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Top 5 Flies for Fly Fishing Northern California

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Top 5 Flies for Fly Fishing Northern California

Published: March 17, 2021

Top Five Flies for Fly Fishing Northern California
By Bryan Quick

We are often asked, “What is your favorite fly?” This can be a long discussion leading down riffles and tailouts into the fly fishing abyss. With so many great patterns out there, it is always a tough question to answer, and it begs the question, “Why limit yourself to one pattern?”

The truth is, day in and day out, we find ourselves using the same patterns because they work. Some are versatile, and others mimic trout food found abundantly throughout the Northern California stream watersheds. And, without a doubt, we can’t walk out of The Fly Shop® with every pattern you think you might need for a day on the water. Believe us when we tell you it’s been tried. So, okay, you have pinned us down. Here are our top five fly patterns for Northern California:

Pat's Rubberlegs (Jimmy Legs)Pat’s Rubberlegs
In black or brown, size #10 to #6, you better have at least half a dozen when you fish up here. High-sticked on the Upper Sacramento, this fly has probably caught more rainbow trout than most other patterns combined. If you open your box on any stretch of Battle Creek and you don’t find any, you could be out for a nice day of hiking. Any day on the Trinity or Klamath Rivers it is highly likely this fly will be the top producer.

Pat's Rubberlegs (Jimmy Legs)This simple fly with the stretchy, gangly legs, antennae, and tails comprises just five ingredients – a hook, thread, wire, chenille, and Superfloss strands – and is a morsel trout can’t leave alone. With all of the stoneflies, salmonflies, goldens, and skwalas in our streams, it is no wonder trout clobber Pat’s Rubberlegs to the exclusion of other more numerous offerings. This is the drifting, swung T-bone steak of a trout’s diet. Enough said.

Fred Gordon's Amber Wing PrinceGordon’s Amber Wing Prince Nymph
This attractor fly pattern works for a lot of reasons including faith. When Fred Gordon reimagined the simple Prince Nymph with amber goose biots replacing the white wings of the original, a legendary fly was created. Beaded or not, this fly has a lot going for it with peacock herl, a buggy profile, and throat hackle sporting some movement near the front that activates the appetite of the tiny trout’s brain.

Top 5 Flies for Fly Fishing Northern CaliforniaSize it for the small brachycentrus caddis, the small black “Mother’s Day” caddis that come off in droves in the late winter and early spring, and you have a fly that can be dead drifted in runs or swung in tailouts all day long. Later in the summer when the larger hydropsyche caddis proliferate, jump up one or two sizes for the same effect. On spring creeks such as Hat Creek or Fall River, just about any size can be swung to replicate the numerous caddis species and scuds found there. On the Trinity River, this can be a go-to offering at any time. Although steelhead are not notoriously picky, this fly has saved many days over the hill from Redding on the Trinity.

Mercer’s Missing LinkMercer’s Missing Link
With so many varied hatches coming off during the different seasons and locations, you could fill several boxes with the specific dries you’d need to cover every situation when it comes to targeting rising fish. Fall River guides are notorious for this and spend many hours just purchasing the materials they will use to produce their arsenal for the coming season. Sometimes, however, you happen upon a unicorn, and Mike Mercer’s Missing Link is the Swiss army knife of dry flies.

Mercer's Missing Link - OliveInitially designed to fool the Lower Sacramento River rainbow trout chowing on spent caddis, it turns out this elk haired, z-lon-winged, sparse dry works in many more situations unimagined by the fly tying legend. Placed in front of a San Juan rainbow eating carpenter ants in July is a chef’s kiss. Thrown in front of cruising fish looking for terrestrials on a lake or pond, the Missing Link excels. And, of course, matched in size and color with a current mayfly or caddis hatch, you will have a great day. At bare minimum, you should have half a dozen dark Missing Links in sizes #14-18 in your possession when heading out to fish, and that’s the honest truth.

Hogan’s Olive S&M Mayfly NymphHogan’s Olive S&M Mayfly Nymph
Over the years many major studies have been commissioned and conducted to determine the trout’s diet. These have concluded many things, chief among them are that trout will eat what is prevalent, abundant, and available. As any guide up here in the north state will tell you, we have a ton of baetis or blue wing olive mayflies in our streams, and it is just common sense that fish will be eating baetis nymphs on any given day. With its crinkly legs and spare abdomen, Hogan Brown designed a fly that will always produce fish no matter how much you hate to tie on a small fly.

