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Hi All,

This heat has brought a considerable increase in snow melt that raises the flows at the club.  The flows hit 8000 CFS yesterday.  That is not safe to fish in my view.    This is great for the fishery, but hard on us.  I have wanted to hold our annual Spey casting clinic, but the flows are still too high to hold the clinic.  I had hoped to fish today, but at these flows it would not be wise.   Holding a clinic would not be worth the cost & time to put on with these flows.  I will do my best to put on the clinic as soon as it is safe.

I thought about going down to the American to fish for Shad and discovered the American has the same problem at 15,000 CFS.  I think it is time for doing a day of wine tasting around the area.

I talked to my friend and member Jeff Putnam who puts on our clinics.  I consider Jeff the best instructor in the nation if not world when it comes to teaching Spey or even single handed casting. Jeff taught my daughter Heidi and she was casting very well in a hour or so.   It is not only his knowledge and ability, he has an incredible capacity to make you understand what you are doing and what you should be doing.  He makes it so easy to understand and also gives you tips that help you recognize when you are not casting correctly.   If the line is not doing what you want it to do, he gives you reference point that tells you what you are doing wrong.  That is what a great teacher does, whether it is golfing, casting or doing any sport.  If a golf ball slices right you know what caused it and you make correction.  Same with Jeff’s teaching process.  If your loop is not the correct shape you will know what you need to.  Jeff is also a great guy to hang around with as he is always a true gentlemen and has great stories. Jeff also has great videos on his website.  I  enjoy watching them over and over.  Particularly when I have fished for a while.  It is like getting a tune up.  Here is a link to Jeff’s website.  You can get his phone number at the site.  If you can’t fish, you can always work of things that will help you when you are able to fish again.

It is the same with tying knots.  If you don’t do it for a while when you get on the river you not as fast or you may even have to play around a bit to tie the knot you want.  Just take the “nail knot”  that I tie maybe once a year.  That knot should take a few seconds.  Tie it once a year and it takes several minutes of your fishing time.  Just think about how much time you spend tying knot.  If you haven’t fished in a while grab a few yards of line and tie a few knots during a commercial when you are watching the news.  It your changing flies and using different techniques you can easily chew 20 minutes of your fishing time tying knots.  If you can cut that time down below five minutes it can be the difference between a good and bad day of fishing. If you are tying on a new fly during a hatch, every second is important.  Hatches normally do not go on long periods.  They come and go.  So work on tying that improved clinch, surgeons and perfection loop knots.  Here is a link to a good animation video of knots.


Tight lines,




Sunday of Labor Day weekend I went up to the club with Tom Bartos to meet Randy Wilson. We checked in at about 3:30. It was a beautiful 75 degree day! The flows we’re at 1000cfs and went down to 550cfs by 5:00pm, where it remained throughout the evening. Tom went up stream from the storage yard to fish and Randy fished the boxcar riffle. I headed down to the bottom of American Bar with my Sage One, 5wt switch rod. I’ve got it set up with a Switch Chucker line, a 10ft clear floating PolyLeader and a 9ft 5x monofilament leader for casting dry flies.
The water was raging at the base of American Bar as it flows into the big pool at the 90 degree turn above the gauging station. I threw a couple of dries but it was difficult to see my fly as it drifted down steam in the sunlight. I headed up stream and started to work American Bar just above the white water. The sun was still pretty bright as I looked down stream but my new polarized sunglasses worked great to see my fly! I worked this area of the river pretty good changing flies often. BWO’s, Stimulators, rubber-legged Stimulators, Tarantulas…all the staple dry flies for the club. As I worked my way upstream, to almost midway up American Bar, the shadow of the mountain was on the river. I put on the biggest Parachute Adams I had, a size 10. This part of the river is one of my favorites. There’s lots of big rocks for fish to hang and the flows create for a perfect drift presentation of your dry fly no matter if the river is running high or low. I have found that when the river is flowing above 600 cfs, the best rod to use is a switch. It simply gives you the ability to work the entire river better than a single handed rod and you do not need to worry about back casting. My two handed casting has improved quite a bit this year because it seems when I’ve gone up to the club, the flows have been mostly high. I was able to cast with ease across the river and a little downstream, about 45 degrees to the other side. I let my fly skate down and across the water. As I watched my fly skate across into the middle of the river, a fish took my fly creating a small splash. I raised my rod and then the fish took my line out very quickly. FishOn! I was able to get the fish on my reel and bring him in a bit before he took my line out for another run. With a few head shakes, I could tell that this guy was big and powerful. I was having a difficult time getting him out of the main part of the river. I put my rod tip down towards the edge of the river and forced him to calmer water. As he got closer I could tell he was a nice fish. Earlier that day, I had put on the back of my vest a magnet set up to hold my net so when I needed to net the fish, I just grab the net with my free hand and scoop the fish. It worked great! I had landed the biggest Brown I’ve ever caught at the club…19 inches!

