Trout Time (Know Your Aquatics)

Trout Rise
The beauty and mystic of the rise.

Ever been confronted with actively feeding trout yet stubbornly selective, dialed in on a particular or multiple aquatic hatches, and unable to score? Baffling and even frustrating isn’t it?

There are no better, hands-on,
up close and personal, tools than
a seine/net and vials for
learning/studying aquatics

Trout season is well upon us and fish have got the feed bag on. It’s a dry water year and most aquatics are popping earlier than norm, catching many off guard. There is no better time than now, hatches are firing off and fish are actively feeding, to tune in and become familiar with a trout’s primary diet; aquatic insects. Many fly patterns are designed to imitate a particular insect or even phase of a hatching insect. Others are simply suggestive patterns or attractor patterns that represent almost any aquatic. While some may argue, size, silhouette, presentation, and color is the old school, tried-true rule to follow when hatch matching. However, taking the time to learn some basic knowledge of aquatic insects will not only help increase your odds for success but also help you cultivate a better understanding of trout behavior, aquatic habitats, ecosystems, hatch timeframes, feeding patterns as well as hatch matching, fly selections and inventories.

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Let It Snow-Let It Snow-Let It Snow (Tis the season for winter steel)

Trinity winter wonderland
Trinity winter wonderland

Trinity winter wonderland Cold like winter, snowing like winter, winter steelhead arriving—Hey must be winter! A series of blistery cold frontal systems is currently bringing much needed snow to our neck of the woods. The Alps and our local landscape is getting the full brunt and are currently reflecting a picture perfect winter wonderland postcard; a magically beautiful time of year.

The first Trinity whiteout is always exciting as it not only enhances the winter season but also sets the stage, highlighting the holidays. It is also locally accepted as a play day. Depending on the amount of snowfall, many businesses and schools close, we do, and it becomes a free for all. Erected snowman, snowball fights, four-wheel’n, photography or simply day tripping and marveling at the drifting flakes, most everyone celebrates nature’s creative touch that accents the holidays and acceptance of winter. On the other hand, a fresh blanket of snow can also be a buzz-kill, especially for those unprepared. Wood pile stacked and covered? Are shovels and other snow removing tools/equipment readily available? Exposed pipes covered/wrapped? Generator gassed up and working? Extra food and water stored? A harsh reality that needs tended to. If you aren’t prepared, better getter done!

Always Your Local Source
Always Your Local Source

So its winter, what do ya do? Some people head south, getting the hell out of dodge, seeking warmer climates. Others prefer to throw another log on the fire and shut out winter’s beauty with another movie, video game or TV sporting event? However if river conditions are favorable, it’s a God sin not to bundle up, suite up and stretch a line for winter steelhead. Why? The cold, and or thought of getting snowed in, weeds out the less ambitious, therefore winter angling pressure is generally minimal. Streamside vegetation is blanketed with a sugar coated beauty while the river corridor is hauntingly quiet, with the exception of muffled sounds of the occasional riffling waters; the thought alone of some of the largest steelhead of the year accepting your favorite fly all blends together to formulate a gala winter angling highlight. Only to be surpassed by successfully beaching a fresh winter-run slab.

Into the core-long distance release
Into the core-long distance release

To catch a true native winter run, in any coastal waters, can be an accomplishment of a lifetime. The odds are stacked against you. Overlapping weather patterns continuously impact watersheds, constantly fluctuating rivers and often creating floods. Hitting favorable conditions is rare and windows of opportunity are even more limited. However, high pressure systems and receding rivers are like great sounds of music, be ready to jump and make your move while overlapping frontal systems crush any hope for opportunity. If there is even a whisper of favorable conditions looming—go for the long shot. Unlike spring-summer-fall steelhead, spending considerable time maturing and feeding in river systems, winter steelhead mature in the salt. They swiftly migrate in and out of systems, in shorter coastal waters oftentimes only a matter of days, and are briefly exposed to freshwater environments. (The 120 mile Trinity watershed supports a diverse line up of three secondary rivers and over forty-one tributaries, so winter runs are available months.) Air temps are often hovering above freezing while water temperatures can be bone chilling, dropping to the low 40’s and unfortunately even bottoming out into the dreaded 30’s. Aquatic life is generally minimal to no-existent therefore winter fish are less likely to move for an offering or feed aggressively. Behaviors are influenced and dictated by the elements. Extended cold durations, fish metabolisms slow, often becoming lethargic, seeking the deepest waters for sanctuary, comfort and even survival; leaving little hope or prayer for even a nibble. While mild climatic conditions and rains stimulate movement and response, occasionally triggering arm wrenching grabs and full throttle power and stoke for those lucky enough to be spot on.