Hogan's S&M NymphDon’t get us wrong, we will and do set up rigs right off the bat with these flies. In September through January, you will see a steady conveyor belt from the S&M fly bin out the front door of the shop. The S&M has seen service on the deepest indicator rigs, on dry-dropper rigs under Chubby Chernobyl’s, and swung or stripped at the end of an I-line on the Fall River successfully for years. It is rumored, but cannot be confirmed, that a service branch has reached out for a supply of #16 and #18 olive S&M’s to include in their aircrew survival kits. Just saying.

Muddler MinnowMuddler Minnow
This legendary sculpin pattern almost needs no introduction. Tied in the original style, with the mottled turkey wing and tag, sparse tinsel body, and blocky, clipped deer hair head, this is the jack-of-all-trades, a veritable chameleon in the water. Any tyer claiming the most modest prowess on the vise will have tied some, fished them, and caught fish. What makes this such an indispensable fly up here? Let’s go through some examples.

Muddler Minnow in mouthEarly in the year, beginning in February, we see actual sculpins in our streams beginning to pair up, and the trout will key in on this as they pop up during their displays. Swung on the end of an I-line or fished with a sinking line, fish will chase and grab them. Later, when grasshoppers emerge and the fish have seen one or two, cast them across your favorite run, dance them across the surface, and see what happens. Later, in August and September, this fly will do wonders to your adrenaline level on the Trinity and Klamath Rivers skated over runs that hold steelhead. And in a pinch, an appropriately size Muddler will substitute for salmonflies, Golden stones, crickets, and, well, you get the idea. Tie or buy a dozen in different sizes, and put them in your box.

We have a lot of flies to choose from here in the shop, and there are times when there is a particular bug slaying on the river. And then there are those times on the water when it is difficult to decide which pattern to tie on. We can’t help you there. But, when you are heading out to fish the North State, you will increase your chances of hooking fish if you are carrying these patterns.

Brooks Provence

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Brooks Provence

Published: March 10, 2021

We would like to welcome Brooks Provence to the guide team here at The Fly Shop®

Brooks ProvenceBorn and raised in beautiful Redding, CA, Brooks began fishing Hat Creek and Eagle Lake with his grandfather. Brooks discovered fly fishing in high school with a group of his close friends, and decided this was something he would pursue for life. He has been guiding for the past seven years here in Northern California on Hat Creek, Fall River, Pit River, and the Upper and Lower Sacramento Rivers. In the spring and summer he chases trout, but looks forward to late summer and fall when he can swing and skate flies for steelhead on the Trinity River and later on in winter on the coast. Brooks is a joy to spend the day with and is super knowledgeable for both the beginner and advanced angler. An avid snow hound during big winter storms, when the rivers are blown out, you will find him on the slopes bouncing through the trees in search of that epic ride.

Q&A with Brooks Provence:

How did you get started in fly fishing?
Group of buddies in high school

How did you get started as a fishing guide?
Went to a guide school in 2013

If you had one piece of advice to give to your guide clients, what would it be?
Come with a positive attitude and the fun will follow.

Favorite fish to pursue?
Brown trout and steelhead

What fly fishing destination is on your bucket list?
Kola Peninsula

Favorite fly rod?
Sage X — super light and sends rockets

Favorite reel?
Hardy St. John — nothing like letting everyone know you’re into a good one with the reel screaming

Favorite fly?
I like them all!

What is your greatest fly fishing extravagance?
Can never have too many rods or reels

Which living or non-living fly fisher would you want to spend a day fly fishing with?
Joe Humphrey

What single issue in fly fishing do you feel has the greatest adverse potential?
Number of anglers and some of the regulations for certain rivers

What is the most memorable fly fishing trip you’ve taken?
Haven’t gone very far but nothing like steelhead trips with all the boys

What is your fly fishing pet peeve?
When the fish won’t stop eating my flies

What do you most value in your friends?
The willingness to adventure to unfamiliar places

If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?
Definitely a bald eagle

Booking Brooks for a day of guided fishing

To book Brooks or one of our other excellent guides, please give us a call at 800-669-3474 during business hours any day of the week, or email us at bryan@theflyshop.com or chris@theflyshop.com anytime. We can give you the answers you need, detailed explanations to questions you might have, or check on availability and confirm your reservation in minutes.

