Sam Arkin reports on Putah Creek: June 24, 2021
Putah Creek is a cruel mistress for this shop. She offers some of the strongest and most beautiful rainbow trout that Northern California has to offer and flows tantalizingly close to San Francisco, our home base. She is also notoriously fickle and difficult to fish. We here at Lost Coast feel that fishing Putah is well worth the occasional frustration, and we want to do all we can to set you up for success. First I will talk a little bit about gear, and then move to specific techniques that might help you run into the trout of a lifetime only a little more than an hour away from the dinner burrito at El Faralito in San Francisco that walking Putah’s banks will make you crave.
Putah requires a good roll cast and an almost obsessive attention to mending your line especially when suspension nymphing. The owner of our shop and our resident casting guru George Revel will be hosting a roll casting clinic at the casting pools in Golden Gate Park on Wednesday July 7th from 8-9AM- as well as the rods which we feel offer you the best chance for roll casting success here. George swears by the 10 foot 4 weight for roll casting success- and Putah's dense banks thick with underbrush require it. Come to the clinic- you won't regret it!
Felt boots are not allowed in Yellowstone or Alaska, but it is possible they should be mandatory at Putah. Decent current in places and New Zealand moss that grows like an 80s metal band’s hair make felt a great choice if you are going to be fishing Putah a lot. All of our most experienced guides on Putah wear felt. We cannot recommend the Simms G4 Pro enough for Putah, even when wet wading.
The water which flows through Putah comes from the bottom of Solano Dam, and so she remains ice cold year long. This is great for the health of everything that lives in Putah in times of devastating drought, and especially for her rainbows. It also means that waiters are a must, except for summer when wet waiting Putah, which is located in an agricultural valley where temperatures often spike over 100, is a must. Dialing in your wet waiting set up for light weight and ease of access can make you feel compact and efficient on the water, which is often a real benefit on Putah’s banks which are sometimes crowded with brambles and trees.
The Techniques: Suspension Nymphing
The tried and true technique on Putah is a suspension rig (please see our comprehensive guide to setting up such a rig here) with 2 infinitesimal midge nymphs and a worm- traditionally two zebra midges in a size 18 or smaller- and a San Juan worm. This technique works, although on Putah especially it requires patience. The idea of a suspension system is that allows you to fish multiple levels of the water column at once, which is a great idea in theory. The problem is that Putah is full of conflicting currents and rocks which make perfect mending (a state very few of us actually achieve!) a necessity. You can fish the same pool with the same suspension rig for 15 fruitless casts only to see a bobber go down on your 16th cast, the only one that featured a perfect mend. This makes Putah a great place to learn how to indicator fish a suspension rig. And remember to ALWAYS assume you are not getting deep enough- a snag or two on the creek bed with the bottom fly is a good place to start- move up from there. We here at lost coast in conjunction with our favorite guides have found 2 techniques that have not conventionally been fished on Putah to be extremely fun and productive: euro or tight line nymphing and streamer fishing.
Euro or Tight Line Nymphing:
This techniques cuts through the Jacques Cousteau like intricacies of the Putah water column and allows you to get your flies down where you want them. It also relieves the incredibly demanding task of mending for a suspension rig on Putah. Try one of our recommended euro setups just under the bridge, where slightly smaller water and pockets of boulders hold surprisingly large fish. Hooking up with an 18-inch putah rainbow on a 4-weight euro rod is positively tarpon like, and the most fun I have had fishing in many months.
For many years Putah was thought of as a place where nymphing is your only chance for success with a frustrating and brutal ratio at play: the smaller the midge the bigger the trout and the harder to land that trout becomes. Leaches and streamers are a thrilling alternative option. While you may not catch as many fish as the skilled suspension or euro nympher, when you do catch something it is likely to be big and ready for a fight. Leeches in a size 8 or 10 are what we recommend to start.
Show up early if you can! The temperatures climb steadily throughout the day, and be prepared to start with a full wading setup and transition to truly refreshing wet wading throughout the day. Most people park by the bridge just past the camp ground and head down towards the stair case riffle- if you are looking for a change of pace and possible solitude, head across the road, across the little canyon, and make you your way up as far as you can towards the dam. Roll casting will come into play here, but try roll casting a leech across to the opposite bank and giving it a rapid retrieve. Again, you most likely won’t have a fish every cast. But if you do hook into one, be prepared for a battle! And speaking of roll casts and other potential areas of life where we might want to go longer, who doesn’t want more distance? George will be hosting a roll casting clinic at the fly casting pools in Golden Gate Park on July 7th between 8-9 AM where we will tell you exactly which rods are best suited for it and why- spoiler alert- for George it is these.
Down from the bridge but above parking lot 4 are many areas which may not be suitable for suspension nymphing but have been super rewarding with a euro rig. In fact, learning to tight line nymph opens up boulder pockets and fast water that you may not have considered fishable before.
And our final piece of advice for this month or any other month: try streamers! Typically the streamer fishing is hottest (forgive the pun) in August, but it works year round and can alleviate both nymph and mending fatigue. Heck, it might even alleviate fatigue in general.Continue reading