Optimum water flows, and levels for year around Sierra fisheriesI often get asked what are the best water flows and lake levels with respect to the year around Sierra fisheries. The following information is based on my humble opinion. I hope it helps you with a game plan to determine what fishery you would like to visit.
This is the river section that emanates immediately below Pleasant Valley Reservoir. It is a “tail water” and controlled by the LADWP. Rain and snow do not impact this area significantly by run-off, as the levels are regulated and gauged. The designated wild trout area is located in this stretch, and is by far the most popular walk and wade section for fly fishers. This is unfortunately the stretch of river scorched by the recent wildfire. Minimum flows are around 50 cubic feet per second (CFS), and maximum flows can reach over 700 cfs. 70-200 cfs are prime levels for fishing. Wading and crossing becomes increasingly more difficult as levels rise. For every 100 cfs increase after the levels hit 200 cfs, you will lose 20% more access. By the time they reach 450 cfs, wading and crossing become impossible or dangerous.
Flows “trending” upward will increase turbidity, and cool water temps. This will slow the bite down, while stable, or lowering flows improve conditions for the most part. Drift boating is less impacted by high water with regards to access. The “catching” can be negatively influenced by rising or turbid water. Historically water flows begin to rise in late March, and stabilize or begin to drop in October. This pattern evolves with respect to snowpack and maintenance on the aqueduct & hydroelectric facilities.
This is another tail water fishery. It begins at the base of Bridgeport Reservoir and supplies water for agricultural demands in Nevada. Water demands increase in March, and begin to level off or lower by October most years. Minimum flows can drop as low as 20 cfs in drought years, and can reach into the thousands if a warm rain rapidly melts snow in the Robinson, Walker, and Buckeye creek drainages. Prime levels in the summer months are between 100 cfs – 250 cfs. The East Walker River has a much different dynamic than the Middle Owens River. It is overall, much faster moving, and can be more difficult to access at even lower flows. Flows over 400 cfs make many sections of the East Walker River impractical to fish. Prime levels in the winter start at 70 cfs and get tougher after they hit 175 cfs. Again, look for how the levels are trending. When water levels go up, the bite goes down. Flows that drop down or remain stable, keep the bite steady.
The sources of the Upper Owens River are springs that emanate from ground water. Additional flows from a diversion aqueduct that come from Rush Creek can provide significant amounts of water. Melting snow and rain will cause turbidity here. The Upper Owens receives added water from 2 additional sources. These emanate from Hot Creek and Mammoth Creek. The level situation can be complex at times. Low flows run about 45 cfs, and high water can peak at 400 cfs; flooding the surrounding pastures. 75 cfs – 100 cfs are excellent flows for winter, fall, and early spring. Go elsewhere after flows hit the 150 cfs level. If flows are on the high side, and water color is murky; head upstream above the inlets from Hot Creek and the irrigation canals. If flows are low and the air temperature is cold; stay below the confluences.
This still water is best described as a “ballast tank” or buffer. Its levels are constantly changing most days, as the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power use it to control water coming in from the pipeline that generates hydroelectric power from its big brother reservoir Crowley. It has been my experience that it fishes best when the LADWP is NOT generating power, and during periods when the river section flows are low. There is a gauge that monitors the lake level by displaying elevation. The “transition” section has good access when levels are between 4380′- 4384′. If they rise above 4386′, the high water levels increase difficulty with respect to wading. Anything above 4388′ makes wading a challenge. If they fall below 4378′ you will have a giant mud flat in the inlet section and poor conditions in the river section. I should add that tubing the lake proper is also impacted by these levels. High water allows tubers to fish the flooded transition section effectively.
I have had the privilege of guiding some extraordinary anglers over the years, and have learned as much or more than I have taught, so I would like to share this with you. This little nugget is intended for those whom may be accomplished or intermediate anglers, or those just beginning your fly fishing endeavors. Add this technique to your quiver of skills, and you will prosper while fishing attractor patterns, especially egg or roe imitations.
Let’s begin by labeling and identifying a wide spread habit found in all levels of nymphing skills while dead drifting trout omelettes.
“Premature set-u-lation disorder” or “PSD” for short. It is a terrible, nasty disease that can immediately destroy your relationship with the magnificent rainbow trout that migrate up from Crowley Lake during the winter months. Most of us do not want to admit we have it, but if you take the time to read this guide tip you can come out of the shadows and into the light!
“PSD” is an inherent reflex found in all of us, but becomes more acute as one ages and becomes more practiced in the art of nymphing or high sticking. Fortunately there is a cure. If you discipline yourself and become “one with the eggs” PSD will gradually dissipate, and your “connections” with the trout you seek will once again be renewed!
Winter trout fishing requires a different mindset. Understand that the vast majority of the migratory fish are not interested in feeding, so trying to “match the hatch” or identify what the rascals are feeding on is pointless.
Think of the fish as palace guards, defending their positions on the gravel covered parts of the river bottom. They are stoic and emotionless for the most part; basically stationing themselves for the eventual spawning dance. You must etch this picture into your head.
The trout do not want to leave their stations. They have no appetite and they MUST defend their redds. Keeping these facts in mind, alter your hook setting method as follows:
Fishing egg and roe imitations requires more weight than standard nymph patterns. Keeping your “fishy omelette” on the bottom ensures you will stop your Under-Cator frequently in the areas where the trout are defending their cribs while dead drifting your rig. BELIEVE, there is potentially a grab every time your drift comes to a halt, BUT DO NOT PREMATURELY SET THE HOOK. Read your take by observing what the indicator does after it hovers, or slowly settles. “Check” your potential take by gently pulling the line to break the weights off the bottom and continue your drift. If there is unusual resistance, or you observe a high frequency shimmy, rattling, bobbing, etc. of your indicator moving in the opposite direction that was once your dead drift, SET the hook by moving the rod downstream, keeping it flat or parallel to the surface so as to achieve “angle” whilst pulling the eggs into the trout’s mouth, not away from it. The Dreaded PSD disorder rears its ugly head when one sets the hook as soon as your indicator stops. Patience and concentration are the keys to winter time trout success.
You can always tell the true size of a fish by using the fingers as a scale to judge length. Moving the fish away from your body makes the fish look larger because that is how a camera lens transfers the image to the processor.
