Free fishing day July 1

A bad day of fishing is better than a good day of work.

~ Author unknown

Are you curious about fishing? Want to give it a try but you are just not sure if it’s your thing? Or maybe you are an angler and you have a friend or relative you would like to introduce to the sport?

Saturday, July 1, is your opportunity. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife offers two free fishing days each year and the first is July 1.

Fishing is a great way to enjoy the outdoors. Throw in a short hike and maybe watch some feeding birds or explore stream-side plants and it becomes an introduction to a world of outdoor appreciation and activities. It is also a great alternative to video games if you have a young friend or relative you would like to get “un-wired” for a while.

Fishing can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be. If you are totally new to the sport, going with a friend who has some experience may be the best way to get oriented.

If you can afford it, a guided trip is an even better alternative. Guides are teachers. You are not just paying for a day of fishing, you are paying a professional for lessons that will be useful for years to come.

Lake Almanor

Lake Almanor is in excellent shape right now. The lake level is very high, the water is clear and the water temperature is just right for feeding trout.

There is insect activity all over the lake. This actually presents a couple challenges.

The first challenge is finding the fish. The insect activity is scattered and so are the fish. If there are no feeding fish where you are fishing, keep moving. Not sure where to start? Try either side of the peninsula. Rocky Point near the dam is another good area.

As the water warms, the fish will start to concentrate around cold water sources like springs and tributaries. But for now, plan on covering lots of water to find the fish. Look for diving birds and keep an eye on your sonar.

Speedy Shiners or a half nightcrawler trolled behind a dodger are both catching fish. If your fish finder shows fish at a consistent depth set your bait to troll just above that depth as trout usually attack their prey from below. If you don’t have a fish finder, start out first thing in the morning trolling at about 12 feet deep. Gradually lower your gear to around 30 feet as the sun rises higher in the sky.

The big attraction for fly anglers is the Hexagenia (hex) hatch. It has begun and will get stronger over the next two weeks. The west shore of the lake is where you will find the best habitat. The hatches begin near the dam and progress up the west shore.

The hex hatch is an evening affair and if you have never witnessed it you need to give it a try. Watching the sun go down while mayflies that look like miniature yellow sailboats hatch all around you is amazing. Diving birds and cruising fish will feed at a frenzied pace. If you are not a fly angler, try drifting crickets. They are often mistaken for the hex nymphs, the immature stage of the Hexagenia mayfly.

Bucks Lake

Aside from being one of the prettier lakes in the area, Bucks also offers more species of salmonoids than other lakes in the area. A Bucks Lake grand slam includes kokanee salmon, rainbow trout, brown trout, lake trout and brook trout. The latter two, lake trout and brook trout, are actually species of char rather than true trout, but that may be of more interest to biologists than anglers.

Bucks Lake is home to some very large lake trout, often called mackinaw. Many fish over 10 pounds are caught each year. The lake record is over 30 pounds. Mackinaw start heading to deeper water this time of year and anglers target them with special gear that usually includes some very large lures fished very deep.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are the kokanee. These fish are a big attraction at Bucks and they differ from the lake trout in many ways. While the lake trout often run 10 pounds and up, the kokanee are usually between 10 and 12 pounds.

Lake trout are not the tastiest fish around and because they are rather slow growing, it is best to release them. Kokanee are fast growing, very abundant and delicious. They are great pan fried or smoked.

Lake trout feed on other fish and require large lures. Kokanee are plankton feeders. Most are caught on very small lures usually trolled behind a small dodger and often tipped with a kernel of corn. Don’t ask me why the corn works, but it is a tried and true technique. I don’t argue with results.

Both kokanee and lake trout require slightly specialized lures. If you want the best advice on which lures to use and the latest conditions, stop by the Sportsman’s Den in East Quincy. Proprietor Allan Bruzza has been fishing Bucks for many years and he has the advantage of getting reports from other anglers on a daily basis.

Lake Davis

Fishing at Davis is good but well short of red hot. There is an abundance of trout food right now. Blood midges are still hatching and damsel flies are abundant. If that is not enough,  hex hatch is just around the corner if not already started.

Despite the abundance of insects, anglers are having to work for their fish. This has been the consistent story at Davis the past few years. The trout population at Davis does not appear to be what they used to be. Many anglers believe that is a good argument for more emphasis on catch and release fishing at Davis. But the fishing is still good and the fish are good sized. There are plenty of reports of fish in the 16- to 25-inch range. And they are chunky healthy fish.

Trout are cruising the shoreline looking for damselflies. Try working a nymph pattern off the deep edges of the weed beds. The better reports are coming from Fairview, Cow Creek and Jenkins Cove. Trollers are working the deeper water with Jay Fair trolling flies and Dick Nite spoons.

Frenchman Reservoir

Frenchman has certainly been one of the bright spots for anglers the past several weeks and according to reports, it shows no sign of letting up. Trollers are hooking some nice rainbows trolling in 50 feet of water with their gear about 20 deep. Dick Nite spoons in red dot frog and fire tiger patterns are the most popular lures. Bank anglers are doing well with inflated nightcrawlers and Powerbait.

Gold Lake Basin

The main road through the basin is open, but there is still plenty of snow in the high country. Several of the lakes still had plenty of ice last week, but that should be changing rapidly with the warm weather.

The boat ramp at Gold Lake is open, but at last report the dock was still not in the water. Anglers are picking up some nice browns and lake trout trolling the shallows with U-20 flatfish.

Lower Sardine and Packer lakes are both open. Other lakes are in various stages of icing out. Look for hungry fish cruising the shallow water as the ice melts.

Streams

Spring snow melt still has area streams running high. Water clarity is good, but the flows are still high enough to make for some challenging fishing.

There are two streams near the north end of the county where flow levels are less extreme. On the North Fork of the Feather River above Lake Almanor, a diversion dam channels the excess flow into the “Super Ditch.” This keeps the community of Chester from flooding as it often did in the past and provides some very fishable water between the dam, which is a few miles north of Chester, and the lake.

The other opportunity is Deer Creek, which is affected by snow-melt, but much of its flow actually comes from springs in Deer Creek Meadows. This tends to moderate the flow making upper Deer Creek one of the more fishable local streams right now. Deer Creek has the added advantage of being planted with catchable rainbows every week since early May.

In the south end of the county, Jamison Creek, Grizzly Creek, Little Last Chance Creek and the Middle Fork of the Feather River are all fishable despite flow levels that are high due to the rapid snow melt.

Stream trout are active mid-morning or when the sun has warmed the water. On windy days, try terrestrial patterns such as carpenter ants or grasshoppers. The best dry fly action is in the evening when trout are feeding on caddis, yellow sallies and smaller darker stoneflies in pocket water.

Spin fishers can work spinners like Roster Tails or Panther Martens in the deeper pocket water. Bouncing salmon eggs or worms along the bottom should also pick up some fish. Be sure to use enough split shot to get your bait to the bottom. If it stops drifting lift your rod tip to free it from the stream bottom. Every now and then when you do that you will find a fish on the other end.

Fish plants

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife planted catchable size trout in several locations in Plumas County during the past week. The waters that received fish include Jamison Creek, the North Fork of the Feather River at Belden, Antelope Lake, Jamison Creek, Frenchman Reservoir and Deer Creek  (just over the county line in Tehama County). The North Fork of the Feather River above Lake Almanor was planted last week and is scheduled for another plant this week.