Top Five Places to Fly Fish for Trout Near Redding California

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Top Five Places to Fly Fish for Trout Near Redding California

Published: March 8, 2021

Top Five Places to Fly Fish for Trout Near Redding California
By Bryan Quick & Chris King

The American West is home to so much great fly fishing you can spend a lifetime finding different waters to fish. Up here in Northern California, we are often faced with the enviable conflict of having to choose one stream to fish at a given time, and we are often asked, “Where should we go…?” If you have never fished the Northern California streams in and around the Redding area, put these five on your bucket list.

Upper Sacramento River

Upper Sacramento River:
We have seen drastic changes to the Sacramento River above Lake Shasta. It’s one of the most prolific trout streams in the West. After a disastrous chemical spill in 1991 made the angling world cry, the river had one of the most dramatic rebounds in all of conservation. Today, the Upper Sac offers a trout fishery playground. Any given day on this river anglers can choose their own tactic. From swinging soft hackles to Euro-nymphing, which owes its roots to Ted Fay who in the 1940s high-sticked his Bomber fly through pocket waters in and around Dunsmuir, this river offers great fly fishing opportunities nearly every day of the year.

Access on the Upper Sac is as good as it gets for streams these days. There are over 30 miles of public access to this freestone gem provided by the Union Pacific railroad that runs alongside its almost entire length.

The Experience:
Whether you want to throw dry flies in the Cantera Loop of the upper section, or try your hand at some trout Spey techniques for the lake-run bruisers in the lower river, the Upper Sac offers the kind of water you are looking for. Our guides have been guiding this river through all of its transitions, and they are intimate with every bend, riffle and pool this spectacular river has to offer.

McCloud River

McCloud River:
There are no trout in the world with a better story than the McCloud River Redband.

In 1877 on a tributary to the McCloud River named Campbell Creek, the first federal fish hatchery was established in the National Fish Hatchery System. Eggs from this hatchery were sent to another at the San Leandro hatchery. Rainbow trout eggs and fry from these two hatcheries account for the origin of most of the artificially planted rainbow trout in the world today.

We have chased trout on every corner of the globe and built a pretty good business arranging trips for others to do so as well. It is our belief that every angler owes it to themselves to experience some time on the McCloud. Today the McCloud still has the aura of days past with its deep green canyons, blue green water and hungry trout that readily take dries, chase streamers and have been revered for their acrobatics when on the end of a line.

From newspaper tycoons to coffee roasters to sports team owners who have owned private ranches on the river, the McCloud has held a special place in anglers’ hearts for over a century.

For most of our guide staff, the McCloud is where they fish on their day off. Each day of the season is special on the McCloud, and it is easy to see why so many have fallen in love with this place for so many years.

The Experience:
The McCloud River with its steep canyon walls and lush green canopy is unsurpassed in beauty in Northern California. Glacial silt from Mud Creek supplies the river with its blue green hue that is magical in pictures. With shade on the water for most of the morning and evening, you will find fish looking up nearly every day of the season. The many plunge pools that frequent its entire length are full of the most beautiful rainbows that dart back, forth, up and down to feed on nymphs throughout the day. A popular spot, you will rarely be alone on the McCloud, but this healthy fishery will give up its bounty readily.

Pit River

Pit River:
The Pit River gets a bad rap for being a very difficult river. This is mainly due to the giant moss covered boulders that line its banks. One thing for sure about a day of fishing on the Pit is that you are not going to cover a lot of water. The secret to the Pit is to concentrate your efforts on the right water. It is said that 90% of all water is void of fish, and with a river as tricky to navigate as the Pit, it is imperative that you fish that elusive 10%.

The Pit River below Lake Britton (Pit 3) is a narrow-pocket water mecca. The road is windy and not often traveled for its entire length down to the town of Big Bend. As you wind down the canyon, you will go past several hydroelectric facilities sectioning the river into different tail waters, each with their own appeal. Pit 4 is the most remote of these areas and is a place to get away from the average of 10 other anglers on the entire river. When you get down to Pit 5, through the town of Big Bend, the canyon opens up a bit and offers long riffles and glides that are unlike the pocket water above. Whatever you are looking for, and if you are up to the physical challenge, the Pit has it.

