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Life is Complicated; Fishing shouldn’t be

Even if you’ve been fishing for three hours and haven’t gotten anything except poison ivy and sunburn, you’re still better off than the worm. 

~ Author Unknown

I got a shock recently when I opened up my big box outdoor store catalog to look at fishing line. There was page after page of different kinds of fishing line.

Once upon a time, there was just braided line for trolling and monofilament for spinning and casting. That was back when life was simple.

Now my catalog offers pages of high tech fishing lines. There is the usual monofilament except that now it comes in a variety of colors, materials and manufacturing processes. There is also nanofilament, fluorocarbon, polymer-coated lines and a dizzying array of specialized styles of lines. It’s enough to make my head spin.

I started fishing as a young boy back in the 1950s. Life was much simpler then.

There were no big box outdoor stores. We didn’t need them. We could fill our tackle boxes with everything we needed from a small section at the Thrifty Drug Store.

There were two kinds of fishing line back then; braided line for trolling and monofilament for spinning and casting.

My experience with trolling amounted to countless hours sitting in a boat that was barely moving with my mom and dad; an experience totally lacking in the sort of adventure a 10-year-old boy craves. I needed the freedom to roam the lakeshore and explore the banks of the streams and rivers.

And for that all I needed was a few spinners and a little monofilament line on my spinning reel.

My life-long fishing buddy Tom and I would ride our bikes down to the Thrifty Drug Store, a treasured annual ritual, to fill up our tackle boxes for the season. A few bucks from our paper routes would finance a year’s worth of fishing gear.

It turns out that 4-pound test line costs about the same as the 10-pound test. Now everybody knows that bigger and stronger is better. So it was a no-brainer for me to buy the 10-pound line.

My buddy Tom apparently didn’t put enough thought into his purchase. He bought the 4-pound line.

I felt bad for Tom. If he hooked a fish over 4 pounds it would break off. I, on the other hand, was equipped to land anything up to 10 pounds. My prospects were clearly better.

But a strange thing happened. Tom caught more fish than I did. (Tom always caught more fish than I did. Miraculously, our friendship survived many decades despite that very annoying habit of his.)

At first, I thought it was a fluke. Then I started watching him closely and doing exactly what he was doing. He still caught more fish.

Eventually I figured out that my bigger stronger line was stiffer. It didn’t cast as well and it limited the motion of my lure. Worse yet, because it was bigger, it was easier for the fish to see.

Eventually I switched to 4-pound line. I started catching more fish.

When it comes to trout fishing supple and subtle is better than bigger and stronger. It turns out that even in a simple world it is important to make choices based on the right criteria.

Lake Almanor

Almanor is in great shape. The lake is full. Water clarity has improved all over the lake and the warming weather has triggered an increase in the insect hatches, mostly midges with a few small mayflies. There are also some flying ants out and about. Both rainbows and browns are feeding actively.

Trollers are reporting good results in both basins of the lake right now. I like the west basin this early in the season because the water is shallower than the east basin and that is more conducive to insect activity and that is what triggers the active trout feeding.

Even though it may be insects that trigger the aggressive feeding, trout tend to be opportunistic feeders and will take any good meal that comes their way. Fast action spinners like Speedy Shiners and Needlefish will work very well in these conditions.

At first light, top lining is effective. As the sun hits the water, drop your gear a little deeper. Even later in the day, there is probably not much need to go below 20 feet.

If fast action lures are not getting any action later in the morning, try switching to a night crawler behind a dodger. No matter what sort of gear you use, a little dab of scent can only improve your chances.

Some smallmouth bass are still being caught off of rocky points, but most appear to be moving into the shallows to spawn. They are very territorial while they are in spawning mode. They are fun to catch right now, but the sustainability of the fishery depends on a successful spawn. Go easy on them and be sure to release any you do catch.

Butt Valley Reservoir

Butt Valley fishes a lot like its big brother Lake Almanor just up the hill. Bass, browns, and rainbows are all available. Remember that the channel in front of the powerhouse and mouth of Butt Creek remain closed to fishing until the Saturday before Memorial Day.

Bucks Lake

The lower road is now open into Bucks Lake. Fishing pressure is still light so the reports are a little sparse. I like fishing the shoreline early in the season at Bucks. It’s a great time to hook into some big browns, rainbows, and even lake trout in very shallow water.

By late May the fish are moving deeper so look for things to change as the water warms.

Bryan Raccucci of Big Daddy’s Guide Service fished Bucks recently and was finding some chunky lake trout in about 40 feet of water.

Bucks has a great population of kokanee salmon. But compared to some other lakes in the region, the kokanee run a little small. The Department of Fish and Wildlife has been trying to address this situation for a number of years. Both the browns and lake trout were introduced in an effort moderate the kokanee population in hopes of producing some larger fish.

The latest measure to help improve the average kokanee size is an increase in the bag limit from five to 10 kokanee.

I am a big fan of catch and release, but like anything else, it makes sense in some cases and not in others. Kokanee at Bucks Lake is one of those situations where keeping some fish makes perfectly good sense. The population of kokanee is higher than it should be for optimal fishing and besides that, kokanee are delicious!

Lake Davis

Fishing at Davis is still a little on the slow side but getting better. The water is warming and the blood midge hatches are picking up. Use red copper john nymphs to imitate the blood midges.

There are reports of fish stacking up in the northern end of the lake. Look for damsel fly nymphs to start migrating to shore. Bead head pheasant tail nymphs under an indicator are a good combination right now.

Frenchman Reservoir

Frenchman continues to provide some very good fishing. The lake is continuing to spill over and the road is accessible around the lake.

The folks at Wiggin’s Trading Post are getting very good reports from anglers bank fishing, fly fishing, and trolling. Fish are averaging 16 to 20 inches with a few running up to 3 pounds.   

Night crawlers appear to be the bait of choice with Powerbait running a close second. Trollers are hooking up in 15 to 20 feet of water trolling Dick Nites or Needlefish. Reports are good from all over the lake.

Call Wiggins Trading Post (993-4683) for the latest camping and fishing information.


Stream fishing is still tough due to high runoff and in some cases poor water clarity. On the bright side, conditions are improving a little each week and this warmer weather should trigger more insect activity and more feeding.

Fishing higher up in the watershed than you might normally fish should get you into lower flows and better water clarity. Look for spring fed streams like Deer Creek and Yellow Creek.

Eggs and worms are both working right now. The key is to fish them deep. Use just enough split shot to keep your bait bouncing along the bottom.

Stoneflies should be migrating towards the shore right now so bouncing weighted stonefly nymphs can result in some aggressive grabs.

I always like to carry flying ant and salmonfly this time of year. Flying ants are common right now; the salmon flies are a bit more rare.

I have never had much luck searching out a salmonfly hatch. Its one of those things you just happen upon. It can happen anytime from mid May to mid or sometimes late June. And it’s really something to see. Dozens, if not hundreds of 2- to 3-inch orange and black flies swarming above the creek and fluttering on the surface of the water.

Needless to say, even the largest trout become reckless and aggressive feeders when this happens. You don’t want to be without a few salmon fly patterns when you happen upon this hatch.

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