BS Brown

We headed back to the campground and while Tom and Randy prepared for dinner, I decided break out my single handed Scott A2 4wt and head down the river to try my luck again. I put on the same big Parachute Adams and dabbed a little bug float on the fly. I worked the river as it flows into the Whispering Pines pool. I had a few takes but no hook-ups at first. I stripped my line in and put the fly in the middle of the white water as it enters the pool about 20 feet out. As it drifted onto a soft spot, a fish took my fly and ran out into the middle of the pool. Another hook up with what felt like another big fish! This guy was fast and powerful. I was able to get his nose out of the water and drag him to the net…a nice 17” Rainbow!

BS Rainbow

It was time to go back up to the campground and have some ice cold beers, eat a great dinner and listen to some of Tom’s many stories while he enjoys his cigar…

Yet, another great day at the “Fish’n Club” I’ll remember for years to come!

With all the rain these days, I find it a good time to start getting my equipment ready for the upcoming season.  There is nothing more important than our boots when it comes to fishing and protecting our rivers.

Boots:  The New Zealand mudsnail has been discovered in the Yuba.  It has been in Putah Creek for years and is causing great damage to the food production habitat.  Currently we do not have the mudsnail in the Middle Fork.  We want to keep it that way.  If you fish any of these rivers you have two choices.  The first is have a set of boots for the Middle Fork and one for rivers that contain the mudsnail.   The other way is to freeze your boots in a plastic bag overnight after fishing the Yuba or Putah Creek.  Please make sure your guests follow the same practice to protect our river.  Here is an example how this snail can cover the river bottom and prevent our natural bugs from reproducing.

Fly Line Care:  When was the last time you changed or washed your fly line?    We all want our lines to float high in the water to prevent the dry fly from being pulled under.  A dirty line will cause the line to sink.  Here is a link to a Rio video that explains how easy it is to clean and protect your line so that it remains high in the water.

Rods: Periodically wax the ferrules (where the rod pieces separate) lightly with paraffin to ensure a firm fit and proper function.  Completely air dry your rod and place it in a cloth bag and tube before storing. The rod tubes can trap moisture, which can swell reel seats and ruin the rod finish.  To protect the tip, it is best to bag your rod with the tip top and cork handle up. Occasionally clean your rod with warm water and soap and completely dry. To shine, apply furniture polish and don’t forget to protect the rod when finished.

Reels : Reduce the drag pressure to the lowest setting when the reel is not in use, and store in the neoprene reel case away from extreme heat.  Clean the reel by rinsing with cool fresh water and dry. Take care to thoroughly remove all sand and grit from the reel. Leave the frame and the spool apart and dry completely out of the reel case.  After use in saltwater, pay special attention to cleaning the reel, as saltwater can leave a sticky residue that will harden over time if not properly cleaned and dried.

