ready to go. Rigg it up for dries with a 1o ft. 4x or 5x leader. I like to rigg with a 4x leader and extend it to 5x or even 6x if necessary.

Fly Rigging - I'll run two or three flies when fishing the tailouts, each spaced about 12". I use 3x flurocarbon from the shot to the 1st fly (largest fly), 4x flurocarbon from the 1st to the 2nd fly ( 2nd largest fly) and 5x flurocarbon from the 2nd to the third fly (smallest fly).

If a decide to swing a streamer I'll sometimes shorten my leader and run a single fly. Using tungsten putty in stead of shot will get your streamer down and keep from hanging up in the rocks as much. I'll uually rigg wih 3x flurocarbon in this instance.

Presentation from a Moving Boat - If you are drifting through a tailout you cast your flies at a right angle or slightly in front of the boat and point your rod tip at the flies and lead then through the tailout. You want the flies to be tumbling downstream and not swinging when fishing from a moving boat. Be carefull not to get too much of a downstream belly on the line or the flies will race through the tailout. Re-cast if the flies are running too fast and spot a new likely holding area.

Presentation from an Anchored Boat - If you have anchored the boat, cast your flies quartering downstream and mend your line as required to slow down the drift and the swing of the flies. Extend your cast and divide the river into grids and cover the likley holding water. You can also try adding a twitching action with the rod tip as the flies start to swing. Let the flies dangle, "hang down" and strip back up before you pick up to re-cast. Fish sometimes will hit it on the "hang down" or when you start to strip.

Fishing a Dry Rod - If there are fish up in the water column and rising this if a perfect time to throw dries, emergers and swing soft hackles. This is the time to use the 5 weight rod strung up in reserve. Rigg it up as you would to throw dries and either throw dries or emergers to rising fish or swing soft hackles. This can be some of the most fun fishing on the river.

If I see a pod of fish rising I like to target a single fish and present a cast about 15' to 20' above the fish and to the seam about 2' to 3' beyond the targeted fish. I feed and dead drift the flies downstream, clamp off the line and swing an emerger with a soft hackle trailing behind in front of the fish. Leave a loose coil of line in your line hand and if the fish takes let this slip from your fingers and just raise the rod tip. Setting hard will break you off almost every time.

Other Tactics for fishing the tailouts from a Boat - Another way to fish the tailouts from a drift boat went fishing with a tight line set-up goes like this. As you slowly drift towards the tailout, cast your rigg quartering downstream towards the main current seam. The boat should be positioned to the inside of the faster water. You can feed line out and create a great amount of stealth keeping a good distance beween the boat and the flies. As the boat floats downstream and then approaches the tailout the rower oars to stop the boat from moving downstream and ferries slowly across the tailout from the main current across to the inside slower water. Soft, quite oars strokes are a must to keep from putting down the fish stationed in a tailout. In effect the rower is swinging the flies all the way across the tailout. After working the water across row back upstream, ferry back into the main current and then do it again. This time go a litte further downstream into the tailout. You can repeat this many times and change flies and hopefully keep from putting fish down.

Water Type #3 - Deep Slots, Back Eddys and Holes

On the Lower Yuba as you move from water type to water type you will encounter some really deep slots, back eddies and holes (often referred to as salmon holes). You can fish these areas with a deep indicator setup or a tight line nymphing setup. I have heard many accounts that the biggest fish taken on the Lower Yuba are caught from the Deep Slots, Back Eddies, and Holes. These areas are sanctuary water for the largest fish in the river.

Rigging for Deep Indicator Nymphing the Deep Areas - This is where using a "Boles" indicator can payoff. The best way to rigg for fishing the deep Areas with an indicator is to tie the "Boles directly to your line about 24" from the tip of your fly line. Then tie straight tippet material to the "Boles" with a clinch knot, usually 3x mono. Even smaller 4x is better if you think you can get away with it. It you are targeting the biggest fish in the river 3x seem right. Using straight tippet material allows the tippet to cut down through the water column better than a tapered leader. For these deep areas I usually run about 9' to 10' of 3x tippet to the shot.

You can also continue using the same tapered leader and the "thingamabobber" if you don't want to re-rigg by raising it al the way up your leader and adding additional tippet.

