The First Small Stream Fly Fishing Trip Of The Brand-New Season

Category:
Backcountry, fly fishing small streams, Review
Added Date:
Friday, 3 May, 2013
Summary
The snowpack up here is so bad, Older Bro and I took the direct route into our normally-unreachable-until-June alpine stream.
 
Content
The snowpack up here is so bad, Older Bro and I took the direct route into our normally-unreachable-until-June alpine stream.

Tom Chandler fly fishing an alpine small stream Hard to see, but I'm hooked up to the biggest brown trout of the day.

 

On the way in, the Official Beater Fishing Vehicle of the Trout Underground (a 200,000 mile 1990 Ford Bronco that has seen most of California's dirt roads and looks like it) got stuck in a snow drift, but we managed to dig it out, back it out, and then dig our way through the drift.

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Ultimately, we got within a mile of the stream before the drifts acquired that "You think you'll make it, but you'll end up walking back to cell phone coverage" look.

I've seen that look. I know that look.

We stopped there.

When we got out of the truck, one thing struck us.

It didn't look like spring. The snowfall has been so dismal in California that even the alpine landscape looked dried and dusty, like it was already summer.

If you're a fan of wildfires this would be a good thing, but if your tastes run to fly fishing small streams -- which are dependent on snowpack for much of their summer flow -- you might be less thrilled.

The Fishing Part

We were there to fish, so we suited up, hiked in, and arrived at a stream that was in absolutely perfect shape. We even spooked a couple trout at the first pool.

Unfortunately, we spooked them from the bottoms of the runs, which means (you guessed it) our dry flies remained largely untouched for the first 45 minutes.

Apparently, just because we blew into this stream in spring is no reason for the trout to eat dries like it was summer.

They've got a lot of nerve.

Eventually, we hooked a few on the [cough]nymphs[cough] hanging eight inches behind our dry flies, and about 2:30 it warmed enough to get a few bugs flying, which got the trout interested in our dry flies.

It wasn't a wide-open bite (I ended the day with five, Older Bro one or two less), but I thought I was the first to fish this stream this year.

Until I saw the footprints on the sandbar.

We saw tire tracks on the road, but didn't figure them for a fly fisherman. Still, the season opened on Saturday and we showed up on Sunday, so it's possible someone got in ahead of us.

On the way out, we learned the sad truth.

Not only had we beaten to the punch (now I'm consoled by the idea I was the first to fish at least some of those runs), but we'd been beaten by someone who was eating brown trout -- alongside the road we found a gutted, cleaned brown trout which had likely slipped off a stringer.

Dang. Beaten by a fish killer.

The Gear

First, I wanted to take pictures of this trip so badly that I made absolutely sure the camera battery was fully charged.

Which is why I left both the camera and battery sitting on top of the charger. Not my finest moment, and it's why the Undergrounders are viewing this trip through the lens of Older Bro's smartphone.

Sorry.

I continued my test of an Orvis Helios 2 8'4" 2wt, while the backcountry stream-loving Older Bro fished his Orvis Superfine 8'6" 3wt. The Helios 2 is an impressive (and expensive) fly rod (it weighs nothing), but in a blow for thrifty people everywhere, we both found ourselves preferring the less-expensive Superfine.

california-rivers-map

The Superfine Touch bends a little deeper and tapers a little slower than the Helios 2, which admittedly offers a light tip and good close-in performance. It's just a little faster than it needs to be for a small stream. Certainly, it's not too fast for something bigger, which is where I hear some are fishing it.

This is why I dislike writing rod reviews; I could tell you I prefer the Superfine series but can't break it down into anything approaching a pie chart, which means we're straying awfully close to "because I said so" ground.

In the end, I can only speak to what I like, and anyone with $775 is free to disagree.

See you on a small stream, Tom Chandler.
 
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Destinations
El Portal is located 11.5 miles west-southwest of Yosemite Village, at an elevation of 1939 feet. The population was 474 at the 2010 census. Yosemite Valley is a mere 20-minute drive ... morefrom El Portal along a relatively flat road, which makes El Portal convenient while providing less expensive lodging than the Park itself. Visitors looking for even cheaper lodging could drive further to Mariposa. Those looking to save could drive as far as Merced, but that is quite a haul for visiting Yosemite.

The town lies along State Route 140 by the Merced River located on the western edge of Yosemite National Park. Town buildings include a post office, community center, and a small school. There are two hotels, a small general store, and a gas station, but not much else. Its proximity to Yosemiite national park and the Merced river that make it special.

