Over the last thirty years our guide staff pioneered and perfected the technique of fishing nymphs using an indicator. This method has proven to be consistently effective under a variety of conditions to hook the large, wild rainbow trout in our home waters. We continue to employ this technique as it is a staple of our success. However, our guide staff constantly performs research and development to refine other techniques that will allow us to provide consistent results.
Has fished and guided the Lower Sacramento River from Redding down to and beyond Red Bluff for the past 25 years. While Shane knows how to get it done using the classic nymph indicator rig, he has been using some alternative methods over the past few seasons to change things up for his clients making for some exciting action at times. He sat down with us recently to discuss some of these methods he has employed effectively the past few seasons with his clients to put fish in the net.
"As far as casting instruction goes, as a certified casting instructor, I can incorporate instruction into a day of fishing very easily. Casting a dry/dropper set up is the kind of casting you learn at a casting school, whereas casting an indicator setup with weights, multiple flies, an indicator, etc. using water loading, isn't. Clients who need some help casting a more conventional setup will learn the traditional mechanics of casting if they use a sink-tip or dry/dropper set up."
Q: Besides fishing nymphs under an indicator, what other methods have you been using lately that are productive?
Shane: We have fished nymphs under a dry fly, or dry/dropper rigs on a 5 wt. and stripping buggers or leeches with a sink-tip line using a 6 or 7 wt. rod. Also, swinging small leeches and soft hackles with a spey or switch rod can be productive sometimes.
Q: Under what circumstances would you fish dry/dropper rigs?
Shane: The dry/dropper rig works best during bug hatches when the fish are feeding heavily just under the surface. We'll have spring caddis, Pale Morning Dun and summer hydropsyche caddis hatches that will bring the fish into shallow water to feed, not necessarily to feed on dries, but to take advantage of the large numbers of insects active in shallow riffles. Most anglers are rigged with an indicator and a bunch of lead 6-8 feet below that indicator. Riffles with 1-3 ft of water are pretty much impossible to fish when rigged this way. I just carry an extra rod rigged for shallow waters so my clients can take advantage of different techniques when the opportunity presents itself. Also, many of my long time clients have "been there, done that" catching Lower Sac trout on indicators and enjoy the challenge of casting to fish holding in shallow water. For them, it's not always about how many you catch. What matters to them is how or even where that fish is caught, so getting a 20" fish in a shallow riffle is more challenging.
Q: What types of water do you target for dry-dropper?
Shane: I'm mostly searching for the water that 90% of the other boats don't fish because it's 'too shallow'. That being said, riffles anywhere from 1' to 3' deep. Slow, gradual drop offs with a good swift current can be productive spots. Flats, with a few larger rocks and occasional grass or weed growth will also produce if the depth isn't more than 4 ft.
Q: A lot of people ask about streamers on this river, and the conventional wisdom is that they don't work. Have you tried streamers?
Shane: Streamers tend to work better for me during those periods we don't have heavy hatches. Being in the right type of water, and using a certain type of retrieve can really make the difference here. There are very specific spots where streamers will work for me. Soft hackles have been most effective in medium or shallow riffles and flats with weed growth.
Q: It isn't often, but when you get the chance, how do you go after fish that are feeding up top?
Shane: Carefully and slowly. Rising fish on the Lower Sac can be spooky, especially if they're in a glassy smooth flat. Just dropping the anchor loudly on a rock can put them down. Boat noise can put them down. These types of situations usually aren't short lived, so I sneak in as close as I can get without spooking them, drop anchor quietly, and let the fish get really happy before putting a fly over them. When they're eating in riffles, it's much easier to get them to eat. They are more opportunistic instead of selective like the fish on the flats.
Q: So you have some clients that may be ready to try something different. When do you change it up?
Shane: It depends on the day and the client. Admittedly, getting those big fish on a dry dropper or sink-tip requires more casting skill than water-loading casting an indicator rig from a moving boat. 90% of the time when I'm using alternative techniques, the boat is at anchor, and sometimes we'll even get out of the boat and wade a little bit.
Q: Does this involve much R&D fishing?