“That guy is sticking that fish out so far he is going to dislocate a shoulder!” In my 18 seasons & 4500 trips as a guide I have not yet encountered a single individual that wanted to make his or her fish picture seem smaller. There are some tricks to taking good pictures of your trophy catch that I would like to share with you. Many thanks to Mike McIntire my good friend and mentor over the years for his expertise and advice.
I would like to emphasize proper catch and release practices if you plan on releasing your catch after the shot. Resuscitate the fish a couple minutes or more BEFORE & AFTER you remove them from the water for the shot. Have your camera ready to reduce time out of water. Avoid at all costs holding them by the gills or mouth. Never squeeze the mid-section. Keep the head into the current and out of silt that may be around while reviving. Use a soft rubber net, NEVER monofilament mesh & use it as a back stop if taking pictures over rocks or a hard surface in the event of a drop.
Keep the sun quartered to your back and pay attention to shadows from the people around, hats, trees, etc. Full sun straight on the side of a trout will reflect like a chrome mirror and wash out the color by overexposing the image. Use a flash to fill in dark spots like the shadow from a hat. Most cameras have a “force flash” option even when shooting on full auto or a programmed setting.
Use the widest angle setting on your lens and get closer to your fish. Avoid using the “zoom” or telephoto option for close-ups.
Check the lens for dust and water spots, many great shots are ruined by this unfortunate circumstance, and you will need to spend lots of time in an editing program to remove imperfections. Keep your fingers behind the fish and avoid covering the fish’s side with your hands. Grasping the fish just forward of the tail by the “notch” while making pincers with the index finger and thumb is a safe and good gripping point to control the fish for a hold.
Push the fish away from your body a foot or so and level the fish out with the head just slightly angled toward the camera. Camera lenses make objects closer to the lens appear larger.
166A8752 bruce rs demo 2 This is the same fish with the lens moved back and the angler holding it right next to his body. Which picture would you prefer on your screen saver?
Why fish attractor patterns? Understanding what motivates a fish to take or eat an artificial fly or lure is crucial to success in any fishery. The large rainbows and browns that are currently present in the Upper Owens River are migratory, and are here for only one reason; spawning. They do not display normal feeding behavior or characteristics. Objects invading their nests, or redds as they are correctly called, will be attacked if the fish is not spooked or focused on watching other movements from above. These spawning fish seldom move far from their redd to defend it. They are genetically programmed to destroy competition to insure survival of the fittest- hence using roe patterns, streamers, & larger nymph profiles can be very effective for irritating, or aggravating a fish into hitting your imitations. Redundant dead drifts with careful attention to avoid disturbing the water above your flies will pay off eventually. The takes can be extremely light and will display little difference from what hitting the bottom looks like. Set on everything that is not obvious! Drag the set, do not jerk it. Set the direction your indicator or line is moving to ensure you are pulling the hook into the fish’s mouth, not out of it. This is counter intuitive as most sets will be downstream. Setting this way will achieve “angle” as well. This is vital when you hook one of those huge Crowley Steelhead and it rips line out like a bonefish!
Can’t tell you how many double hernias I have seen over the last fifteen years as clients struggle to put on frozen boots and waders after leaving the gear overnight in their vehicles. One should keep your wading gear and boots in your motel room or RV for the evening or deal with frozen items in the morning. Use a heavy trash bag or wet gear bag to keep the mud from messing up your room. A good way to kill invasive species like the New Zealand Mud Snail is to leave the gear outside in freezing conditions the night before you leave if you aren’t planning on fishing of course!
Scout a section out by quietly walking upstream and locating trout holds before you make any casts. Double back and fish your section downstream after 30 minutes using the “dip and strip” with a light to moderate sinking tip line. Streamers should have some red or orange in them, be in the #6-10 range, and be fished from an upstream position with the fly “swinging” into the sweet spots you have located. DO NOT CAST ON TOP OF THE FISH!
I can’t emphasize enough how crucial it is to utilize ample weight respective to the run you are fishing. You must get your imitations down along the bottoms contour, and it requires adjustment for each piece of water you fish. Proper weighting far outweighs what fly you select within reason, and is the single most important factor for successful nymphing.
Plain and simple; don’t fish riffle or pocket water when hunting heads with streamers. Look for slower back waters and eddies in the larger pools. A weed line or overhanging willow make adequate hiding spots for smaller fish. Work your imitations along the transitions in these areas. Swing your flies into the sweet spots whenever possible and don’t cast on top of the target water. The East Walker River is chock full of great streamer water and the rewards can be huge! This fishery is open year around.
For the record, 250 cfs discharged at the Pleasant Valley dam outlet is about the maximum I can access and reach 90% of the water by wading in or around the Middle Owens River upstream from the confluence of Bishop Creek. At 300 cfs I can only safely wade 60% of the water. Lebron James, ( seven foot NBA all-star center), may not be quite so intimidated, but for the average wader it is not advisable to cross in moving water much over your thighs, and should never be done when water depth is higher than your waist and has a moderate velocity to it. Buddy wading, a stout wading staff, a secure belt, and studded boots will all help to get you into more difficult and less fished spots. At flows above 400 cfs the Middle Owens gets nasty for wading and you can only walk and wade less than 30% of most sections. Crossing at these flows is not possible in many of the tailouts.
Wading boots that have rubber soles are far superior in freezing conditions than felts. The felt soles absorb water and freeze when walking on ice or snow. You can find yourself spending a lot of time chipping off “ice clumps” after only a short distance on a snowy path. In addition, they are very slippery on hard packed snow or frozen ground. Rubber soles will make for a more enjoyable and safe experience under winter wading conditions. I gave up felts along time ago and have been pleased with the versatility and light design that these newer wading boots offer.
