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Joseph T. "Joe" Sparks... Not an ordinary Joe!
October 27, 1926 to November 26, 2022
Pleasanton / Fort Bragg
Joe started his life in Chicago, Illinois on October 27, 1926, born to parents Joseph Wesley Sparks and Mary Margaret O’Brien Sparks. Joe left his high school in Hammond, Indiana very early in his senior year as he was accepted into the US Army’s Specialized Training Program.
This program was established to identify, train, and educate academically talented enlisted men, extraordinary Joe. He had a choice of returning home after completing his training in 1946 or re-enlisting for one more year. He chose to re-enlist to allow those soldiers who had seen combat a chance to return home. Joe was then dispatched to Northern Germany. Having studied German in high school to keep from having to take Latin, he was a natural to serve in an Intelligence Unit searching out underground Nazi contingents.
After returning home, Joe attended the University of California at Berkeley where he graduated in 1950 with his B.A. degree. This B.A. was not enough for “this” Joe, so he continued his education in the field of Physics earning a PhD at the University of Kansas in 1956.
After working a year for Dupont in Delaware, Joe accepted a position at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory doing what he loved as a physicist for 20 years.
Joe had a great passion for fly fishing and taught himself by reading books on the subject, nothing ordinary there and not easy. He enjoyed it so much that he wanted to share his hobby with others, so he started the Livermore Flyfishing Club in the 1960’s. The club today is called the Tri-Valley Flyfishers. He also authored a column in the Livermore Herald called “The Barbless Hook” for many years.
In 1972 Joe met the love of his life, Ruth Johnson on a blind date…then within months of that first meeting they were married on the SS Oronsay at Pier 35 in San Francisco.
After the celebration the guests left the ship and Joe and Ruth cruised on their honeymoon.
A year later they started a travel agency called “Travel Key” in Castro Valley which became very successful, having received many awards throughout the years including “The Best of the Bay Area”. During this busy time in their lives, they helped raise two of their grandsons and loved becoming “gray-haired soccer parents”. Very Extraordinary!
Joe retired in 1976 from the Livermore Laboratory to become the CFO of Travel Key. Then in 1996 it was time to fully retire and move to Fort Bragg, a place they loved for its beauty and climate. They built their dream home in the redwoods where they would reside for over 26 years. They made many wonderful friends there and volunteered for numerous charitable and service organizations.
The one that was near and dear to Joe’s heart was his time spent as a Mendocino Rotarian serving as the first advisor to the high school’s Interact Club. He loved helping so many great kids. He was always eager to see them and hear their stories after they graduated.
After celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary in July, Joe and Ruth broke a lot of hearts in their beloved Fort Bragg by moving in October to Rocklin, California to be closer to family.
In less than two short months Joe passed away at 96 years of age on November 26, 2022, leaving behind his wife Ruth, and two daughters from his first marriage, Ginger Avila and Lisa Wilson. He was the proud father of three stepsons, Gary, Greg, and Grant Amaral. He was also the loving grandfather to Kerry and David Avila; Danny White (deceased), Ryan White, Jay Sparks, and Cameron Wilson; Ali Amaral Barta, Austin, Wyatt, McKenzie Amaral; Lauren and Rachel Amaral. Joe was also a great grandfather of nine. He was definitely not an “Ordinary Joe”! We all miss you and will love you forever!
October on Putah Creek, Fall is a Great Time to Explore it
So here we are, back at the transition fall season again. Sierra rivers are still low after the recent deluge, and lakes have also been slow with the big guys diving deep for the winter. What is one to do? Well, how about our best nearby fishery at Putah Creek in Winters. Yes, that Putah Creek; the much maligned tough fishery of a thousand casts and big fish but only 1:25 minutes away. And after the May presentation by Steve Kerr on how to fish Putah, why not go? So a few TVFF members ventured up on different trips to Winters this month to check it out.
Overall conditions: Clear and sunny days with water levels now at winter levels of 240 cfs (vs. 450 summer cfs). Last year’s fire burns are very evident from the Access 1 at the bridge all the way down through Access 5. While the bad news is that the burn scars are there, the good news is that access is much more direct and easier to the creek. The blackberries and poison oak mostly burned out, but are starting to come back.
I highly suggest if you have the time to check out Putah before the voluntary closure November 15. From mid-November until the end of February all local reputable Putah guides and responsible fisherpersons voluntarily close their fishing on Putah during the rainbow spawning period. But right now the fish are fattening up for the spawn and seem to be on the bite with the cooler weather.
Saturday October 9, 2021, James Kirchner
Took a friend fly fishing for the first time yesterday (Saturday 10/9/2021) to Putah creek. Wasn’t expecting much of anything at all considering how hard Putah can be to fish and crowded the water gets on weekends.
We were on the water at 730. All the lots already had plenty of cars in them so we started at the last lot before the dam. We fished across from the campgrounds for a couple hours with no luck. I had my friend who is a new angler on an indicator set up while I was swinging and stripping small streamers.
