I made a three day trip of the Halloween weekend and went up to Northern California to fish Hat Creek and the Sacramento River. I got away at 4:30 am Friday and was on Hat Creek at the Power House Riffle by 10. I actually had it to myself for the first half hour or so. There were a few BWO's hatching, but not much surface action. I fished very small soft hackles, 18's and 20's and took a few small fish. Then all was quiet until late afternoon. Several people came and fished the riffles, setting up homestead sites in prime locations, lobbing their weighted, indicatored nymphs like an oilfield grasshopper pump, hour after hour. I didn't see them catch much, and I don't have the patience to stand in one spot that long, so I didn't indulge.
Then about 4:30 the fish turned it on. There had been sporadic BWO's all day long, but the fish finally got interested. I fished "under the hatch" swinging a small green bodied soft hackle in the water just below the riffle. At one stage I was getting at least a bump on every cast. I brought a number of good fish to hand, and several other strong pullers got loose. I didn't break any of them off. I have taken a hint from Sylvester Nemes' books on soft hackles and use quite strong tippets with even the smallest flies--4x with #20's. The notoriously picky fish of Hat Creek don't seem to be leader shy to flies presented this way. The only concession I made to size was to tie the fly on inside a Ken Eugene loop for a bit freer action.
The action continued until it got too dark to fish. I had arranged to stay at a place I had just recently heard of--Pit River Lodge. It's only a couple of miles east of where Hat Creek crosses state route 299. It was originally the work camp for the construction of the Pit River #1 Power House in the 20's. It became an executive retreat for Pacific Gas and Electric until they sold it a couple of years ago. It's lovely piece of craftsman gothic wooden architecture. They have a restaurant on the premises but no liquor license yet--you're welcome to byo. A bottle of Bowmore's Islay single malt in my luggage was a comfort. The folks that run it are still learning the business and parts of it could be improved, but it's nice and quiet, no TV's, and the rates are quite reasonable. Check it out if you are fishing the area. There's a web site http://www.pitriverlodge.com
The next day, Saturday, on Hat Creek was pretty much a repeat of the first. Sunday I drove route 89 over to the upper Sacramento near the town of Mt. Shasta. It was a beautiful hour drive over there with fall color being about as good as it gets for California. The weather was clear and the 14000 foot volcano of Mt. Shasta had a dusting of snow. I got on the river near the Cantara loop, site of the notorious poison spill in 1991. October caddis were quite in evidence, but in three hours fishing I got only one fish. But this was tourist fishing intended as a timekiller befor the main event which was to get on the lower Sacramento near Redding in the afternoon.
I had been there three weeks ago for the first time and fished there all day. Nothing but nothing happened until late afternoon that time so I didn't see much point in being there in the morning. Even then except for a couple of bumps I got skunked. Those who caught fish got them on caddis pupa imitations which I didn't have. Going to the pattern books, I didn't find anything that quite appealed to me, but I got some inspiration for a soft hackle. It was pretty simple--orange thread, a body of tannish brown ostrich herl twisted into a chenille with a dubbing loop, gold crystal flash rib and partridge hackle. The herl chenille has the appearance but not the effect of bulk.
I got on the lower Sac at Cascade Park in Redding about 2:30. It was very quiet until about 4. The Redding Fly Shop suggested BWO and caddis imitations. I went with my little green soft hackle that worked so well on Hat Creek. I hooked up with an small but suprisingly strong fish on that fly. By this time there were getting to be a lot noisy rises around me but I stuck with that fly. A bit later I got into a good fish, about a 15 inch rainbow. This started the Pfleuger music--a couple of good runs and some minutes of bulldogging to bring him to hand. He was actually snagged in the lower jaw, but soundly enough to be brought in. By this time the snapping rises were going on all around me and the air was full of caddises fluttering about. I decided it was now or never to try my new fly. The first cast and swing got a real hard hit but no hookup. It was hard enough that I retrieved to see that I still had a fly, even with the stout tippet I favor. It was ok. I cast again--nothing. Third cast...mend and drift, mend and drift. The fly is about to turn the corner and swing across--bang! Rrrrrrrrrr--that beautiful sound, and that was all the testing that fly got. By the time I got that fish in, revived and released, it was too dark to fish. I got multiple runs with that lovely music including one where I got her in the net the first time and she jumped out. She taped 24" of prime lower Sac Rainbow, biggest fish I've caught yet. I plan more testing of this fly...