It doesn’t seem like that long ago I was making rounds through my winter fishing grounds while waiting for everything to open up the last weekend in April. Now here we are again, just days away from the closure of many of our favorite rivers.
Other than planning steelhead trips, this time of year I stay close to home and get the best out of familiar rivers.
The Stanislaus River section from Goodwin Dam to Oakdale closes October 31st as the remaining runs of king salmon push their way up river. It is an impressive reminder of what once was, and a sad realization of what’s left.
With the water levels up, use extra shot to get your nymphs down and watch out for slick rocks. A friend of mine was in knee deep water but took a tumble and the current caught his waders. He regained his footing down river a bit, but slick rocks in faster than usual water is always something to be wary of.
I still like my usual prince nymphs and black birds’ nests even though many would think switching to egg patterns would be the ticket. On the top I rarely use anything but elk hair caddis or Griffith’s gnat. Don’t be afraid to trip in the Griffith’s. Yeah, it’s a dry fly, but my buddy and I have had better luck with slow short strips or swinging them.
The Middle Fork of the Stanislaus doesn’t close until November 15, and this is the time of year when things can get radical. New Melones is pretty low, which lengthens the fishing grounds where the Middle Fork hits the lake. It’s not pretty, but as long as you look at the water and not the eroded edges, it’ll do.
There are tons of Kokanee migrating up and with them come some monster browns and rainbow trout. With water fluctuating thanks to PG&E, you can see a drastic difference in water levels in just the time it takes you to move down river. This can reveal angles to deep holes that you previously had no chance to access.
Be careful and pay attention, but fishing those deeper holes with a good amount of weight and a nymphing rig - maybe a big black birds’ nest dropped off a black AP, or Prince Nymph with a red tag - can get you into memorable fish, for sure. Every once in a while you might snag the bottom, but do not fret, that just lets you know you are fishing deep enough.
I landed a couple nice rainbows on a black birds nest and broke my net ambling over rocks, but lost what looked like a hefty brown on a tall sharp rock. I also got into some fish on some of the thinner water behind deeper runs, so make sure you give those a shot, too.
If you aren’t sure about when a river closes, consult the regulations.
Keywords: trout, Northern California