Fly Fishing Traditions

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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Webber Lake - Fly Fishing Gem

I had the good fortune to get the invite from my friends Mike and Todd Williams to fish Webber Lake which is located about 24 miles north of Truckee. A good friend of theirs, Rex England, also came along. I've heard stories about Webber Lake and its large trout for years. It is a private lake operated by Webber Lake Ranch. It is said that it holds rainbows, brown and brook trout. On the day we went most of the fish caught were chunky rainbows. The family that runs the lake operation manages a fly fishing membership of 50 members at the cost of $450 a year per person. They use the fees collected to stock the lake with trophy rainbows. A membership there allows you to bring in guests to fish with you for an additional $50 a day. I was a fortunate beneficiary of this policy.

We arrived at the lake at about 9:30 and the water levels were very high. This has been the story for almost all of Northern California's waters. The winter of 2010-2011 has produced a huge snow pack, of record numbers I believe, in the Sierras and the snow is melting right now, big time. A large campfire ring right at the lake shore was flooded and the water was up in the trees in a few areas. Being June 25th the lake is getting a late start because of the large amounts of snow melting from the surrounding peaks. Webber lake is fed from these surrounding mountains and is where the Little Truckee River originates. The lake has only been open for fishing for a week or maybe two as the road was just recently opened.

There was a steady wind coming from the southwest blowing right at us where we prepared our pontoon boats. This wind coming from the southwest is typical of Webber Lake and makes the fishing better at the north and north east side of the lake. The wind pushes the food to this side. When fishing I found that there is a shelf that runs to about 10 foot deep on the north side and then a fairly steep drop off about 150 yards off the shore. This area drops off to 20 feet and more. I believe that the deepest area that I registered on my fish finder was about 24 feet. My understanding is that the lake doesn't get much deeper than that. I also found that the water temperature when we started was 48 degrees. Pretty frigid. There are fly fishermen in pontoon boats, float tubes and small prams as well as fishing boats with trolling motors. Everyone shares the lake and there is plenty of room for everyone.

With the advice from Mike I rigged up two rods, one with a Cortland Clear Camo Intermediate line and the other with a Type III full sink line. He recommended a Type II but I don't have one of those. Another thing to add to the list. With it being more of a spring runoff condition he recommended a 9 foot leader extended with 3 to 4 foot of tippet. I rigged up my six weight with a 9 foot 3x tapered leader and extended it with 3x fluorocarbon and tied on a green and black crystal bugger to start with a mono loop knot. For the other rod I rigged up the same and tied on a Jay Fairs Wiggle tail with a medium green marabou tail, Olive Short Shuck Jay Fair chenille and a burnt orange saddle hackle.

We kicked out in our pontoon boats and spread out and I noticed on my Fishin' Buddy Fish Finder that there where fish hanging at the deep side of the drop-off at about 16 to 20 feet. That's not a good sign. With the water temperatures at 48 degrees it seemed that the fish were setting fairly deep. I started off with the Type III line to attempt get down to them. In the morning session I got one big thump and missed the fish and a couple of small half-hearted takes. I had noticed a number of fish being caught by the fishing boats trolling and they were trolling pretty fast. I had gotten separated from our group and decided to oar over to them, so I said what the heck, I fed out about 60 feet of line put my rod in my rod holder and started rowing over to where the were. Sure enough my rod started pumping up and down and I had a nice fish on. Not exactly what Denny Rickards recommends to do, but it worked. It was my first Webber lake rainbow of the day and it was a chunky but smaller 15 inch fish. It took the green and black crystal bugger.

When I hooked up with the guys I found that things had been slow for them also. Rex had managed a few fish working the shoreline to the north west and had picked up a nice fish. I had noticed that some fishermen in float tubes had caught a few fish near the shore to the northeast side of the lake so I thought I'd try it over there. This was a long kick so I thought I'd oar over to that area.

I'd been fishing all morning without my stripping apron, which I had left in my SUV, that's what happens when you're excited, so I thought I'd stop and get it first. On the way there I was trolling my fly again and wham I had a big fish on. It was in about 5 feet of water and it took me for a ride. These fish are heavy and fight. I was able to work it to my net in after two screaming runs and some patient work. It was a football that run 19 inches or so. My adrenalin was pumping after that. Problem is, do they count if you're trolling? I guess it's whatever works. It sort of felt like I was cheating though.

After retrieving my stripping apron I headed over to the easterly side of the lake where there was a bunch of willows rimming the lake. I had noticed a fellow fishing out of a small pram who had picked up a couple of fish using a quick 4 to 6 inch strips, sort of like strip, strip, strip, pause and then repeated. That's one thing I've learned, watch others to figure out what is happening especially the ones catching fish. He was fishing closer to shore in the shallower water, mainly casting towards the bank or a diagonal to it, crossing down wind. This was on the shoreline that the wind was blowing towards so it made sense, fish would probably hold there and wait for the food to come to them. I put myself in a position about 150 yards away from this fellow and copied what he was doing. I was using the Cortland Camo line with the Wiggle Tail, casting about 6o feet with the wind to my back and on the 3rd or 4th retrieve had a solid take. This fish was hot and tail-walked right after it was hooked. It fought hard and took a while to land. It also took quite a while to revive it. I think I needed to work the fish more and get it in quicker. A point I remembered the rest of the day.

