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Tips for Low Water Fly Fishing

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Hogan Brown, Hogan Brown Fly Fishing

1. August is prime time for resident river stripers so I am pretty busy and always enjoy august as we get shots at some really big fish. Go find some stripers on any of the valley tail water…L. Yuba, L. Feather, L. Sac. 

2. Conventional wisdom: fish early, fish late, look to higher elevations for cooler water temps.
3. Try to catch a King salmon on a valley river by swinging traditional salmon flies on your spey rod…or single hander. The Lower Feather is a good spot to do this. Yes it can be a cultural experience but there is plenty of fish and plenty of room to get away from people…and a fresh king will put a pretty good bend in that spey rod you bought for that one or two weeks you spent up in BC over the last 5 years. 
4. Stay home… yes stay home and bank your fishing days with your spouse, job, or own conscious that keeps your hobby in check with living a responsible adult life. September-November is usually some of the best trout, steelhead, and striper (in the delta) fishing of the year and you want to be able to go when it is go time. 


Jon Baiocchi, Baiocchi Troutfitters

During August and the “Dog Days” of summer usually means hot conditions, and low water. Every year is different; a great example would be this August where the monsoonal flow pushed far enough north to produce cooler temperatures, thunderstorms, and heavy downpours in Northern California. Location is everything when fishing for trout in the summer sun, whether it is a big tail water, a high elevation creek, or a deep canyon river where sunshine is limited to exposure like the North Fork Yuba River. Another tactic to consider, no matter the venue, is seeking out areas where colder tributaries and springs enter the system. Trout will move and relocate if possible to live near these areas as it is more comfortable, and if their food supply is good, they’ll stay put.
Terrestrials become an important food item this time of year as well. Most of the aquatic insects have already hatched and waned with the exception of caddis flies. Hoppers, ants, beetles, and caterpillar patterns can all be effective. Trout are very opportunistic; they have to be in order to survive. All wild animals will adjust and adapt to changing conditions, and trout are no different.
With lower water levels two key factors come into play for the fly angler, using more stealth, and lighter tippets. Another point to consider during low water is that fish are more concentrated in the deeper pools, and runs. Focusing on these areas greatly reduces searching every nook, cranny, and seam of moving waters. You know for the most part exactly where they’re at.
The fly angler who understands, researches, and seeks out favorable conditions for trout during the hot months of summer not only finds success, but a higher education that carries through with them on their journey to being an accomplished fly angler.   


With lower than average water conditions on the Truckee River this August, fly anglers may need to change the game plan a bit. Trout can sometimes get a little spooky this time of year, end of summer. Some of the more popular spots on the river trout can be “shell shocked” from all the pressure. With low water and weary fish you may need to approach the water a little differently. Dry dropper rigs will almost always out perform a nymph rig with an indicator. Also you may need to down size a tippet size or two. Try a black bead instead of a gold one on nymphs. Try to also approach the water a little more stealthy, wade quietly and put a few cold ones in the ice chest in case of a skunking. 

Jim Stimson, Jim Stimson Fly Fishing

Hot August Nights
As we turn the corner on August, there are signs that autumn is upon us. The sun is lower on the horizon, the shadows grow longer, and the aspens on the high slopes are starting to turn. This has been a tough summer for the local streams and rivers. With year three of a severe drought raging in California, we look forward with crossed fingers for a “normal” winter. Some of my favorite waters to fish are teetering with the possibility of late summer fish kills, the East Walker in particular. The Bridgeport Reservoir normally sends down copious amounts of cold water and the large population of brown and rainbow trout thrive. This season however, the reservoir is a mere pond. Warm water trickles into the East Walker now ….  the fish are surviving, but barely. One of the most useful tools you can carry with you in the Eastern Sierra is a thermometer. If you fish the East Walker, get there early, really early. The water temperatures are usually in the upper 60’s in the morning, however, as the day warms up, so does the water. About lunch time, you will notice the water isn’t as “grabby” as before. Pull out your thermometer and plop it into the water. Hmmm…. now the water is in the low 70’s. If you do hook a fish, notice how they are desperately gasping for oxygen. Upon release, they swim away slowly, OR, they take a long time to recover, if at all. Well now…. perhaps you shouldn’t be fishing at all. Why? Because the mortality rates start climbing as the water temperatures rise. All I’m saying is fish with some responsibility and ethics. Educate yourselves, pick a stream that give the fish a chance.
The Upper and Lower Owens River systems are healthy and are fishing well. Personally, I would avoid the East Walker for the rest of the season or until the temperatures start freezing at night. Hot Creek, in spite of low, weed choked water (sounds inviting, right?), fishes well early and late as the fish look skyward for caddis. Tie on a small stimmy and trail a cdc caddis off the hook bend. Look for the deeper buckets for holding fish, but that said, if you can carefully place a cast within the lanes between the weeds. Whack! Try really short drifts. With any of these streams, the water temperatures are higher. Expect to find trout hanging in the tail-outs after riffles. This turbulent water provides not only the food pipe for fish, but oxygen. ‘Nuff said, I’ll step down from the pulpit. Get out there, have a great time, fish with some compassion, and perhaps hit some of the high lakes in the backcountry. Let’s hope for a big winter.

Jay Clark, Jay Clark Fly Fishing

The biggest tip I can give is buy a stream thermometer and use it! A lot. All day long!! When water temps hit 70 degrees it’s time to call it a day and give the fish a break. Start your day earlier than you might normally start and be cognizant of water temperatures. When fighting and landing fish, do it quickly. Fish heavier tippets and horse those suckers in as fast as you can. And lastly, please limit the grip and grins this time of year. The less time that the fish is exposed to the air the better for the fish. Try to keep the fish in the water for the pic and then revive and release as fast as necessary. 

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