Making presentations on spring creeks to rising fish upstream can pose some special challenges. It is essential that you read the velocities, pulses, and bulges of the water in all the areas your fly line may drift. For example, you have a soft (slow) piece of water twenty five feet upstream of you that is showing several feeding fish. The water directly in front of you is moving very quickly for about a rods length upstream. This is a common scenario on the Upper Owens River, especially on the larger oxbow type bends. A common mistake is to cast right on the rise forms dropping the rod tip to begin stripping line as it accelerates downstream. This presentation will generally not work because your imitation will be moving faster than the water the natural insects are drifting in. This is due to the fact that the line near your rod tip is pulling the fly faster than the water the fish are keying on. In addition, fish look well upstream for their next meal and they prefer to inspect a morsel prior to sipping it down. Leading the rise form will give the fish a chance to look at the imitation. The proper presentation is to lead the rising fish at least 5 feet or half your leader’s length upstream of the showing fish, and immediately reach and elevate the rod upstream with the rod tip gently lifting the line off the faster water in front of you to get a true drift for your imitation. Do not overcast and “line” your fish with fly line. Keep the “leader only” over their rise forms. Practice keeping the fly line out of the fly’s direct line of drift. A small reach mend to either side of your imitations drift will pay big dividends on any given stretch of water.
Chironomid (midge) larva live on the bottom in a very oxygen poor environment. They have gills on both ends of their bodies to process oxygen more efficiently, built like a tiny worm with well defined segmentation along the entire abdomen. They can be bright red, or rusty in color. This is due to the large amount of hemoglobin present in the crude vascular system they possess. Hence the popular name “blood midge.” In most instances with water deeper than eight feet, or in murky conditions, infrared wave lengths of light do not penetrate below that depth. This makes the bright red larva…GRAY! Nature designed this to hide the larva, NOT make it stand out. If you want a color that is accentuated near the bottom, choose purple, blue, or black.
Ultraviolet light is a higher frequency and penetrates the water column better making these colors stand out. Understanding this simple concept about the visible light spectrum will help you achieve your goals as to whether or not you are trying to make your flies stand out, or blend in and look more natural. Fish do not have deductive powers of reasoning, and are opportunistic, programmed creatures, at least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Sometimes you may want fish to see your fly better, especially in deeper or murky water. Clean water with a high bright sun may alter your game plan. Use this guide tip to select your color, and experiment with variations to get more grabs!
Stick to #16-18 tigers and zebras as your lower. Gillies, pupa, or emergers as twins #18-20 during the hatch and hung a foot higher than if you have a larva pattern like the tiger midge as a dropper. Another hot rig for us as of late has been twin bead head PT’s #14-18. Put the larger fly on top (as is always the case) in any multi fly rig.
Streamer tuggers will do OK with damselfly nymphs, Punk Perch, and Loebergs #10-14. Better weed lines in the North Arm for you kids wishing to get grabs this way.
There has been some revolutionary new technology in fly lines very recently and you owe it to yourself to look into getting these newly designed lines. I must say that any scepticism you may have will immediately disappear after you cast one. These lines are extremely soft with no memory right out of the box. They are subtle even in cold water (which has been the curse of cold water floating lines since time began.) Your trusty old stick will find new life, and if you have taken the quantum leap into the new fast action rod technology my guess is you will be casting FIFTEEN FEET further with the new lines. They are truly that good and my favorite is by far the Rio Gold series of floating lines. They are not inexpensive by any means costing about 90 bones. Well worth it if you need a new line that will put you out sixty feet on a single haul. Too often we overlook this essential part of our terminal gear and as the season approaches I suggest you take a hard look at your floating line and make the investment that could potentially get you to that fish you have never been able to get to!
The early summer season can pose some difficult challenges to moving water fly fishers in years with heavy runoff. The most important of which will be the safety issue. Some of the rivers and creeks will be at or above flood levels in the near future and we suggest a prudent wading strategy especially in the larger waters. The East Walker, West Walker, Lower Owens, San Joaquin, Rush Creek, Bishop Creek, Rock Creek, etc…could have the potential of being on the dangerous side during peak run-off periods. If you are wearing breathable type waders make sure you have a snug wading belt. A wading staff or stout branch can be very helpful in crossings. Never wade in swift water above your knees. Firmly plant and stabilize your foot after every step. NEVER shuffle or walk normally across moving water. If you do slip or fall, try to get on your back, head up, with your feet pointing downstream. Do not try to fight the swift current and stand up. Use your arms to backstroke and move at an angle towards the closest safe shoreline. “Buddy wading” is a great method of crossing or working towards more productive and softer water during high flow conditions. Begin the wading or crossing at an upstream position, angling downstream to your casting position. The best holding spot is in the middle of the back, securing your hand to the center of each other cross straps or the combined seams of your waders and the top of a vest. Do NOT hold hands or interlock elbows. Polarized glasses are a must. Be safe and you will have fun.
Significant algae lines that drift with the ever-changing wind directions can be a great transition area and an excellent location to target a troll line while streamer fishing from your tube. Many aquatic insects migrate with these “scum” lines using them as a vehicle to move and hide in. The trout will often migrate with these edges and pick off the unlucky victims that fall from the denser areas of the scum. Troll in front and behind these algae lines as long as you can, you will see results!
Depending on which lakes got planted the week of your trip will usually dictate the “catching” as always in these put and take dependant fisheries. Tubers can fool those big hold over Alpers with streamer patterns #6-12. Our light Spruce-a-bu pattern we have nick-named the “dumb blonde” or “Kelly Bundy” has proven to be deadly on Alpers fish and large DFG rainbows. These alpine lakes are best fished with a full or heavy sinking tip line and don’t worry about these rascals being leader shy. 3X tippet is the rule as they have not usually played the game before and it is a matter of locating the school instead of exact and skilled presentations. The still summer evenings can be the time these locations take on a different complexion. There are wild trout (not to be confused with “native trout”) in most of these fisheries and on the warm and calm summer evenings one can see many little snouts sipping the emerging midges and mayflies that support the appetites of these less opportunistic trout. Long leaders and light tippets fished with a dry fly and small emerger patterns will get you into these beauties with a well-placed cast. Do not “line” the rise form. Cast off to the sides of the ring, or if you observe a fish that is “pattern” feeding try to lead him by casting in front of his direction of movement. Our #22 pupa and crystal emerger patterns work well for the “magic” hour on these lakes. Parachute Adams #16 can be seen well enough to use as an indicator and will often times get grabs with aggressively feeding fish.
