Dusk falls and the surface of a high-mountain lake is vivid with concentric circles as trout rise to pluck off the evening hatch.
It might not feel like it just yet, but August marks the midway point for the general trout season in California. And this is when the fishing starts to heat up – not only in the lakes but also in rivers and streams.
To be sure, there are live and prepared bait options, but they’re ubiquitous; places like Hinkle’s Market and Long’s Drug Store peddle crickets, mealworms, mini-crawlers, plump nightcrawlers, salmon eggs and Powerbait in a rainbow of colors.
The fun is in the lure, the fly.
But which flies should be in your box? What lures are the perfect choice to travel from lake to stream to river? Let’s sort it out.
It’s a matter of choice for trout anglers who use lures, whether they want the metal to waggle or spin. But if you want direction, buy your lures at Strictly Fishin’ on Athens Avenue. Lisa and Gary Manies know their stuff.
For spinner baits, start with the Panther Martin, a lure that’s been around since 1933. The lure works for trout, salmon and crappie. To fish a Panther Martin, anglers need to cast out into the current and bring the lure back with a medium retrieve to keep the spinning action going. The most popular colors for north state streams and rivers are the black with chartreuse spots, and the silver spinner with yellow body and red spots.
Next, the Rooster Tail. The No. 206, salmon fly color, is spot-on to imitate a salmonfly. The company recommends people cast it diagonally into the current and let it sink to the bottom. Then jig and drift on the retrieve as close to the bottom as possible. When fishing lakes, cast and let the lure settle to the bottom; with a fast jerk, let the spinner start working and bring the lure back with a slow retrieve.
Now, two lures that waggle, starting with the Kastmaster. The small ones, eighth of an ounce. Buy a silver, silver/blue, gold, copper (OK, two coppers). And cast away. There’s something in how it is shaped that makes it wobble in the water.
Next, the Needlefish, which has a thinner blade, so it’s got more of a wobble. This is a great spin-cast lure, as well as a good choice for trolling. The most popular colors for the north state are the brown trout pattern and the metallic fish scale. With certain patterns, the lure now comes with a flipper tail, a tiny spinner that adds a lot more action.
And one more, a personal favorite, the Vibramax Silver Fox. Cast out, retrieve slow, cook trout for dinner.
Imitation is the key. From the vast array of flies at The Fly Shop — they easily have more than 400 patterns stocked at all times — there are five that will take anglers from the lower Sacramento River to the McCloud, Clear Creek to Hat Creek and every waterway in-between.
The gold bead prince nymph: An all-around producer, this fly will imitate a cased caddis.
Mercer’s micro mayfly: This is a fly to buy by the dozens. It simply catches trout everywhere – and it was developed in Redding by The Fly Shop’s Mike Mercer. It’s a great dropper fly that can be deadly tied 12 to 18 inches behind another nymph pattern.
Parachute Adams: This is the standard pattern for all dry flies and created by Leonard Hallady in 1922. It rides high on the water, and with different sizes, it’ll imitate different things like mayflies and caddis.
Gold bead biot epoxy golden stone: The golden stonefly imitator. Why? Just about every water has the golden stonefly living in it. In fall, use it for steelhead on the Trinity. That’s the go-to fly.
Fox’s Poopah: It’s simply poopahlicious. Developed in Redding by The Fly Shop’s Tim Fox, this is the other pattern you’ll need to get by the dozen. This devastating fly — it comes in olive and tan — is specifically designed for trout and steelhead in the Sacramento and Trinity rivers. It’s also become a favorite on the McCloud, in tandem with a Mercer mayfly. Seriously deadly.
Former north state resident Thom Gabrukiewicz now lives in the Great Plains of South Dakota, but he still remembers a thing or two about the outdoors in Northern California. He’s the author of “Best Hikes With Dogs, Bay Area and Beyond” (Mountaineers Books, mountaineersbooks.org) and has tasted bugs while fishing just to get a sense of what fish may or may not find delicious. He blogs about life (his) at thomg.blogspot.com.