The Dust Bowl or “The Dirty Thirties” was a severe drought that affected over 100,000,000 acres in the corners of Texas and Oklahoma and touched adjacent sections of New Mexico, Colorado, and Kansas. Maybe you remember reading John Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath” or “Of Mice and Men?” The phenomenon forced tens of thousands of families to abandon their farms and homes. Many of these families, who were often known as “Okies” because so many of them came from Oklahoma, migrated to the golden hills of California only to figure out that the Great Depression had left economic conditions there little better than those they had left. More than 500,000 were left homeless due to the drought and conditions created by it. The US population in 1935 was 127.3 million, California today is over 38.8 million. The Dust Bowl affected area of 100,000,000 acres is close in proximity to the size of California which has a total land and water area of 104,765,440 acres. So what is California and the West going to do? Is history going to repeat itself?
Plains farming boomed in the early 20th century after homesteading laws provided settlers with 640 acres of free land, courtesy of the feds. European demand for wheat fed this cycle and farming was a much needed boost for the struggling U.S. economy. One of the leading causes of the Dust Bowl in combination with the drought was that farmers over planted and overgrazed their land for decades and implemented poor practices. They also failed to plant drought resistant crops, so when the crops died out, there was no way to hold the topsoil in place. Even the native grasses that had endured the droughts of the past were removed. Farming practices were out of control but the government as usual was going to save Americans with their brilliancy and well oiled machine. This prompted the Department of Agriculture to promote the bizarre idea that increased farming caused more rain to fall on the Plains. Long story short, the government was wrong (shocking right?) and actually intensified the wrath on American citizens and U.S. soil. Is the West ready to make changes and adapt to the changing climate?
As much as we try to avoid talking politics the age old debate about global warming and climate change are hot topics in the boat and we are always interested in what people think of it. Or if they believe anything at all is happening. From our perspective of spending time along the Pacific Rim from Chile to Alaska to the Kamchatka Peninsula there is no question that in our short lifetime something is happening at a much more rapid rate than before. The cause? Well, we are not scientists and surely not climatologists. We’ll stick to the rivers and the fish. Predicting weather and women is not our forte and we encourage others to not even try. But one thing is for sure and that is we are reaching a point where towns, cities and states will be forced to make extreme measures to maintain their current quality of life and existence. This boils down to you and me. It means all of us. And we are not talking about more restrictions on when you can and can’t water your lawn. There is a big change coming regardless if El Niño hits hard this year or not. Let’s face it, we live in a desert and the West is drying out. What have we learned from history? For one, the government is not going to save us and more than likely our water practices, much like the farmers of the Midwest in the 1930’s era are poor and archaic. We are going to have to adapt and change with the conditions before we experience a complete water collapse. Humans don’t like change and often implement it only when forced into a dire situation. So when are you going to move out of California?
BACK TO CALIFORNIA and FISH:
El Niño has arrived and we have been blessed with some epic fishing this Fall and early Winter. Trout fishing has been ridiculous. Steelhead numbers on the rivers we target have been plentiful, but with media hype on the drought we have seen lower numbers of anglers in the sections of river we focus on. This is a great situation for us and our clients. But after being rocked by recent storms and snow in the upper elevations, suddenly we are seeing a false sense of security when it comes to our current water situation. The drought has not been the topic of conversation in the boat. It’s more about where the skiing is going to be good. Here is why we should be concerned:
RESERVOIR CONDITIONS IN CALIFORNIA
LOWER SACRAMENTO RIVER FLY FISHING AND TROUT REPORT:
The Lower Sacramento River through the recent storms and the holidays, overall has fished well to great. Many of the lower reaches from Anderson downriver have been avoided due to dirty water flowing in from tributaries like Cow Creek and Cottonwood Creek to name a few. But it is starting to clear as we speak. Our main focus due to poor water clarity downriver has been from the Posse Grounds above the Sundial Bridge to Anderson River Park. We’ve had decent hatches of BWO’s occurring mostly late morning to midday but can pop at anytime. Dismal weather invites the best hatches; look for them on overcast, rainy days, as long as the water temperature is above 40°F. The hatch can show up on the sunniest of days and be non-existent on the perfect overcast day. Go figure. Baetis are a staple hatch on many rivers across the West. Not only are the nymphs good swimmers, but the adults often float for long periods while on the surface before taking flight. This provides the angler equipped with a keen eye to target fish on the surface using dry flies. Also emergers or unweighted nymphs just under the surface can be deadly as well. Because deep water nymph fishing is so productive on the Lower Sac, many guides and anglers don’t even try other presentations. The first step in trying something new out on your next trip to the river, is to be prepared. Have at least one other rod already rigged so when the action happens you’ll be ready to make the change. We find the easier it is to change presentations the more likely we are going to switch when the time arises. You may only have a 10 minute window or less, but this window can be the most fun of the entire day and often lasts longer than many think. Don’t look for blistering rises with dozens of fish on the surface, look for subtle clues which often mean only one fish here of there, or an aggressive strike indicating a hatch is beginning. Often by the time most anglers are queued in, the window of opportunity has passed. Give it a shot, you may just surprise yourself and the fish too.