The Experience:
We’ve had a love affair with the Pit River over the years. Once you are able to identify the areas where the fish concentrate, this river is a pocket-water paradise. The rainbows on the Pit are deep shouldered, hard fighters and the constant turbidity in the water allows you to fish right on top of them. This river is perfectly suited for short-line nymphing with an indicator and is a tight line / Euro-nymphing wonderland. So, grab your wading staff, your favorite 10’ 3wt and one of The Fly Shop® guides, and you will have all the necessary tools to unlock the secrets of the Pit.

Lower Sacramento River

Lower Sacramento River:
Our go-to river in the North State boasts on average some of the largest wild rainbow trout you can find in the lower 48, and when you couple this with good numbers, day in and day out the Lower Sacramento is tough to beat. This is due in large part to the year-round cold water delivered by Shasta Lake courtesy of the temperature control device installed to help the endangered winter run chinook salmon. Oh yeah, this river boasts four distinct runs of chinook salmon, and these fish returning to spawn in the river bring with them tons of eggs. The combination of cold water and long, hot days contributes to abundant insect life leading to a healthy fish population. A large river with flows topping 13,000 CFS during the summer, the best access and fishing can be had from a drift boat, which makes this a great place for beginners and experts alike. Such deep water and an abundance of aerial predators means that the Lower Sac is not a consistent dry fly river. Long-time Lower Sac fly rodders keep their calendar open for the heavy mayfly hatches in the spring and the summer caddis when they can target rising fish that often top 18-19”. With dam releases throttled back during the winter, many great places to fish become accessible to the wading angler, making the Lower Sac an all around great destination for the trout angler.

The Experience:
Drift fishing the Lower Sacramento is a picturesque, extremely productive, and relatively solitary experience. Much like Montana’s Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers, the Lower Sacramento is best suited for drift boats. It is broad, swift, deep in places and there is a good bit of great water, like the Beaverhead, flows through private property.

Our guides use many techniques when fishing the river, but drifting an indicator rig is the most common and productive way to fish this large river. During different seasons there can be excellent wade fishing during your float in which you can swing, float dry flies or switch it up a bit with a dry dropper.

Fall River

Fall River:
The largest spring creek system in California is relatively short in total length at around 13 miles, but it is packed with some of the finest dry fly fishing in the state. The Fall River is formed where the volcanic rock aquifer in the Fall River basin emerges from Thousand and Rainbow Springs near Bear Creek. This clear, cold water flows southeast, winding along and slowly gaining size before passing below the Spring Creek Bridge. It is from there to its confluence with the Tule River where the majority of attention is paid, and this section harbors some of the most insect rich waters anywhere.

The Experience:
Early season hatches begin slowly, and by the end of May, daily full-on pale morning dun spinner falls each morning will have the trout stacked along current seams poking up to sip the returning mayflies. Later in the day you can target fish eating hatching imagos. The fishing can be frustrating at times because with slow currents and crystal clear water, these fish have an eternity to inspect your offerings. Mid-June through the early part of July is a prime time to witness the hexagenia limbata hatch, progressing from the lower river near the Tule up to the stretches near Circle 7 Ranch; for about 30 minutes each dusk, you can witness the largest Mayfly species emerging and large, wild rainbow trout rising to eat them. This is one phenomenon every fly angler should have on their bucket list. With little public access and virtually no wading, you will either need your own pram or to hire a guide. The Fall River was one of the first rivers The Fly Shop® began taking clients fishing, and we have the finicky trout in this system figured out.

These five trout streams are top choices among The Fly Shop’s staff for good reason. Whether you are a dry fly purist, are looking to hook the most or largest trout, or are looking for beauty and solitude, you will find what you are looking for in at least one of these great rivers. Come experience a day on one of these great trout streams with one of our professional fly fishing guides, and they will show you why it is on the list.

A Day With Ernie

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A Day With Ernie

Published: February 17, 2021

A Day on the Trinity with Ernie Denison
By Erik Argotti

I first heard about Ernie Denison about 15 years ago when my good buddy Gabe Duran, who I guided with in Alaska, was moving back to his hometown in Northern California to start guiding the area.

Like most guides who work in Alaska or in many of the Rocky Mountain states, it is hard to pull off a full time guiding career without heading down to Florida, Louisiana or the Caribbean to fill in needed days on the water to make ends meet. Many of these guides hop back and forth between hemispheres, heading to South America for the winters to fill their calendars.

