Denis Peirce: It’s starting to feel like spring |

Denis Peirce: It’s starting to feel like spring

Denis Peirce
Shawn Rainsbarger, Denis and Colin Peirce set out to fish for brown trout at Scott's Flat but came up empty handed. They switched to fishing for rainbow trout and ended up catching and releasing a dozen of them.
Photo by Denis Peirce |

The recent wet weather pattern is a reminder that winter does not end for another two weeks. Despite the snow storm, fishing is moving into spring mode. We are heading into the best fishing of the year.

Shawn Rainsbarger and I have been talking about fishing together for some time and we finally got together on Tuesday. We have been looking for that window when he was not guiding up at Donner and the weather pattern held hope for a good day on the water.

We met in town at 5:45 a.m. We were aiming to get on the water at Scott’s Flat Lake in low light. Our goal was to get a shot at a good brown trout.

Scott’s Flat has a modest population of brown trout and each year a few good ones are landed. It is not a high percentage trip when you’re looking to hook one of the few fish at the very top of the food chain in a given lake. The bigger browns tend to be solitary hunters that feed in low light conditions. That can be real early or late in the day, but dark cloudy days can meet the same requirement.

The residual snow from last weekend was evident along Highway 20 and down the road to the lake. There was even snow on the aluminum dock in the morning, despite a lake temp of 43 degrees at dawn. As you might suspect, we were the only boat on the water at the beginning of the day. There were two others by midday when we left.

On the hunt

We spent the first hour or so trolling the shallows around the lake edges. We also hit the few underwater shelves and ridges out away from the bank, all to no avail. Part of brown trout fishing is paying your dues. Even if you are doing it right, it often gets down to hours on the water and coming back multiple days. Persistence is an essential ingredient.

Once we had exhausted the prime brown trout window of opportunity we turned our focus to rainbow trout. The word I have been hearing about Scott’s Flat is that the rainbows are near the surface, out over deep water.

We did not get any response from the rainbows when we were trolling the shallows. It may have been the water depth, maybe the shallows are too dangerous with browns and bass feeding there or it could have been the time of day.

By late morning the water was warming into the mid 40s. There was alternately a wind texture to the surface and then glassy calm. We did see some surface activity as the day warmed. Some surface rings on the water were in evidence. Rainbows were taking an occasional insect off the surface. We also saw small wakes cut into the surface calm. My reaction was small fish eating at the surface. Shawn had a different take. He read it as small fish being driven to the surface by predators. I liked his perspective better than mine.

We switched to rainbow trout tackle putting on smaller trolling flies and plugs. My first guess at colors on a lake with pond smelt is to fish with white. It had not worked for browns and didn’t tempt the rainbows either.

The hot color for the day was orange. Shawn hooked the first fish of the day on an orange fly and it did not take me too long to try one myself. The rainbows were out beyond shore casting range, in water 20 feet and deeper. There are a lot of rainbows in the lake. We landed and released a dozen rainbows and lost about that many more.

Spring is coming

The weather forecast for the next 10 days calls for a mix of sun, clouds and rain. This is typical spring like conditions in the north state.

In theory the best days are during a steady stretch of weather. Changing barometers are thought to put the fish off their feed. Getting out on the water at first light is supposedly what anglers should do.

There are moon phases and all manner of signs for the prime times to be on the water. The bottom line is we are heading into spring, the best season of the year for fishing, and you need to plan on getting out. Picking the perfect day and time are not as effective as spending more days on the water.

Persistence is an essential ingredient.

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

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