Warm weather requires changes in fishing tactics

Nothing makes a fish bigger than almost being caught.

~ Author Unknown

Spring fishing has been good for the most part with a few notable high spots and low spots.   

Davis has been a little slow and the streams were largely un-fishable due to some of the highest runoff in many years. Deep snow limited access to the high country lakes.

Frenchman Reservoir and Almanor were real hot spots this spring and continue to provide excellent fishing.

Just about the time you really have a feel for what works best this spring, spring fishing is becoming a thing of the past. Despite the fact that there is still snow in the higher elevations and cold runoff continues, recent hot weather is changing everything.

Water temperature at the surface of our lakes is warming quickly as a result of our recent warm weather. All of that cold runoff flowing into the lakes is sliding to the depths of the lake. That temperature stratification is the big difference between spring and summer fishing. Colder water holds more oxygen and that is where the fish are more comfortable.

Trout are still coming to the surface to feed on insects especially the big Hexagenia mayflies that inhabit Almanor, Antelope, Butt and Davis Lakes. However. they will only stay in the shallow water briefly before heading back to the cooler depths.

Understanding that fish will be seeking out colder water and the prey that inhabits cooler environments actually gives that angler an advantage. It’s time for fly anglers to trade the floating fly line for a full sink line. Trollers can give up top lining in favor of fishing off down-riggers or lead core line.

The fish will be less scattered through the water column and will begin to congregate around cold water sources like stream mouths and springs. It is time to switch tactics.

The good news for fly anglers is that while the lakes may be slowing down, prime stream fly-fishing is just beginning and should last thought the rest of the summer.

Lake Almanor

The Hexagenia hatch is still the big attraction for anglers at Lake Almanor. Anglers have been catching a mix of rainbows, smallmouth bass and a few browns. The best fish I have heard about so far was an 8-pound brown trout caught by Jean from Lodi while fishing with local fly-fishing guide Lance Gray.

The armada of boats ranging from float tubes and kayaks to ski boats and party barges peaked over the July 4th holiday and is now back to a much reduced level to the delight of many local fly fishers.

The number of boats has been amazing.

I remember when I first learned of the hex hatch in the late 1970s. There might be a hand-full of float tubes in the water on the weekends and during the week, you might not see another angler.

Over the years, the number of floats tubes and other styles of personal fishing craft increased. Then a few boats were added to the mix. In recent years bait anglers and trollers joined the mix.

I am happy to see more anglers enjoying this unique opportunity, but mixing different styles of angling has its downside. Loud music and trollers closely weaving in and out of fly anglers detracts from the quiet solitude that used to be part of the experience.

The hatch is likely to continue for at least another week or more. There will be fewer boats out, but also fewer Hexagenia and fewer fish.

Trolling has been good with nice catches of rainbows and a few good browns. The best results have been coming from the west side of the peninsula and along the west shore.

Over the next couple of weeks, I expect the better action to shift to the east basin where the water tends to be a bit cooler. The east basin also catches more of the wind that blows up the North Fork of the Feather River and over the dam. That choppy afternoon water is more oxygenated and oxygen content is very important to trout.

As the water warms, the fish will shift their attention from insects to Pond Smelt. Speedy Shiners and Needlefish are the most popular lures at Almanor for a simple reason: they work. Add a little scent and you are in business.

A couple of weeks ago, top lining early in the morning was a great tactic. That is not the case now. The surface water is too warm for the fish to hang out there. Now is the time to get out the lead core line or down-riggers. Use your sonar to pinpoint the exact depth the fish are hanging out. Twenty to 30 feet deep is a good starting point.

The fish are still a little scattered, but over the next few weeks they will concentrate at a more predictable depth and around the usual cold water sources like Big Springs, Hamilton Branch and the many submerged springs around the lake.

Butt Lake

Butt Lake is a bit like Almanor’s little sibling. It has all of the same species of game fish and bait fish thanks in part to the flume that carries water from Almanor to Butt Lake. So, just like Almanor the hex hatch is starting to wind down and in the main lake hungry trout are stating to focus on pond smelt.