I am really targeting fish suspended in the water column with this depth, as I will typically not be able to get close to the bottom. These areas are much deeper. You can run 12 or 14 feet of tippet to your split shot if you can figure out how to cast it. If I want to go deeper than 10' I think it is better to switch to using the tight line method.

Presentation for Deep Indicator Nymphing the Deep Areas -This is where the post on the "Boles" really helps you out and will help you determine if you have put on enough shot. In these deep holes you want the post on the "Boles" to stay relatively vertical. Of course there is sometimes a lot of current pushing everything around. Fish the inside seams, stay out of the main current tongue. Keep your rod tip pointed at the indicator and keep as straight a line to the indicator as possible. Set at the smallest movement, down, upstream or even a hesitation by snaping your wrist and lifting your rod tip. Keep your hands in the box at your chest. Don't reach above your head on the set.

Rigging for Tight Line Nymphing the Deep Areas - If the idea is to get down to the bottom the tight line method is the best way to go. The rigging for tight line nymping the deep areas is the same as for standard indicator fishing, except the indicator is removed. You will have to put on a lot of weight. Some of the local guides use lead shot, "Water Gremlin" in this situation.

Presentation for Tight Line Nymphing the Deep Areas - In most of these deep areas there is a heavy tongue of water and the key is to fish the inside seams where the current isn't pushing your fly line all over the place. You want to fish the seams where you can maintain a relatively straight line to your shot and flies. Look for seams that allow you indicator to move downstream at "walking speed". Cast your flies quartering upstream into the seam and stack mend or feed line to get the flies down deep, I mean really deep. If you can contact the bottom from time to time all the better. Keep adding shot to make sure you are getting down. If you are hanging up take some off. Let the rigg drift through and hold on. The takes can be hammered.

Water Type #4 - Shallow Runs and Redd Areas

On the Lower Yuba there are long shallow runs and shallow riffles where tight line nymphing works well. This also holds true for areas where there are "buckets" or "rollers" from recent or past salmon redds.

Shallow Runs and Salmon Redds - This water type is classified as having a consistant depth and speed, with depths from 3 feet to 18". There are shallow and deep Redd areas through out the course of the Lower Yuba River. The depth is variable in these areas as they roll up and down. The depths of the redds can go from 6" to 3 feet deep in the "rollers". There are some redd areas that go from 4 feet to 6 feet deep. They are all fishable with the tight line method. As a note these deeper redd areas can also be fished sucessfully with the indicator method.

Rigging for Tight Line Nymphing the Shallow Runs and Redd Areas - You can rigg up just like the standard Indicator rig but do not put the indicator. You need to put on just enough weight to enable the flies to tumble along the bottom.

Presentations for Tight Line Nymphing the Shallow Runs and Redd Areas -

Fishing The Redds with Salmon Present - When drifting down the river and running through the redd areas there are times when there are salmon present and spawning and times when they are not. When fishing the redds when the salmon are present you need to cast BEHIND THE SALMON. The trout and steelhead that you are targeting are the ones stationed BEHIND THE SALMON. Casting into the redds where salmon are present will only end up foul hooking the salmon. When fishing the redds cast behind the salmon, set up your drift rolling the flies along, and then pick them up as soon as you see the drift coming into more salmon. Re-cast behind the next pod of salmon and so on down the run.

Fishing the Redds when Salmon are not Present - When fishing the redds when salmon are not present, cast your flies in on the top or slightly upstream of the redds or buckets and let the flies tumble into the bottom of the redd. This is where the steelhead and trout will be. Roll the flies through and pick back up and re-cast to the top of the next bucket, etc. If the rower can slow down the speed of the downstream progress of the boat attempt to make repeated presentations to the same redd or bucket.

Presentations for fishing the Shallow Runs - You can use the same rigg for fishing the shallow runs. Present your casts at a right angle to the boat and mend to keep your line straight to the flies and even better have the flies run in front of the line keeping contact and feeling the shot tick the bottom. The rower should back row at the correct speed to allow the flies to lead through the run.

