Denis Peirce: Looking for a spot to fish?
As the summer heat comes on, the two obvious angling answers are the upper elevations in the Sierra or the coast. The goal is to find cold water. Even in the mountains waters will warm and you have to hunt to find the cold water that trout prefer.
Anglers in lakes go deeper to find cold water and river fishermen will look to waters below dams that release cold water from the depths. The Little Truckee River between Stampede and Boca Reservoirs is a classic example of a cold water stream in the heat of summer.
With all of the dams on the west slope of the Sierra there are a number of rivers that have multiple dams and cold water flows between them. In our backyard we have Bullards Bar Reservoir above that feeds down to Englebright Lake and then the water goes to the lower Yuba River.
I have fished from the top of the Yuba River system down to the valley. During the streaks of hot weather, the way water is managed creates an interesting set of conditions for the angler.
Water means a number of things, among them power generation, farm irrigation as well as the most important, a place to go fishing. Through the years we as a society have set out parameters for what we want water to do. By understanding these anglers can come up with some interesting ideas for angling.
When Bullards Bar was built, provisions were made to draft water from many depths to be able to choose from the temperatures available in the lake. In the spring, rice farmers want the warmest water to aid in sprouting their seeds. Throughout the warm weather months fisheries interests have made provisions for cold water from Bullards Bar to cool the flows in the lower Yuba for the salmon and steelhead populations.
Another factor is afternoon power demand for our air conditioners when valley temps reach triple digits. Bullards Bar is the storage facility for water. Englebright is used as a flow meter for the lower Yuba. It rises and falls on a 24 hour cycle, varying at most a half dozen feet. Flows from Bullards Bar into Englebright vary widely over a 24 hour cycle based on power demand. Outflows from Englebright are constant over a daily cycle but can be raised for water demand downstream.
The point of this piece is the effect these factors have on Englebright Lake during heat spells in the summer. The daily flow cycle can vary but the flows from this week can be typical. Flows in the early morning hours can be as low as 150 cfs. As power demand comes on at midday the flows are ramped up to over 3000 cfs for peak afternoon demand and from 6 p.m. through midnight the flows drop to 1500 cfs.
On a recent trip the incoming water at the top of Englebright was 48 degrees. The surface water temperature was 75 to 80 close to the dam.
It is the intersection of high volumes of cold water meeting a warm body of still water that is of interest to anglers. The cold water is heavier than warm water and the river inflows dive below the warm lake forming a subsurface river in the depths. How to fish this subsurface flow I have not figured out. But the spot where the cold drops below the warm can be a good feeding spot for a number of fish.
The sign of this location is a raft of debris on the surface. As the inflow increases it picks up pine needles, leaves, twigs and all sorts of floating material. These items ride the cold current until it dives below the warm lake water. There the floating debris forms a raft on the surface. On a recent trip the water temp from one side of the debris raft to the other went from 75 degrees to 49 in less than 100 feet. It was a warm summer evening below the debris raft and you almost needed a jacket in the cool air above.
This stark change is most pronounced when the flows are high, 3000 cfs. Into the evening as the flows are cut the debris raft breaks up a bit and scatters with the breeze. The temperature change is more gradual and the 75 to 49 degree shift can be over hundreds of yards rather than just a few feet.
Typical feeding behavior for fish in rivers is to find still water where they can rest, adjacent to moving water which carries food. Another thing I have noticed higher up above the lake in the shallow clear water, is the fish starting to actively feed as the water is dramatically raised in a short period of time. I believe the heavy currents put more food into the water and the trout are conditioned to this.
Many of these factors come together on warm summer afternoons on Englebright Lake. Is it a guarantee of fish in the boat, not necessarily. But it is a good place to look. This phenomenon is not unique to Englebright Lake. These same conditions can be found on other river systems in the Sierra and other places in the West.
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 http://www.trollingflies.com.
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