We eventually made our way to staircase riffle around 10am. I switched over to a tight line/euro set up. Within 10 minutes we were getting hits. I got one in the tail out of staircase and one in the fast water tight lining a Walts Worm and a 16 natural pheasant tail nymph.
After about an hour we decided to head toward access 5 to finish off what would be our half day trip. Again 10 minutes into fishing the riffle at the end of the long stretch at 5 we were on the fish. All in all I had 10 to hand in the day while my buddy had his first 3 fish to hand on the fly rod. There were plenty more we hooked and lost (clean released). The highlight of the day was when I hooked into my personal best. A 25” stud of a fish shaped like a football. On the 11’ 3wt I wasn’t sure we would get him in but we managed.
What I expected to be a typical 0-3 fish day at Putah turned into my best day there in the 10 yrs or so I have been going. All the fish for the day were on 16-20 pheasant tails. Natural looking seemed to be the key. Tight line is ideal while you can definitely get some good fish on smaller streamers in the morning and evenings. There were even fish rising and rolling for emergers.
Sunday October 10th
Mitchie McCammon: Fished access 4 & 5
We started out fishing below the access 4 riffles, and I finally conquered my fear of wading Putah with the slick rocks. Taking my time it turned out to be much easier than I thought with carefully picking my way across the creek with no problems. And that opened up a great new fishing area on the south side of the creek where I had never been before. As it turns out our group got four fish. Two on an indicator setup throwing beaded olive midges. The others were also on olive zebras using a euro setup and missed another 6 fish on soft takes. But I finally got my very first fish at Putah Creek which is always known as a tough fishery. So the trip was a complete success and very exciting for me personally. And we found that last year’s burn really helped clear out the access to the creek so it’s much easier until the lower brush begins to fill in. I’m so excited to learn the creek that is so close for a spur of the moment trip.
Wednesday October 20th
Started out at Access #1 and fished under the bridge with euro, and with indicator setups. Not much activity except one good grab by a 16” ‘er that chucked the #20 olive Zebra hook on the run down the riffles. Such is life on Putah. Moved downstream a bit, but too many people in the water at the staircase, and didn’t observe any hookups. Too bad; it’s a great area.
Decided to head back to my usual haunts and moved back down to access 5 in the late afternoon. Promptly hooked up with a small 12” ‘er in the riffle on an indicator setup with a tan Pheasant Tail, followed by another small one lost on a euro setup. Then around 5 PM got a big fish hooked up on the euro setup again with a Pheasant tail trailed by a size 16 olive Sexy Walt’s Worm on 6 X tippet. And so the game was on!
What could go wrong; light tippet, clearly a big fish, fast current, nearby brush pile, and the adrenaline going off the charts? When she first surfaced it was clear that this was a big slab of a fish, so just a bit of added pressure to keep her buttoned up. Got her to the net the first time, and she bolts for cover. Worked her back into the soft water just a bit, re-positioned, and get her back close to the net again. But no; she bolts again and isn’t done yet. Work her back in against the current, but ½ way in she bolts upstream in the riffle, which is to my liking in finally getting her upstream. Worked her back downstream with her head up and plane her into the net. Then comes the hard job of lifting the net! This is one heavy, typical Putah Creek female that we see in the fall. Gorgeous color, 26” in length and an estimated 6 pounds of eggs waiting for the November/December spawn coming up. What a party girl!
Three different club members took the challenge in October and all were rewarded with either their first fish, or in the case of James and Rob, very large exciting fall fish. If you are anxious to get out, you should definitely give Putah a good shot. Find someone in the club that knows the creek well and go for it this fall before it closes up.
Note: the full report with pictures is in the August newsletter. Go there for the grip & grins...
TVFF Truckee Watershed Trip Report
Michael Frietas experience:
Friday night arrived at Stampede reservoir and met the crew. Fished Little Truckee near the corner of the meadow with Gary Prince. Good company but no fish.
Saturday morning fished the Truckee river under the Glenshire bridge, caught one small fish on a pheasant tail nymph under an thingamabobber. Saturday evening fished the Little Truckee near the base of the dam. Not much happening until dusk and then the fish started rising. Hooked one good fish that immediately broke off my tippet. Unfortunately it was too dark to tie on a new one since I did not have a light.
Sunday morning fished the base of the dam again. Lots of PMDs, but no action for me. Fish were rising in three locations down the seam but I could not figure out what they were taking. I helped Gary Prince land a nice sized fish just above me, and then watched him fight and loose another one a little while later. Gary was tenacious and did not want to leave but I gave up and headed back to camp.
Sunday evening headed back to the base of the dam to wait for dusk and try to get the fish I missed the night before. Incredibly the same thing happened again. A fish broke off my 5x tippet in nearly the exact same spot between the two boulders. I guess it was not meant to be.
Monday morning headed out to the corner of the meadow of the Little Truckee but decided to try something different. Instead I headed out onto highway 80 and parked near the bridge after Horner’s Corner towards Truckee. Fished for a while and caught one small fish using a Perdigon under a thingamabobber. From there I decided to take the scenic way home and headed out to highway 49 via highway 89. I stopped at several spots along the highway and fished the North Fork of the Yuba. Caught small fish at every stop so overall a nice way to end the trip.