Young Ernie Denison on the Lower Sacramento RiverGabe told me about this guy named Ernie who guided 300 days a year and most of his fishing was within an hour of his house. Having guided for a good number of years, it wasn’t the work that was so interesting, it was the idea of guiding that many days a year. I would do some intense stints of 140+ days in a row, but I was done for a while, usually for the year and took some much needed time off. This guy was doubling that in a year and fishing on his days off.

Ernie with a steelheadFast forward to 2021 and a friend of mine and great customer, Tom, invited me to fish with him on one of his two days on the Trinity River for steelhead with the legend, Ernie. I was more than happy to take a break from the office and see the river, which I hadn’t had a chance to fish yet. The excitement grew the day before when Tom gave me the report of the first day fishing. Tom hooked 10 and landed 5 and all nice big fish. Because of low water and no rain the early steelhead season had been slim pickings. November and December were tough and most days on the water you were working for a couple of fish. We had a really big storm the week before that brought some much needed water to the system and allowed many of those lower river fish to make their way upstream. This was one of the better Trinity river reports I had heard all season. The best part of it all is they didn’t see another boat all day.

Indian Creek LodgeI was to meet those guys over at Indian Creek Lodge at 8 am. Due to snow and rain that morning I got an early start and pulled into the parking lot with plenty of time to spare. Tom and I got caught up and talked about some of his upcoming fly fishing trips and Ernie pulled in just before 8, ready to go.

The plan was made that we were going to float the upper river.  So, we all ran up to the top, dropped the boat in water and Tom and Ernie ran the shuttle as I kept an eye on the boat and rigged up my rod for the day.

Anybody who does anything for a long time, especially fly fishing, gets particular about the way they like to do things and that is no different for me. Given my choice, I love to feel the tug of a steelhead and would swing a fly any day if given the choice. But, I also love going with anybody who is really good at doing what they do and has a passion for doing it. I have had some great times with friends who throw jerkbaits in the shallows at night for big walleye. Others who have their boats decked out for Kokanee fishing and know the ins and outs, depths and rigs to catch them. I just like to get out and see all types of fishing, so I was ready to catch some fish no matter what type of fishing was planned for the day.

Tackle bagsWatching Ernie get set up in the morning was surprisingly comical. Ernie doesn’t believe in wasting time and money on “unnecessary gear”.  All his terminal gear could be found in 3 plastic grocery sacks. With it raining, this system didn’t seem to be ideal.  A couple of the bags were already filled with water and there were loose leaders, tippet, flies, hooks, egg patterns, beads, barrel swivels, weight, lots of little zip lock bags, and of course a couple even contained some garbage. As you can imagine, there is no organizing anything in plastic bags. He picked up one old bag at the end of it’s life and all the gear dropped out of the bottom onto the side of his boat. Ernie gave a grin and responded with, “time for a new tackle bag”. He took his time as we were in no rush, which is very typical of a day with Ernie. He was methodical, lumbering and worked at his own pace, but unbeknownst to us, he had a plan for the day and was in execution mode, the Ernie-way.

We finally got on the river around 10ish. But once on the water, Ernie was at home and everything seemed very fluid and crisp. He maneuvered his boat down the low, narrow, rocky river precisely and everything he did was very calculated, with minimal effort and NO wasted motion. With 30+ years of experience on the oars, Ernie knows how to move his boat with little to no wasted movement.  He was always putting the boat in a precise location and a lot of the spots we hit with only one cast and pulled up and adjusted our rigs for the next run.

Ernie putting it in the netThe rig setup that we were using that day had been masterfully thought out by Ernie.  His nymphing set up was very simple yet, easily adjustable and everything was predetermined and had a purpose. We had three different locations for the indicator which were moved by adjusting a toothpick and it varied the depth by a few feet. Weight was constantly on and off depending on each run. We rarely got snagged and were always just tapping bottom, which is exactly the drift you are looking for on the Trinity. It was a common thing to hear him say “strip them in, move your indicators to the deepest level, put on a weight and grab a seat”. As we came up on the run, he would let us know ahead of time which side we were fishing, exactly where to put the cast and of course constant mending reminders. There was very little guess work for us, we followed his commands. Most of the time we did one run through and on some of his better spots we would hit it again and take a different line.

In the morning, Tom warned me about Ernie yelling to set, but I don’t think I was quite ready for it. The second run as I was looking off at something and probably day dreaming when this bellowing “SET” echoed off the walls and made me jump. Luckily I wasn’t the one he was directing the order at and Tom sheepishly looked away as he missed the potential fish.