It is OK to have a slight dowmstream belly on the fly line, just not two much, 2 to 3 feet at the most. Add or take off shot as required. Keep your flies running at least 2 rod lenghts to the end of your fly line for stealth. Keep in contact with your flies and strip in line as required. Hold on as the takes will be sudden and can be hard. Set downstream and keep your rod tip parrallel with the water. Strip set as you move your rod tip downstream. Good Luck!

If you are stationed at the rear position of the boat you can cast slightly behind the boat and keep the line straight to the boat by stripping to keep it tight. If the flies start to "troll" pick them up and straight line cast the back further downstream. I first used this method on the Klamath River under the tuteledge of Craig Neilson. It worked and it was a gas!

I hope some of these thoughts prove helpfull to you on your next drift down the river.

Make a Tradition!


Note: A very good book to read about Nymphing is;

Active Nymphing - Aggresive Strategies for casting, Rigging and Moving Nymphs, written by "Rich Osthoff

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Lower Yuba - Watch and Observe

I woke up excited to be heading down to the Lower Yuba with my fishing buddies Frank Rinella and Blake Larsen. I've been out of town for the Christmas holidays and was ready for a fun day, come what may. The day was clear and fairly warm in Grass Valley. We met in town and grabbed a cup of coffee, talked about the bugs of the Yuba and made our plans for the day. We were looking forward to perhaps a nice PMD hatch coming off? We were a little surprised as we drove down to the river and there was a low overcast at the river. Well I guess it just changed to a BWO hatch.

Our plan was to use my drift boat to cross the river above the launch and hike upstream to fish the runs and flats upstream of our put-in.We had parked one vehicle downstream and would float down in the afternoon and fish the lower area from the boat. We started to hike upstream to spread out and fish the runs there. On the way up I had forgot my camera and hiked back to the boat to get it. On the hike back upstream I hiked along the water's edge and watched the flats and tailouts to see what was happening.

As I was hiking upstream I reflected on an article that was written by Dave Hughes, either in one of his books or a magazine article where he stated that it's always a good idea to wait to rigg up until you get where you are planning to fish. When you get to the area sit down for a moment and check out whats going on. That would work well for me because I had not tied anything up yet and I was packing my Sage Z-axis 6 weight switch rod and my Sage XP 5 weight. I could easily rigg up for dries and emergers or go down to fish the bottom.

The key thing from his article that I reflected on was to Watch and Observe, then rigg up and start fishing. Some questions that came to mind where;

  • Are there any fish rising?

  • Are there any bugs on the water or in the air?

  • What kind of bugs are they?

  • What are the water conditions? Clear, off-color, high, or low?

  • How bright is the sun?

  • If fish are rising, what are their rise form telling me. Are they taking duns or emergers?

  • Are swallows feeding? Are they taking the bugs at the water level or higher in the air?

These are all things that you can think about and digest in a few minutes. The thing I thought about next is that I should do some collecting. I remembered that I used to carry a white lid from a jar that was about 4" diameter, a small aqurium net and some tweezers. How come I stopped doing that? I've made a mental note to do that next time I'm out. Start a "new routine" so to speak. Or I guess I should say an "old routine." I really should be able to answer questions like;

  • What bugs are most abundant?

  • How big are they?

  • What color are they?

  • Which ones are mature and look ready to emerge?

  • How do they move in the water?

Size Matters

Once you start collecting samples the real fun begins. Now you don't have to depend on what all the guys are saying or what they have on the board at the flyshop. Do they really know anyway? It's pretty easy to say use a Olive Hogan's S&M nymph for a Blue Wing Olive. But what size are the real bugs? Maybe an Olive Hogan's Military May in a size twenty would be a better choice. The Military May ties are more slender than the S&M's. They always say that you need to Match the Hatch! How many times have we heard that. The next time we're out, while we're observing the natural insects in that white jar lid of water, we need to put some of our fly patterns in the tray next to them. Match them up. Get your fishing buddies to help out. Do the observation as a team. Discuss bugs. Discuss tactics. Identify the bugs. It's also a lot of fun

According to Dave Hughes' buddy, Rick Hafele, an entomologist, his experience is that 90% of the time people rigg up with fly patterns that are two or three time larger than the real thing. This is especially true for nymph patterns. While this may make it easier to tie your fly on to your tippet, it does not make it easier for you to catch fish with them.

Size is actually one of the most important aspects of your fly patterns.