Fly Boxes:  Some people like to have both dry and wet flies in the same fly box.  Others prefer to have a box of dry and a box of wet flies.  To each his own.  When I look at my cupboard I get overwhelmed at the number boxes and flies I have   I probably have over 5000 flies yet I would be surprised if I use 100 different flies each year.  We have all stopped by the local fly shop when on a trip and sought advice and purchased a handful of the recommended flies.   I rarely use more than a few of the flies I purchased, but figure I help keep the shop open.  Now is a good time to reorganize your flies and boxes.  It has been suggested that we keep a mothership of flies and then have a day on the water box for flies I intend to use.   Others suggest that you set up specific boxes for your destinations.  If you are a shad fishermen it is nice to have a dedicated Shad fly box.  If you like to swing flies, having a box of leaches and streams comes in handy.   Same goes for nymphs and dry flies.  I have a boxes for terrestrials, Ants, hoppers, etc that act as my mothership.   Now is a good time to gather all your flies and organize them in a manner that you feel comfortable.  This saves a lot of time when you are ready to go fishing.

Vests vs packs:  For many years I used a vest and carried enough stuff in it to open a small fly shop.  After a while I noticed it weight ten pounds and I rarely used 95% of what the jacket held.  This is a good time to wash your vest and go through the pockets to make sure what you need is there and what you won’t use is removed.  The same goes for chest packs.  I keep adding stuff to my chest pack that I really do not need.  How many time do you need a tool to tie a nail knot on the river?  That is a tool that can be kept in your wet bag.  My wet bag has more gear in it than a small fly shop.  The good thing is that it is left in the car or boat while I fish.

Waders:     When was the last time to washed your waders.  Did you ever fix that pinhole in them that annoyed you every time you were on the river.  Now is a great time to wash and repair and leaks in our waders :  Here are some suggestions from Simms.

Wader Care & Maintenance

Waders should be washed by hand, in a bathtub, in cold water using a powder detergent. Rinse thoroughly and allow to air dry, including the feet. Packaging or storing your waders wet may result in mildew and tape peeling. Simms Waders should not be dry-cleaned or put in the dryer. A water repellent treatment, such as Revivex�, will rejuvenate the water resistant finish on your waders.

Applying Water Repellent Treatment

After the waders are washed and thoroughly rinsed, saturate the outside of the waders with Revivex� or other water repellent treatment. Allow product to drip-dry. “Set” the treatment with heat using a blow dryer or iron (low setting), avoiding the stockingfoot attachment area.

Repairing Your Simms Gore-Tex Waders

Tears, punctures and pinholes do happen. Luckily, Gore-Tex� waders are easy to repair. 1) Turn waders inside out. 2) Apply rubbing alcohol to suspect area. Leaks will show as dark gray spots. 3) Immediately apply AquaSeal� to the area and cure for six hours. Please note: this method will not work on seam leaks. If you think you have a seam leak, call 406-585-3557 for information on returning your waders for repair.

I hope this helps you get your gear in shape and ready for a great season of fishing the Middle Fork at the club.

Tom Bartos

President & FounderTom's 20' Brown 10-18-11


Horseshoe Bar Fish and Game Preserve is devastated to announce that thieves broke into our storage area where we house our equipment for the Wounded Warrior Event that is held the first week in October every year. Finding out that someone felt they needed to steal from these veterans is heart breaking. It is like stealing from a church or organization that helps those less fortunate of our community. This break-in will set us back many years as the amount of equipment they stole exceeds $25,000. Much of the equipment has the initials HBP written on it. Only the veterans that attended our events or members of Horseshoe Bar Preserve would have equipment with the “HBP” letters printed on it. Some of the rods were made by Bill Carnazzo and had his name printed on the rods. Many of the waders had the size printed in Black Felt pen. If you see this equipment being sold, do not say anything or accuse anyone. Please contact us immediately at 916-205-6073 or the sheriff’s department and let them know you believe it may have been equipment stolen from Horseshoe Bar Preserve in Foresthill. Police Report # 15-11343.