If you spend any time on densely brush lined trout streams, this cast is an essential part of your presentation. It is fundamentally simple and with very little practice one can become proficient enough to handle the majority of situations the cast is designed for.
One must have water to properly practice and develop his or her roll cast. A lawn, mat, or other dry surfaces do not provide sufficient enough resistance of the fly line to effectively “load” or bend the rod during the cast.
The beauty of the roll cast is that you do not require any space behind you for the line to be backcast into. It is an especially nice cast to use with the wind at your back. All the fly line remains in theory, in front of the plane of your shoulders. Before you actually take a rod to hand try imitating the cast by using this practice motion. Pretend for the moment you have a small hand axe in your casting hand. You are going to “chop” a large tree limb that is situated an arms length distant and just slightly above your waist height. You know from experience that you will not be able to cut the limb with one fell swing, but a series of blows will do the job. You bring the axe up, cocking your arm by bending your elbow slowly so as not to hit yourself or anything behind you. Your elbow stays in front of your body and well out in front of your shoulders; elevated as far as necessary to give you power to hit the tree limb. The imaginary axe may be well above your head, with your hand being about ear level. You stop the axe completely from its backward motion while at the same time aiming for the limb. The stroke of the arm is downward towards the limb, with a little break of the wrist added just as your arm becomes straight, just prior to the axe hitting the limb and stopping abruptly. Practice this in slow motion at first, increasing your power and speed when you feel comfortable. Remember to stop the arm completely just about as your hand gets to waist level.
Use the resistance of the water on the fly line to drag out a section of line by keeping the rod tip low to the surface and allowing slack to be pulled down the rod and onto the surface in front of you. You may need to do this several times to get enough line to cast (20 feet is good to start with). Keep your elbow in front of the plane of your shoulders and elevate your entire arm with your forearm being perpendicular to the surface of the water and the rod tip high and eventually pointing at the 1 O’clock position if you are right handed, 11 if you are left. Do this motion slowly, keeping the fly line ON the waters surface. Do not pull the line out of or off the surface. You elbow should be well out in front of your shoulders and elevating as you bend your arm bringing the rod back to the proper angle. Study the lines position in relation to your rod, it should NOT be laying alongside it and touching. If it is, slowly roll your wrist outwards to move the line away from the eventual path of the rod. You will notice a slow curve of fly line coming from the water towards the rods tip. This is the pre-formation of the loop you will eventually cast. Use the analogy of the axe to continue the casting motion, remembering to stop the rod abruptly once it has reached waist level. Do not allow the line to go back behind your head. A common mistake with roll casting is to drop the rod tip down bringing the “loop” of line lower than the height of the rod tip when cast forward. This will cause a poor cast and you may even hit yourself with the fly line or leader as it goes forward. Another common error is a “backandforth” motion of the rod when casting. Make sure you stop the rod completely before going forward. This hesitation is necessary to properly load the rod when it changes direction. The line will follow the path of the rod…ALWAYS. As you get more proficient with the cast you can even “shoot” additional line after the loop develops. Practice this cast on both sides of your body by bringing the rod over your opposite shoulder. This is called a backhand cast. Use your elbow as a “pivot” point keeping it out in front and on the same axle or line that you would use with your forehand roll cast.
This is a must-know cast and it will give you superior presentations when adverse conditions warrant.
Why do big fish get big? They have been hooked before and know how to play the game without getting caught. When you eventually set the hook on “Troutzilla” there are several things I suggest you can do that may help you get a photo opportunity with the fish of your dreams.
First, make sure you keep your rod tip high and the upper half of the rod bent! Do not let the butt section of the rod get parallel to the water surface and allow the tip to point at the streaking fish. Keep an angle to your running fish. Hence the name of the sport: angling. Your rod is a spring that absorbs shock use it! As line peels off the reel the resistance of the fly line increases dramatically as the amount of line increases. You must back off on the pressure you are applying to the fish as it makes its initial burst. Keep your rod tip as high as possible (hold the rod well above your head if necessary), this will keep a significant amount of line out of the water and reduce friction that can break a line or weaken a hook set. Resist the urge to “palm” or slow down the reels spool. A decent drag set properly prior to the hook set has no emotion. It does not care if the fish is 8 inches or eight pounds! Let the reels drag do its job. When you do finally see that mysterious thin line called backing peeling off the reels spool, rest assured you have a substantial adversary on the end and your fight is in the infancy stages. The weight of the line and the reels drag will eventually slow the fish down if your gear is properly matched to the potential of the water you are angling in. Observe where potential obstacles like weed beds, anchor lines and shallow water are. You must watch the lines direction and put side strain on your fish by moving the rid tip opposite to the direction the fish is motoring immediately. Do not strip backing! Whatever it takes, keep the reel spool turning if the fish alters direction and comes back towards you. Backing materials do not lay as well as fly lines and not only will you lose the fish, you will be in the penalty box trying to untangle a gob of Dacron!
As you retrieve line the fish will no doubt make several more runs away from the pressure. These are prone to be shorter and with substantial but somewhat less energy. Keep your hand off the reel handle when not actually retrieving line; many fish are lost during this series of shorter bursts due to “hanging on” of the reels handle.
The tug of war will go on until the fish’s runs are very short with many headshakes and rolls of its body. Jumps may occur any time, lower your rod tip and dip the rod tip swiftly near the water to prevent losing angle and breaking off at all times during a fish getting air. You must apply steady pressure by keeping the rod bent at all times. Get your tip up immediately after a jump. Hopefully you have a good long handled catch and release net handy. Avoid bringing your leader into the guides of the rod until you are convinced the fish is ready to bring into net. Most of the time its head will skim the surface if you have your tip high, this is a good time to slide the fish into net.
After a prolonged battle fish will acquire tremendous amounts of lactic acid that build up in the muscle tissue. Please make sure you fully revive the fish by holding its tail and moving it back and forth while laying it upright under the water. Avoid lengthy durations of time out of water for photos, as it is a death sentence.
The fishing is just so-so, we get a grab every now and then but the gurgling of the water and the singing of the birds breaks our concentration…We all have a tendency to get lethargic on the maintenance of our flies. A tiny miniscule piece of river grass has attached its self to our fly and we have not looked close enough at the imitation recently to detect it. Bummer! The trout want nothing to do with this chunk of salad that has found its way onto our fly. It is essential to keep your fly clean at ALL times if you want consistent results.