Denis Haire experience:
After an obligatory stop at the Mountain Hardware and Sports store in Truckee to stock up on any last-minute flies and gear, we all individually arrived in the Loggers Campground. We were greeted with intense heat (easily in the 90’s) and a need for something to drink. I think we were all reminded of the seriousness of the drought as we looked at the Stampede Dam Reservoir low water level. As the source of water for the Little Truckee, this was a sign of things to consider for tactics.
The Loggers Campground was a great location as it was less than 10 minutes to the Little Truckee and maybe 20 minutes to the Truckee River. The group, including Greg Blandino, James Kirschner, Gary Prince, Mike Prokosch, Jim Felardo, Gary Prince, Denis Haire and Rob Farris (fishmeister) quickly set up camp at their respective sites in anticipation of getting to the river.
Although hot, a welcomed wind through the trees helped make that exercise go quickly. With camp set up it was time to rig up. The questions begin; what will the bite be and when?
The Truckee and Little Truckee Rivers both have an incredible population of wise, wild rainbows. Both rivers are healthy and support a large amount of aquatic insects. Understanding, or at least being informed of the type of hatches was of great value. Thank goodness for the club’s entomology class! And those hatch charts become even more valuable. From nymphs to dry flies for both the morning and evening hatch, one should anticipate the range. And I am sure those fish have seen them all. Seems to me I need to update my flybox!
There is a truism that 10 percent of the anglers catch 90 percent of the fish on these rivers. It’s not easy and it takes many, many hours on the water to master. Wise fish require wise anglers. This truism was put to the test on this trip. So enough with preparation and philosophy, on to fishing! After an early dinner, we decided to fish the Little Truckee for the evening hatch. At about 6:30 pm, Gary and Mike headed to the meadows as Rob, Jim and myself hit the area below the power plant.
Rob determined the water temperature to be 58F, ideal for the evening hatch. The water level was low as many rocks and river bed were showing. Being unfamiliar with the water I went with a confidence fly of a black rubber legs on a Euro Rig. The rocks were covered with moss so getting deep was a challenge. I did luck out to catch a nice rainbow before dusk, as well as another strong take that broke me off. As dusk drew closer, around 8:30 the hatch of caddis in their “behavioral drift” started. As I did not bring a dry fly rig, all I could do is watch. Lesson learned; bring a second rig! As usual Rob did catch some fish.
The next morning (Saturday) after a quick breakfast, we headed to the Truckee and at the water by 7:30 am! We landed at the Glenshire Bridge run and to our surprise there were no other cars there. It looked like good pocket water under the bridge.
The air was already warm and we quickly suited up and got to the river. Water flow was good with a temperature of 62F; good conditions! Using everything from beaded pheasant tails to crayfish we all entered the river. Of course, the best seam was further out so wading above the hips was required!
In the four hours we were there, four fish were caught: two by James, and one each by Rob (a classic Truckee river fat boy) and Michael. By the time we left the water temperature was up to almost 70F so it was definitely time to observe the voluntary “Hoot Owl” closure to help reduce fish mortality.
After a light lunch, short siesta and a light early dinner it was time to head back to the Little Truckee for the evening hatch. This time I brought 2 rods! As we crossed the river at about 6:30pm we could see lots of midges hatching on the water. Shaking the bushes did show some caddis so we had a better idea of what to expect. We all nymph fished until about 8:00pm and then waited, and waited, and waited, and waited for the hatch. I really learned from this to just stop and observe, to not disturb the fish early, and be patient.
Take the time to see the rises and possibly what type. Are they feeding on the surface or just underneath? What are the currents I will have to deal with when casting? As Rob might say, “We need to crack the code” or as I thought, ”We are being schooled by these wise ones…”. Rob discovered that a slow retrieve after the swing was bringing him success. After some strong hits and more lost fish than landed, we headed back to lick our wounds with a cold one (s) …. I must say crossing the river in the dark was challenging, but “you’ve got to pay your dues.”
Not to be deterred, it was back to the Little Truckee in the morning and hopes for the PMD hatch. As we approached the river, we could see the fish from the trail! Big fish just sitting there in the usual spots. The norm of nymphing to start until the hatch began. I was fishing a beaded pheasant tail with a jigged hare’s ear to start. I was trying to get deep but often caught on the rocks and moss. Still trying to learn that Euro style. And of course Rob did find that hole with the big one….
At about 10:30 the PMD hatch set in and it was productive. We could see the fish feeding but trying to find the right fly was the challenge. After determining the right color and size they were still very selective (ah wise ones). We even had the DFG as a spotter for us on the trail above Frustration Pool! Good drifts and presentations and they did not bite. I even had them swimming within 5 feet of me. But by noon as we started to head up the trail, Gary Prince had figured it out. He found a great hole where they kept rising to his orange colored PMD. It was entertaining watching him from above and seeing the fish rise.
