"Musing About Spring" was published in Sierra Fisherman's Spring 2014 issue. As mentioned in the first paragraph; we were in the midst of the 3rd year of the four year draught; broken by the heavy winter of 2016-17.
If I'd have to make a projection as of this date of our forthcoming angling conditions in the mountains; my collective conscious says the season will be a MINIMUM of four (4) weeks later than a "normal season and I'm thinking 6 weeks behind as more likely. So plan you angling venues...timewise... accordingly. As mentioned in the last paragraph of the article; this is not intended to be complete primer on projecting springtime angling strategies. The intent is to pique anglers' thinking, regardless of the previous winter's precipitation and snow.
Musing About Spring
"With some initial reluctance, we were
hesitant to write this article on spring-time fly fishing strategies on
California’s moving waters. Then on second thought, considering the below
precipitation and the dreaded D-word, fly anglers should envision thinking
tactics 6-8 weeks earlier than a “normal” season; as in late-April and May, replicating
June and early-July conditions.
early season fly angling can be a conundrum. Some consider May and June as the two best months for fly fishing
on the Sierra‘s west-slope and valley waters of California. But, the same
months are generally the critical times for both rain and snow melt to
adversely affect fishing conditions. Spring days are longer, water is warmer
and the most prolific hatches occur. Progressively the fly angler wanders
up-slope to higher elevations during July and August for prime-time along the
Sierra crest and its east slope. Eventually, they will strap-on a back-pack and
trek the golden trout waters during August and September.
not all of the below ideas may be pertinent because this the third straight
year of waaaaay below rain and snow in California. All can change on the west
coast if we experience another “Miracle March” as happened several years ago.
Since this is being written in early February; only time will tell if we
experience a “miracle” weather event.
concepts may be more appropriate for mid-western and east-coast readers because
those regions have had a really wet year. Then, the bulk of the chronological
strategies suggested may apply. Nevertheless, as fly anglers we always have to
adjust what Mother Nature dictates; so be flexible. As always, success will be
determined by being on the water at the right time and the hackneyed “what,
where and how".
Spring trout are hungry, making them aggressive and not too
finicky. They have waited the whole winter for the increasing cornucopia of
food items in the drift. The best plan during this period is to appear
stream-side at midday because the water’s temperature is at its warmest.
Warming flows triggers both hatches and trout activity.
A sunny day in early spring can activate a midge hatch and
sipping trout. Also, an emergence of early-brood Baetis mixed with sporadic
March Browns may be on the menu. Be alert for fading remnants of both little
winter and Skwala stoneflies. This season, at least in California, anticipate
premature emergences of Golden stones, Green Drakes and Pale Morning Duns
accompanied by caddis at dusk. For the latter four aquatics it is suggested
that one fishes sub-surface, deep, bouncing along the bottom. If one is a
trophy-hunter, big river trout require large caloric intakes…in one bite…so
streamers and bucktails are always a good play in early season.
So, how does one plan for early spring angling excursions in
the Sierra? During a normal season consider
that most alpine streams are
snow-fed, and the thaw is in progress. This melt means that your preferred
mountain stream may be a ragging cascade. Then what? Consider these reasoned
options: 1) fish “pre-melt” freestone streams above snow-line, 2) venture below snow-line during run-off, and 3) seek controlled
flows, below dams; fish tail-waters.
In early spring above snow-line, the melt is weather
related; it can be steady or erratic dependent on the climate changes. The
amount of sun exposure dictates the rhythm of the melt and affects when the stream
temperatures start rising. Sudden sun exposure results in turbid water and
quick run-off; usually about the time when the willows, alders and cottonwoods
start sprouting buds. In the Rockies, this upper-elevation, pre-melt period is
called an “Indian Spring”. It happens here in California, most especially in
the Sierra and Cascades ranges. Everything is energized; wild flowers bloom,
birds sing, insects hatch…trout feed.
Streams, below snowline, are good choices for
springtime fly fishing. Generally, snowline is about 5000 feet. Good planning
entails perusing U.S. Geological Survey topographic maps. There you will get a
perspective of gradient which will assist you in determining what type of
stream you will encounter.
Timing is critical. It is always good strategy to seek a
stable or falling river rather than attempting to fish when the flows are
rising and/or discolored. Be aware of snow-pack
above; its percentage of water-content
is more critical than the existing depth. As already mentioned, weather
patterns impact the speed of snow melt and corresponding run-off. Rising water, whether snow melt or rain, forces
trout from habitual lies. It will take a trout a few days to acclimate after a
rapid rise in flows before they settle into both predictable holding lies and
commence feeding regularly.
During melt and run-off periods, tail-waters are more
predictable fisheries than freestone streams. The flows are generally stable
and water temperatures constant. Another of those pesky conundrums is that,
assuming most of us are fishery conservationists, we consider dams as needless
and harmful. So, the positive view is that we utilize those streams which are
already dammed…for our unabashed, angling pleasure. They’re there, might as well use them. A term I use for such
behavior is being a “situational ethicist”.
