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Fall Stillwater Prognosis

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Jon Baiocchi Reports on 9.7.2017

Fall may be coming, but it sure doesn’t feel like it with triple digit temperatures in the greater central valley and foothills. Record highs were shattered in the past week, even coastal areas like San Francisco, and Ukiah. Hopefully this will be the end of a very hot summer. The fall season on Sierra stillwaters is the best time of the year for the fly angler. Trout move into skinny water to feed, and as the water temperatures plummet they can also find more comfortable water temps there than the main body of the lake. By “skinny water”, I mean water levels of 1 to 3 feet, and often the game is sight fishing if the lighting is right. Depending on the fishery you can expect big number days and constant action. Fall is also the time of year when I use my Tracker Pro Deep V as a taxi rather than fishing from it, it’s all about finding a productive shoreline with weed growth, a slot, or a transition zone reaching out to deeper water. Trout behavior in the fall months are about one thing, fattening up for the long haul over winter while living under an ice sarcophagus. They are extremely greedy and often let their guard down. Shorter leaders can be used with heavier tippet sizes, and a bad presentation can often mean a hook up. It’s the complete opposite from the demanding and challenging damsel game.

I’m often amazed how anglers try to over complicate their equipment while fishing from the bank. In reality it’s the simplest form of fly fishing a stillwater. A fly angler only needs one fly, or if you plan to use two flies, a big bugger with a trailing callibaetis nymph would be optimum. A 9 foot leader to 3x, and a weight forward floating line. So many fly anglers think an intermediate is best from the shore, but here is the truth. An intermediate line will sink faster than you think, and in skinny water your fly will be lower than the level of active feeding fish, which look up 90% of the time than down. Also with a floating line you can slowly reach the level of the fish by counting down. Other variables can be the weight of the fly. Many of my flies are unweighted or only use one small single bead. It’s all about depth control. Depending on how hot the weather will remain for September will be the deciding factor when the fish will start the fall gorge. Cooler nights are on their way in, which really helps to drop the water temperatures. This month will be interesting nonetheless. So let’s take a look at what we can expect from the two leading lakes of the northern Sierra.

Lake Davis – The current water level is 89% which is way up there for the fall season. With those water levels, many of the bigger coves will have adequate water levels in the far back reaches of them. Do not ignore the areas that have not seen a lot of angler pressure. Trout are shy creatures, and if the food is there without fear of harassment, it can be really productive. My sources from DFW shared with me that a recent electro shocking sample revealed a little over 200 rainbows in the middle part of the lake, and nothing was less than 20 inches. We’ll see the same results as the past but maybe a few more in the net as we get into October. 1 to 5 fish, but they will be large. I’m expecting to hear that a few 6 to 7 pound fish will be caught, they are in there for sure. Because of the latter you can expect a smaller amount of anglers on the water. September will see the last brood of the callibaetis mayflies, and blood midges. Once the water temperatures fall below 55 degrees, the hatches will wane out.

Frenchman’s Lake – After last June I’m most certain we will see great fishing from Lake Davis’s little sister. I still have June 10th on my mind, the day we boated 62 fish, and missed dozens more. That’s what Frenchman’s is known for, big numbers of trout when the conditions are right. The lake level is currently at 84%. September will bring callibaetis hatches and numerous midge hatches with several different species out and about. Indicator fishing will be strong. As water temperatures drop, and the sun takes a lower arc in the sky, the fish will go on the fall gorge. I’ve always done better here with bigger flies like wooly buggers, or Jay Fair’s stripping flies. The takes aren’t always aggressive, and most often they are light, so keep a tight leash to your fly. If the lake does not freeze up early, do not forget about November and focusing on the south end of the lake. It’s going to be a great fall season at Frenchman’s.

I’ll be guiding both lakes until ice up, but when inclement weather and snow comes in for good, I bring my boat back down here in Nevada City. For the rest of the season it’s a walk and wade game, which is really no hindrance since the fish will be prowling the banks. A couple days near the end of September is all that is left on my guide calendar, and a few weeks in October. There are plenty of days for November open at this time. Don’t procrastinate - book your date now before it is too late. Call me at 530.228.0487, or email me at to reserve your day.

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