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Denis Peirce: Time to fish the North Yuba

As we approach the longest day of the year, the water situation in the north state is looking rather bleak. One of our most popular local trout waters, the North Yuba River, is currently at late summer flows. Normal or mean flows on the North Yuba are over 1000 cfs for this date in June. The most recent flows are 165 cfs. From a seasonal perspective this is terrible but for the stream angler things are pretty good right now. Water conditions are late summer flows but with spring insects hatching.

The river below Downieville has been producing fish for fly anglers on the surface and below. Above Downieville the trout have been primarily feeding on nymphs below the surface, even though there have been bugs hatching. This changed about a week ago.

Jim Johnston, Sierra Streamside Cabins, contacted me to say that the fish were readily rising to eat bugs on the surface. This was the first good dry fly action of the year at his elevation. Jim lives halfway between Sierra City and Downieville.

Most of Jim’s cabin guests are river anglers and he gets a good feel for conditions speaking with them. The fishing on the upper river dramatically picked up as the river rose to 60 degrees with last week’s heat wave. The increasing number and variety of insects hatching puts the trout into feeding mode.

Jim’s guests reported landing and releasing two brown trout in the last week. Both fish were in the 8 to 10 inch range. These are the first browns caught in this section of the river in two years. A good sign for the future. It is Jim’s experience that browns are not often caught above Ladies Canyon Creek.

I have been up to the North Yuba twice in the past week. On Sunday I went with Ed Everhart. We fished the river below Downieville and up at the Lakes Basin. We were on the river midday with the sun high overhead and no shade on the water. The trout were in siesta mode and not interested in anything we threw at them. After a futile hour or so we headed up to Gold Lake. At Gold the wind was howling and the waves were crashing onto the shore.

We then headed to Lower Salmon Lake. A place I had never been before. It is a half mile hike to get there but worth the effort for the beautiful setting. There were a good numbers of geese and ducks on the lake with a few trout rising out beyond casting range. What was most noteworthy from an anglers perspective was the number of blue damsel flies on the water grasses around the lake. I have not seen that many damsels since Lake Davis over a decade ago. I tried a damsel nymph without success. For our party, Sunday was not a good day of angling.

Undaunted, I returned to the North Yuba Wednesday evening with Connor McLendan. The plan was to fish with the sun off the water during the evening hatch. This time the plan worked out. The bugs were coming off the water and the trout were eating them on the surface. Water that seemed devoid of fish on Sunday was alive with activity three days later. It is times like this that can convince you that you do know how to catch fish.

We identified caddis, little yellow stones among other bugs. As the light began to fade the activity picked up. We caught fish on dry flies as well as soft hackles just below the surface. The flies that have been working on the North Yuba include stimulators, elk hair caddis, little yellow sallies. The majority of the airborne insects were light colored, blond to yellow. I like to fish a dark wet fly just below the surface that the fish can see against the evening sky. North Yuba trout are not too picky.

The rainbows on the North Yuba are not big. A 12 inch fish is a big one. These are among the most beautifully colored rainbow trout I have seen. What is encouraging is the number of 5 inch fish this year. It bodes well for future years of angling on the river. The next two weeks will be the peak for trout fishing there.


I have been asked about the hex hatch at Lake Almanor. Wednesday night the lake got four hours of cold rain with snow on the surrounding peaks. The windy days leading up to the storm put the hatch off. Prior to these events the hex hatch was good. This weekend a warming trend is arriving. All indications are for the bite to resume. The peak of this hatch is during the days around the summer solstice extending into the July 4 weekend. Another positive note, drought years are usually the best for the hex hatch.

Word is that the lake level will drop four feet in the next month. That will drive the fish to their typical late summer spots, the cool springs and the mouth of the Hamilton Branch 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 http://www.trollingflies.com

Connor McLendon fishing the North Yuba.
Provided photo
North Yuba rainbow trout.
Provided photo
North Yuba rainbow trout caught on a "Madame X" fly.
Provided photo
Connor McLendon fishing the North Yuba.
Provided photo



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