Tag Archives: lake berryessa

Fatty Eats frog meat

It was the prudent thing to do. Prior to scaring hell out of everything by sky lining myself hop-skipping across all that erosion inhibiting rock, I flung that big weedless frog past the debris field of dumped roadbed just where the boulders disappeared into deep water.

Naturally there was something big and mean waiting for something small to do just that, and my morning was shattered by an aerial display worthy of a steelhead.

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I figured it was one of two options; either he’s given up on rain and was learning to gulp air, or was intent on all those bikini clad college girls drinking and screaming from mid channel.

While the college gals were friendly enough to make me suck in my gut, I figured the return voyage would feature a lot less sweaty and “Gone Wild” – and more sunburnt and heaving … over the side.

The Sheriff thought so too, and his boat followed the flotilla at a discrete “binocular” distance. He was “fishing” too … kind of like the shadowy edge between rock and a hard place …

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As this is peak irrigation season – and were in the grips of drought, I have been curious how the local impoundments are being drained for water deliveries to farms.

They’re already talking about Folsom Lake going dry by September, and both Berryessa and Oroville are reeling due to drought, so each trip I eyeball the banks to get a feel for releases. The above photo shows the more than 200 foot distance between underbrush and current lake levels, and the encroaching brush that covers the exposed banks as the water recedes.

It’s our fate that “fly eating” foliage pops up to cover anything older than a couple of months, and fly fishing is limited to the points of coves where a back cast can parallel the bank. While far from ideal, we’re spared the shredded flesh and indignity of a Blackberry thicket.

GeorgeSpotted

This is “Meathead” from work with a nice Spotted Bass, who graciously instructed me in the finer points of “drop-shotting” bass. I gave him the “frog” and insisted he dump his inexpensive and highly functional tackle for something that costs ten times more and can’t sink very fast.

Neither side had a convincing argument yet both had moments.

Most of our fish came from 20-25 foot of water (as measured by casting gear), and outside of the “Fatty” going for a top water offering, most were eating on the slopes of points close to the bottom.

I returned the following day with both fly rod and drop shot rig, and tossed large minnow imitations when the water depth was friendly, and practiced drop-shotting when perched over deep water.

We’d seen balls of Shad and bass giving chase, but those eruptions are temporal and never sustained. Just about the time you change your fly both predator and prey are gone.

I’ve got a few ideas on how to better imitate the fish, but I’m puzzling over the notion of a drop-shot bait being used on a fly rod – and whether I can dress something with a similar action.

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I got one Spotted Bass on Sunday. I figure he collided with one of those Party Barges that were parading past – and got disoriented enough to want to eat.

I wasn’t complaining much at the sudden attention – and it was nice to see fat healthy fish in their element, rather than gasping Carp in a mud bucket.

Olive Marabou meets NASCAR

In the past, I was the fellow scrambling away from the approaching bow wave, shaking fist at V-8 wielding interlopers insistent on warbling through full Doppler enroute to some distant zip code.

Yesterday I was the portly fellow astride all that horsepower – ignoring the angry epithets and screams of our victims as our rooster tail washed the peasants off their isolated beaches and rocky points, while we belching 8 cylinders worth of carbon footprint into the drinking water supply of California’s wine country.

Knowing we’d decimated any chance of  the 2015 Chardonnay winning medals, and with all the ecological carnage in our wake, what was needed was to stomp life out of a few fish to feel complete.

I got lucky and was invited to fish with a professional angler, a competitor in both local tournaments as well as the B.A.S.S. (Bass Angler’s Sportsman’s Society) circuit, who knew more about largemouth, smallmouth, and spotted bass than anyone I’d met, and more importantly – was willing to share that knowledge with a fly wielding sissy.

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Note the solitary fly rod in the above 45MPH dash across open water, contrasting sharply with the 10 pre-strung rods on either side of the Captain’s chair in the bow. As I snapped the shot I’m thinking of Michael Douglas’s “Gordon Gecko” speech and modifying his quote to be, “enough tackle so’s not to waste time.”

… and the first pearl of wisdom dispensed dashed any hopes I had of jettisoning job and spouse, as I found out how “rich” never describes the tournament fisherman, “optimistic” or “lucky” might be better suited, and “broke” a quick second.