FOX40 News Report of the Stolen Wounded Warrior Equipment >

It has taken years to gather up all the equipment we need for the event. Volunteers have put in hundreds of hours raising funds and helping to acquire the equipment that is needed to hold the event. We also provide the veterans with the same equipment when the event is over. Each veteran is given a complete fly fishing outfit with all the flies and equipment needed to continue fly fishing including boots, waders, fly rod and reel, plus the vest/chest packs that have all the supplies needed to fly fish. The fly boxes have over 100 flies in them to allow the veteran to fish anywhere in the country.

Over the eight years that this event has been held we have helped rehabilitate seriously wounded veterans by teaching them how to fly fish while staying in our campground along the river for four to five days. Literally all of the veterans who have attended our event have said that learning how to fly fish has changed their lives and their families’ lives in so many ways. As one of the vet’s wives said to me this year, “My husband looks forward to being able to go fly fishing every week, and when he returns he is a different person. You can see it in how he seems content and truly excited to tell me how he did and how he was able to forget about his injuries. Your program has changes our entire families’ lives for the better.”

Participating and volunteering in our event is incredibly humbling as you are involved in helping these veterans deal with a wide variety of physical and mental injuries. It is one thing to hear about their injuries and another to actually live with the vets for five days. You get a firsthand view of seeing what they go through on a daily basis. You also are humbled by their attitude and desire to be treated as if they had not been injured. Many of these vets refuse to use handicap placards in their cars because they do not view themselves as being handicapped, even though they are missing limbs and suffering serious nerve and brain injuries.

If you would like to help us replenish the equipment that was stolen, please contact us at, 916-205-6073 or you can make a donation right here:

Thomas G.M. Bartos
President & Founder


As many of you know, I got into Trout Spey fishing several years ago after attending Spey O Rama.    Once I saw the distance you could cast without a back cast I was hooked.    With today’s lightweight 12’ Spey rods,  casting is easy and fun.  I have Spey rods from 12’ two weight to 14’ seven weight for large salmon and Steelhead on big rivers.    I love fishing the two weight for trout up to 18” fish.  However at the club you can easily get into a fish that is too large for this rod.  That is why we developed the 10 year commemorative club combo rod which is an ultra-light  12’ four weight Spey Rod  that converts to a six weight 9’ single handed rod.  This rod is idea for fishing the club waters or the Trinity for Steelhead.  It has a lot of backbone for such a light rod.  We sold out our first order the first week after announcing it and everyone who bought it loves it.  The 9’ six weight is ideal for nymphing with large flies. We will be ordering a second run in the future so if you are interested let me know so I can add you to the waiting list.

With the new FERC license we have been blessed with a new flow regime that has tripled the food production and spawning  habitats.  You can see it in the large numbers of young fish in the river.   We are also catching record numbers of large fish as well.  In the ten years of running the club I  have never received so many reports of members catching 20”+ trophy rainbows and browns. These trophy fish need to be handled with care to preserve them.  They give us the most excitement and memories.

We never want to exhaust a fish just to say we landed it.  Just because the fish swims away does not mean it will live.  Often after being exhausted a fish will swim away and the go belly up once he reaches its hole or the bottom.  Then they just lay there and die without you knowing that you killed the fish.  Always make sure you give that trophy fish a chance to recover before and after you take a picture.  Just think of it as you running a 400 yard sprint and then having your head put under water and then taken out for a picture.  The fish needs to catch his breath to get rid of the lactic acid he has generated during the fight before you hold it up for a pic.  A good practice  is that start holding your breath when you take the fish out of the water to take the pic.  You will know when it is time to get it back in the water when you need to take a breath.

I came across this link to a number of Spey casts by Jon Hazlett.  It shows the various Spey casts you can make.  These casts can be made with all rods so it is worth watching.       Of course there is nothing better to improve your casting that a private lesson with a professional instructor.  We happen to have what many consider the best Spey Casting instructor  in the country, Jeff Putnam   as a member.  Jeff lead a Spey Clinic at the club earlier this year.  He knows the club waters and there is no better way to learn how to catch fish and learn  Spey Casting at the club.