Hungry and resisting hibernation
Hungry and resisting hibernation

Winter gear/rod selections are a little more specialized, than summer-fall, to cover a broad spectrum of forever changing conditions. Single hand rods, I personally favor a fast action (Echo Icon-890- 8Wt.) rod to handle shooting-head and multi-tip line selections. Switch Rods, such as (Beulah 10’6- 6/7Wt.) with a Scandi line/mini tip head setup is extremely effective for line manipulation and control and compliments the greater majority of mid-to upper Trinity waters as well as smaller coastal rivers. A 13’ 8wt. Spey (Beulah Platinum or Echo TR) and Skagit series lines/heads dominates personal use on lower Trinity waters as well as larger coastal systems. There are really no boundaries for winter fly selections. Listen to your six-sense, if it looks good and feels good, fish it. As a general rule, if the river is up, go big or go home; low flows scale down selections. Fly motion/pulsing action is key; marabou patterns/articulated fly fashions, do the dance, broadcasting a lifelike action and are extremely effective. Remember these fish are on a sex mission and need to be attracted and persuaded to come and get it.

Heavy thoughts-now Eat It
Heavy thoughts-now Eat It

As for color, simply black and purple or purple and black are most often first choices however reds, oranges, blues, greens all produce. Our popular “Mr. Pimp” is a favorite and has proven its merits on a variety of steelhead waters time and time again, I never leave home without’em. Presentations are not critical. Stoke confidence and attempt to sustain the fly in primary waters as long as possible. Slow up and don’t try too hard, let it happen. Move and rotate through runs, two cast-two step, attempting to drift/swing presentations in selected water columns slightly slower than the true velocity, methodically searching out the grab zone. Leaders/ tippits should be strong enough to sustain repeated casting, compliment larger/weighted flies and the fish and waters targeted. Winter steelhead are not leader/tippit shy, when in doubt over size tippits; you will be glad you did. Leaders, tippits and knots are a major link to you and your quarry and take a lot of abuse. All should be inspected for stress and wear and changed whenever necessary; remember winter steelhead are fish of a lifetime and rarely give you another opportunity.

So why does one challenge the harsh winter elements and target a fish so difficult and unpredictable, because they exist and take a fly, because it is about the mystic and lure of understanding these remarkable creatures and the waters they live in, because it is about respect and the deep appreciation of fishing and wading the same waters our fore fathers pioneered and showed us how, because it is about opportunity, hope, faith, fulfillment, confidence, timing and luck, because they are winter steelhead and not just anyone can catch them.


Shake-Rattle and Rain (winter already?)

California Fly Fisher
Watch out for this guy
—grandson, Mason Sayre

A series of intense subtropical storms pounded northern California, bringing heavy rains and strong winds, the past few days and blew out all salmon-steelhead rivers. Coastal rivers shot up overnight, from late fall minimum flows to flood watch/warnings; The Smith peaked at 60,000cfs., Eel over 100,00cfs., the upper Trinity River (Lewiston-D.C.) rose from 300 cfs. to over 2000cfs. while the lower river (Hoopa) is currently flowing over 18,000cfs. and still rising. Central Valley Rivers followed suite with current flood warnings out, Red Bluff south. And it doesn’t appear to be over. Described as an “atmospheric river” a few more systems are lined up off the coast and slated to continue through early next week—most definitely putting a hold on all steelheading.

Tim and non- typical
fall slab (13lbs?)

Prior to the storms, a solid push of what appears to be the peak of the late summer/fall Trinity steelhead run arrived throughout the upper river. Douglas City, Steiner, Junction City and Helena have been primary target waters and delivering plenty of opportunity. Most impressive with the 2012 late summer/fall run has been the healthy numbers of native stocks (almost a 50native-50hatchery ratio). Chalk it up for Ma Nature! No doubt, large numbers of fish attract large numbers of anglers; the increasingly popular Trinity River has received its share of pressure this fall. Despite plenty of company, most everyone seems to be having a good time and finding success. These rains were direly needed and are just what the doc ordered for flushing the system and inspiring fresh winter runs.

So what do steelhead due during extreme high waters periods? The unimaginable the unbelievable, steelhead don’t back down, yet attempt to push full steam ahead. Ravaged and driven by sexual maturity, like salmon, a steelhead’s primary genetic program is to perpetuate future stocks. Regardless of conditions, hell or high water, these remarkable creatures of uncontrolled energy and relentless strength will make every effort in an attempt to migrate natal waters and preserve the magic. See to believe—check this out, very cool:

Fall Steelhead
Colorful 2012 fall “native”

What do steelheaders do during extreme high water periods? Hang in there and hope conditions are short lived. Sure during periods of unfavorable conditions it may be difficult to maintain a positive faith. It helps to keep in mind; each storm/freshet activates new steelhead runs that ultimately translate into more opportunity when favorable conditions develop. Use any down time wisely; catch up on honey dues to ensure future fishing hall passes, tie flies- leaders, prep equipment, strategically plan and prepare for the next steelhead venture. Timing is everything and windows of opportunity are often brief so be ready to jump. Remember, prior to any winter steelheading trip call ahead for “current” conditions; it may save you time, $ and staring at a full blown mud rage. Once you hear or determine quality conditions are happening, get on your horse and ride—that’s what devoted steelheaders do!!!