Trinity steelheadErnie loves to guide his clients into fish and have a successful numbers day.  He is there to catch you fish. When it comes to steelhead fishing on the Trinity, Ernie enjoys clients that are experienced steelhead anglers.

Like most experienced guides, Ernie isn’t too keen on tangles.  But what guide or angler really enjoys those anyways.  That is just time not spent fishing and they usually happen at the absolute worst possible time.

Ernie’s river knowledge library is hard to fathom. This is his 32nd year with The Fly Shop® and he usually works between 240 – 280 days a year. On his days off you’ll find him chasing whatever he heard is catchable in the area. That is a lot of hours on the river. He spends the majority of his days on the Lower Sacramento and almost just as many on the Trinity, with some McCloud, Pit River, Hat Creek and coastal trips mixed in. Just thinking about the amount of time on the oars staring at indicators and dry flies and the amount of fish he has netted and sees from year to year is just mind boggling

After a few Foster’s that night he told us he estimated that he has landed around 30,000 steelhead in his 32 years guiding and personal time fishing. When you spend any extended periods of time on a river there is a certain connection to the water and I know it is cliche, but you kind of become one with the rivers you fish. Ernie has definitely achieved that oneness with the rivers he fishes, knowing exactly where the fish will be.  Although when you are in it, you don’t  see it this way, you are just doing your thing. I know I felt it a little bit in Alaska when I spent 6 years on a particular river fishing it everyday for three-four months at a time. You start to “flow” with the river and your decisions are based less on logical thinking and more on feeling.

At the end of the day, we were both slowing down a little and it was cooling off both fishing and temperature wise. Tom and I were looking at each other and thinking we should just reel up and head for the takeout.  However, that isn’t the Ernie way.  His enthusiasm didn’t wane. He fished us to the very end and all the way through the last run, we were adjusting our rigs and fishing them.

 

Ian Stratte

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Ian Stratte

Published: January 12, 2021

We would like to welcome Ian Stratte to the guide team here at The Fly Shop®.

Ian Stratte
Ian Stratte helping with river cleanup on the Lower Sacramento River

A California native originally from Eureka, Calif., Ian began fly fishing at an early age after finding his grandfather’s fly rods in the garage and taking them for a spin. His family transplanted to Redding, Calif., and he has pursued many different species of fish in the North State’s most known waters. Ian is equally at home guiding from a drift boat for trout and steelhead, wade fishing with clients on steelhead rivers with a two-handed rod or Euro nymphing on the McCloud River for trout. Most of all, Ian enjoys sharing his passion and joy of fly fishing with new and seasoned anglers alike, and you can count on him to put in a full day on the water and help you more than likely leave a better angler.

Q&A with Ian Stratte:

How did you get started in fly fishing?
I started fly fishing as a kid when I found some old Hardy Brothers fly rods in my dad’s fishing gear that were his father’s. I asked my dad if I could try to use them, and after that I was hooked.

How did you get started as a fishing guide?
After the loss of my father, I stopped fishing and kinda went to a dark place. Another fishing guide got me out on the water again, and I realized what I was missing and that what I wanted to do no matter what it took was to be a fly fishing guide.

If you had one piece of advice to give to your guide clients, what would it be?
Enjoy the journey — the rewards will come when you least expect them.

Favorite fish to pursue?
Steelhead

What fly fishing destination is on your bucket list?
I think going for trophy sea run trout on the swing would be so much fun, and one couldn’t ask for a more memorable situation than doing it in a place as beautiful as La Villa de Maria Behety with the expansive ranch and five star lodging. The Patagonia area of Argentina would be amazing, and the landscape and vast country make it beautiful in its own magical ways. The brown trout there have a different fight about them, and getting a sea run possibly pushing 20+ pounds seems like something only dreams are made of. Many anglers have much more amazing and extravagant species on their bucket list, but to me there is nothing more amazing than fishing for anadromous fish that run from salt to fresh water. I believe the fishing trip of a lifetime for any anadromous angler must include Argentina’s sea run brown on the swing, and add in the luxurious accommodations of a five-star luxury stay, and even the non-anglers would not want to leave.

