There is a silver lining in fall fishing

They say you forget your troubles on a trout stream, but that’s not quite it. What happens is that you begin to see where your troubles fit into the grand scheme of things, and suddenly they’re just not such a big deal anymore.

~ John Gierach

The last flower blossoms of fireweed and rabbit brush are fading away, a sure sign that the warm days of summer are behind us. Cold nights and on-again, off-again blustery north winds have become the norm.

There is, however, a silver lining to this cold and windy cloud.

The cold weather has cooled the water temperatures in our lakes and streams and the wind brings a chop to the water surface that actually helps to restore the oxygen levels the fish depend on.

Fish on our local waters are on the move. The water temperatures suit them much better than a few weeks ago and they seem to sense that winter is not far away.

Survival through the lean and cold winter requires fish to consume as much protein as they can while they have the chance.

That is all good news for anglers.

The next few weeks can offer some of the best fishing of the season. To top it off, the lakes and rivers are not the least bit crowded this time of year.

And the fall colors … well that is just an added bonus.

Lake Almanor

Despite the encouraging signs of transition, the reports from Almanor have so far not been especially encouraging. Angler pressure has been very light although it does pick up when we get a break from the north winds.

More anglers are working the west shore now; a good sign that the lake has turned and fish are moving to the shallow water along the west shore.

Although I have heard reports of a few 5-pound-plus fish being caught — not unusual for Almanor — the number of fish are still not that high. That could just be due to only hearing from a few anglers. Or it could be that the fish are still transitioning into the fall feeding pattern.

With the fish still in transition, the challenge right now is locating the fish.

A few weeks ago, cold water was key to locating trout and that meant springs, river mouths and deeper water. Those are all still good places to search, but as the entire lake cools, those locations have become less reliable.

Fish are more likely now to be on the move, both through the lake and through the water column as water near the surface cools.   

Their main food source is pond smelt. Look for feeding birds and you will find the pond smelt.   

Your sonar will be crucial for figuring out the depth fish are feeding at. As a rule of thumb, look for fish to be feeding shallow first thing in the morning. They are more likely to stay shallow through the day now that surface water has cooled or they may go deeper. This is where your sonar will pay off.

Slow trolling has been the most reliable in recent weeks, but now covering lots of water is the name of the game for trollers. With cooler water, the fish will be livelier and more likely to aggressively strike a fast moving bait. Leave the crawlers and flashers behind now and fish faster action swim baits like Speedy Shiners, Needlefish and Rapalas.

Bank fishermen are picking up a few fish in the coves and at Hamilton Branch.

Fly anglers are starting to work the mouth of Super Ditch and the west shore coves. Small dark colored nymphs or larger wooly buggers are good choices. This can be some great fly fishing as fish cruise the shallows, but they will be on the move. The cove that holds fish in the morning may not by the afternoon.

Butt Lake

The powerhouse has been working overtime as PG&E has been drawing Lake Almanor water steadily since the Labor Day holiday. The channel below the powerhouse is the best place to fish Butt right now. Pond smelt are the favorite feed this time of year and small dark colored nymphs are working well on the creek side of the channel.   

It can be tough fishing probably because these fish see a fair amount of pressure, but it’s worth giving it a try because Butt has some very large brown and rainbow trout.

I know Butt can be good this time of year so I decided to give it a try recently. I got pretty excited when I parked my truck above the powerhouse. From the parking area, I could see what appeared to be some pretty splashy rises in the channel below the powerhouse.

I grabbed my fly rod and headed down to the lake. My enthusiasm faded quickly once I got to the levee that separates the creek from the powerhouse channel. Those splashy rises I saw turned out to be a family of river otters feeding and playing in the channel.

River otters have a well deserved reputation as cute little critters. They are also excellent fish catchers with a voracious appetite. They are not such a welcome sight for anglers. I decided to move on. Fortunately, it’s a big lake.

Bucks Lake

This is my favorite time of year at Bucks. The kokanee are in full spawn mode now and the other fish in the lake move up into the channels below Mill Creek and Bucks Creek to gorge themselves.

There  are plenty of baitfish and still a few midges and even some mayflies hatching. There are some kokanee eggs and who knows what else getting flushed back down the creeks and into the lakes.

In my experience, it is not a matter of cracking the code to figure out just what the fish are feeding on. They are hungry and they seem to be willing to take just about anything they are offered.

They may not be picky feeders, but I have found I always do better when the light is off the water in the early morning or late afternoon and evening.

Frenchman Reservoir

Frenchman seems to have taken the spotlight from its usually more popular (and more productive) neighbor, Lake Davis, but there is no question the catch rates this year have been much better at Frenchman and that continues to hold into the fall. If you are looking for a good lake for trolling, bank fishing or fly fishing in the south part of the county, Frenchman is the place to go.

Long-time local guide Jon Baiocchi reports water temperatures are running in the mid- to high-50 degree range. That is just where the trout like it.

Fish are still scattered throughout the entire lake adjusting to the water temperature changes after a hot summer.

Jon said it is necessary to cover a lot of water. But it is worth putting in the time. On a recent outing, Jon’s guest caught and released 14 nice trout using a variety of  techniques.

Jon reports that larger flies are producing well right now. He recommends patterns like Jay Fair stripping flies or krystalbuggers in all the standard fall colors.

There are dry fly opportunitiesin the early afternoon with callibaetis duns and smaller midges with a black body emerging. Stomach samples from yesterday were packed with the same smaller chironomids, a few juvenile damsels and callibaetis. There are some areas where sight fishing from the bank in 1 to 3 feet of water is possible.

Jon predicts fishing will get even better in the weeks to come as water temperatures continue to drop.

Streams

Fall is a beautiful time of year to fish our local streams. Dogwoods and Indian rhubarb are turning bright red while aspen at the higher elevations  and big leaf maple and black oak at the lower elevations are flashing yellow gold.

Insect hatches can be sparse this time of year. I recently visited a small local stream hoping to find some caddis flies hatching.

Instead, all I saw at first were some very small mayflies, blue winged olives I think, but they were tiny. My sized 18 imitation looked huge next to them. Size 18 is about as small as my 65 year old eyes can deal with so I switched back to a size 14 caddis.

I did that not because there were any sized 14 caddis on the water, but because I could see that fly and was hoping some caddis of that size would show up.

They didn’t, but fortunately, there were a few not so picky trout so I made out OK. Given the small number of rising fish, a bead head nymph might have been a better choice, but I felt like fishing a dry fly and fortunately, the fish were forgiving.

Of all the area streams, Deer Creek is the one I have heard the most consistently good reports from all summer and it continues to fish well into the fall. I have not been in the Middle Fork of the Feather in a while, but I would expect the Middle Fork and its tributaries like Nelson Creek and Jamison Creek to be fishing very nicely right now.

The best stream 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.

Deer Creek and both the Middle and North Forks of the Feather  are good streams for October caddis. These are large (sized 8 or 10)  orange caddis and the trout will take them very eagerly.

Don’t forget grasshoppers this time of year when fishing near meadows. They are still around and become active on warm afternoons. They often get blown into the streams on windy fall afternoons.

I like to fish hopper imitations even when the wind is not blowing. It seems  the trout don’t like to pass up such a big easy meal.

Nymphing pools with attractor bead head nymphs will also produce fish during the warmest part of the day.