As we approach the summer solstice, one of life’s important questions is how to spend those hours between the end of the work day and full dark.
Television is out of the question. Indoors is not an option on a balmy summer evening.
This past Tuesday, a couple of local anglers, Tom Page and Conner McLendon, came up with a brilliant answer: spend the last few hours of their day fishing the Lower Yuba River.
The timeline started with the gear loaded in the boat and hooked to the truck prior to the 5 p.m. quitting time.
Maybe “quitting time” is a misnomer as 5 p.m. might be more accurately described as starting time. First stop was to drop the boat off at the Highway 20 bridge and shuttle the truck and trailer to the take-out downriver. Back to the bridge and on the river by 6 p.m.
Summer fishing peaks with that magic witching hour that occurs between the sun low on the horizon and full dark.
This is often the peak of insect activity on trout streams. Trout do not have eye lids. After the blinding effects of full sun have waned, trout move out of the depths and are found near the surface.
There is still enough light in the evening sky to silhouette hatching bugs even if we see things as full dark, looking across the water.
True to schedule, the initial hour of the float did not produce a single solid take. The first strategy was to fish the “Fat Albert” grasshopper imitation.
The object is to float the bug on the seamlines between fast and slow water or the other prime spot, which is under the overhanging willows along the bank.
It was after 7 p.m. when the action started. The prime evening waters are riffles that connect the pools.
This is where the river drops in elevation; the water is from ankle to waist deep, and the surface is choppy.
This is prime insect habitat and the evening dining room for trout. The quest for the evening angler is to be on a productive riffle with the right fly by the time it is too late to move.
It can be done by the shore-based angler, but the boat adds so much mobility.
On Tuesday by 7:30 p.m., the caddis hatch had begun. There are two tactics for presenting a fly to trout in flowing water.
The most common is to get a “drag-free drift” with the fly riding the current as a drifting bug. When caddis are on the menu, the second technique comes into play.
Caddis swim to the surface rather than float up. “Swinging soft hackle” flies refers to casting a fly across the current and allowing it to swing on a taut line back to the shore below you, mimicking a hatching caddis.
The drift requires seeing your fly or line to detect visually a strike. The swing is the ideal low-light technique because you feel the hit rather than see it.
The most productive riffle was down by Hammond Grove Park just as the light was failing. Maybe a more accurate statement might be that the riffle they were on at the “witching time” happened to be by the park.
In either case, the river, which a couple of hours earlier appeared devoid of fish, came alive as the dinner bell sounded and the trout came up to feed.
Tom fished the swing from early evening on. This allowed him to fish well into the failing light without trying to change flies during the narrow window of prime fishing.
Connor stayed with drifting surface flies. On this particular night, the swing landed more fish.
Even during hot summer evenings, the Yuba can be a pleasure to fish. The water is cold coming out of the bottom of Lake Englebright.
Being on or standing in the water will provide respite from the valley heat. Boating the river has many advantages, but it involves a partner, shuttling and other logistical details.
If simplicity is your style, a rod, a few flies in a box, a pair of shorts and some wading shoes is all you need. So turn off the ballgame and spend an evening outdoors on the Lower Yuba. You won’t regret the choice.
P.S.: If you want more detailed information on access points, flies and techniques, talk to Tom at the Reel Angler’s Fly Shop at 760 S. Auburn St., Grass Valley. Tom also provides guided float trips on the river.
Denis Peirce writes a fishing column for The Union’s Outdoors section and is host of “The KNCO Fishing & Outdoor Report,” which airs 6-7 p.m. Fridays and 5-6 a.m. Saturdays on 830-AM radio. Contact him via his website at www.fineflies.com.