Ian StratteFavorite fly rod?
R.L. Winston – The Winston Air Salt is becoming a new favorite. I got to cast one recently and it has everything I want in a rod. The action is fast with lots of backbone to turn over big salt rigs or stripper rigs. It feels like the rod that can handle most big fish you would want to target whether it’s steelhead or redfish. I personally love two-handed rods and swinging flies. But, the Winston Trout Micro Spey rod is my favorite for many reasons. The rod has a super light feel, and with a soft but fast action, and it’s featherlight but with the power of a precision nail gun. You can put little sculpin patterns tight to the bank blasted up under willows or set a dry skater down with a delicate light touch. Winston has longevity in the game of rod building that can’t be matched. I believe their experience and standards for quality makes both their two-handed rods and single-handed rods the best in the business.

Favorite reel?
Ross Reels! I like that they were started in Etna, California, and they feel solid in your hand.

Favorite fly?
The Boss — it’s a classic that is still very effective.

What is your greatest fly fishing extravagance?
Fly fishing in Alaska as a child

Which living or non-living fly fisher would you want to spend a day fly fishing with?
Jimmy Green – Jimmy Green grew up in San Francisco in the golden era of fly fishing. At that time, the Bay Area happened to be the Mecca for West Coast fly fishing. You had the Golden Gate Angling & Casting Club, and many of the fly fishing companies of the day were based out of the area. As a child Green worked in the fly line industry, and he also went to many distance casting tournaments. He later became known throughout the fly fishing world for many reasons: He was the first person to cast a fly over 200 feet with a two-handed Winston rod; he created the shooting head; and he’s the reason fly lines made a giant progression to lighter and better materials. He focused weight to the tip of the line and shortened it while evenly distributing the weight over a small section of monofilament, and the rest is history. I would want to fish with Green because he was a great caster and engineer, and he understood the mechanics and the science of casting but also what he was casting. I would really want to pick his brain on how he could generate so much distance with little effort. I think he had the largest impact on how we target so many fish now with integrated sink lines and shooting heads.

Who are your favorite writers?
Walt Whitman, Theodore Roosevelt and Henry David Thoreau

What single issue in fly fishing do you feel has the greatest adverse potential?
Hatchery operation and effects of dam removal to anglers and fishing runs

What is the most memorable fly fishing trip you’ve taken?
A trip with my dad to Alaska — we went fly fishing and didn’t catch a thing, which is tough to do in Alaska but we only fly fished for the day. Dad lost a grayling.

Which talent or natural gift would you most like to have?
To learn new languages easily

Who are your heroes in real life?
My father for teaching me to follow my passion. My mother for showing me life will get a lot tougher, but so will you.

What is your fly fishing pet peeve?
Losing gear that is retrievable and leaving it in a tree on the bank.

What do you most value in your friends?
Honesty and fairness and being a little competitive

If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?
I would come back as myself.

Winter Stillwater Fly Fishing in Northern California

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Winter Stillwater Fly Fishing in Northern California

Published: December 24, 2020

We are blessed to have so many fishing venues to choose from in Northern California when winter rolls around. No matter what the weather and river conditions, we literally can find somewhere to fish nearly every day of the year. Large winter storms that roll into the North State can often turn our rivers and streams into raging torrents. Even the Lower Sacramento River, our local tailwater fishery, is susceptible to high and turbid water episodes after heavy storms. When our moving water fisheries are blown, we turn to the many lakes, reservoirs and ponds in and around our area. These are solid alternatives that can keep you on the water and on the fish. These stillwaters are excellent fisheries in and of themselves and should not be overlooked or dismissed as mere alternatives.

Fishing Regional Lakes

Baum Lake
A top choice among area fly fishers during the winter is Baum Lake. Formed by a small dam on Hat Creek and right next to the Crystal Lake Hatchery, this little trout gem is accessible to anglers on foot and ideal for small watercraft from float tubes to drift boats. With over a mile and a half of water to fish, Hat Creek enters the lake on the south end and flows north toward the dam, which creates a nice spring creek fishery. There are planted and wild fish, and rainbows and brown trout that will chase wooly buggers and damselfly nymphs. In the winter this lake is known for its sizable midge hatches, and on cloudy days you can see fish sipping emerging blue winged olives. Access is from the parking lot around the boat ramp, and on the west shore of the lake, anglers have foot access for those who don’t own a boat. With a pram or drift boat, you can cover the entire lake chasing down the groups of actively feeding fish in and among the weed beds. This is a nice little fishery that should not be overlooked.