Dry fly presentations are less likely, but not immune to encounter this problem. If you are fishing a nymph or a streamer I encourage you to examine your imitation closely EVERY cast. It will make a huge difference in the long run. Scrutinize your tippet and leader also, many times a knot will be a location for some algae or grass to attach its self to and spook or alert the trout to danger.
The best way to clean a fly is NOT by mechanically “picking” the goo off the fly. Dipping the fly into the water and swishing or agitating the debris off the fly while under the surface is best. This method is easy on the materials that comprise the fly and it does an efficient and quick job of cleaning the fly. You may also blow on the fly while it is still wet to clean it instead of handling the fly and pulling the goo off. A series of false casts lightly nipping the surface and using the resistance of the water to pull or strip the debris off the fly can be very effective and a quick way to get a clean bug or tippet
Natural aquatic insects or baitfish will not have algae or debris clinging to their bodies. Make sure your presentations are “salad free” when stalking trout in your favorite waters.
Late season trout fishing can be down right frustrating at times, but on the other hand very rewarding. Aquatic insects such as caddis flies and larger mayflies, stonefly hatches and terrestrial insects, these are long gone during the winter months with the cold-water temperatures found in the fishable waters of the Eastern Sierra. You must look to the foundations of the aquatic insect world and the mainstay diet of trout all over the world for a clue as to selection of a pattern that will get grabs during the short solar periods of winter…the midge.
Midges hatch year round. Trout recognize them as a staple everywhere and in the Eastern Sierra waters they rule! You will find them in substantial numbers in all the tail waters like the East Walker River and the Lower Owens River, including the Gorge. You will see them emerge on Pleasant Valley Reservoir.
When in doubt about selecting a pattern where you can see no clues as to what the trout are feeding on, go to the mighty midge and you will get results. Start with a pattern and size that you will not need an electron-scanning microscope to tie on or identify. Many midge larva patterns that trout feed on are good sized, and they are plentiful in the tail water sections of The Owens River. If you are not getting results with the larger flies, go down one size at a time until you do get grabs. Midge patterns are not complex and you will see that the fish are triggered more by size, color or shade and where the fly is presented in the water column than by intricate designs. I suggest you have patterns that incorporate some flash into the design, as this will assist in the visibility of the smaller sizes to the trout and imitate the translucent effect of the insect molting or emerging, a very vulnerable time in the life cycle of the insect.
Streamers. Some imitate nothing and can be a configuration of “pet fur”, material scraps and assorted materials put together while under the influence of several “barley pops!.” Others resemble small baitfish or trout fry. Use them in the winter, or when you are having difficulty locating concentrations of “biters.” Trout will hit larger flies out of aggression or to defend their territory. Trout may not move far to inspect a tiny nymph, but put a chunk of protein like a small baitfish imitation out in the strike zone and all of a sudden Mr. Trout kicks into high gear and the genetic imprinting of “attack” takes precedent.
I have adopted the commercial albacore fisherman’s school of thought regarding what colors to use and when. A good rule of thumb is to select a dark colored pattern in low light or cloudy days and choose brighter marked flies for the sunny, brighter mid-day times. Contrast is the key in my opinion.
Of course, if a specific baitfish is present one should always imitate size and color as best as possible in this case.
We hope this brief on fly selection will help you get into some fine winter fly- fishing opportunities found here in the Eastern Sierra.
The damsel fly hatch is a great time to pull imitations of the nymphs #10-14 with a light to moderate sink tip or floating line. Find a weed line or scum line free floating with the current or wind and stay on the leading edge of this as long as you can. Damselflies lay their eggs on this dead vegetation and feed on spent midges that have accumulated on these unattractive but lucrative fishing areas. The trout will “migrate” with these rafts of dead weed hoping to ambush a damselfly adult or nymph. If you have never experienced a grab on a damselfly now is the time! Fish the nymphs using multiple rapid movements by pulling or stripping the fly line in quickly and aggressively. Allow the fly to stop dead and sink periodically, this is called a pause. The grab comes more times than not after a pause. Try to keep your rod tip at an angle when tugging damsel imitations, you will understand when you break off a time or two after a hard take when the rod can’t absorb the hit by bending!
With the long days having anglers fishing low light periods and higher, faster water flows in some areas, it may be difficult for some fly fishers to see the imitations being cast to the trout. A good trick when fishing small dry flies or emergers in difficult conditions such as shadows or riffle water, is to use a larger higher visibility pattern as the target fly and drop the smaller imitation with a short 12-18 inch section of tippet from the bend of the big fly. A dry fly with a dry dropper so to speak.
Have several different colors in your vest of strike indicator’s. Experience has shown me that in changing light and water speeds, the eye will pick up on yellows, reds and whites, with each novel situation. Mixed color poly yarn indicators, although more difficult to cast, work well in a diverse light spectrum.
Choose sunglasses that have wrap around sides, or panels to concentrate light and reduce glare. Polarized, amber colored lenses are the optimum choice for low light situations and are great for seeing colors and shapes.
I have been asked on several occasions what an attractor pattern is. The Laker girls have several I really enjoy inspecting. (Just kidding).
These are flies either wet (subsurface) or dry (surface) that do not resemble nor imitate any specific aquatic insect or baitfish. They have characteristics and images of several types of imitations rolled into one so to speak.
Most attractor patterns are brightly colored, larger than natural food sources and have a high visibility to both the angler and trout. Some examples of popular attractor patterns are as follows:
Streamer attractor: Wooley Bugger. Matuka, Zonker
Dry fly: Royal Coachman, Stimulator, Trude
There are many patterns that represent several types of aquatic life without being specific in size, shape, and color. These fall into the attractor category.
Presentation of your imitation is far more important than the actual exact duplicate of what is present in most cases. Attractors help us do this in many instances.
These flies constitute an important part in any fly fishers box and have purpose in many instances when trying to find the right bug.
