Denis Peirce: Skwala Hatch on the Yuba
For fly fishermen, the most thrilling part of their sport is seeing a trout rise to the surface to eat a well presented fake. This can be done many places in the Sierra during the warm weather months but in January and February an anglers best bet is to head for the Lower Yuba River.
Of all the tributaries to the Sacramento River, the Yuba River is the best dry fly fishery in the Sacramento Valley. We are just lucky to have it as the closest one to us. The fishing for trout with below the surface nymphs is excellent from Redding to Red Bluff on the Sacramento. The Feather river near Oroville is a good trout fishery but rarely will these fish feed on the surface.
I do not want to give the impression that the Lower Yuba fish feed on top exclusively, they don’t. The vast majority of fish caught on the Yuba come from below the surface. But if you want to have a shot at a winter rising fish, the Yuba is it.
There are hatches of insects throughout the year but it is in winter that the Yuba is known for its “Skwala” stone fly hatch. This year the first bugs were seen between Christmas and New Years. It was not until the second week of January that enough bugs were out to get the trout looking up consistently for food. Since then the fish have been keying in on skwalas during the warmest hours of the day.
Most river insects hatch by rising from the bottom to the surface and then quickly become airborne. The skwala stone fly crawls along the bottom to shore. Once on land they come out of their underwater shuck and become a winged adult. They can live for days on shore before mating. To lay their eggs the females can fly or walk on the water surface tension, to lay their eggs in the river. The most important aspect to the angler is that they are on the surface, riding the current for extended distances where the trout can make an easy meal of them. These bugs often lay their eggs close to shore in slow moving water.
Each winter there are some skwalas on the Lower Yuba. During the drought years the hatches are sparse. The worst conditions are floods where the volume of water tumbles the river bottom stones and knocks the population down. Tom Page, Reel Angler’s Fly Shop owner, says that this year he has seen the best hatch in a decade. The conditions last winter were good, plenty of water but not a heavy flood. This year the flows have been normal and the bug population has exploded.
Jon Baiocchi, local fly fishing guide, has been fishing with his clients on the Lower Yuba since early January. Through January the fish were not particularly finicky as to what they would take. A lot of fly patterns were producing fish. As the word got out and angling pressure increased, the trout have become more selective and harder to catch.
I met Jon at a run on the river about half a mile above the Hwy 20 Bridge. He was guiding Ryan Wheeler from Lake Tahoe. As we spoke there were trout rising in water 16” deep a few yards off the bank. Jon noted that there had not been fish working this run until the last couple of days. With the Lower Yuba being catch and release water, these fish were selective to what they would take. Jon tried a number of his fly patterns that had been producing for the last month but these trout were not buying them.
The Lower Yuba is notorious as a tough place to fish. There are times when the trout feed with abandon, early in the salmon spawn and at the beginning of the skwala hatch. Once they have seen a number of less than perfectly presented imitations they can be frustrating to fish for. It is then that an anglers skill level makes the difference.
Both Jon Baiocchi and Tom Page guide the Lower Yuba frequently. If you want to raise your skill level you can find them on the web.
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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