In the afternoon, Rob and Gary continued on to Milton Lake where they camped and then encountered a crowd of 10 boats on the water the next day, and few fish. On the water at 6:00 AM Rob hooked up with two medium sized browns with both a wiggle tail and then doing his dry fly thing for two more on the surface. Gary really worked the dry flies from his boat and shore fishing for a couple more. Something has changed in the lake as the last three trips by club members have seen smaller fish of about 12-15” when the average size was between 15-18” last year. Hmmm…
In the evening again we went back to the Little Truckee one more time. Mike, Greg and myself and later Michael Freitas started nymphing.
Michael Frietas did catch one on a zebra midge but broke him off and Greg had some big hits with alligator rolls to break him off! The hatch wasn’t quite as strong as the previous night but Mike had a very strong hit in the same spots he had the night before! That fish certainly had his number…. It was back to camp to have a campfire and enjoy the rest of the evening.
Hat Creek, the Stream of Dreams
See the full report with pictures in June's club newsletter.
Denis Haire experiences:
Spring time and the anticipation of the Hat Creek Salmon fly brings a renewed hope and dreams for a great trip to the area. Having never seem a Salmon Fly, one of the dreams for the trip was to see one in the water and possibly a hatch. After an early dinner, our group of four made our way to the Powerhouse Riffle for the evening hatch. Euro nymphing rubber legs and smaller trailers were productive, but the most amazing sight was the evening hatch. Right at dusk, a hatch of Green Drakes, Salmonflies and Golden Stoneflies, caddis, and yellow sallies created a blizzard of insects that I have never experienced before. I chose to stop and watch in amazement and began to realize the creek must be healthy to support all of this! The next day on the water was not as productive but fish were caught in the morning. As for the afternoon, a weather front moved in that may have turned the fish and the hatch off. Now we put our hopes on Baum Lake.
After an evening and morning of rain, lightening and thunder we ventured to Baum Lake. When we felt it was safe to be on the water, Rob and Todd launched their watercraft while Scott and I attacked from the shore. The water was higher than normal and the weed growth was down a little so moving around the shore was manageable. After setting anchor and finding accessible areas to the water, we all used balanced leech type rigs under an indicator. And that was a great choice! There was a constant roar of “Another one”, “That is a good one”, and “Look at the shoulders on that one!” could be heard. At the end of the day, collectively we had 100 fish with more than 25 of them being 17 inches of greater. Only in my wildest dreams could a day like this have happened. Needless to say, my badge of honor for this was a sore arm and wrist that required some libations and some anti-inflammatories…
But of greater importance is the comradery and being in the outdoors that defines what this club and sport is about. A shared passion builds bonds between people that last. Fly fishing builds those relationships especially strongly because of the waters where the club and sport takes us. In these special places away from much of the clutter and distraction of our modern lives, the scene is set to actually get to know someone. Throw in a Stream of Dreams, a lot of good fish and a couple of cold beers and you just may have a friend for years to come.
Scott Rosingana experiences:
Hat Creek had been on my bucket list of spots to fish for years, but it’s always a little intimidating showing up someplace, without any real knowledge of the fishery, and giving it a go. When I saw that the fly club had a trip planned to Hat Creek, I couldn’t wait for the signups to open so that I could get my name on the list. After signing up, time couldn’t move fast enough, and I looked forward with anticipation for the trip to finally arrive. The day finally came, and I hooked up the trailer, loaded all of my gear, and very excitedly hit the road. After a stop at The Fly Shop, and a beautiful drive past Mount Lassen, I arrived at the campground. Being new to the fly club, it’s always a little intimidating for me to show up to one of the events being the “new guy”, but Rob, Dennis, and Todd made me feel right at home.
After getting all set up, it was down to Hat Creek and my first look at the river. Beautiful!! There was easy wading, lots of good runs to fish, and an amazing amount of life on the river. I euro nymph fished the entire evening and was incredibly excited to catch my first ever euro nymph fish, a beautiful rainbow. I caught several fish that evening and was amazed to watch Rob and Todd catch about 4 to every one that I caught. The evening was topped off with an amazing hatch of bugs that was so prolific that it made it hard to breath at times.
Day two on Hat Creek was another beautiful day. Fishing was a little slower and we definitely had to work harder for the fish that we caught. There were fewer bugs flying that day and we had a decent amount of wind that day, but all in all, another amazing day on the river.
Day three was at Baum lake. I’ve never had a lot of luck fly fishing lakes so I was a little skeptical, but excited to give it a try. The weather in the morning was a little rainy and there was some pretty spectacular thunder and lightning. The rain was short lived and we were on the lake fishing before long. Rob and Todd set me up on spot in a bend of the channel and it wasn’t long before I was on the fish. Fishing a balanced leach under a strike indicator, the hardest part was being patient enough to let the fish take the leach before I set the hook. At one point, I’m pretty sure that I was hooking as many bushes as fish, so off on a little brush clearing expedition and all was good! At the end of the day, I had lost count of how many fish I caught, but it was well into the 20’s and at least 8 of those fish were in the 16”-20” range. It was absolutely an epic day and my opinion of lakes has definitely changed!