Fishing permits are available at the El Portal Market. Fishing limits Park Boundary to Foresta Bridge, 2-trout limit, min. fish 12 inches, open all year. Foresta Bridge to Bagby, 5-trout limit, open last Sat. in April through Nov. 15.
Fishing Waters:
Fishing Waters
The American River watershed offers fishermen (and fisherwomen) a wide range of experiences, from fly-fishing in the clear streams of the Sierra Nevada to casting for steelhead in ... morethe lower American as it flows through Sacramento. The American River contains two main sections. The North Fork and the Lower American River

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The North Fork of the American River is designated as a while trout water. Most of the North Fork flows through a deep canyon carved through metamorphic rock. It has a very rugged character with very steep slopes and a narrow bottom. Deep pools framed by sheer cliffs, waterfalls cascading from 40 to 70 feet, and benches, densely wooded with alder and willow are typical of the beauty found in the North Fork Canyon. The fishery is dominated by Rainbow trout, with an occasional Brown trout (the brown trout are usually lunkers!).

Fishing enthusiasts can choose from a number of trails to access the river canyon, most of them dropping steeply from the canyon rim down to the water. While visitation peaks in the summer, primarily driven by hikers/swimmers, late spring into mid-summer is typically the height of the boating season. The highest boatable reach is known as Generation Gap (12 miles), run by only the most experienced Class V boaters, which can only be accessed by a three-mile long walk. The next lower reach, known as Giant Gap (14 miles), is also Class V and is accessed by a two-mile hike down the Euchre Bar Trail. Although overnight camping permits are not required, if visitors want a campfire, they will need to obtain a fire permit.

The Lower American River is a short stretch of river, flowing through the city of Sacramento, is the most heavily used recreation river in California. It provides an urban greenway for trail and boating activities and is also known for its runs of steelhead trout and salmon.
From over 13,000 feet on the south side of Mt. Lyell, the Merced River gets off to an icy, cold start. Winding through ancient canyons, carved by glaciers from another age, the river ... moreflows through Yosemite National Park down to the Lake McClure Reservoir. Its journey includes snow-covered peaks, alpine and subalpine meadows and clear, fresh water lakes. Pristine and largely unaffected by outside influences, the South Fork of the river still boasts one of the few self-sustaining populations of rainbow, eastern brook and brown trout.

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Game Fish Opportunities:
Born of the spring snowmelt from Mount Dana and Mount Lyell, the Tuolumne starts in Yosemite National Park and runs for over fifty miles before entering the Stanislaus National Forest ... moreand public land managed by the Federal Bureau of Land Management. Flowing through some of America’s most glorious scenery, its whitewater rapids require respect as well as permits before entering its turbulent rifts. If you choose to float the river, the optimal time is between May and September. Water levels vary according to releases made by the Hetch Hetchy Water and Power agency as they manage the dam. Permits can be obtained from the Stanislaus National Forest’s Groveland Ranger District Office or by visiting the US Forest Service website.

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Trips
$
275
-
$
615
/ Boat
Capacity:
1 - 4 anglers
Days:
Daily
Duration:
4 hours - 1 day
Fishing Waters:
The Merced River originates in the Southeastern corner of Yosemite National Park. Its headwaters begin at 7900 feet at the Clarke Range. It flows over Nevada and Vernal Falls, and ... morelastly, Illilouette Creek before she flows through the main Yosemite Valley. Then the Merced, picks up water from Tenaya, Yosemite, Bridalveil, and Pigeon Creeks near the end of the valley, and meeting up the water from Cascade Creek before the river flows through the Merced River Canyon and then outside the park. Its South and North Forks join it a few miles outside the park.

The Lower Merced is another river that can be drifted, water flow permitting, or walk & waded January through May.
$
300
-
$
400
/ Angler
Capacity:
1 - 2 anglers
Days:
Daily
Duration:
4 hours - 1 day
With our extensive experience fishing the Truckee River, we have the vast knowledge needed to guide you on the Truckee River and have fun doing it. We have specialized in fishermen ... moreof all types from first-time anglers, to experts.
$
325
-
$
450
/ Boat
Capacity:
1 - 2 anglers
Days:
Daily
Duration:
4 hours - 8 hours
Fly Fishing the American River will leave even the most advanced fly fisherman wanting more. That is why a knowledgable American River Fly Fishing Guide will not only educate you on ... morethe river sytem and its species, but show you the ins and outs, when, where, why, how and with what. Whether you are swinging for steelhead on the Lower American River or dry fly fishing the South Fork American River, you will be pleasantly pleased with the results.