Mike and Todd had rowed over to the same area so we stopped and had a nice shore lunch. The wind had died down a little and we talked about our day, what worked what didn't and the seasons on Webber Lake. Todd said that there is a fantastic ant hatch where the flying ants get blown into the lake and the fish come up to the surface and feed like crazy. If I remember right, he said there is also a termite hatch that is similar. There is chironomid activity throughout the season and the fall fishing can be great throwing seal buggers and such. This is the type of stuff I need to take notes on, when fishermen with experience on a given body of water talk, it pays to listen.

After lunch I noticed the water temperatures had warmed up to about 53 degrees, that's a rise of about 5 degrees, it makes a big difference, the bite will typically turn on during the warmest part of the day early in the season. We had noticed that other anglers were starting to hook up as we were finishing lunch. Time to get back at it. I kicked out and placed a cast about 6 feet from the shore and a fish hit it just as I started to strip it. 1st cast.

For the afternoon session I stayed with the Cortland Camo setup and the Olive Wiggletail and it produced. I spent the afternoon playing many fine and chunky rainbows to my hand and released to play on another day. For myself the fish of the day went about 22 inches and I couldn't pick it up with one hand, it was too fat.

I got home and verified the materials that I'd used to tie the fly that worked so well. It was a Wiggle Tail Pattern.

Jay Fairs' Wiggle Tail

Hook: Tiemco 2457 size 10
Thread: 6/0 Olive
Weight: 6 turns of .020 lead at the head
Tail: Jay Fair Medium Olive Marabou
Hackle: Hareline Grizzly Saddle Rusty Orange 3 wraps.
Body: Jay Fair Glimmer Short Shuck Olive Chenille

Thanks again to Mike, Todd and Rex for inviting me along. If you every get a chance to fish Webber Lake make time to do it, you'll have a great time.


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Destinations Martis Lake

It's been quite a few years since I fished Martis Lake. It was once know as a prime destination for float tubers and pontoon boat fishermen. It is located in the Martis Valley a little south east of Truckee. It is a high desert environment. Its shoreline consists of gravel and sagebrush. Some people call it a mud hole but in the spring it is one of the first places to fish when the streams are still running high and the alpine lakes are still frozen. The lake is the home of many insects, scuds, snails and baitfish and this can grow big trout fast.

Martis lake has a zero kill, catch and release policy that insures the possibility that the trout can grow to trophy size and naturally replenish the lake with wild fish. The feeder streams are closed to any kind of fishing which helps to protect the spawners and fingerlings. All this makes Martis a good choice as a springtime fishery.

For the history buffs, Martis was the first lake inducted into the California Wild Trout system. The Department of Fish & Game poisoned the lake of all the fish and planted it with threatened Lahontan Cutthroat. The Cutthroats grew rapidly and provided excellent fishing for a couple of years. The lake was destined to be a rearing ground for trophy Cutthroat. Unfortunately, brown trout eggs, remained hidden in the gravel of Martis Creek, and survived the poisoning of the lake and hatched. The brown trout decimated the Cutthroat population. About the same time, an illegal planting of green sunfish was made in Martis and the resulting boom in baitfish provided perfect fare for the browns. This doomed the cuttthoat population and Martis became a brown trout fishery. DF&G then decided to plant Martis with various types of rainbows, including sterile "English Ladys" that can grow to double digit figures. In the early nineties in the midst of a prolonged drought, the fishery crashed and most of the browns were lost.

Today, the fishery has rebuilt itself and harbors a population of rainbows, browns and cutthroat. Unfortunately any number of non-game fish including goldfish, suckers, dace, have found their way into the system to compete for your fly.

Fishing Martis in the Spring Time

According to Ralph Cutter, who is a local fly fishing legend whose website can be found at, early in the season (the lake opens the last Saturday in April), Martis is typically fished with small gray midge imitations. As soon as the water temperatures break fifty degrees, the famous Martis blood midges begin to hatch. The blood midge larvae live deep within the mud of the bottom of the lake, safe from predation by the voracious baitfish. Protected in this nutrient rich and predator free environment, the midge larvae population can exceed 3,000 insects per meter.

The blood midge can hatch any time of any day throughout the season, but can be anticipated in greatest numbers when the sun is below the horizon or hidden behind clouds. Cutter states that the best way to fish the midge is as either an ascending pupae or as the emerging adult in the surface film. The best pupae pattern is a #14 brassie slowly drawn towards the surface on long light tippet.

The emerger pattern is deadly and much more fun to fish than the brassie because the grab is a visual experience. The number one fly at Martis is the aptly named Martis Midge tied on a #14 hook. This fly resembles the adult midge pulling out of a pupal sheath at the surface. The Martis Midge's bright deer hair post makes it easy to see, the parachute hackle floats it in the film, and the subsurface orange dubbing and wisp of Crystal Flash imitate the pupae. Dress the leader, the deer hair and the hackle with fly floatant and cast it toward the rings of a rising fish and hold on!