I got smart after nearly having several hernias attempting to put on dried wading boots that had been stored in the back of the truck for several days. Keep them moist in a heavy trash bag or plastic storage bag if used periodically. You may also obtain buckets with resealable tops for not too much and store the boots in there for quite a while. I add a little bleach to keep the mold off and prevent organisms from contaminating different areas. The boots are nice and soft when I put them on and I am not worn out battling gear before fish.Turn those waders inside out for a few hours after each use. This prevents “OLD GYM SOCK SYNDROME” Washing your breathable waders periodically will keep them working the way the manufacturer intended.
“See him, see him, look at the size of that fish! See him?” “No, I don’t see the fish, where is he? I’m looking right where you are pointing!”
This is a common conversation with myself and those clients who do not have POLARIZED sunglasses for eye protection.
I value a good quality set of polarized sunglasses in several lens shades as much as I value a properly balanced fly rod when trout fishing. It is imperative to see what lies under the water when angling for trout. This is not possible with standard lenses.
I suggest you have amber colored lenses for low light or cloudy days and copper or rose colored lenses for normal or bright sunlit days. Photo chromatic lenses are available for more money, but they work great and it saves having to carry more than one set of glasses.
Get glasses that “wrap around” your face contour and reduce back glare. Side panels are built into some models and these work well to keep the glare off the lens. Although somewhat ugly and not very stylish…the fish will not care, they think we are horrid looking whatever our attire!
For those folks who have prescription lenses, there are companies and optometrists who manufacture polarized lenses for your correction. Snap on, flip up covers can also be purchased for your corrected lenses; these are far better than nothing.
See more; catch more, fish with a good set of polarized sunglasses.
Fish the deeper cuts and pools with streamers and a sink tip line. Try a cast quarter down stream with a big mend opposite the area in which you intend to pull your streamer through. Retrieve the fly with a tight line pulling upstream with aggressive short strips and short pauses. Keep the rod tip under water a foot or so and learn to strip set the hook by waiting for a solid take then pulling the line until the rod loads up with the fishes weight. Good luck!
Before you make that first cast, look at the water and find zones of change in the texture of the surface. Use those polarized glasses and look “into” the water and observe the differences in the bottom configuration. Take a second to observe where the shadows and the sun are in relation to you. Look for areas of transition in any water that trout exist and you will locate them. They love change.
Locate a moving foam line in a river and find a “softer” piece of water adjacent to it, bingo! Trout city. Find a sandy bottom along the inside bend of a rivers turn, look a little deeper and examine the gravel or rock lining this edge. Set up your nymphs drift to follow this line and get ready for a take.
A low hanging sun behind the brush has cast a definitive shadow line across a slow moving stretch of river. Fish the edge of this shadow, it is a transition zone, Troutzilla likes this area.
You are kicking around in a float tube on a stillwater. You see a wind line on the waters surface that seems to hang in one area of the lake. Fish the edge of the wind line and hang on! The edge of weed beds, drop-offs along the shoreline, the inlet area of a stream or creek, all are zones of transition.
Recognizing these areas will catch you more fish. Look for them before you make that first cast! Look for the transition zones close to you and fish these first. This way you will not line, or spook fish in the entire pool or run.
Mid-summer months provide many opportunities for utilizing weighted nymphs. The long daylight hours send fish deep to escape heat and full sun. Hatches occur during a.m. and evening hours commonly and this can make for tough fishing during the “off” periods. Properly weighting your nymph can be paramount to your success during this time.
A good rule of thumb is to set your lower or bottom fly, if you are utilizing a tandem rig, at 1 1/2 times the estimated depth of the water below your strike indicator. Example- water depth 3′. Set depth of indicator to 3’x 1.5=4.5’ depending on the velocity or flow rate of the current you are fishing, weight your rig with lead, or non-toxic shot so that the indicator is displaying signs of the weight or lower fly “tickling” or bouncing lightly along the bottom. If you are not periodically bumping the bottom, you may not be deep enough to present a natural appearance of the imitation. Use only enough floatation for your strike indicator to do the job. Smaller is better. Easier to cast and less obvious to “Troutzilla”. Dry flies make excellent indicators with small bead head and lightly weighted nymphs. Not to mention, they can get bit!!! Poly yarn type indicators are good for quiet and softer water areas. Foam/rubber core models are easy to adjust depth and provide good floatation with heavier rigs.
When adding weight to a rig… I will describe several methods. You can add split shot or non-toxic steel shot attached to a small dropper tied to the bottom nymph on a short tippet of smaller diameter. If the shot gets “snagged” or fouled on the bottom, the weighted dropper tippet only, will break (in theory). If you are using a tandem rig, attach the weight(s) between the lower flies. This allows both nymphs to be working near the bottom or strike zone. Space the weights out with a small gap between shot, if more than one, they will cast much better and not weaken the leader as much. If you tie your own flies, use tungsten beads. Lead wrapped and then inserted into the taper of a bead head works great on most sizes down to #18 also.
All this science is for not if we do not execute the most important factor of nymphing… a natural dead drift, with the imitations moving at the same velocity as the water you are angling. Mending of the fly line, a book in its own right is crucial to achieving this easily said but seldom accomplished task. Keep as little fly line on the water as possible. Raise or lower your rod tip to accomplish this whenever possible.
Watch the strike indicator closely to see if it is dragging across the surface towards you. If it is, you can bet your nymph is acting in a devious manner below the surface and will not fool “Zilla”.
I hope some of this will help you achieve a better “drift” this summer.
Selecting the right pattern can be a frustrating event. We have all been in the situation where the trout are actively feeding and you do not, or can not see what is the bug-o-choice. I have found in most situations that it is presentation and size that will get results, other than an exacting imitation of the bug.
Here are some tips that can help you decide what fly to choose and when. HOW a fish is feeding can tell you a lot about WHAT a fish is feeding on.
You are on a slow moving body of water and there are heads quietly poking through the surface film sipping insects. Most likely may flies. Duns or spinners will fall to the water and have no escape mechanism. Fish know this and will act accordingly. Spinner falls will trigger feeding hysteria with intervals between rise forms sometimes only seconds apart. Duns spiraling in an eddy will also also have the same rise form, only the takes will be slower and longer between rises.
The sun is just peaking over the top of the ridge and trout are beginning to make loud splashy takes sometimes leaving the water. Most likely a caddis fly emergence, or Troutzilla looking for breakfast. Many caddis swim to the surface during emergence. The trout will hit them quickly before they clear the surface film, hence the aggressive behavior.