The American River system is where you can start out fishing the Lower American River for shad, striper or steelhead while wet wading on a summer morning, then go eat lunch, get back on the road shoot up hwy 50 and within 45 minutes, have 30 fish on the South Fork American River fishing drys. Fishing the American River is one that can satisfy any fly fishing crave. The Lower American River is known for its shad, striper, steelhead and salmon runs. Shad start to enter the river in late spring, with some entering as early as April, the fishing starts to pick up in late May and early June, with July being the best. Even though the migration has ended the fishing can be great on those late July summer nights. If you have never fought a shad on a fly rod, I highly suggest it, they don’t call it the poor man’s tarpon for nothing. There are two methods used when shad fishing, one is swinging flys specifically tied for shad, the other is drifting flies under an indicator. Either technique is productive when used properly.

As far as stripers go, there are some resident fish in the river system year round, but can be extremely hard to catch due to the lack of numbers. When the weather warms so does the water as well as the Striper migration. The stripers start entering the river in early April and they are in the river system through September. Your best numbers in the lower part of the river is between April and May. June is a little slower due to the amount of shad that are in the river system and the stripers actively feeding on them, but once the shad are gone the fishing really heats up from late July through August, September and sometimes even October depending on the weather and water conditions. The best technique used for stripers is by stripping or swinging clousers with sink tips, full sinks and shoot head lines.

Now for the Steelhead, half pounders can be year round, but are mostly caught from late summer to spring. They can be caught using many techniques, from swinging to nymphing and even throwing drys. The best months to be on the water for half pounders are August through October along with March April and May. Don’t be discouraged by the word half pounder, this was the original run before the Eel and Mad river strain (winter run steelhead) was introduced in the 70's. These guys can put up a real fight for their size and most half pounders are wild fish ranging from 16-22" some even pushing 5 pounds and they are always full of spunk. The winter run doesn’t start showing up until the beginning of October, this is also peak time for the salmon run. The winter run steelhead that are on the American came from the Eel and Mad River systems, that was introduce by DFG to protect the steelhead population after the dams where e rected. These fish can be caught throughout the length of river from mid October all the way through March, sometimes even April. These fish range anywhere from 5 to 15 pounds. As far as fishing techniques goes, these big boys can be caught with the same techniques used on their half brothers, just scaled up a bit. If you want to get into steelhead and don't want to travel severals hours and possibly get a big goose egg, the American River is where its at. Not only is it our back yard, but we have 30+ years fishing this river system and we know where these fish hold throughout the year. Come enjoy some backyard fishing on a great river like the American river.

-Brian-
Outfitters
 (12)
We are a team of friendly and knowledgeable fly fishing guides, with a combined 40 years of fly fishing experience, dedicated to making your adventure on the water with us as enjoyable ... moreand informative as possible. We want you to succeed in all of your fishy endeavors, and we will take the time with you to make sure that you have all the techniques and skills necessary to catch fish wherever you go. Float or Walk and wade with us on one of Northern California's finest rivers and streams and we will accommodate our guiding style to meet your needs and abilities. With our extensive fly fishing knowledge and experience on waters all over Northern California, we will guide you on a fly fishing trip you will not soon forget.