Tight Lines,


Tom Bartos

President & Founder


Hi All,

Rusty, Jim & I  made the float trip from the Dam down to the Storage area( about ½ mile) .    Floating at the low flows is not something I have done previously. It was both good and not so good.  We scraped and bounced off  a few rock which made it exciting.   Nobody flipped and it made the trip fun.  The Predators performed exceptionally in both the shallow water and also going through the two rough rapids.  My oar got caught and spun me around, but the predator handled it perfectly as I went through the rapid/pillows sideways.

The north fork came up much quicker than I had remembered.    This is a beautiful little tributary.  A Tenkara would be the perfect rod to fish this water.  You could also short line or high stick this water.  Because of its size it is really a one person tributary unless one of you hikes up a ways  carefully not to disturb the fish.

The confluence is a beautiful area with the NF flowing into a large pool with two beautiful riffles running out of it.   There is beautiful nymphing water throughout this float.  Because of the low slow flows swinging was not productive.  I would like to try swinging when the flows are higher.

Shortly after we left the confluence we got into some shaded areas where hatches were happening.  I switched to dry fly and picked up a nice fish while chatting with Rusty.  I never saw the take, but the tug was something to remember.   The fish was a ways out there and I lost the fish when it started an array of aerials.    I quickly picked up another and lost that too due to aerials.  I need to get better at this.  It may be that they had taken the 18 BWO.  I had on my usual Turk Tarantula (TT) with the BWO about 18” off the back.  I had a gray TT, but I usually like the orange & red body TT.

As we headed downstream the water widened and slowed perfectly for dry or nymphing.  About 150 yards about the storage area take out the dry fly action really picked up about 6:00.  I lost 2  and landed 4 nice rainbows in the 14” to 16” range as they took the TT.  I try to let them get off by themselves once they are within landed range.  It is funny how they can get off easily while they are out there, but when they are close in and you want to release them they just will not get off.

My next float will be from the lake downriver.  I am excited about this float as I love the Gray Eagle pools and also that huge pool above the Cathedral.  I really would love to get into that 10 pound brown again and get a picture of this monster.   His family and friends are pretty large as well.   I will probably up my rod to a 6wt or 7wt the next time.

While there were times when I would have liked to have my fins to fish the large pools, the Predator makes it very easy to wade.   It is like a floating walker.  I am amazed at how easy it makes wading.  When it is around me, I feel like I can dance across the cobles and boulders.  With my bad knee it is a life saver.    What is really nice is when you see an area you want to fish you can just stand up and cast assuming you are not in water too deep to stand up.  You make a few cast and if you don’t hook something you just down and move along.  You do not have to worry about getting out or losing your unit as the bar prevents it from floating away.  It does not affect your landing a fish even without a net.  I am putting together an order for Scaddens and would like to have at least six units to qualify for free shipping and perhaps a discount on the wonderful rolling duffle bags.  I love these bags as everything fits in it and it is easy to  move around on the wheels.  The Predator normally sells for $1700 because it is made of Kevlar and only weighs 13 pounds.   Dave usually give me the show sale pricing of around $1000-1100.    The Renegade is a bigger version and weighs 28 pounds because it is not made of Kevlar.   The renegade is like riding in your favorite recliner.  It is very safe in any water and easy to maneuver.   I love fishing in it when I want to take a large cooler, dry bag etc.  It carries a lot.   If you have any questions, please feel free to call me.

Tight lines and keep your experiences coming along with pics. You don’t need a trophy shot of a fish to let us know how you did.  As you can see from this email there are plenty of pics to take without a fish in it.