Lewiston Lake
There are times when the parking lot on Baum Lake can be pretty full, and if you are looking for solitude, another mountain lake that’s a short 45-minute drive west of Redding offers strong winter trout fishing. Lewiston Lake is formed below the Trinity and Lewiston Dams, and is essentially a forebay to Trinity Lake. The lake follows the old Trinity River riverbed and on days when releases from Trinity Dam are high, the upper section fishes just like a freestone trout stream. Further down the lake, trout prowl drop offs and flats in search of midge larvae and dragonfly nymphs. Warmer days will see some Callibaetis emerging, giving lucky fly fishers the chance at some decent dry fly fishing. While you will need a powered watercraft to fish the upper section right below Trinity Lake, a drift boat or pontoon will work fine on the lower sections. Lewiston Lake can be technical, but rewarding for those fly anglers who enjoy unlocking the secrets of a new fishery.

Iron Canyon Reservoir 
When river fishing is not feasible, our guide staff is always game to take fly fishers to Iron Canyon Reservoir – a little known gem near Big Bend, California. Iron Canyon has saved many fishing days and anglers from heading home early. Iron Canyon Reservoir holds water siphoned from the McCloud River drainage on its way to the Pit River system. Where this redirected water enters the reservoir lake is where rainbows congregate to feed on aquatic worms and midges all winter long.  These chunky fish see little pressure and will mob your offerings all day. Bring a good selection of mayfly dries, emergers, duns and adults. Warm days on the flats will have some fish looking up.  Access to Iron Canyon Reservoir is best using a powered boat, but kayaks and pontoons will suffice. If you can hike, fishing from the shore can get you into some good action as well. Iron Canyon is smack down in the middle of nowhere and one of the least utilized still water trout fisheries in our area. Give it a try; you’d be surprised by what you might find and experience.

Russ Kegler with a beauty at Luk LakePrivate Waters

The Private Waters Program developed by The Fly Shop® has a couple excellent properties that offer solitude and reliable wintertime, still-water trout fishing. Luk Lake, just south of Corning, California, is only an hour north of Sacramento. This 30-acre lake holds rainbows all winter and is a great location to get away for a day to work on your cast, test out some new fly patterns or just enjoy the outdoors… and catch trout! This is a perfect lake for a float tube, pontoon or pram, but if you do not have access to one we have several small boats that can be rented. The rainbows key in on any hatching insects, and Luk is known for prodigious midge populations, and on cold, clear mornings – the lake can literally boil with rising fish. Damselflies are present in large quantities too, and stripping woolly buggers and damsel leeches can be effective and fun. And if the trout are not enough, the plentiful native bass and bluegill will come to a stripped woolly bugger. For folks in the Sacramento area who are eager to trout fish, but don’t want to make the run to Shasta County, Luk Lake is a great choice.

Sugar Creek RanchNorth of Redding in the Scott River Valley is our Private Waters stillwater venue, Sugar Creek RanchSugar Creek Ranch offers fun and exciting sight fishing all winter to wild and stocked rainbows on four of its seven ponds. Created in the early 1900s by a large gold mining operation, the tailing fields are now home to spring fed ponds teeming with rainbows and aquatic insects. Just a two-hour drive north of The Fly Shop®, the ranch sits right at 3,000 feet and remains ice-free nearly all winter long. Each of the four ponds can be fished from shore, while some anglers prefer to use float tubes. The fish will cruise the weed beds in search of insects, and midges are the staple of these fish’s diet, but with Callibaetis, blue winged olives, Glossosoma caddis, damsels and dragonflies present, just about anything can be on the menu depending upon the temperature and the weather on any given day. Bring a full box of your stillwater offerings, a five or six weight rod, floating and intermediate lines and some polarized sunglasses for spotting cruising fish —the water is gin clear! It’s a blast sight fishing for these trout all day, and the cold water makes these fish hot. Sugar Creek Ranch is a sleeper, a bit of a poke for most folks, but so worth the effort.

So not all is lost when our rivers in NorCal are blown out or unfishable. The choice is yours – you can stay home or go explore new waters and fish some of our excellent stillwater fisheries in the North State. Still waters offer an alternative to throwing up your hands in surrender and a great way to keep your fly fishing skills current and sharp. Besides the obvious benefits of getting outside in some fresh air and enjoying the outdoors after being cooped up inside, it can be just plain fun! If you haven’t had the pleasure of fishing any of these great stillwater fisheries, give them a second look this winter – you won’t be disappointed.