It was an amazing trip with a great group of guys. I feel fortunate to have been able to make this trip and I definitely plan on going back!
Todd Hyrn experiences:
Saturday evening and to celebrate our fishing successes and good company, our fishmeister carefully selected fine dining in MacArthur some forty minutes away. Off we went to break bread, eat beef and carbo load on tater tots larger than any of us had ever seen. The grassy campground where we pitched our tents, set up our trailers and took a hot shower proved to be just what the doctor ordered on Saturday night.
Sunday morning, Rob was up early for a jaunt to Manzanita. Unfortunately, he had no partners with the other three anglers choosing to head home. Another great trip with jokes, jabs, and stories to last a lifetime.
Rob Farris (Fishmeister) experiences:
It’s a real joy to have a new member join us on an Outing; welcome Scott Rosingana! I’d like to encourage more of our new members to experience the great waters we have access to and knowledge of, and the comradery of other Club members through attending an outing as Scott did. There’s no better way to meet others with similar fishing desires, experiences, and knowledge. Not to mention having a heck of a lot of fun as you can see above.
Got a full fly box? I schedule this time every year for the Hat Creek Club trip as it’s in the prime springtime for terrific hatches. Speaking as a club entomologist there is no better period for “maximum bug impact”. There were three different varieties of stoneflies hatching with large 2” Salmonflies, Golden Stones, and the smaller yet more prolific Little Yellow Sallies in both adult and nymphs, large size 10 & 12 Green Drakes, and everything else from Caddis to various mayflies such as PMD’s and PED’s. What else could you ask for?
Baum was as epic as I’ve ever seen. With both Mark Spruiell and Chris McCann’s help over the last two years I’ve added lakes into my normal river repertoire. And with the assistance of Mark’s custom ties I had a record day on the lake with 42 rainbows to the net including a 20” 'er to start the day. And it doesn’t get much better than over a 100 fish day between all four of us. Just an awesome and fun time on a Saturday!
While I was left abandoned at the campsite on Sunday by my compatriots nursing sore arms, I finished up at Manzanita chasing the Browns for a little variety. I ran into a beautiful high elevation morning with few others around at Lassen National Park since the main road around the peaks is still closed to snow. But the lake access was open and I was the only one on the lake from 6:30 until I got blown off at noon. Nevertheless, I was able to get into a few nice 15-16” browns that made it to the net to make it a valuable 45 minute ride up from our campsite. All in all, I’d like to thank Todd, Scott, and Denis for a great time and warm up for the summer. And my final outing grades are below:
Number of fish: B (Hat), A+ (Baum), C (Manzanita), Size of fish: B (Hat), A+ (Baum), C (Manzanita)
Weather: A (Day 1), C (Day 2), C (Day 3), C (Day 4), Campsite: A (great to have showers & grass site)
Size of Crowds: D (Hat), A (Baum), A+ (Manzanita), Hatch timing: A+; Hatch variety: A+, Hatch density: A+
Yuba River Skwala Workshop, January 28, 2021
Four of us set out Saturday, January 30 for the Skwala Stonefly Workshop on the Yuba river. The group featured Jon Baiocchi as instructor and three TVFF anglers; John Magee, Tom Olinger, and Patrick Donovan. The Fishmeister for the trip was Rob Farris. Rob was in typical form being first to arrive and after assuring all details were in place with Jon he was joined by Todd Hyrn. That was the last we saw of them until the end of the day as they bounded off across the river for a couple mile hike downstream in pursuit of the Skwala and surface action.
Jon had prepped us with pre-work and guide quality information for this workshop and everything was top notch. He put a lot of thoughtful preparation into getting us ready with documents that presented the fish, tackle, flies, and tactics. On the river I found him to be very enthusiastic about helping fellow anglers expand their knowledge and skills. He’s also a very patient teacher which is a great trait!
The weather started out a little brisk in the morning but warmed up nicely as the Sun was out in full force. Thankfully the wind Gods were restricted to only the occasional and welcomed light breeze. We met at Hammon Grove County Park and fished in the immediate area about a quarter mile up and downstream from the parking lot. I don’t know our exact metrics, but I think the flows were in the 700 cfs range. If you haven’t fished here, the river is very accessible and relatively easy to wade. Relative meaning the current is very manageable, but the bottom is primarily round cobble ranging from golf ball, to head size. I found a few boot prisons that took a little problem solving to negotiate.
Turning to the fishing, it was a pretty slow pick for us. I don’t have our exact numbers, but I think we had about 10 fish on, and a handful to the net. One turned out to be a nice steelhead buck at about 16”. According to Jon the fish in this river are some of the strongest trout he’s experienced. He attributes that to a very abundant food supply, and few places to hide from the current, i.e. “they’re on a treadmill 24/7 and very athletic”. I can’t really attest to that as my three fish went as follows: 1) spit the hook right after set (no angler error), 2) spit the hook just after getting it on the reel (again, no angler error), 3) “to the net” fish fouled himself on the 2nd nymph which took the fight out of him (hey, truly no angler error).
