Denis Peirce: The value of a good guide
These Indian Summer temps just keep hanging on! We are headed into the last full week of October, there are less than 11 hours of daylight and we still have T-shirt and shorts weather.
Last week I made a trip to fish Lake Almanor and Eagle Lake. I had planned the trip for mid October hoping to catch the water temps in the high 50s. What I found was water temps rising to the mid 60s late in the day. Lake Almanor temps had actually risen a couple of degrees over the previous week. Despite the temps the fish were willing to bite.
The first day I fished Eagle Lake with Val Aubrey. We met at 6:30 a.m. in the dark to get in line to launch. The quality of the trout at Eagle has been a perennial draw for decades. The que at the ramp is a testament to the fishing. The typical trout at Eagle Lake is two to four pounds. Every fish we caught would have been the trophy of the season in most lakes in the Sierra.
Often times, anglers who fish with a guide will be focused on fighting the fish, the conversations and the scenery, all of which are enjoyable. What interests me is where and how the guide is fishing. In a manner of speaking the guide is doing the fishing by setting up the scenario that gets the trout to bite. I was watching Val and asking some questions hoping to get some insight into her strategy for the day. She had us fishing the north west corner of the main body of the lake. This area is relatively shallow, eight to 12 feet deep with rock piles and ledges scattered through the area. We were trolling with flies 140 feet behind the boat. She would accelerate the boat to get our gear high in the water and when the flies got close to the structure she would cut the speed. This would get the gear to fall next to rock structure or along the drop off of a ledge where trout will tend to feed.
To the casual angler the boat would speed up and slow down in a seemingly random way. But the reality is that the guide knew exactly where the structure was and when to drop the fly to fall next to it. This is something that only comes with years on this water and losing quite a bit of tackle over the years. This is the value of an experienced guide.
The second day I fished with guide John Crotty who owns Quail Lodge at Lake Almanor (https://www.quaillodgelakealmanor.com/). Even though the lake surface temp had risen a couple of degrees the fall bite was on. At Almanor, the key to finding fish that will bite is locating their food. At this season it is the pond smelt that are the forage. John’s strategy was to begin fishing 100 yards off shore then work in towards the bank looking for schools of smelt and feeding trout. Along the south east shore we picked up a couple of fish but the action was slow.
We then headed north looking for working birds. The two species on the lake that day were grebes and seagulls. John explained that it was the seagulls that were the tell tale sign of feeding fish. The grebes are divers that catch their own food. The seagulls pick off wounded smelt at the surface that are the result of trout attacking schools of bait fish. The gulls would circle up high and come down when there was a smelt at the surface. Knowing where and when to find feeding gulls put us onto a good bite that day. If you can’t fish a water frequently enough to learn it yourself, a guide is a good value.
We ended the day with nine good trout to the boat. Three quarters of these were the quality of the trout at Eagle Lake. Both of these fisheries will continue to fish well, as we go through November. In the week since I was there, the temps have dropped. This weekend the morning air at Eagle is predicted to drop to 17 degrees. This will chill the water nicely. Prime time for these lakes is now.
The valley salmon run has peaked. We are now approaching the peak of the spawning activity. The salmon in the upper Feather River near Oroville are predominantly dark fish, although there are anglers still hoping to find some fresh arrivals. The Oroville area closes to salmon at the end of this month. The area south of Live Oak will remain open into December. The lower river is your best bet for finding a newly arrived quality fish. Check the regs for the exact rules.
Lower down in the Sacramento Metro area the water is still warm which makes for a tough bite. There are still salmon migrating in, headed for the Sacramento and Feather rivers. The best bet for a quality salmon is to find low 60s water temps as far downstream as possible. The Sacramento River was flowing at 6,000 cfs at the beginning of the month and has been steadily falling to 3,500 cfs currently.
The salmon spawn is the signal for good steelhead fishing on both the Yuba and Feather rivers. Tom Page reports the trout/steelhead fishing on the Lower Yuba continues to be good. He rated the egg to nymph ratio at 50/50. Translation: he has been catching as many trout on bug imitations as on egg imitations. The overall quantity of salmon on the Yuba is up from last year but still below the historical average.
Pyramid Lake Nevada is set to reopen Nov. 2 after being closed to fishing since last winter. The bad news is that the fishing fees have doubled. Go online to get the exact details.
If we could get some wet weather moving in the fishing would improve.
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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