Shane: Quite a bit. There came a time years ago, that some friends and I decided to challenge the old wives' tale of, "Can't catch Lower Sac Trout unless you're deep with nymphs under a 'cator." We spent a few days on the river - no indicators in the boat- and we found some incredible action. It just took commitment. It's not easy to put down a rod that you KNOW will catch fish in favor of a rod you aren't so sure about. Having confidence is a big part of it also. If we'd have given up after the first couple of hours trying 'something new', we wouldn't have found out about it.
Q: Are there other things we haven't touched upon that can make for a memorable day on the river?
Shane: Yeah, here's one thing, spey casting instruction can be implemented into a day on the Lower Sac. It's a perfect classroom. One or two hours of spey casting is a great way to break up a day if desired. Clients that have trips planned to BC for steelhead, or AK for trout, can really benefit from a day structured around some time out of the boat, learning the basics of the spey cast.
The Trinity River is known for its consistent, predictable steelhead fishery. Many generations of anglers have planned their entire fall or winter around a trip to the Trinity in order to possibly touch one of these anadromous gems returning to spawn. It may come as a surprise to many that there is a lot more going on in this system besides fall run steelhead. The Fly Shop® Guide Lonnie Boles has been guiding on the Trinity for steelhead for over twenty years. He makes his home there and has particular insight into other opportunities in this varied watershed.
Q: Let's first talk about the seasons on the Trinity River. Can you give us a synopsis about what you are fishing for and when?
Lonnie: What kicks it off is the Trout Opener. One of my favorites, early in the season during years when we have a good snowpack, there is some phenomenal dry fly fishing on the tributaries to Trinity Lake from the last Saturday in April through June 1st. The fish range from 12 to 22 inches, taking dries and streamers. You can average anywhere from 40 to 100 fish a day. There aren't a lot of people pursuing this yet, so you rarely see anyone else fishing these tributaries.
Q: And following this, what is next?
Lonnie: From July 10th to the 1st of September you can catch salmon using nymphing techniques and on the swing. These are mostly Kings, spring run, you average from 4 to 20 hookups a day. These fish average 10 to 30 pounds.
Q: And after the salmon, what are you going after next?
Lonnie: From September 1st through November 1st is hands down the best fishing on the Trinity. You can hook steelhead using nymphs under an indicator, but also get them on the swing. These fish are fresh and hot.
Q: What about other anglers, is there a lot of pressure this time of year?
Lonnie: There are no crowds, you may see one or two boats on a busy day. And, this is a beautiful time to be on the Trinity. The weather is nice and the trees are changing, it's beautiful with lots of colors.
Q: After this period, you are still going after steelhead?
Lonnie: From November 1st through February 1st is great fishing. You have the hatchery fish and wild fish start showing up in December and January. When February and March hit, that's when we see the biggest fish of the season. Those are wild fish, 'Big Canyon Fish,' we call them. The great thing about this time of year is you can throw dry flies from
11:00 to 1:00 to adult steelhead and sea run browns, on a good day, from 11:00 to 4:00. You can both indicator fish and throw dries, these two months are another one of my favorite times of year. Most of this happens below Douglas City in the canyon and below.
Q: That about wraps up the year. What would you say is your favorite technique over on the Trinity?
Lonnie: I would say the early steelhead season, on the swing with a spey rod can be epic, and the February dry fly fishing for adults is pretty awesome.
Q: So you are swinging skaters early on?
Lonnie: Yeah, moose hair skaters and muddlers all on a Scandi line with a 15 foot leader.
Q: When you are fishing the two-handed rod, what type of water are you looking for?
Lonnie: In the early season, you are targeting tailouts above where they drop off into fast white water and tailouts with bigger boulders, structure in them. This is where the fish are resting after having traveled up out of the fast water. They can get behind the rocks in the slow water and hold effortlessly. These areas also concentrate their food, insects, leeches, lampreys and crawdads.
Q: And what about anglers who don't have a lot of spey rod experience, what level of casting ability should they have in order to be successful?
Lonnie: I can take someone with no experience and in an hour and a half, using a three-step program, have them throwing a sixty foot loop.
Q: What are some things anglers can do to prepare for a trip on the Trinity?
Lonnie: Bring several pairs of gloves. Once you get them wet, they are done. Once your hands are cold it can be extremely uncomfortable and distracting, not to mention your dexterity suffers.