Patrick’s “Excellent Adventure” Steelhead
Meanwhile on their downstream cross country trek, both Rob and Todd were each toting two rods setup for Euro and dry action. The early day started out nymphing while holding on to afternoon dry fly dreams. Those dreams would not become reality on this day, although Rob did find a few Skwalas having “play time” on his leg at lunch. Around midday Rob was first to get a fish to the net nymphing with a Skwala nymph (actually a Pat’s Rubber Legs masquerading as a Skwala). Soon after Todd was hooked up with a nice fish he estimated around 20”. After working the fish for a few minutes the fish won. Right back into the same seam Todd was hooked up and landed a nice 18-19” fish. Our downstream total at day end was 4 fish to net and a heck of a lot of exercise cobble-hopping.
A nice one in the net for Todd Rob shoreline prospecting on the dry
Rob’s rainbow loving the Skwala nymph Adult Skwala “play time” with the sun out
In summary I think we all had a very pleasant day, especially considering an outing isn’t all about fish count. We were blessed with good weather, a great guide, some excellent instruction, and pleasurable company. Oh yeah, and Mad Max at the Thunderdome – apparently cross river is BLM land (Bureau of Land Management, not Black Lives Matter) and in the afternoon if it filled up with a pretty rowdy crowd of 4 wheelin’, gun totin’ pleasure seekers. So, will I go back to the Yuba for the Swkala hatch – yes. Would I fish with Jon on this, or another fishery – definitely!
Sometimes things line up just right: the moon, the stars, the weather, and a great group of fellow fly fishers. Having heard reports of how challenging these fish can be (being skunked is a real possibility) and the recent success of our fishmeister, my first-time steelhead adventure had me nervous and anxious. The three-hour drive to the river gave me time to think about what lies ahead: cold water, wading staff, heavier tippet, small flies and the need for a bigger net. Little did I know the net size would be a clue.
Todd rigging it, while Alan and Rob wader up
Our group for the day consisted of Alan, Rob, Todd and myself. Being the newbie, I kept my eyes and ears open for as many tips as I could absorb. One comment that stuck with me was Rob’s comment about seeing a smaller net: ” What are you going to catch with that? Butterflies?” Again, another clue.
On a glorious sunny and bright morning, Alan led us down the path past the hatchery to the wonderful little side channel just off the main river. The pool we would be in for the day was full of riffles and good current, and later what I would discover to be “bathtubs”. The water temperature was reported to be a balmy 49°F. The water was surprising clear after the recent rain. The glare on the water was a killer, so the challenge was on. After a quick refresher on high sticking and working a small float and even smaller flies (size 14 to 16) through the holes (almost euro style), I was on my own.
Of course, it was Alan who had the first fish to show us they were there! I had the opportunity to watch him play the fish (especially on lighter gear) as I ultimately netted his fish. It was then I realized why you need a big net! Having never seen a steelhead I was amazed by the coloring and size of this majestic fish.
Alan doing his normal thing terrorizing Steelhead
Having learned from that, and dancing around the riffles and listening to Todd say “They are stacked up here” and “another one just went by me” I hoped I could at least hook one. Understanding the hooking (and on barbless no less!!) to landing ratio is about 30%, I felt fortunate to simply see these fish.
As I was drifting a San Juan worm and small (size 16) flashback pheasant tail on a seven-weight rod I saw a slight hesitation of my indicator. Hmmm…. I gently raised my rod and noticed a slight tug. After this subtle hit I could feel the bend in my rod! My first thought was please do not do run downstream over the falls as I am not the nimblest in the water. As it turned out he turned and ran upstream and I had to chase him down. This is where those “bathtubs” and the encouragement of Rob (my net man) came into play.
After navigating around and sometimes through these depressions I ended up in a flatter area which made the anticipated landing easier. Rob’s wisdom of playing the fish ultimately helped bring the fish to his net. And boy was his net full! After stopping to catch my breath, I took a look. A beautiful 24-inch wild steelhead, and as thick a football that took the small nymph. After taking pictures and helping the fish recover, I released this trophy back. This is truly stuff of dreams and things lining up just right….
A beautiful first Steelhead. Congratulations, Denis!
Being gentle with the release
The rest of the day proved to be productive for the others as I did not get another strike (at least I think).
The strategies for the day included Euro style presentation with larger attractors including olive and black rubber legs as well as squirmies. Trailers included red butt nymphs, black mayfly nymphs and red copper johns. I heard Alan was using a perdigon style fly for one of his many fish. Typical tippet used was 3X on a 7wt rod. All of the fish in the system we saw, both hooked and landing, and jumping out of the water were all so big and healthy. The total count for the day was around 6 fish landed (maybe more) so believe our landing ratio was well above the average.
Rob thought this was a small one...LOL
As the day came to a close, one thing came to mind: being grateful. I am so grateful to the club for offering these trips and making them very accessible. And to those on this day trip to help stretch my comfort zone. Having the luck to catch maybe a fish of a lifetime is one thing, but to have the friends to share it with is even more important.