In fact Rick Hafele states that he believes size is more important than color or even shape, though shape also affects size. For example, a fat fly pattern, even when it is the right length, will appear too large when it is imitating a small slender swimming mayfly. Hence the example of the S&M (fatter) versus the Military May (more slender). Fish tend to concentrate on what's most abundant and available. Pick a fly pattern that matches the size of what you observed as most abundant.


Now I need to take all that I have just observed and think about how and where the trout are feeding on the bugs. Now is the time to rigg up and start fishing. Oh yeah. How should I present the flies I've chosen? This brings up another bunch of questions.

  • What patterns might be effective?

  • What part of the water column should I target?

  • Should I be fishing dries or emergers on the surface or should I try my subsurface options

  • Should I use my nymph rod or my dry rod?

  • How should I rigg up to be most effective

  • What type of lines should I use?

  • If nymphing, how deep?

  • Dead drifted under indicator, tight lined or swinging?

These are all things best contemplated before you rigg up the first time. How many times have you decided how you are going to rigg up and what flies you are going to fish before you even get to the river. Probably a lot. Take your time. Take a breather. Watch and Observe and then go out and get in the river and present your flies properly.

Back to the fishin'

Oh, by the way. We had a great day on the river. We saw a fair amount of rising fish, BWO's and a few PMD's coming off mid day. We caught fish with dries, nymphs, stoneflies, troutbeads, and soft hackles. We had fish dancing on the water while the fight was on! Most of all it was a great day with friends on the Lower Yuba River. Stories told, tactics discussed, new presentations tried. And for me a reminder to stop, look and listen to the nature of the river. The answers are all right there.

A nice bow caught on a skwala stone nymph

Blake with a bright rainbow caught at dusk with a Troutbead

Watch and Observe.
Make a Tradition!


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!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

My Fly Box - Box #5 - The Bead Game

My Fly Box #5 is my "Troutbead" box. I wrote this in mid December and the egg bite had tapered off on my home river, the Lower Yuba River, and my yarn egg box is looking pretty meager. I used mostly "Pettis Eggs" this year but I am now stocked and armed with "Troutbeads" which is what this box #5 is all about. The Orvis M4 box itself is a box that has been banging around in my deep storage and hasn't seen the light of day in awhile. I emptyed it and put the flies that where in it into other boxes where now they'll get used.

The box is a small Orvis M4 compartment box with 16 compartments with individually openable lids. Some bigger and some smaller. It's about 4" wide x 4 3/4" tall x 1 3/8" thick. It has a handy lanyard that you can hang around your neck or a bag if you want to.

I've got this box stocked with toothpicks to secure the beads to the tippet, hooks in various sizes and beads of different colors and sizes from "Troutbeads." I purchased most of my beads online from

"Troutbeads" has a huge assortment of beads with multiple shades and variations of colors. They also have many textures. They are also pretty cheap, so I don't mind buying different colored beads to experiment with. This part of the "Bead Game."

"Troutbeads" have colors like; Natural Roe, Dark Roe, Caramel Roe, Glo-Roe, Orange Pearl, Peach Pearl, Salmon, Cheese, Shrimp, Cream etc. The idea is to match the color of the bead to the color of the natural eggs. These colors are only the tip of the iceberg. If you are going to get into the "Bead Game" you will probably need to invest in a couple of large plastic compartmented boxes to store all the different sizes and colors of beads and hooks. You can stock a small box like the M4 of mine on the day you go out fishing with the beads that you think will work or that you want to experiment with.

The "Troutbeads" come in sizes of 6, 8, 10, and sometimes 12mm. You also need to match the size of the eggs. I usually start fishing with 8mm eggs unless someone in the know tells me otherwise. On the Lower Sacramento River when 8mm beads just aren't happening and then you switch to a 6mm bead in the same colors sometimes the trout start biting again.

When trying to select the right color and size of bead to use you need to match the eggs of the Chinnock Salmon in our Northern California Rivers. Salmon enter our rivers and spawn in seasonal waves. A spawning salmon may dig a redd in November, but there may also be drifting salmon eggs that were laid in the gravel weeks before. The trout will have a preference for a certain stage of the egg.