NCFG practices catch and release on all boats. We respect the sport of fishing and wish to give all anglers the opportunity to experience the gratification we strive to give each of our clients.
21 comments
Fun site! I'm a former NY state guide who now writes the Matt Davis Mystery Series, set in Trout Town, USA (Roscoe, NY). It's nice to see there are others out there who share my interest in fly fishing. I'm also a NC resident, but I'll be fishing on the Beaverkill for two weeks very soon. Here's a link to a great video showing how to tie an extended body Green Drake (or March Brown, or whatever you ... more want to tie in this fashion)...http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KraahlynOjk Check it out!
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Do you review products often? My Dad, Mike Westfall, makes quality fly fishing nets here in MT which you might like to try out on your next excursion
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Nice blog! Weathers just getting nice here in MI, but in my home of Idaho still early yet.
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Tom Chandler: he actually added the weight of each item to the database, so at the push of a button he can see exactly how much weight he’ll carry. Whatever happened to simply suffering like the rest of us? Wow doesn he not understand by documenting the weight he's automatically gonna lose the 80lb uphill both ways in 6 feet drifts during whiteout conditions hairy chested ummm... urination contests?????? ... more Outdoorsman theory 101 don't document that kind of stuff... "forget" your camera.... wait till witnesses are to far away to really see the fish.... COME ON our "Fine and Pleasant Misery" wouldn't isn't the same if you hamstring your storytelling like that
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My take on the Classic Trout rods are, they are not all the same. In truth, the longer rods seem a bit soft, even for me. I have a 762 and 863 and 804 model. I love the 762 and 804 models but the 863 seems just a bit too soft. I have played with some of the 9 foot rods and while they are smooth and wonderful 'tippet' rods, I just preferred a tad crisper rod....not so much faster, but just a bit more ... more progressive. They say the new Tempt rod is the same thing as the Classic Trout, but upon wiggling a few different models at the local fly shops, it is my opinion that the Tempt is a better rod in long models yet seemingly too fast in the shorter sticks. My over all favorite Classic Trout stick is the 804 and the 762. I think I might unload the 863 Classic Trout and replace it with a 904 Tempt...preferring 4wt rods anyway. I think the long Tempt models remind me of a very affordable version to the discontinued Sage ZXL. My take anyway.
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The Classic Trout really does have something nice going for it (I remember walking into the Ted Fay Fly Shop and within seconds of arriving, Bob Grace practically forced me to cast it).
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DarrellKuni: Glad you got out, glad someone had a cam — I can tell my memory gets creakier by how many items I’m forgetting. Thus I’ve instituted a list, when I remember it. Older Bro has actually built a sizable Filemaker Pro database checklist so he doesn't forget anything when backpacking. Because he's a massive geek (to the family's eternal embarassment), he actually added the weight of each item ... more to the database, so at the push of a button he can see exactly how much weight he'll carry. Whatever happened to simply suffering like the rest of us?
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Tom, I have never commented here before, but congrats on finally getting out and doing some fishing! While I haven't commented before, I do frequent your blog and I've been checking again and again, waiting for your report on that first trip of the season. Glad to see you fishing once again. We've been getting insane amounts of rain here in Georgia, by the way. Speaking of the Redington Classic Trout ... more rod, I recently purchased a Redington CT 9 foot 4 wt and made the perhaps questionable decision of taking it out for the first time last weekend to my favorite public trophy water after several days of heavy rain! It was hard the land the few big ones I hooked up with between the size of the fish and the speed and heavy flow of the current, but I did manage to net one huge 20 inch rainbow. He bent that rod over double, as did a nice 16 inch rainbow I landed, but the rod got the job done. I had a blast fishing it. I believe my Redington CPX 5 wt is better suited to the big fish in that stream, but that CT was so much fun, I don't know that I can leave it in the truck next time.
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That's what those guitar tracks are for? Damn, I am way more macho than I thought. All I'm really missing is a waterproof mp3 player.
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Glad you got out, glad someone had a cam -- I can tell my memory gets creakier by how many items I'm forgetting. Thus I've instituted a list, when I remember it.
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Tom Chandler: I fished the 8? 4wt Superfine Touch on the Upper Sacramento River a couple times and found it a little lacking when the wind came up. There's wind everywhere I fish and I don't cast well or far but I found the SFT was pretty decent for me. I was actually casting across and into the wind a little better than usual. At least it felt better to me. I'll have to pay more attention to ... more that this weekend.
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marty: Good to get out even if conditions aren’t perfect….. that minor fact of being a grownup and having to earn a living makes the best time to go EVERY TIME YOU GET A CHANCE…… one of the joys of being divorced with no kids is that I have one less set of priorities that can interfere with fishing…. My choice for those waters would be a Granger 7030, Dickerson 7012, or the 6? one piece farlows (the ... more armor cane job that Lee Wulff used for everything)….. On this creek, a little longer rod helps -- deadfall basically defines this place, and trying to get a cast over a giant fallen log and keep the line off the snags during the drift is a lot easier with something in the 8'+ range. And not to put too fine a point on it, the part about trying to "earn a living" is slowly acquiring a gravity that's becoming a little crushing. Our family's health insurance has essentially tripled in cost the last four years; our car insurance goes up 8% every time we renew, and then there are the college funds, which have to essentially become winning lottery tickets in the next 14-15 years...