Get to know who operate dams, use appropriate apps or
bookmark websites which will likely have charts on existing and/or a history of
prior releases. If you visit a specific water regularly, you will establish
what the optimum flows are for your best fly angling success.
is not intended to be a complete primer on assessing springtime water
conditions and how they will affect success or failure on your early season
outings. The intent is to pique anglers’ interest to focus attention on weather
and its impact on hydrology and seek different types of water that can provide
optimum fly fishing prospects. During the unpredictable climate of spring
remain optimistic, one can find streams with near ideal water
conditions, wild trout, and solitude…if one is inquisitive, does some research
and thinks out of the box."
This current weather event is the third 3'-6' snow-drop in 3-4 day storm cycles we've experienced in the Truckee-Tahoe during February. Currently, the snow-water equivalent is 161% of historical median and precipitation is 127% of average to date. According to my calculations, projected snow--melt/water run-off is 204% of normal (161 X 1.21= 204).
It sure is "purdy" when there is a break in the weather...giving me an opportunity to do some snow-clearing on the back-deck via pushing and shoveling.
Then it gets dark again, wind commences with drifting snow and at times there are white-outs. In-between there is serenity and quiet.
and then it dumps again!
and we provide some fodder for the little, non-migrating, chicadees
Yesterday I had a kidney stone-event. To say the least such is very painful. Karen drove me to the ER in Truckee. The staff eventually subsided the pain via a couple of doses of Morphine. A CAT-scan revealed the existence of a "small" kidney stone. Actually that was good news in lieu of more a severe abdominal crisis.
The last time I had kidney stones and an ER visit was in the mid-80's. Then we actually lived in Kidney-Stone Valley; the area around Mt Diablo in the east-Bay Area. The region had a disproportionate incident of kidney stones...something to do about the water.
I'm home today watching the snow fall. To date the Truckee region has 109% of snow-water content and 91% of total precipitation. After this current series of snow events ends this Tuesday I project both aforementioned percentiles will increase; really wet, heavy snow now (getting colder for great powder skiing) and anticipating 3+- feet at the higher elevations.
Good news for the trout and the forests. As for fly fishing; limited access (think snow shoes) on the BT and progressively more access as one drives east of town to the CA/NV state-line.
Trophy LT water is currently unavailable.
Close the LT to angling during the winter!
Standard times to be on the water are 11AM-3PM. Fish "low & slow" in the deep, quiet runs and pools. If sunny, there is possibility of viewing a feeding snout at the surface. Bugs and flies...small; exception is the start of an Skwala emergence....and do not forget about the Winter Stoneflies
Another holiday season will soon be in the rear-view mirror. Time flies...seeming like the older one gets the quicker the time goes by. Karen and I have been fortunate having enjoyed another healthy and somewhat most of the time, a prosperous 2018...until we look at our current, updated retirement portfolios.
This past year's furthest, non-angling travel has been to the east-coast, specifically to Virginia, for close friends' surprise wedding anniversary event. Personally, from a fly angling perspective, there has been two out-of-state adventures; famous tailwaters, drifting the Big Horn during late Spring and early Fall on the Big Mo. As for my own local angling, I've become a "fair-weather fly angler" (read, optimum conditions...ideally head-hunting only!). I'm progressively minimizing my guiding activities; seeing/catching-up long-time clients and very selectively meeting new ones. I'm working with a great group of competent guides and am confident when referring. My main focus is now conducting skills clinics and local "tours".
CyberFly!!..one of my numerous monikers.
For 2019, as always I'll make my appearance at the annual Pleasant Fly Fishing show. Currently, I musing over several out of state/country excursion options; a couple of Montana trips, my first immersion into the salt (Baja or Bahamas) and a possible return to the southern Hemisphere, either southern Chilean Patagonia, which I really miss having spent 7 of 8 years there for 3 weeks at a time (2004-2011) OR my first visit to New Zealand.
Coyhaique area...almost a 1000 miles south of Santiago Chile
The LT's infamous "Bate Cave"...no bats there, swallows , yes
When we get that first blanket of snow in the Truckee area; we're elated, liking the seasonal changes, a bit relieved that the fire season has ended and looking forward to Christmas time with some family and friends. It is also a time I personally get nostalgic about my early 2000'sfly angling ventures to southern Chilean Patagonia....see bottom six images
This Frankism is more appropriate when dryfly/emerger fishing to a steadily, surface/in-the-film, feeding trout. So please quit slapping the water or immediately pick-up an errant cast.
Before making your presentation, when casting upstream, calibratethe correct distance…AWAY from the targeted fish. Then, make the cast. Your first, good cast affords you the highest percentage of a take. AVOID "lining" the trout with the fly line; leader only, ideally off to one-side of the trout's window (aka cone of vision)*...Unless you are a proficient curve or hook caster.
Measuring the cast also applies while casting downstream. When making a "fly-first" presentation REMEMBER to strip enough line off the reel and lay at your feet so the you can effectively present the fly via "bump-feeding"...past the targeted feeder if there is no take on the first drift.
When casting from the side, do a reach cast, it will extend your drift and minimize your mending.
*The window's circumference is relative to the depth of the water; the shallower the water the smaller the window...the deeper the water the larger the window.