The surface of the high desert lake is glassy. There are periodic splashy rises, but you do not see any winged insects except for a cloud of black midges above. Try a chironomid pupa. As the insect rises in the water column they may be shedding their shuck before emergence. The trout glide along the bottom in the flats of the lake, eyes looking upward. They key on the movement the insect makes while removing itself from the shuck. The fish skyrockets upwards turning at the last moment after snatching up the helpless pupa. Small bugs, hard takes.
It is cloudy, dark and windy. You may be on any body of water. Nothing going on that you can see. Try a streamer pattern. A baitfish imitation. What color and size you ask? A good rule of thumb…Dark day, dark color. Bright day, bright color. Higher background contrast. Larger patterns will produce on these days. Big trout and wild fish are photo-sensitive to sunlight. It is well documented that big browns feed nocturnally. Dark days are great for big dark baitfish patterns. Bright sunny day, you may want to try something with crystal flash in the pattern. Drop a hook size or so for this situation. Silver or gold tinsel bodied flies work well on sunny bright days.
We can get very technical about this also. Examining the undersides of streambed rocks for nymphs, seeing what is holding in the vegetation along the banks, using a specimen net to skim the water for exacting information. Pumping the trout’s stomach is the fun…You got to catch one first is the problem!
Hope this will help you out a little when you have a problem deciding what pattern to use.
It happens a lot. Holy, blankity, blank, blank, look at the size of that monster!!! Seconds later it is all but a bitter memory. The angler stares glassy eyed at the limp fly line that is more times than not, wrapped several times around his or her body (or mine). The flies long gone after a short interlude. When playing a large fish it is very important to let the drag do its work. With very few exceptions fly reels do not have an independent drag mechanism. If you lock down on that reel handle, the spool will not turn, hence…snap, crackle, pop, goes the tippet, or the fly gets torn by excessive force from its hook set. Pre-set your drag tension before the battle starts, there is very little need to adjust this ever. Do not touch the reel handle when the spool is turning. Modern drag systems do not require palming of the reel spool. Let the fish run!!! Keep your rod tip as perpendicular to the water as possible. The rod is nothing more than a spring (a very expensive spring I admit), if you lower the tip parallel to the water surface it loses its ability to absorb the energy the fish is putting against the line.
A little trick to keeping your rod tip high during a long tug-o-war, is to place the butt of the fly rod directly under and in line with your lower fore-arm. This gives added leverage to the rear section of the rod allowing you to rest your wrist. Dealing with mended or slack line during the initial stages of the battle. The education of your control finger can be costly. The control finger is crucial to the initial stages of the battle. The transition period between the hook set and putting the fish entirely “on the reel” is where I see most large fish “SPIT THE HOOK.” Keep that fly line between the cork or handle, and your index finger at all times. Do not lose control of the fish and tension on the rod by allowing the fly line to slip off your control finger.
Spinning the spool. If you have a lot of mended or slack line either at your feet, in the water, or in a stripping basket you can rapidly recover this by taking your stripping hand and palming the front of your reel spool and spinning it with short chops in the proper direction. Keep your control finger firmly on the line at all times. Let the last 12″ of slack slip out quickly. Do not try and reel this last bit of line on, a sudden surge by the fish could end the battle right here. You can recover large amounts of line quickly using this method and thus get the fish on the reel much more efficiently. Use the reel folks, the reel drag system has no emotion.
Read the line direction. Anticipation prior to reaction will land you more big fish. Watch the line in the water, read its direction prior to the rod loading or unloading. Apply side strain by keeping tension in the opposite direction the fish is headed. You can stay well ahead of the fish this way. Big fish in a river. Have a fight plan. If you suspect a big fish lives in that deep hole under that log, trust yourself, be ready for his take. Study the streamside and snags in the pool before your cast. Have a fight path worked out in the event you hook “TROUTZILLA.” Proper release. After a long battle, large fish build up tremendous amounts of lactic acid in their muscle structure. Keep them in the water, and spend extra time reviving them fully before your release. If you must take a picture do so quickly and by all means have the camera ready before removing the fish. Hope this will assist in preventing any L.D.R.’s (Long Distance Releases).
I am often asked when is the most favorable period of the month to go fishing. Having spent 20 years on the Pacific, and Atlantic chasing pelagic species of fish around, I have found the lunar phase starting at the first quarter and ending around or before the full moon to be the optimum time to catch fish.
We often timed our trips by this lunar calendar and I must say there is precedent here. However, on smaller bodies of water such as creeks and small landlocked rivers and lakes I do not believe this lunar clock to be as significant in playing a role as to how fish feed.
A more important factor that can determine fish feeding cycles is the weather and water conditions. Most wild trout are very photo-sensitive. They are not comfortable in bright direct sunny conditions. To a trout, anything that is above the surface of the water be very bad and evil. Full sun enhances visibility when at your back, and Troutzilla knows this and will be less prone to coming out of his or her hiding spot under this condition. The ideal day for extended periods of feeding would be: 1- Overcast high clouds 2- Light, but steady wind direction (southerly or easterly in direction) 3- Warmer than average a.m. temp. (this is a common occurrence when a front is approaching) 4- Stable and average flow or water levels in the river or lake you are angling 5- Federal “EVERYBODY MUST WORK EXCEPT YOU DAY”. Obvious here ehh? It is not possible to ascertain when these conditions may or may not exist when planning a trip. However, when you do see these conditions start to develop, drop everything and head for your honey hole and Troutzilla, cause there’s a good chance this will be the day to get a picture of it.