Tom Bartos

President & Founder

I had an enjoyable time fly fishing at the Club Friday and Saturday with a buddy, Mark Serlin.  Serlin was a old comrade of Bill Carnazzo’s and is an excellent fly fisherman.  Fishing on Friday was particularly good;  we noted multi-hatches: primarily mayfly duns and what appeared to be darker Caddis, although the latter seemed a bit early for this time of year.  We fished Boxcar and the area downstream, primarily floating a size 16 dark Caddis with a size 16 emerging (soft tackle) pale evening dun dropper, tied to a 15-inch tag piece of leader so it trailed the point fly below the surface.  A raise of the rod tip at the end of a drift occasionally stimulated a hard take and we took several nice rainbows in the 13-16 range.  I had two break off.  The river is low; we mainly caught trout in the faster, more oxygenated water.

I managed to leave my headlights on when I parked above Boxcar; thanks again to Art and his buddy who happened by and gave me a jump or else we would have been up a creek, literally.

We passed a convivial evening at the campground with a new member, Troy Scott.  I believe we solved most of life’s mysteries over steaks, a salad, potatoes, polenta, a few bottles of excellent red wine, a single malt of mature age and cigars.

On Saturday, we hiked down towards the Cathedral pool.  We traversed the ridge of the dry holding pond to the left the trail above Cathedral.  At the upper, (mountain-side) right-hand of that depression is a trail that takes you immediately downstream of Cathedral, which involved some thrashing through the underbrush.  We forded (with some difficulty) to an island, forded again to the opposite bank and worked our way further downstream.  I had not been below Cathedral before; both the water and the scenery are superb.

Saturday was not as good as Friday; I wonder if that was due to a bright, full moon Friday evening, which perhaps allowed the trout to continue feeding through the moon-lit night.  Serlin caught a nice rainbow, nymphing.  We both trailed a size 14 Prince off the same sized Hare’s ear among other things, but to little avail.  There was a light Cayhill hatch at the Gray Eagle pool with a few rising trout later in the day, although a large river otter passing through put them down for a bit.  He surfaced, gave me the “Who the fu** are you?” look, and continued on his way.

We saw numerous of what appeared to be Golden Stone casings, and Serlin found a live Golden Stone of about three and a half inches with amber coloring on its thorax..  I think a size 6 or 8 Simulator may do the trick next time.  Troy mentioned in an email yesterday that he caught a Brown on a Stimulator.

One final note: the poison oak is thick everywhere, particularly on the stream-side steps going down to the Cathedral pool.  This time of year it is a light green color and is blooming small white flowers, so you can’t miss it.

All in all, a great time was had.  Best, jjb

James J. Banks

I do not know about you guys, but knowing what line to use at times becomes very difficult for me.   The standard single handed 9’ rod is pretty easy to understand.  I tend to recommend going up a line when you are a novice caster as the extra weight allows you to feel the tug in the back cast.   Then we have the switch and Spey rods which also have their variations depending on whether you are using a standard floating. sinking  or Spey lines.   This is where it can get very complicated.  Floating, Sinking, Nymphing, Skagit, Scandia and Short Scandia not to mention lines that come in rod line weight and also grains.  Choosing a line can be overwhelming.  Even those who are very knowledgeable can have difficulty in knowing what line to use. There are so many exceptions it is impossible to know them all.  You would think a 5wt 9’ single handle rod would use the same line as a 5wt 11’ Switch rod.  No, the extra length of the rod requires that you go up 2 or 3wts . As I said very complicated.

I recently discovered that Rio has an on line  “Fly Line Selector”   You can even get a smart phone application for this selector.  Thank heavens.  I have just started using this site so I am not familiar with the sites and how well it works.  My guess is that it is very good.   I  do think it is worth the time to look at when you are considering buying a line.  I have always used Rio lines and highly recommend them

There are some other helpful hints like cleaning and storing a line on this site.  Check it out.

I hope this helps all of you,

Tom Bartos

As you hike down the trail  towards Gray Eagle Bar you will see a large pine tree on your right next to the path.

The picture below was taken about 30 yards after I passed the tree.

Just be aware that you are close to the side channel crossing once you pass the tree.

Grey Eagle Bar Pool - Middle Fork American River - Horsehoe Bar Preserve

Grey Eagle Bar Pool – Middle Fork American River – Horsehoe Bar Preserve

About 40 yards past this large pine you will see a path going down to the side channel.

