Exploring new water

Fishing is much more than fish. It is the great occasion when we may return to the fine simplicity of our forefathers.

~ Herbert Hoover

My wife and I recently went for a hike along a stream we have been visiting for many years. But instead of going the direction we usually go, we decided to walk further upstream.

The old road we walked on slowly gained elevation and took us away from the stream. We could see, but didn’t have good access to, some very promising looking water.

Back at the cabin, I looked at some maps. The maps did not show any roads that went close to the area we had seen. But then I looked at some satellite photos and saw what appeared to be an old logging road and then some skid trails that would get me close to the stream from a different direction. Thanks Google!

The next day I headed out with my dog and my trusty GPS equipped smart phone.

I decided to leave the fly rod at the cabin. I had to think about that for a minute. I wanted to learn how to get into this new-to-me section of stream and then I wanted to learn as much as I could about it. I was afraid that if I had my fly rod I would start fishing right away. I wondered if the sort of focus fly fishing demands would keep me from seeing and learning more about this stream reach and the little canyon it flowed through.

Sometimes fishing is more about seeing what is just around the bend. So, I went fishing without my fishing rod.

I found my way into the stream. It was much easier than I expected. Then I spent a couple hours wandering around.

I found some riffles that dumped into some decent pools. I sneaked up on the pools from upstream trying to spot holding areas for fish. I examined the insects I could find in and along the stream.

I looked for footprints along the banks to see who else had fished there recently. Happily, the only tracks I could find belonged to fox, raccoons and deer. No anglers had been here recently.

I didn’t catch a single fish. But I sure didn’t get skunked either. It was a beautiful afternoon. And at the end of it, I felt like I knew this place.

Next time I go, and that will be very soon, I will take my fly rod with me. But I saw more by leaving it home on this first journey. I am glad I did.

Lake Almanor

Fall is in the air. The weather is cooling and the bite is starting to pick up.

Even though the water temperature is starting to drop, it is still warm enough that fish are seeking out the coolest water.

Look for springs. Big Springs has been one of the more productive spots. Or try fishing tributary mouths. The North Fork Feather is an option or better still try the mouth of Hamilton Branch. And the deeper water is always cooler. Try 35 to 45 feet deep.

This time of year the trout are feeding mostly on pond smelt. These schooling baitfish are mostly white with a darker dorsal stripe. They are about an inch-and-a-half long right now. And there are lots of them.

Bait anglers suspending crawlers and mealworms, (which look nothing like pond smelt) have been working pretty well according to local guide Doug Neal. Doug says that these suspended baits, as well as white jigs (which do look much more like a pond smelt), seem to be producing more fish than trolling.

Trollers are picking up some decent fish. Just be prepared to put in some time. Doug reports that most boats are running slow action bait rigs. Try threaded crawlers or Berkley Gulp Smelt baits trolled behind a dodger.

Some anglers are trolling fast action rigs with pond smelt imitations like Rapalas. These normally do very well, but for some reason the slow trolled baits seem to be doing better lately.

Rec 1 to the A-Frame, Rec 2 to Bunell Point and Lake Cove are all good trolling lanes right now. All of the spots have springs that help keep the water a little cooler than other areas of the lake. And the pond smelt like the cover provided by the rocky shoreline.

Lake Davis

Bass and catfish are still the main attraction at Davis, but the water is cooling and the trout are starting to come back to life. It is still a little on the slow side, but look for it to pick up in the next couple weeks.

Just don’t expect the sort of fall fishing Davis offered in years past. The fish population has really taken a hit lately.

Frenchman Reservoir

Frenchman normally fishes a lot like its neighbor to the west, Lake Davis. The difference is that Frenchman has a much healthier population these days so it fishes even better than Davis. Look for Frenchman to come out of the summer slump soon. Trolling, bank fishing and fly-fishing will all be good this fall.

I like casting or trolling a Jay Fair wiggle nymph or trolling fly in olive or brown. But until the water cools a little more, fishing deep is probably your best bet.

Lakes Basin

Lake Basin is quiet and beautiful this time of year. The crowds have gone home and the aspen are starting to turn gold. Gold Lake seems to fish best in the fall. Try working along the island and near-shore structure. Fishing is best early in the morning. Try a threaded crawler behind a dodger  about 12 to 15 feet deep.

Upper Salmon Lake is another good option. Shore fishing is decent, but the best catches are coming from boats and kayaks.

Lower Sardine Lake is still producing fish. Shore fishing is slow, but boaters trolling spinners or threaded crawlers behind a dodger are catching some nice rainbows.

Streams

Streams are in excellent shape right now. There is plenty of water, but flows are low and water clarity is excellent. The only problem is that high flows this past spring and winter appear to have flushed out many aquatic insects so that hatches are generally on the sparse side.

Most of the big hatches are over for the year anyway, but there are still some stoneflies and caddis flies.

The big attraction for fly anglers this time of year is the October Caddis. Just as the stonefly action starts to wind down, the October Caddis takes center stage for fly anglers. The October Caddis is a big orange bug that hatches this time of year through most of October.

Look for October Caddis in the late afternoon and evening. They will flutter around on the surface of the stream laying their eggs. Trout love them because they are a fairly easy meal and they offer one last big protein packed food source before winter sets in. A size 8 orange body with a natural elk hair wing makes a good imitation.

Deer Creek continues to fish well. Trout are active and flows remain steady. Best fishing is mid-morning and again in the evening when the sun is off the water. Fish are rising to attractor dries in riffles and along the edges. Be sure to try terrestrial patterns under tree branches. Midday, add a nymph dropper behind the dry to give trout an option.

The North Fork of the Feather  is another good option. I like the smaller, more intimate setting above Lake Almanor, but this time of year, the flows are fishable all the way down the Feather River Canyon along Highway 70.

High stick nymph the fast pocket water with stoneflies, caddis pupa and crayfish patterns. Use plenty of split shot to get flies down.

The Caribou Section above Belden is fishing well right now. This river in this section is much smaller than the downstream portion. While the flow is much more manageable, the overly abundant streamside vegetation can make it a challenge to fish. This is definitely short line high-sticking water. Try caddis or attractor dries in the evening.