The two weeks of delightful hiatus free from the wicked clenches of El Niño’s wet spell was an unspeakable dream, but we are ecstatic to report he’s back again and hopefully with a vengeance. For those of you who joined us on the rivers during the short sleeve section of February, you lucked out, and we hope you appreciated the fantabulous fishing and the warmest winter steelhead fishing known to man. The surplus of both vitamin D and chrome unicorns was truly a special event. We apologize for having you bring all that Gore-tex and quality Simms gear, but maybe next time we’ll have to use it. It’s common for El Niño years to harbor warmer weather in the Winter months; it doesn’t always translate for the hardcore weather sessions that we envision. You never know, so always be prepared for any weather condition Mother Nature can wheel at you when you are outdoors this time of year, regardless of the forecast. Speaking of water, how much do we have?
In this report we are going to be looking at current conditions for fly fishing Northern California, including the Lower Sacramento River and Trinity River for both trout and steelhead. We’ll also take a peek at drought stats, road conditions, river flows, fish hatcheries and at an exciting new chapter of Trout Unlimited starting in Redding. There’s some river news and a little something addressing “on the water” ethics as well.
California Drought Conditions:
How are we looking?
Lower Sacramento River Fly Fishing Report:
Overall, the Lower Sac has remained a constant producer for wild trout throughout 2016. Not only anglers from drift boats, but also wade anglers from the rivers edge have been showing great success on California’s premiere tailwater. This is the time of year a lot of things start happening out here, so it’s a good idea to pay attention to the details on any given day, despite what any fish reports or fellow anglers may share. Hatches on the river have been inconsistent as far as predictability from day to day, but overall they have been increasing as warmer weather trends start to take over and we fall further into Spring mode. It’s that time of year when caddis, mayflies (baetis, PMD’s, march browns, sulphurs plus many others), midges, stoneflies, baitfish, crane flies, leeches and even scuds are all present. Not to mention eggs, alevins, fry and smolt; thanks to the chinook salmon. Wow, that’s a ton of food! There is a cornucopia of different food sources to be imitated by fly anglers on the Sacramento River and it is unlike any river where trout are found.
A few pointers: Be flexible, and fish outside of your own fly box! Sure try your “go-to” patterns but we can’t stress it enough, put your fly box away and either tie or go get some new patterns that you don’t normally use. Find something that looks similar and remember the “S-S-C Rule.” Size, shape and color. In that exact order. Heck, abandon all of that and throw that weird creation you’ve never used but somehow showed up in your box. We promise you will be surprised at how this can help you find a new favorite pattern this time of year that nobody is using. Another important note to remember is even if you don’t see the insect or hatch everybody is talking about give them a chance. As with many rivers, often by the time you see the hatch on the surface it’s too late. A useful tool that is often overlooked these days by anglers is a river seine. Some window screen material strung between two metal rods or wooden dowels is a great home creation that can reveal hatch secrets. Hold it underwater for an extended period of time in a riffle or portion of the river where insects are emerging and examine your catch. Samples can be saved in fly canisters for a short term, but remember that colors can fade or change over time. Try using viles with alcohol based solutions and keep them out of the sun and ultraviolet rays. For an even better venue, use clear hand sanitizer as the specimen won’t sink to the bottom and makes for easy examination and viewing.
With recent deluges in the valley, many tributaries have been throwing color in even above the city of Redding. These are typically quick and localized influxes associated with smaller weather systems which may cause the water to change in front of your eyes but readjust rather quickly. Adjust tactics and if wading be aware of rising waters especially the further down stream you are in the system. It’s been a while since we’ve had helicopter rescues, but in years like this one it does happen. If larger water systems are present you may want to think about changing locations altogether.
The Lower Sacramento River is not closed!
There is a temporary closure to protect Winter Run Chinook Salmon from Keswick Dam to the Hwy 44 bridge. This will not affect our future guide dates and if nothing else it will help not only the salmon but also the rainbow trout as they have already started to spawn in this section. The closure of the 5.5 miles of river will be effective April 1st through July 31st.
More information is provided below on how to protect spawning fish and ensure they do it successfully.
Got Salmon? What’s happening with Winter-Run Chinook Salmon on the Sacramento River?
Not without the salmon we don’t. Well, that’s not entirely true. We can always supplement the river by producing hatchery trout. Do you know one critical reason why the Lower Sac is a trout producing powerhouse for some of the most unprecedented rainbow trout? It’s because of the salmon. The salmon runs, unique to the Sacramento River are some of the rarest variations of Chinook salmon left on the planet and they’re disappearing like many other species. The symbiotic relationship between the salmon and trout play a critical role in the future of the river. What can you do to protect our precious resource?