At the bottom of this path is a rope crossing the river.  The movie below is Bob Schardt crossing the side channel.

Grey Eagle Bar Pool - Middle Fork American River - Horsehoe Bar Preserve

Grey Eagle Bar Pool – Middle Fork American River – Horsehoe Bar Preserve

After crossing the side channel you will see several large trees about 30 yards downstream.  Walk towards the trees below.

Once there you should be able to see the opening to the lower Gray Eagle pool and also the Gray Eagle run

which is about 100 yards long before it reaches the side channel entering the main channel.

Grey Eagle Bar Pool - Middle Fork American River - Horsehoe Bar Preserve

Grey Eagle Bar Pool – Middle Fork American River – Horsehoe Bar Preserve

Once you are on the main river you will see where the river widens with several fast currents and large swirling eddies on both sides of the river.  The fast current on the near side is a great place to nymph and swing flies. Frankly, there are numerous places to swing flies and nymph.  The far side of the river is a good distance which requires a Spey rod to reach.  The eddy on the far side is loaded with large rainbow that feed on the food that flows into the swirling eddy.  I have hooked many 20’+ rainbows swinging a black leach with a trailing Pheasant Tail.   The problem is once the get hooked they rise doing somersaults and tail-walking which makes it hard to keep them hooked.    There are also great dry fly areas providing the sun is not high in the sky.  If the sun is high you need to be deep.  Below is a picture of the area.

Grey Eagle Bar Pool - Middle Fork American River - Horsehoe Bar Preserve

Grey Eagle Bar Pool – Middle Fork American River – Horsehoe Bar Preserve

The Gray Eagle Bar run extends below this swirling pool for several hundred yards before it goes into a huge deep pool loaded with monster browns.

This pool is where I caught the 10 pound brown with Bill Carnazzo.

Grey Eagle Bar Pool -  Middle Fork American River - Horsehoe Bar Preserve

Grey Eagle Bar Pool – Middle Fork American River – Horsehoe Bar Preserve

I hope this helps you as you learn to explore the various areas of the club downriver.

Tom Bartos

Fly Fishing Tips for Catching Winter Trout
Article by Kirk Deeter

Winter can be the most rewarding season of the year for fly anglers. If you can stand the cold, you just might have the river to yourself, experiencing solitude that’s rarely found when the mayflies are hatching in spring and summer. But there’s another reason to get out and fish between December and March: Winter can also be the most technically challenging season, demanding precision and skill more than any other time of the year. If you can catch fish now, you can catch them any time.

The trick to catching fish with flies in the winter boils down to four simple rules: Slow Down; Size Down; Tone Down; Present Down(stream).
Now, here’s the lowdown.

Slow Down
Tip 1—The Trout Forecast: When water temperatures drop, the trout themselves slow down. Their metabolisms decrease. They become more lethargic. They don’t chase flies as actively as they would when the water temperatures are in the ideal trout zone of 45 to 65 degrees. One way around that, of course, is to fish in tail waters—rivers that flow from bottom-release dams. The water released from those dams remains at a relatively constant temperature (usually in the 40s or 50s) throughout the whole year. So the fish don’t feel much difference between July and January—though shorter days and seasonally different insect hatches do indeed change the angling paradigms substantially between summer and winter.

Tip 2—Stalk Softly & Cast High: When trout are in the slowed down winter mode, the angler should slow down as well. Rivers are usually at their lowest and clearest in midwinter. Bright-white, snow-covered banks reflect light and exaggerate shadows more. While winter trout typically aren’t as “jumpy” as they are in the summer, that doesn’t mean they are much less spooky. I typically try to slow my pace and movements by at least 25 percent when I fish in the winter. I am particularly concerned about the position of the lower winter sun, so I can be careful not to cast long shadows over the runs I target. I also spend more time high on the riverbanks spotting fish before I cast. If you can see and then specifically target trout, your odds of hooking up are exponentially greater than they are when blind casting in the winter.