Another mayfly that has been showing up are a few PMD’s. These tan to almost cream like mayflies must taste better because the fish absolutely love them. We don’t know whether they are easier to see or because they are slightly larger than other hatches, but be sure to have a few in your fly box when they do show up. As we head further away from the Winter solstice look for increasing numbers of these guys.
Do you fish many alevin patterns? This is a great time of year to have a few of these. Do you know what they are? Sac Fry or Alevin: When the salmon egg is ready to hatch, the baby salmon will break free of the egg’s soft shell retaining the yolk as a nutrient-rich sac that hangs below it’s body. At this stage, they are about one inch in length. During the next month, the alevin will remain hidden in the gravel nest and feed from the nutrient-rich yolk sac until it is completely absorbed. But sometimes they are set free by river currents and other factors and are easy prey for trout.
Here are a few video’s of alevin hatching:
Another important bug to have with you on the Lower Sac this time of year are midges. It is often an overlooked pattern, but is a key part of a trout’s diet especially in the winter months. Midges are the one food source that are available 365 days a year. Recently we’ve been fishing a lot of smaller midge patterns and often dropping down to 5x fluorocarbon to feed selective fish that may have seen everything including the kitchen sink. Becoming an accomplished midge fisherman can open the door to success in many trout fisheries. Have you ever wanted to get into fly tying? This is a great pattern to start with and it will teach you the basics. Plus there are a myriad of different materials and colors to use. Sometimes having something different than everybody else can often be the ticket. Midges are a great place to start.
FLOW CHARTS FOR THE LOWER SACRAMENTO RIVER:
FLIES FOR THE LOWER SACRAMENTO RIVER:
There are a ton of patterns out there that have been working but it’s amazing how one fly will crush one day, and the next not even one fish will touch it. With so many fish in this river it often is a frustrating event for the guys who spends a lot of time out here. We’ve gone over some of the major hatches occurring on the river but here is a brief list of must have’s for this time of year: PT’s, Olive PT’s, Black and Brown Rubber Legs, Sweat Pea, Amber Prince in smaller sizes, Eng Thing, Anatomay, UV Sally, Small Poxyback Golden Stone, Tiger Midge, Marlee Midge, Egg Patterns, Hogan’s S and M, MicroMay Brown and Olive, Superflash PT’s, Black Copper John’s, NosePicker, Poxyback PMD and Sparse Bird’s Nest.
TRINITY RIVER FLY FISHING AND STEELHEAD REPORT:
The Trinity overall has been great this year for steelhead and it looks like it is going to continue to be a banner year. Plenty of early season fish showed up and now the winter run is just starting to commence. Increased precipitation this year has helped move more fish into the system. We did see a major decrease in brown trout numbers this year so far. As much as we like catching brown trout on the Trinity especially when they are sipping dries, they are not native. Currently there are crews working on the river trying to figure out what impact the brown trout are having on the watershed. (Hopefully we will have more info in the next blog post on this topic.) It brings up a lot of good questions about the invasive brown trout. What exactly are they eating and how many? Where are they going and why? Are they sea-run? We are very pro wild/native fish and free flowing watersheds and we would like to see more of it. But what exactly does that mean for your favorite river in your neck of the woods? The one fact that sticks out to us for the Trinity River is that we have a hatchery and the facts are coming out how these are not good for wild fish stocks either. Do we eliminate the browns and the hatchery fish? What do you think?
Something to keep in mind when traveling to Trinity County is that even if you bring your 4×4 with mud and snow tires, don’t forget to carry chains. And if you don’t have a 4×4 with mud and snow tires, do not come without chains, period. We’ve seen increasing enforcement to chain requirements this year and have been warned by CalTrans that they will be checking, and those without the proper requirements will be turned away. So bring your chains and be prepared for winter travel, even if the weather man says it’s going to be nice. Conditions change fast around here and it’s better to be safe than sorry. Also be aware of black ice in the morning and in areas of shade. There have been quite a few accidents on the 299 corridor this last month. On another note the California Highway Patrol is vicious on Hwy 299, if you drive fast they will eventually get you. And if they don’t get you the deer will. Slow down and take your time. This includes access roads, especially in residential areas. For some reason many visitors to the area forget that there are families, kids and dogs around. People live here and call this home, so treat the side roads, dirt or paved just like you treat your neighborhood. Please slow down and be respectful!