With every passing season we are seeing more and different faces on the river. It wasn’t that long ago that we knew almost every single angler on the river, and the ethics were stringently enforced by the few regulars that cruised it’s currents while fishing. We have to say, we learned a lot. With an influx of new anglers and new guides on the river we have noticed tactics and overall ethics change, which hasn’t been bad in all regards. In fact, it’s great to see people out on the river enjoying this amazing resource we have in Northern California. The more people that are out experiencing it, the bigger the voice we have for protecting it. But as anglers/guides and as stewards of the river, it is the responsibility for all of us to ensure that the river continues to be what it is today and hopefully even better for the future. First off, I want to invite every single person reading this to join and or at minimum stop by and check out our new Redding Chapter of Trout Unlimited. This is an exciting new phase for the State of Jefferson and fish inhabiting our massive collection of fresh cold water. If you regularly use the Lower Sacramento River (or any of our rivers) as an angler/guide, or want to know what you can do to protect this unique and precious resource, this is for you. We will be posting more information as we get better organized. Feel free to drop us a line, we want to hear from you!
Okay here it goes, I’ll try and keep this concise and to the point and we encourage feedback either openly or privately through messages on these touchy topics.
AVOID SPAWNING AREAS:
With the Spring season on the horizon, so does the season of spawning trout. It’s not in full swing, but it is rapidly approaching in the coming months. We know the Lower Sac can be tough at times and everybody just wants to catch fish. We get it, but as we delve later into the year and these fish start to gather around shallow areas, it’s important to avoid these sections all together. These are areas with fresh clean gravel and are often in abandoned Fall run Chinook spawning areas. Places like Caldwell Park or the slow water above the Posse Riffle are some of the keystone areas of the trout nursery. This means back channels, shallow humps and anywhere you can see trout. A general rule that has always taken precedence for many years on the Lower Sac that many may not know: If you can see trout in the water, you shouldn’t be fishing for them. Even if others are, lead by example and don’t do it. As trout spawn they turn a darker color and are more easily spotted, in fact they are almost invisible in this river if not in some phase of the spawn. If you’re favorite spot starts producing really dark trout, or heaven forbid fish dropping eggs, milting or showing obvious signs of spawning, you should avoid this area and let others know. The word of mouth and leading by example is powerful. It’s always difficult sharing with others when you see anglers fishing an area you know they shouldn’t, but these fish are our future and as a community we can help them flourish, especially as more anglers get out here to enjoy the river. When interacting with any person on the river it’s always a crap shoot as to what you are going to receive back, especially when you are sharing why they shouldn’t be fishing there. Remember, the river belongs to everybody. Regardless of fly or spin fishing, or wade or drift fishing. Whatever, every situation and personality is different; treat them with respect. There are some locations where if somebody is seen targeting spawning trout we will politely and courteously communicate and share the reasons why and approach the situation in an educational manner assuming the person doesn’t know. There are many who will approach this situation in a different manner, either by yelling and degrading the person or persons, but often this leads to an ugly altercation, or worse. The goal of educating and protecting the river and it’s fish are quickly lost in the battle of the ego or this is “my river” mantra etc.. The bottom line, be courteous, avoid spawning areas, lead by example and share with your friends. Although completely corny, remember the words of Woody Guthrie, “this is your land, this is my land?”
DRIFT BOATS: Your anchor is a deadly weapon. Please, DO NOT drop your anchor in any spawning area just so you can catch fish! One area in particular is in front of the Posse Grounds boat ramp. This is getting out of control and needs to stop. Not only is anchoring at the head of the Posse Riffle blocking the flow for all others who have to come by, but you are killing hundreds if not thousands of trout, salmon and steelhead as your anchor thuds to the bottom or is dragged through the redds. This seems like it is a no brainer, but we are seeing it done more frequently. Hopefully those who are doing it, just don’t know. We strongly urge you not to do it and pass the word along. Also don’t forget motors. This is just our opinion, but it’s sad to see so many drift boats putting motors on so they don’t have to row. If you can’t back row the run anymore, it’s time to leave and give the fish a break, either for the next angler or perhaps for another day. There are so many miles of this river to fish, float on and learn new spots or an entirely different section. Pounding the same runs over and over with a motor all day is proving to take it’s toll on the Lower Sac and as traffic increases over time it’s only going to get worse. We don’t like it, but it’s legal and many of our friends use motors in a responsible manner. If catching more fish in the same spot is higher on the list than having a peaceful interaction with the river maybe it’s time to try trolling or using your motor in the many areas available away from the heavy traffic. Use your motor to avoid others, not to beat them to the next spot. If you use a motor, avoid spawning areas, and please use common courtesy especially around other anglers. I assure you, you can catch just as many fish, if not more, and you will have a more enjoyable day on the water as will others around you if you ditch the motor. we know why love to fish, do you?