My final reflection on the day can be summed up in a quote from Charles F. Orvis-
"More than half the intense enjoyment of fly-fishing is derived from the beautiful surroundings, the satisfaction felt from being in the open air, the new lease of life secured thereby, and the many, many pleasant recollections of all one has seen, heard and done."
Tight lines, Denis
Fly Fishing the Feather River for Steelheads.
By Al Mansky and Dave Fontaine
Dave Fontaine and I were lucky enough to fish the "Feather" for Steelhead in October and November and we had a BLAST.
In October our the river was full of Salmon, dead, swimming and spawning. Even though we were not targeting the Salmon, you could not help but hook into them. It reminded me of the twenty or so fishing trips that I've made to Alaska, for King's, Silver's and especially the Sockeye.
The river was just alive with Salmon and so were the Steelhead, feasting on the Salomon eggs. Our guide. Ryan Williams, hadn't seen this many Steelheads and the size of them in years. Dave and I, probably landed five or six each, that were between eighteen and twenty four inches. We had as many hits and misses, but who's counting.
It did make for a long day, with a three hour drive up and back, with a 6:15 am launch time. We basically had on both outings the whole river to ourselves. I had bought, at last years fly show, a new seven weight fly rod that I wanted to try out and I almost lost it. I failed to take the plastic off the cork handle. This all happened on our November trip. It rained on and off all day and the wind kicked up in the afternoon. Anyway, to make a long story short, I hooked up on a BIG Steelhead, at least I think it was a Steely, and when he took off, he pulled the rod right out of my hands, because the plastic on the handle was wet and so were my gloves. I was able to grab the rod just before it went out of the boat. Needless to say the fish got away, but I didn't loose my rod and reel.
The last five or six years I've been doing the Trinity River trip that Gary Prince has put together. The last few years the Trinity just hasn't been fishing well at all. In fact my last two trips on the Trinity, I've been skunked. I think that I've found a new river to fish, that holds both quantity and quality of Steelhead. I'm looking forward to my next rip on the "Feather", probably next spring. Fishing the "Feather" is more cost effective then fishing the "Trinity," considering the distance to drive to Weaverville, the cost for gas, lodging and meals. I'm not knocking the "Trinity," I enjoy fishing it and it does have some bigger Steelhead in it. I'll be fishing the "Trinity" again, but not just yet.
I know some of you guys have fish the "Feather" by walking the banks, with limited success on Steeles with occasionally hooking up on a Salmon. It seems to me, that in-order to really catch Steelheads you have to float the river and fish the riffles and seams. Of course, have the Salmon spawning at that time really helps the bite on eggs. Considering this was my first fishing trip out this years, I rate it a 100% success. I think that I've been bitten by the fishing bug and I need to scratch it some more.
As part of the Feather River Steelhead Guide float trip event organized by Dave Fontaine, I booked the second offered day with guide Ryan Williams. The original date of October 28th was rescheduled to November 10th. After an early start from Livermore, I met Ryan in Oroville at 5:30 a.m. A short dive to the river and we were in the water by 6:00 as a chilly 32 degree morning was just dawning.
Drifting beads under a float, my first fish, a nice 21” hatchery hen, was on within ½ hour. Floating the beads with a dead drift was a new challenge that took some time for me to get the hang of. The day followed with three other nice 20-22” feisty valley steelhead to the net. Pictured are a 22” native hen with a 14” girth and a 21” feisty hatchery buck.
It was a long day trip, but a very enjoyable day with Ryan and the Feather River.
Chris McCann, Don Jower and I did a quick up and back trip to the Feather River after Lance's presentation in the hopes of maybe seeing a Steelhead or two. Cut to the chase: no Steelhead from shore/wading fishing, but hooked a number of salmon.
It was an easy 2.5 hour trip up and 41 degrees (getting to a high of 52) upon arriving at 7:30 am. Two guys already on the Outhouse rifle just below the highway 70 bridge as well as two guide drift boats plowing up and down through the riffle for over 1.5 hours. Nice...And we only saw 1 steelie netted by the guides during their float up there.
All of us hooked into salmon, which was not hard to do as they were wall to wall in various end of life stages. A graveyard on the shore with some as large as 30". (and most halved by Fish & Game for counting purposes). And as good stewards we broke off all of our hooked salmon, as well as our patiently tied rigs each time. BTW: I as using Lance's three bead rig as he outlined and hooked all of my salmon on that setup (both 3 bead and 2 bead + a trailing mayfly).
Cut to Act 2. We pack it up and decide to scout out Lance's suggestions in the lower river at Whitegate and Steep riffles off Larkin Ave at the Oroville Wildlife area. A few back and forth miles in the dirt alongside the river levees and a good 300 yard walk in got us to that area. Good looking Steelhead riffle water and a lot of spawning salmon in the flat water tailouts before the riffles so all looked quite promising, in seemingly hidden wooded areas. There were three other anglers down there in spite of the hike, so it's not virgin territory. One guy had caught a steelie but that was all down there that we knew of. So as light faded we began the hike out for the ride home after throwing the kitchen sink at them.