Tip 3—Make Slow & Short Strips: Streamer fishing can be good in winter, especially in tail waters. But again, I tend to slow the tempo down a tad in winter. Instead of the long, aggressive strips I make with my fly line in summer in fall, I’m more apt to make slow, choppy strips in winter.

Size Down
Tip 1—Be a Nymphing Maniac: I typically fish with smaller flies in the winter, and 99 percent of winter fly fishing is nymph fishing. At any time of the year, midges comprise more than 50 percent of a trout’s diet. So these small insects are extremely important for anglers to understand and imitate in every season. But the midge game is especially important in winter, because there is not much mayfly or terrestrial activity then.

Tip 2—Black Stoneflies Are Best: Another very important bug to key into during the winter is the little black stonefly. While these stoneflies share the same basic shapes and dark colors as their spring and summer counterparts, these insects are typically much smaller (like size16 or smaller). While egg flies (small ones) and, in some cases, attractors like Prince Nymphs are useful winter patterns, an angler cannot go wrong in most locales if they fish little black stoneflies and small midge patterns (like zebra midges, juju midges, and black beauties) the vast majority of the time.

Tip 3—Lighten Your Tippet: I also make a point to size down on my fly rig when I trout fish in the winter. If I normally fish a river with 4X tippet, I’ll usually drop down to 5X. I think the light and shadow contrast on bright winter days added to the low clear water is a recipe for making trout more leader shy than they might normally be in summer. It’s also important to drift flies directly to the trout in winter, so smaller tippet helps with presentation.

Tip 4—Same With Your Strike Indicator: I never throw big, gaudy strike indicators in the winter. Instead, I prefer to use small pieces of yarn, pinch-on foam, or when the water is really low and slow, I’ll use a dry fly like as small parachute Adams as my de-facto strike indicator.

Tone Down
Tip 1—Be Dull (Seriously): As a rule of thumb, winter demands duller, darker colors more than any other season. That applies to everything—from the flies you fish, to the colors you wear on your body. Typically, small black flies are best in winter. Tans, browns, and greens also tend to work well. I try to steer away from the bright accents like sparkly wing cases and shiny beads as much as possible. Black or glass beads tend to work better for me when I want to use a weighted fly. And while I am not afraid to fish in a loud Hawaiian shirt in the spring and summer, in winter I typically wear white, black, tan, or sky blue. On a snowy riverbank, a red baseball cap is going to be a dead giveaway to the trout, and it will negatively impact your fishing.

Tip 2 —Wait Longer Between Casts: Another important factor of the Tone Down rule has to do with your casting tempo. You cannot be flogging the water in winter. Wait at least 25 percent longer between casts, and take time to watch fish react to those casts, even if they don’t eat the fly. A trout’s body language will tell you when to cast more clearly in the winter than in any other season.

Present Down(stream)
Tip 1—Cast Down: While most of us like to fish from downstream to upstream, in winter I make 90 percent of my presentations—even nymph presentations—in a downstream direction. I think the prospect of “lining” the trout is a far greater risk in winter than in any other season. When I see a trout holding in a run, I first factor where the sun is relative to my position, and get myself in a spot where I can see the fish (without staring into surface glare) without creating shadows. Drop the flies several feet upstream of the target fish and let them drift into the zone. Strikes can be exceptionally subtle in winter, so set the hook (gently) on even the slightest stall, stagger, or hiccup in your indicator or line.

Tip 2—Watch Your Weight: Another important thing to remember when fly fishing for trout in winter is those lethargic fish are going to move less to eat a fly. To force them to eat, you have to hit them in the head. Do that, and they will eat flies. The number-one factor in making a good presentation is weight. Change your weight at least five times before you even think about changing your fly pattern. You want the bugs suspended so they drift exactly into the feeding lane. That may require tinkering with your weight from run to run. It also usually means making many casts to earn a bite. So be patient, and pause between repeat casts.

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