One other note, if floating the Trinity be aware of hazards in the water. There have been several trees down near the Steelbridge area and also in the Junction City area, below Canyon Creek, debris from the creek has pushed the gravel bar out and moved some things around. Some changes out there after recent storm events. We’ve had several reports of boats getting in trouble. Use extreme caution and let us know of any hazards you find. Thanks.
The primary target location for most fly fisherman this last month has been from Old Lewiston Bridge down to Bagdad at the confluence with the North Fork of the Trinity River. We’ve seen increasing numbers of hatchery fish from Douglas City to the upper section where fishing has been good to great. Steiner Flat Road, starting at Douglas City, is a great access for wade fisherman looking for easy to find spots. Note: Remember the very upper part of the Trinity River from Old Lewiston Bridge to the hatchery is closed! We’ve seen an increasing number of anglers in this section with some receiving tickets this week from Fish and Wildlife Wardens. This area known as the “fly water” will open later in the season. Remember its your responsibility to know the regulations or stop in a local shop and ask. We’ve had a number of guide days below the primary water this last month and did exceptionally well, but we don’t reach the triple digit days like most of the guides on the Trinity. In fact, we loathe counting fish or basing the success of our day on numbers. We are looking for one fish at a time and we are looking to get away from the crowds. We love teaching the craft of fly fishing and enjoying every aspect of the journey while chasing steelhead. We use indicators, we swing with switch and spey rods, and we love throwing dry flies. If you want to battle with the masses, just ask us before the day and we’ll join them. Sometimes due to conditions we are forced to join the drift boat hatch, but for the most part we consider fly fishing for steelhead precious and the more solitude the better.
One of our favorite things about this time of year is the increasing bug activity. From here on out mayfly hatches should start to increase all the way into spring. On most stretches of the upper river there should be tiny BWO activity around midday. The time of the hatch is based on the overall weather and river condition of that particular day, so exact times vary. We gave you some tidbits on the Lower Sac report and the same goes for changing presentations on the Trinity. Have flies (in this order of criteria) in similar size, shape and shade to the bugs hatching, but also make sure to have an extra rod rigged and ready when the event occurs. We have also seen the elusive December Brown’s starting to emerge. You may have not heard of these guys, but they typically show up around the first of the year, their numbers increasing and often peaking around March. Don’t tell them it’s not March! March Brown hatches typically start to show in the early afternoon. Just before the hatch, nymphs are often found drifting in the current and seams, so it makes perfect sense to fish nymph patterns near the bottom starting a couple of hours before the hatch. As the nymphs emerge, they often drift a long distance before reaching the surface, so you will find drifting nymphs anywhere from just below a riffle to runs that are well below them, even in the frog water. Duns usually emerge on the surface. As steelhead switch their focus to the duns and you start noticing risers, switch to a dry fly. We like patterns that sit flat on the surface or hang down into the water, like emergers and crippled patterns. Sometimes, however, emergence happens underwater and the dun floats to the surface. In this case a soft hackle or downwing wet fly works best. This can be a great time to put away the indicators and use classic spring creek skills to target fish that get looked over by most of the boats and wade fisherman on the Trinity. But shhhh! Don’t tell anyone about December or January brown’s.
FLOW CHARTS FOR THE TRINITY RIVER:
FLIES FOR THE TRINITY RIVER:
Well if you were to ask what three flies you would have to have for fly fishing on the Trinity River this is what I would say, golden stones, golden stones and yep golden stones. Now that we got that out of the way as much as steelhead will specifically zero in on a specific pattern, we are of the school of thought that there are three things that are more critical than fly selection; presentation, presentation and yep, presentation. The whole golden stone thing comes around every December and it amazes me how shocked people are that it is the popular fly, although it’s absolutely the same every year at the exact same time. Don’t get me wrong, they work. We try not to throw the popular fly of the month, although we do catch our fair share of steelhead on golden stones. We have several favorites, and the two we use the most are Mercer’s poxyback golden stone and the Solitude stone. There are a ton of different patterns out there, I am sure they work too, but these are must have’s in any box. The other thing we do is take a marker to them and sometimes bend the shank slightly. Have you ever watched a stonefly drift down current? Well they typically aren’t straight at all but rather curved inwards. Try it, it works. And if you are tying your own, tie them with tungsten beads. It will help get them down and this works as a great point fly for your nymph system. And you know what fly caught more fish swinging this last week. Yep, you got this right?