Reel’n in the Years (celebrating 30 yrs. guiding/fishing industry)

TFS 30 years


River rafting
Herb at the oars-1982

For the love of a river and passion for steelheading, the end of October marked my 30th year of guiding on the Trinity River. It’s hard to believe—half of my life flew by at the blink of an eye. Yes, it’s true; time really does fly by when you’re having fun. Reflecting back upon three decades of guiding I can honestly say, with no regrets, it has been an exciting and rewarding lifestyle and profession; although I must admit it hasn’t always been a cake walk.

Pat hooked on steel-1982

In the Beginning – Pat done it, she was largely responsible for us setting up shop and becoming the first legally registered guiding operation in Lewiston. The very first time she visited Trinity County, she asked me, “Why did you leave this beautiful place?” A question I was surprised to hear from a home grown Oregonian. Captivated with the Trinity Alps and Trinity River, in 1982 we said good-bye to Vancouver, WA. and returned with a hand full of brochures and sketchy game plan. We settled outside Lewiston (our current location), advertised in Salmon-Trout- Steelheader mag, explored the river solo, pulled off a few guide trips, our daughter, Kellie, adjusted to the mountain community and school and Pat worked a part time job. Life was good, until November 9, when the Trinity River blew out that winter-spring-early summer of the following year. The entire Trinity watershed was drastically impacted by one of the worst winters in a decade and was not fishable or safely navigable until late July of 1983. We struggled with the harsh elements, cabin fever and questioned our future and relationship. After serious thoughts of abandoning ship, we managed to survive by building/wrapping custom rods, writing articles, pinching pennies and growing fond of grilled cheese and bean with bacon soup, living down by the river.

Trinity Fly Shop
Trinity Fly Shop Grand Opening

Working for a Living – So you want to be a fishing guide? Right from the get- go I was confronted with the unforeseen necessary talents that I learned are vital to a successful guiding career. It was a rude awakening yet simple, deal with adversity or sink. My surfing background helped my waterman ship, navigational knowledge while my boating skills were all trial and error, with a hell of a lot of error, especially with skinny 150 cfs. flows. In the heat of my guiding career I averaged roughly 800-1100 miles annually navigating/floating the river.( To date I have logged over 27,550 miles guiding the Trinity River or rowed across the U.S. 8.5 times). Even with all the river miles and years of guided fishing trips logged, my field experiences have been a lifelong learning curve that has sadly revealed vast uncertainties reflecting little predictability; more questions than answers and desiring more. Oddly, I’m back where I first started and have come to the conclusion I’m more confused than ever and still don’t know s _ _ t about the Trinity River and its fisheries. Strange it only took 30 yrs. to figure this out.

River Restoration
Glenn,Kit, Herb, former Secretary Interior
Bruce Babbit-2000 T.R. Flow Decision

Highlights – Fishing, political or knee-slappers? The challenge and ability to keep our heads above water and survive a 30 yr. unchartered business adventure in the wilds of Trinity County has been a major highlight and rewarding lifestyle. I guess our timing was right. However, our ultimate achievement is Pat and I am truly blessed to have had the good fortune to raise two wonderful children (Kellie-Chris who are currently healthy, self-supporting, married and enjoying their lives); We are also very fortunate to share nineteen years’ experience with a co-worker, close family member, best friend and one of the most talented guides anyone could ever have the good fortune to know or fish with, Kit Kreick. Kit walked into our shop at the age of 15, asked the right questions, revealed strong desire, tied flies that simply flew off the vise and expressed deep interest and appreciation for our resources; truly a natural and extraordinary individual that has highlighted our operations since day one. It doesn’t get any better.

Friends Of The Trinity Board: Herb,
Gary Seput, Byron Leydecker, Tom Weseloh

In a Nut Shell – Well, maybe it does get better. Most people that have invested a 30 yr. job commitment are retired. I’m one of those beyond retirement and guess I really don’t know any better. With the exception of a permanently bruised sternum and dealing with aging aches and pains, including a bit of self-inflected 70’s brain abuse, I am surprisingly in good health and feel I’m not ready to be put out to pasture just yet; although some of you may disagree. My spirits are full on and I’m happy and satisfied where I am. Retirement, 401K, it’s looking at my calendar with an easy smile and solid stoke to fish with you again. And I sincerely thank all of you for the years of friendship, loyal support and sharing with me the love of a river and passion for steelheading. It really doesn’t get any better!!!