Why do you fish?
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Trinity River Fly Fishing Report:
We’ll start this one off with some road conditions. First off Buckhorn Summit despite heavy road construction in the highway straightening project has remained in good shape. The highway in this area is often off camber and the paint is missing in spots making it difficult for those who don’t know the road, but overall has been passable despite a few slides. There is intermittent traffic closures with pilot cars starting around 7:30AM. These secret hide and go seek closures will be there one day and then be gone the next. If you’re headed over try and reach the base of Buckhorn grade before 7:25AM.
From Weaverville West though, HWY 299 has been plagued with slides almost all the way to Blue Lake. There are also two traffic signals setup in slide areas and are limited to one way traffic which have been slowing traffic down. Check the current road conditions before you go as the highway conditions can change dramatically especially during storm events.
FEB 19th 9:00 AM: STEELHEAD TRAFFIC ADVISORY: State Route 299 is CLOSED due to slide activity near Big French Creek (postmile 23.3 near Big Bar) in Trinity County. Crews are responding to the scene. Currently there is no estimated time to reopening. Highway 36 is open as we write this but again check current conditions before you go.
Overall, fishing has remained good through February and the river has received low pressure from boat traffic and bank anglers. Fish are spread out and so have most of the anglers. We like this time of year, as even the guides have to search out every crevice looking for the elusive finned critters visiting the river. This is classic steelhead fishing, and it puts the typical trout mentality of numbers and how many to the wayside. There are no magic bullets or secret spots as fish are moving and can be anywhere in the system. This is a great time to visit the river!
With off-color water, or green water, which we prefer, try using larger or attractor patterns. Rubber Legs, Golden Stone, Twenty Incher, Red Whirls, KP’s Hare on Fire, HDA FAV Variant, Red Mahalo Nymph, Red Fox Squirrel, Mega-Prince Nymph, Mcleod’s Brick, Arlo’s Jig Stone, and even the old classic Polar Shrimp and Egg Sucking Leech. This is still a great time to try some of those bugs you have had in your in box but haven’t used or heard from from a while. Also alevin and eggs are always great option this time of year.
Heavy green water is coming out of Lewiston Dam at the top of the drainage and is clearing as tributaries flow in. The water color has provided fish with the ability to feel safe and rest in water and locations we don’t typically find them in. This has cut down on overall numbers landed by guides and those who know the river well, but has also weeded out the anglers who fish one or two spots or dominate their rock for the duration of their stay. With that, alternative techniques to indicator fishing have proved almost equally as successful with fly anglers the last few weeks. If you’re heading over to fish the Trinity River, the prime water would be from Old Bridge in Lewiston, down to the North Fork confluence. After the confluence, the river gets bigger and the highway is more prone to rock slides. For those looking for solitude and more wild fish, look downriver. Note: With any river it is always advised to fish and wade with caution and know your surroundings. Have an escape plan if you slip or fall in. In heavy water use a PFD and always wear a wading belt! If possible, fish with a friend. A San Jose man drowned this last Monday while fishing in the Trinity River in Junction City, the Trinity County Sheriff’s Office stated. Use caution and be smart, no fish is worth risking your life.
Trinity River Flows:
It’s is not uncommon to have Spring days on the Trinity River where waders become unnecessary and midday mayfly and caddis hatches produce some great technical topwater fishing. Be sure to have your dry fly box on hand and maybe even a 5wt rigged and ready to rock when that toad sips in the tailout. These risers can be extremely selective during these moments in the heat of the day, and a poorly placed cast or a drug fly can be all it takes to put a fish down for the day. Use long leaders and a solid reach mend prior to getting the fly into the fishes zone and feed line, and feed some more. If there’s no reaction, be sure to let the fly drift well beyond the fish before preparing for your next cast. This isn’t the time to pummel the fish with drifts, we’re talking one cast, one kill. True hunting with a fly rod.
Crowds on the Trinity will continue to thin, alluding to the thought of the California steelhead season drawing to an end, but it’s not over yet. As the days continue to grow longer we prepare for some of the the most spectacular warm weather days of the year, adorned in blossoming trees and budding leaves. Don’t miss out on one of our favorite times of year here in Northern California, both on the Trinity and the Lower Sac. Remember to be kind to the river, and in return the river will be kind to you.
The Kennedy Brothers
contact us: FishKennedyBrothers@gmail.com
When is your next fishing trip?
Do you have your dates for this Spring? We have the water and we have the fish. Need a break from life? Come visit us and disconnect. Fish Kennedy Brothers
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