Here is another one that shouldn’t surprise anybody, eggs. Yep, the good ol egg. Soft kind, round kind and even bright colored kind. We fish a lot of hand tied eggs which is rare these days it seems. Most rigs we see these days are the hard and round variety. They’re deadly. Ask anybody, and they come in every size and color combination. Egg’s, like stonefly patterns, are great go to patterns for steelhead on the Trinity and Klamath Rivers. They’ve worked for years and will continue to work. But don’t forget about the classic yarn tied eggs. They’re are soft, and when everybody is fishing the same thing, a slight variety often helps produce and hang onto fish that have been pressured. We also recommend micro spawn or sucker spawn. Again tons of colors and ways to have something different than everybody else. Easy to tie and cheap. Dedicate an entire box to these if you plan on fly fishing on the Trinity. Plus, they are almost mandatory on storm days or when water clarity is less than perfect.
So we’ve talked about specific hatches and what the fish are keying in on. What are some must have patterns for the Trinity right now? Black micro may, soft hackle pmd, pt, soft hackle pt, psycho nymph, amber prince, rubber legs, turbo nymph, mahalo nymph, red and black copper john, iron sally, small copper bob, classic sawyer nymph, alevin, purple prince nymph, montana prince, cream dream, green weenie and red headed stepchild.
Stop by your favorite fly shop! The crew at The Fly Shop in Redding know their stuff and are always willing to share their knowledge. They have the biggest and most complete fly selection on the planet. But don’t forget about Herb Burton. Herb has been on the Trinity River fly fishing since they did shuttles with ox and cart. Not only does he have some bugs you can’t find anywhere, he also has some great swing patterns. Trinity Outdoors in Weaverville has a decent supply as well. Support your local fly shop as well, and please stop buying flies from Cabela’s and other big box stores. Growing up in a fly shop in a small community, we understand how important small sales are. We beg you, please support your local fly shop!
FOOD AND LODGING
-For those of you staying in Lewiston, the Mountain Valley Grill is closed Tuesdays. Always. Don’t even think about getting food here on this day, they will tell you no.
-The Old Lewiston Inn and Bar is closed until further notice, but the bed and breakfast is open. Reservations in advance are advised.
Indian Creek Lodge
Now has a new cafe and it’s great. Many of our clients passed up on Indian Creek Lodge because of having to drive to Weaverville for food. Well not anymore. Great service, great food and a great place to stay. Tell them the Kennedy Brothers sent you.
Trinity Alps Golf -Country Club in Weaverville
Remember Johnson’s Steakhouse? Well it’s back and better than ever. We have had rave reviews from our clients, and we find ourselves here quite a bit. New owners and the new hotspot in town. We highly recommend Trinity Alps Golf Course for dinner if you’re staying in Weaverville! Tell them the Kennedy Brothers sent you, you may get something special. We also recommend reservations on weekends. The best of Weaverville!
-News of La Grange re-opening. More info on the way. Yep, you heard it here first.
-Beckett Steakhouse is closed, gone to the wind. Good while it lasted.
-Marino’s is half open. The steakhouse side is closed as well as the bar. The pizza parlor side is open.
StageCoach Pizzeria and Cafe:
Breakfast Lunch and Dinner. Right next door you have the New Yorker Bar and across the street The Diggin’s Bar. Good choice for downtown Weaverville.
The Sawmill Bar and Grill
Across from Tops Market has a full bar with a few TV’s to watch games. This may be the only full bar in town where you can eat dinner. Just saying.
And one of the best places to stay and eat…
The best hands down! If nothing else stop in and grab some of their coffee or warm soup on a cold day. Friday night is pizza night too. Stop on bye you will love it! This is or favorite place to stay for group trips, we promise you will love it. But this has to be booked in advance, and we recommend booking now for next season. Don, Julia and the staff are a diamond in the rough. Let’s book your next steelhead trip and stay here.
DOES THE DROUGHT AFFECT YOU?
Well that concludes this blog post. Thanks to those who made it this far. Congratulations! Trying to write a fish report takes a little bit more these days I guess. We tried to make it entertaining and informative at the same time. We love feedback so don’t be bashful, drop us a line. We need any help we can get. Heck just let us know if you made it this far (note to Mom, we know you read it and we love you). We are also looking for a graphic design artist so if you know anybody let us know. We have a tight schedule over the next few months, and we are already filling up for Spring. I can’t urge you enough, if you need dates for this year or even the next you need to get them right now! Don’t wait. Our prime dates are filling up 6 months to a year in advance, and we would love to have you. Thanks to all the people this year that we were able to spend river time with. Just when we think this journey can’t get any better, it does. Thanks to YOU!
~The Kennedy Brothers
Fish Kennedy Brothers
Professional Fly Fishing Guides
Trout and Steelhead