This was the 2nd trip in a week up there with different participants and still no Steelhead on the wading trips. Yep, if you want to hook a slow locomotive salmon or just observe some outstanding salmon spawning activity, then now is the time. But the salmon are spent and not energetic, so set your expectations accordingly. Perhaps the Steelhead were further downstream, not upriver in big numbers yet although the salmon eggs were everywhere, or the six chuckleheads making these trips didn't have a clue. No voting please...!
A great potential fishery below the highway 70 bridge, but we just have to figure out how to tease out the Steelhead. We'll all be back....
Summer Fishing on the Truckee, Summer Danger…!!!
An evening on the LT for Gary, Todd, & Marty with Rob on the LT tying on his 14th try for the right dry fly
Ah, summertime fishing. Warm days and nights; camping, wet wading, avoiding the mosquitos, being outdoors, comradery with fellow anglers while social distancing, and catching some nice healthy fish along the way. And so it was on the Truckee Watershed “Tag Along” trip July 24-27 for Gary Prince, Todd Hyrn, Marty Loomis, Bill Potts and I.
However, everyone else seems to have the same idea these days and the area around Truckee was crowded in the stores, on freeways, and on the streams. Nevertheless we avoided most of the crowds by fishing in more remote areas that don’t see many fishermen on the Truckee River, by being on the Little Truckee early in the morning, and at the beautiful and un-crowded Milton Reservoir on the final day.
The trip started after camp setup at Stampede Reservoir where we had a very large group campsite for spreading everyone out. Then out with a late afternoon on the Little Truckee in the bottom meadow (Gary’s favorite spot). Of course he hooked into a very nice fish of 18-19” that didn’t make it to the net with its rambunctious runs in fast water and a scrambling Todd trying to catch up with a net. Not an auspicious beginning, but things would get better.
Fishing was generally slow on the Truckee the next day as we hiked up the canyon a couple of miles from Farad. This is the normal doldrums season on the Big T, and it was hot. You need to hunt fish in the deeper pools and fast water as the water temperature continues to climb (62-67 degrees on our trip) and the fish search for more oxygen and cooler water. Between us we managed to get five smaller (~12-13”) fish to the net, with Marty getting top honors with two fish. But a good deal of exercise was needed from all the beer, bourbon, Scotch, brandy and camping food consumed the previous evening.
DANGER LURKS !!!: Back to camp and an afternoon serious thunderstorm. It started over a mile away and we counted down as it moved toward Stampede Reservoir and the campground. Seeing and hearing lightning strikes only 1,000’ away was sobering and we all headed into our grounded cars for the duration. Unfortunately, it was deadly for an individual that was on the lake nearby in a Jet ski. According to the local Ranger he was hit with a direct strike and died on the way to the hospital. Another boat on the lake was also hit and the individual suffered a serious injury (biting off his bottom lip) as he was thrown into his console in the cabin. Late afternoon storms are a common occurrence in the Sierras during the summer, so please keep an eye out for them and seek immediate safe shelter if they occur near you.
Rob, the Fishmeister/Taskmaster, had everyone out of their tents with an early departure for a morning on the Little Truckee. Good thing, as we all got preferred spots on the normally crowded Little Truckee. Everyone managed to catch some excellent fish in the upper section with Todd bringing two very colorful and energized rainbows of 19” to the net on size 20 Zebra midges with his Euro nymphing.
Todd's beautiful and healthy rainbow on the LT
Marty and I both got into similar sized fish with Marty’s Euro nymphing and my use of Creamy Orange dry fly pattern (PMD look alike). Down below in the meadow Gary and Bill were also chasing a few nice fish with Gary getting a nice 19” rainbow in the net. Again, it was another big rainbow for Gary on a Squirmy Wormy.
On Sunday afternoon we packed up and headed over the Milton Reservoir to camp (minimal facilities). As usual, Milton never disappoints with its remoteness, beauty, quality fish, challenge and accessibility. I am fortunate to have fished the lake many times with great mentors, so was able to bring seven typical Milton fish of 15-16” (6 browns and one unusual rainbow) to the net during the first evening hatch while Gary and Bill were in the learning curve. Todd was also successful with an additional one to the net in the evening. That learning curve continued the next day (the lake is a highly technical lake) for most, with both Bill and I bringing five fish to the net including a gorgeous fat butter belly female brown of 19”. A nice morning, back to camp for lunch, and I can’t wait for the evening hatch.
A beautiful evening at Milton to cap off a successful Brownie hunt for Bill, Rob, Gary & Todd
Whoops, what was that I heard? A Thunderstorm approaching at noon??? Lesson learned from the previous day and we all got off the water and packed up for home. Overall it was a good trip with fewer numbers, but with an excellent quality fish of those caught. A word to the wise; afternoon thunderstorms are not to be dismissed lightly at high elevations. Fish hard, but get the heck off the water and seek safe shelter if they are approaching.