Use high visibility patterns such as streamers or large nymphs so the trout can get a good look at your presentation. With a lot of sediment in the river trout become less opportunistic and will not move far to hit a pattern. Rising water will make fish seek different holding areas. Fish a section or piece of water redundantly and with patience. Fish will be in transition and not be in areas you encountered them previously. When rigging up, try not to use loops or knotted leaders. With the large amount of sediment, free floating weed and such, the more streamlined you keep your leader and tippet the less chance you have of picking up drifting material. Fish the backwaters and quiet sections of the river. These areas will produce when water levels are rising. Fish tend to congregate in these areas during rising flows as they do not have to expend large amounts of energy holding in the swift current. Bring a variety of different sized strike indicators if you intend to nymph fish. Do not rely on one size, as you may have to change the amount of weight needed frequently to get down to the fish. Use several small weights as opposed to a large single for weighting your nymphs. Spread them out on your tippet about a half-inch apart. This will make casting easier and get you down more effectively. I use several types of sink tip lines for various flow rates when pulling streamers. This can be expensive and time consuming. Check a local fly shop out for suggestions on what to have before you go. They will no doubt have the proper line for you. There have been leaps and bounds made in improving sink tips. They cast better, sink evenly and come in many sink rates and lengths customized for your area and flow.
I have witnessed the releasing of many fish with the angler having good intentions for the well being of the fish. Time and time again I watch as the fish is mishandled and its fate doomed by improper release methods. Please do your best to moisten your hands if you must handle the fish. Use a good quality soft, non-knotted net, and keep the fish submerged as much as possible during the release process. Make sure your barbless hooks, if used, are really barbless and try not to handle the fish around its head or mid-section if at all possible. When taking a photograph of a FAT ONE!!! please have your camera ready so to limit the amount of time the fish is forced to pose. Hold your breath after running 3 minutes without taking a gulp of air and see how it feels. Use this as a meter when admiring a fish. If you are in fast water, please release the fish in a quiet backwater or pool so it can regain it’s strength without having to fight the current also. In a lake you can hold the fish gently by the tail, in an upright position, and move it back and forth slowly until it gains strength enough to move away.
Also, under no circumstances should you upgrade or allow this to happen in your presence. It is not a crime or improper to keep fish in legally designated areas, however it is wrong to catch a limit then exchange smaller fish already creeled for a larger one. We as sportsman must passionately adhere to this simple format to insure quality fishing for future outings. Enough said.
Many times anglers with good intentions release fish improperly and I witness this frequently. Time and time again I watch as the fish is mishandled and its fate doomed by improper release methods. Please, Please, keep the fish in the water as much as possible when practicing catch and release. There is a great tool out called a Ketchum Release, Orvis product, sold at better shops, get one! These babies work very well when removing small flies. Avoid netting or handling the fish if at all possible. If you must handle the fish please do your best to moisten your hands first. Make sure those barbs are filed or smashed totally. This really insures a smooth release. You can get them out of your ear, appendages, hat, etc. faster and with far less associated pain as a bonus.
It is understandable when you finally fool “Troutzilla” you want a photo. Have your camera ready so as to limit the amount of time the fish is forced to pose. Hold your breath after running 3 minutes without taking a gulp of air and see how you feel. Use this as a meter when admiring a fish. Please take time to revive the fish fully and release it in soft water so it may regain strength. This may take several minutes on larger fish. Hold the fish upright and lightly near the tail section, work it back and forth slowly, head into the current if present, until it kicks away. Avoid holding the fish near the mid-section or head/gill plate area. Internal damage will kill the fish later. Keep your hands moist and at all costs do not scrape the protective slime off the fish, this prevents fungus and infections of the fish’s skin.
When releasing from a tube or boat and it becomes necessary to net a fish, please use a soft material, nylon, or rubber net bags really help. Keep the fish submerged when removing the hook. A great website to check out is http://sierranetco.com. We use Joel’s nets at Sierra Drifters.
Throwing a fish back does not mean it’s a contest to see if you can make the Olympic shot put team. Fish undergo severe trauma when caught, give them the chance to regain power and stability when put back.
Be prepared for inclement weather by dressing in layers. Hooded jackets and thermals are a must, as well as fingertip gloves and wool knee socks. If you have breathable waders, overdress in several layers or you will become a fish suckle. I prefer 3.5mm neoprenes this time of year for extended immersion in water.
Watch out for ice near the river or lakeside. You may not expect this when approaching the fishing area, if snow is not present do not be fooled into thinking there is none of the slippery stuff around. A frozen mud bank can be a noteworthy launch ramp if misjudged.
Relax. Sleep in. Trout are lethargic in the early daylight periods. Wait for the gravel beds to warm up before attempting to fool winter trout. Fishing can be great this time of year, but understand that, “feeding windows” are open for a much shorter duration than in other warmer and elongated daylight periods.
In winter, fish become more opportunistic in their feeding as the feeding “window”, or time of day in which fish move into fishy chow lines to forage for sustenance becomes more late morning thru the late afternoon. Opportunistic in the sense that there is not a lot of food readily available this time of year, and during these feeding periods they will hit a wider variety of food/baits.
This is a great time of year to pull streamer patterns (fly imitations designed to look like small baitfish). These imitations have high visibility, so they can be seen easily by Mr. and Mrs. trout. Another advantage of fishing this type of fly is that sometimes the takes will be out of aggression instead of hunger. You can tease the fish into a strike by properly presenting the fly into it’s holding area in a river or lake.
When fishing a baitfish imitation, use jerky, erratic movements, accomplished by stripping the fly line in short but aggressive tugs. Keep your rod tip low, or below the surface of the water. This will keep the fly deeper in the water column. Most local baitfish dwell near the bottom. Vary your retrieve speeds and use sporadic pauses during the retrieve. BE THE FLY!!! Become a wounded baitfish. Use sink tip, or full sink lines designed to fish the area of your choice. These lines vary greatly and conditions change, so check local shops for suggestions.
When you get a “take” or “strike”, RESIST the urge to set the hook by lifting the rod upward and back in conventional hook setting form. Strip set. This is accomplished by pulling the fly line until the rod loads. At this time you may then lift the rod and achieve hook angle and begin the fight. You will need some practice at this method, but once you get the hang of it many more solid hook-ups shall ye have! This method also keeps the fly near the fish and in the strike zone in the event, TROUTZILLA misses the fly on the first pass. Good luck.
Hear Ye, Hear Ye, all fisherfolk! Please do not wade upon, trample, or intentionally disrupt spawning reeds while pursuing love-struck salmonids. How would you like it if something dressed like Armageddon came stomping across your honeymoon bedset? You can identify spawning areas in relatively shallow gravel sections of creeks or rivers as being oval or circular in shape.