The only way to pick the right egg imitation is by experimentation. You should carry lots of different eggs to cover all possible scenarios. Once you find a working solution, you'll need to stay alert because trout may change their preference during the day or on a different part of the river.

I gathered some of the rigging and painting information assembled below from articles from

As a basic guideline, the diameters of beads used for Chinook salmon in Northern California are 8.0 mm to 12.0 mm. Steelhead and Rainbow Trout eggs are about 5.2 mm.

Fingernail Polish Applied to Troutbeads

I have been talking with Frank Rinella, a local guide, about how he and other guides on the Lower Sacramento River uses Troutbeads. He has said that they like to paint the beads with fingernail polish. The purpose of painting a bead is to give it the subtle hue of an egg that has milt on it. He usually paints up his beads close to the time he is planning on fishing with them. They look "fresh" that way. I've also read about painting beads with a small orange dot to simulate an egg that is starting to develop.

When painting a bead for usage on the Lower Yuba River, I have been advised to select a fingernail polish that has a pinkish-ivory tint (Shear Peach by Revlon seems to be popular). Some guides apparently can be quite secretive about their favorite fingernail polishes.

Before painting a bead, open a window! Fingernail polish has potent solvents that you don't want to smell too long. To paint a bead with fingernail polish, put the bead on a round toothpick. Hold the nailbrush up to the bead and roll the toothpick with the fingers of your other hand so the polish goes on evenly and covers all the bead. You don't want a gloppy finish; make it smooth. Gloppy finishes usually come from getting too much fingernail polish on the brush. Also, avoid getting polish on the toothpick; if you do, polish may pull off the bead when you remove the toothpick. When the bead is painted, stick the toothpick in a block of styrofoam or similar material while the polish dries.

Some guides in Alaska like to put on two coats of polish. The second coat is a different color and gives the bead a 3D look.

Rigging Bead Eggs

To fish with bead eggs, on the Lower Yuba River rig up a leader of 2X or 3X. A tapered leader works well. Tie on a 12-inch super-fluorocarbon tippet with a blood knot. Put the bead on the tippet below the blood knot. Tie on a size 8-10-12 egg hook similar to a Tiemco TMC2499SP-BL. The size of the hook will depend on the size of bead that you use. I've read that trout and steelhead can be also fussy about the hook color, so some anglers carry these hooks in red, green, black, and brown. I have not tried this myself.

For our local river, the Lower Yuba River, the local guides recomend to peg the bead to the tippet with a toothpick about 3/8 inch to 1/2" from the eye of the hook (that's right: the bead is not on the hook). Use a toothpick (color to match the bead if available) and slide the toothpick into the bead and push it all the way flush with a pair of pliers or foreceps. You don't want any of the toothpick to stick out of either side of the bead.

The photo at the right shows the bead approximately 3/4" to 1" from the eye of the hook. If the fish in the river you are larger, steelhead and larger trout some guides will increase the distance from the eye. The key is to be able to hook the fish inside the mouth and in the corner of the jaw. If you find that you are hooking fish on the outside of the jaw the bead is too far away from the eye of the hook.

One article I read about using beads in Alaska suggests using two beads, if the regulations permit. A large cream coral or pearl peach bead without a hook can serve as an attractor. Peg it to the tippet three to five inches above the "real" bead. You'll have to ask Frank about this one!

Also, some fly-fishing-only waters do not allow a bare hook, so check the regs before you rig.

Attaching Eggs to a Hook

Another way to rigg Troutbeads is to "burn" them onto the hook.

(1) You can also take an egg hook and hold it in a pair of lockable foreceps.

(2) Take the bead you want to use and insert a toothpick into one side of the hole.

(3) Break a portion of the toothpick off, so the toothpick only goes halfway through.

(4) Heat the hook with a "Bic" type lighter for about 4 or 5 seconds.

(5) Press the bead onto the back of the heated hook.

(6) The toothpick should be pointing vertically when you press on the egg.
(7) Take the toothpick out after the hook cools down.

(7) You are good to go.
Try the "Bead Game" you'll have some fun with some trout and steelhead tearing up and down the river.

Chinook Salmon on the Yuba

If you want to check out my Flyboxes #1, 2, 3, &4 check out my earlier blog posts at