One big difference at Butt Lake is the powerhouse channel. This channel delivers feed and cold, oxygenated water from Lake Almanor. Separated by just a narrow jetty, Butt Creek enters the reservoir in the same spot. Butt Creek delivers more feed, more cold water and provides important spawning habitat.

The other important difference at Butt Lake is the population of Sacramento Pike Minnow that seems to have exploded in recent years. This fish is neither a pike nor a minnow, but it is a voracious feeder on young trout. That may explain why the trout population at Butt is not what it was several years ago.

Even with fewer trout, Butt is still one of my favorite lakes. With no water skiing or jet skis, it offers quiet solitude that is hard to find these days. And there is always the possibility of a really large trout.

Try trolling Speedy Shiners or Needlefish in the  main channel of the lake or fishing pond smelt imitations (flies or lures) off of the jetty by the powerhouse. Salmon eggs or Powerbait will also work there if you are so inclined.

Bucks Lake

Water skiers and jet skis are out in full force at Bucks Lake. But early in the morning and then again in the late evening this beautiful lake is the domain of the angler.

Bucks has a good population of rainbows with lesser numbers of brown and brook trout. But, the big attractions right now are the kokanee salmon and lake trout that on occasion run 20 pounds or more. Both are very deep water fish.

The kokanee are small fish, but very feisty. They are so numerous in Bucks that the limit was recently raised from five to 10 fish per day. And they are very tasty. Unlike the lake trout, the kokanee are prolific enough that there is really no need to release them.

Both kokanee and lake trout require somewhat specialized gear. Kokanee are plankton feeders, but will take very small spoons. Lake Trout feed on trout and kokanee and respond best to large lures.

For the most current fishing information and a full selection of tackle for kokanee and Lake Trout, stop at The Sportsmen’s Den on Highway 70 in East Quincy on your way up to the lake.

Frenchman Reservoir

Spring fishing has been excellent at Frenchman. Bank anglers have probably done better here than at any other Plumas County lake. As the water warms, the fish will head to deeper water making bank fishing a bit more challenging. However, trollers and fly anglers using full sink lines should continue to do well.

Lake Davis

Spring fishing has been a mixed bag at Davis. Despite an abundance of feed, the catch rate has been on the low side. The good news is that the fish that were caught were large and healthy.

Davis is known for excellent fly-fishing in the spring and again in the summer. The Hexagenia are still hatching now, but that will wind down soon and the fly-fishing will slow down until fall. Right now fly anglers will still find damsel flies in the morning with a few mayflies in the mix. In the afternoon midges will be the dominant food source. The real attraction is in the evening when the Hexagenia hatch.

Once the hex hatch is done, fly-fishing is pretty much over until fall. There are still fish there to be caught, but the warm water makes for tough fishing and the fish that are caught will be too stressed to release safely.

Trollers will continue to find some healthy rainbows working the deep water by the island. Warm water is making shore fishing difficult.

Streams

The cold runoff from the spring snowmelt has lasted longer than we have seen in recent years. Some streams probably have another couple of weeks of high flows, but each week more of our local streams are starting to settle into summer flow levels with more predicable evening fly hatches.

The Middle Fork Feather River may look more like it normally does in mid-June rather than mid-July, but flows are dropping to a fishable level.

The best fishing may be between Clio and Two Rivers where Jamison Creek enters. Even below Two Rivers, all the way down to Sloat, the river is looking good. Insect hatches are starting to pick up with small stoneflies, mayflies and caddis flies all making an appearance in the late afternoon and evenings.

The North Fork Feather River continues to fish well. Flows are best below the diversion dam above Chester, but the flows above the diversion dam are starting to settle into fishable condition.

Look for pale morning Dun mayflies and a few caddis flies hatching in the evening. Earlier in the day, a dry fly/dropper rig will be most effective.

Drifting salmon eggs or worms with just enough split shot to bounce along the bottom is a great way to connect with some catchable size rainbows.

Both the Middle Fork and North Fork of the Feather are scheduled for trout plants this week.

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