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Dan: I’ve got a Superfine Touch (8? 4wt) too. It has become my favorite rod. Last weekend I fished with it on a small brown/cutthroat stream and a medium stocked river and I’ve really fallen for it. Not that expensive hooker love, either. This is different. This is special. Next weekend I’m going to fish a bigger river with it and see how it feels. I fished the 8' 4wt Superfine Touch on the Upper ... more Sacramento River a couple times and found it a little lacking when the wind came up. On anything smaller, I love the thing. My Older Bro likes the 8.5' 3wt better (for the extra length), but I think the 8' 4wt offers a lot feel and just casts sweetly.
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Those Redington Classic Trout rods are pretty spectacular given the price (assuming you're into moderate actions).
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Good to get out even if conditions aren't perfect..... that minor fact of being a grownup and having to earn a living makes the best time to go EVERY TIME YOU GET A CHANCE...... one of the joys of being divorced with no kids is that I have one less set of priorities that can interfere with fishing.... My choice for those waters would be a Granger 7030, Dickerson 7012, or the 6' one piece farlows (the ... more armor cane job that Lee Wulff used for everything).....
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The start of your season, the end of my winter season. I made my last trip (probably) to a big river (Rio Grande) for this year (unless I hike into the Gorge later in the summer). I've got a Superfine Touch (8' 4wt) too. It has become my favorite rod. Last weekend I fished with it on a small brown/cutthroat stream and a medium stocked river and I've really fallen for it. Not that expensive hooker ... more love, either. This is different. This is special. Next weekend I'm going to fish a bigger river with it and see how it feels. Hopefully I can keep it intact for a while. I've broken the tip twice since I got it last fall. *sigh*.
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Couching Tiger: Ha ! now you”ll have to fish more ”Manly water” like the Upper Sac., Mc. and ”the Pit”…. Ha! Now all I have to do is make up shit a little harder, turning my girly man fishing into the Stuff of Epic Awesomeness. (You know, maybe add a shredding guitar soundtrack to liven up an otherwise tepid trip...)
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Tom Chandler: Lucky bastidges. We had to manufacture drama for our opener, you’ll get it after stepping out the door. Life is just not fair sometimes (at least from a blogger’s perspective). I fear what we’re heading for later in the year. Some of my little streams aren’t fed by high altitudes, and they’re going to suffer. Ha ! now you''ll have to fish more ''Manly water'' like the Upper Sac., ... more Mc. and ''the Pit''....
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Long time lurker, 1st time poster from Eastern Idaho. Here many of our streams, especially ones linked to Native Cutthroat waters, rightfully are closed until July 15, which is also fine because they are mostly blown out until then. Most other Idaho small streams are just blown out. There are a few springs around which run basically consistent in flow and temp (depending on how far from the source) ... more year around. One (a popular one which many know about but I still won't mention by name), I have fished a half dozen times this year starting back in March where I saw nice dry fly action and witnessed BWOs (itty bitty ones) and midges standing around on snow drifts. Brookies and Bows (some bows are wild born and some are cut from a cookie cutter), are what is found there. As for rods used, I have an old medium action Sage 1st gen 8 foot 5wt that has been my goto small stream rod since I bought it back in around 1980 (thinking back, but my memory does fail me). Lately, I have been fishing a rod that stays in the truck of my car, a Redington Classic Trout 4pc 8 foot 4wt, which nicely throws the same DT 5 line I use on the old Sage. I bought the same rod (Redington) in a 7'6" 2wt but unless I over line it with a 3wt or even 4wt line, my nerves are pretty much shot after a few hours of fishing in the ever present Idaho breeze. I recently acquired an old Orvis Superfine Ultrafine Staggered 7'9" 2wt which is wonderfully slow, delicate as can be but lousy in the wind. I am thinking of selling it and finding a clean used Superfine Far and Fine 7'9" 5wt. It is funny how much I still really like to fish that Redington CT 804. Enough poop for larger trout (except for the really big ones) on side channels on the nearby South Fork or Henry's Fork with a good reel, yet delicate enough for small streams.....and dang inexpensive too.....sort of a poor man's Superfine (or early Sage) Nice blog and great report.
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Lucky bastidges. We had to manufacture drama for our opener, you'll get it after stepping out the door. Life is just not fair sometimes (at least from a blogger's perspective). I fear what we're heading for later in the year. Some of my little streams aren't fed by high altitudes, and they're going to suffer.
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Opposite problem here in northern Wisconsin. All the local streams are blown out. Just 80 miles west of us the received almost a foot of snow yesterday. We got freezing rain. Tomorrow is opening day of the regular season and I might be able to find fishable water 60 miles away. The closest sure thing is 150 miles away. All the same I prefer our position of cold and wet to the California position of ... more dry and hot. Good luck this Summer!
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