Even though the callibaetis population is hammered by the sunfish, these speckled winged mayflies still occur in very fishable numbers. A pheasant tail nymph "mooched" above the weed beds does a credible job imitating the callibaetis nymph. A quigley cripple mayfly in gray does a great job imitating the emerger and usually outfishes any of the specific dun imitations. In the afternoon, be prepared to toss a rusty colored CDC biot spinner to imitate the egg-laying females.

Another Martis Lake standby is the sunfish imitation. Truly huge trout are taken every year on green wooly buggers wooly buggers and matukas. Fish these streamers near the margins of weed beds where big trout are stalking the errant sunfish that might leave the refuge of the aquatic vegetation.

The Martis Damsefly Hatch
As with most of the Northern Sierra lakes, damsel flies are an important hatch that peaks around the Fourth of July weekend. Fish the nymph imitation on a floating line with a very slow retrieve, stopping frequently to allow the fly to sink. Most of the takes occur during the drop, so pay strict attention to the movement of your leader. It is all to easy to get distracted by the numerous gliders, ospreys, bald eagles or pelicans.

Adult damsels are often overlooked by even experienced anglers. Trout occasionally take the egg-laying adults as they dap their abdomens into the water, but many more are taken just as they are drying their wings after emergence.

The damsel nymphs crawl out onto weeds and the shoreline to hatch into adults. The newly emerged adults, called tenerals, take twenty minutes before they harden and take flight. While drying, they lack much structural integrity and even a slight breath of wind can cause them to lose their footing and fall into the water. Trout are well aware of this and eagerly anticipate teneral falls.

In the fall, Martis is pretty much a streamer proposition. Again, be sure to try the baitfish patters, but don't fail to experiment. These fish have spent all summer looking at fraudulent flies and have become quite suspicious of anything that doesn't look perfect. Often they will fall for something they've never seen before, such as a pink-headed bugger with lime green legs.

By mid June of most years a float tube or pram is required to get past the shoreline vegetation. Algae blooms, once a rarity are common. Don't drive over soft or mushy terrain and don't let your dog harass the baby geese and sandpipers. Do treat your fish with respect. Play it quickly and fully revive it by swishing it to and fro, forcing oxygenated water through its gills, before you release it.

So, in summary, keep Martis Lake in your plans for an early season destination, you may be surprised.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Luk Lake

I made it out with the Gold Country Fly Fishers to a club outing to Clear Creek Sports Club which is affiliated with the Rolling Hills Casino just outside of Corning. Luk Lake is a 65 acre +/- lake where in the spring you can catch bass, sunfish and rainbow trout. It is a pay for play lake that can be booked through The Fly Shop in Redding. The lake’s varied shoreline is lined with vegetation and flanked by Central Valley habitat. Its low-elevation location keeps the lake waters (and outside air temperatures) moderate and comfortable throughout the winter and spring, providing ideal habitat for rainbow trout until the water temperatures grow too warm in the summertime.

We were there for two days with the first day raining pretty hard and the wind blowing. We hung around hoping for the front to pass by and a few brave souls eventually attempted to fish the lake at about 1:30 or so. The rain had let up but the wind was howling. Not the best conditions for fishing but it was better than hanging out and looking through the windows. The lake has a varied shoreline with some large willows and cottonwoods and if you could just kick your pontoon boat to the lee side of them it wasn't too bad. The lake has a varied depth from about 4 to 5 feet in some areas to a deeper section that runs about 15 to 18 feet. This is where the rainbows hang out. I started out with an intermediate line with a Jay Fairs Olive Wiggletail but didn't have any luck. I was fishing in about 6 to 8 feet among the weed beds not willing to brave the full brunt of the wind. The wind started to calm down and I decided to kick out into the deeper section of the lake and switched to a type 3 full sink line with a black and turquoise bugger. I hooked into a nice rainbow once I figured out how to manage the wind. I fished in earnest from about 2:30 to 5:30 and picked up about 5 rainbows and one sunfish. The rainbows all went from about 19 inches to about 21 inches and were healthy and fat. They also had a lot of spunk and fought hard.

The plan was to head over to the Rolling Hills Casino for dinner at 6:30 or so. I gathered up my gear and called it a day. At about 7:00 the clouds cleared and the sun started poking through and the wind completely died. I thought maybe I should cancel dinner and get back out there rather than spend time with the guys. It was a tough choice but I decided to hang with the boys and give the fish a rest. There's always tomorrow. The weather was supposed to be improving.

I woke up early the next morning and made it out to the lake by about 6:30. There was a light breeze and it looked to be a really nice day. I was there by myself and could see fish working midges in the deeper area of the lake.

I used the oars on my pontoon boat and rowed across the lake to the deeper section of the lake. The fish were tailing going after midges with just their dorsal fin and tails coming out of the water. No heads. I was rigged up with my full sink line and the same bugger that I was using the day before and I'd cast it in front of a tailing fish and start stripping. I picked up a number of fish doing this.

I had a great time with all the GCFF members and caught my fair share of fat and sassy rainbows. I am looking forward to spending more time in my pontoon boat exploring other Northern California Stillwaters.

I'll keep you posted!