Any fly fisherman with the nerve to wander through a bass tackle catalog can’t help but recognize the hard core bass angler is a kindred spirit. Only degenerate gamblers, fly fishermen, and ardent Bass anglers are capable of dropping an entire paycheck on things they can’t explain to “normal” humans – and not think anything amiss in so doing.

Tackle boxes filled with things that rattle or squirm, colors like  Raspberry Red, Lemon Yellow, and Orange Orange, acres of jellified gummy animals, and Pork rind in Frog, Begonia, and Mottled Asphalt.

Where we insist on blowing several hundred on a single rod,  they buy eight or ten of the cheaper flavor, whose total cost is about equal to our own. We change spools and they change rods, and with a mobile platform containing plenty of storage, they can make the contents of our fishing vest (and the dollars squandered on its contents) seem puny in the comparison.

But of all the wondrous arsenal of tools demonstrated, it was mobility that was most foreign to my terrestrial fishing, and likely the most tempting to misuse. I wondered how many fruitless casts would it take before a V-8 wielding angler launched himself on a high speed intercept for somewhere else … and at 4 miles per gallon, how long could he do so before his spouse questioned his financial acumen.

With all these questions bubbling to the surface, and each angler seated within talking distance of one another, I was pleased to find bass anglers are prone to conversation and are far more sociable and well adjusted then fly fishermen.

Fly fishermen race each other out of the parking lot and only snarl a greeting if forced into eye contact – especially if two fellows choose to fish in the same direction. Bass anglers offer you cold drinks and a sandwich and cast to the best lie when you’ve got both hands full. The end result is similar, but the game is friendlier and you’re more tolerant of your fellow Man.

I liked that. The light banter of anglers coupled with the conversational tone due to the short distance separating us made any lull in fishing less burdensome.

I enjoyed both the similarities and differences of our two cultures, and threw flies when the water was friendly – and plugs when it wasn’t, and soaked up as much knowledge of my quarry and its habits as I could.

Economy of motion was the most apparent – as the professional angler’s focus is on the seconds they shave from a cast, from playing fish, netting them, and storage in the live well. More casts in an eight hour period means more opportunity for catching fish – with a single fish often being the difference between placing in the money and not.

“Single fly Theory”, wherein the angler has the utmost confidence in his offering and uses it to the exclusion of all else has a parallel in bass fishing, as we threw only three different baits for the entire day.

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Nor could you argue with the end result, as this Berryessa Largemouth proves most handily. The angler is Leroy Bertelero, a big fellow, over six feet – making this huge bass smaller in the comparison.

While the similarities between the two groups outnumber the differences, the nature of professional fishing can’t help but intrude on the pleasure aspects of our craft.

Catching fish for money is a noble concept – akin to all other money sports like tennis and bicycling, but the tournament aspect makes fish doubly precious, and where we curse when we lose a fish – the tour angler takes additional steps never to do so.

Most of the reels were loaded with 50lb Dyneema braid, with short monofilament leaders of similar pound test. Considering your average bass to be somewhere within 3 – 5 lbs., you’d think that overkill.

In comparison, our pleasure fishing and notion of selectivity almost always results in our lightening our tackle – and counting coup for landing fish that weigh more than our tippet. Tournament anglers need the opposite, the ability to hoist the bass out of a tule thicket – laden with grass – without fear of repercussion.

It’s something I puzzled over briefly before winching my quarry over the gunwale. There is a certain luxury in horsing your fish into a live well with minimal effort, likely making it easier on the bass in the long run. A bit less excitement than we’re used to given how a big fish cartwheeling on a light tippet makes us so religious, and our prayers so fervent.

Awesome experience, good company … by next weekend I’ll be back among the peasants (if they’ll still have me), and just as eager to extend digit when hit with the chill of boat swell.

I’ll settle for the Purple Unknown

Managed to sneak out briefly to scout the latest round of unseasonable weather.  Drought has a way of upsetting all the normal timetables, and this year is proving no different. The creek is already dry before it crosses I-5, so like last year, the only fishing that will persist is the nearby lakes, like Berryessa.

Normally the Bass spawn in Spring, but after an 80 degree weekend in March, I’m thinking we’re in Spring already and by May will be perspiring handily.

I scouted my usual haunts by Markley Cove and the dam proper, but made the mistake of being on the shade side of the cove, so the water was impenetrable until noon.

Plenty of large swirls in the coves as Bass chased Shad, but nothing was visible in the shallow edge – and no beds were present.

Saw one fish caught by a boat fishing a Chartreuse swim bait.

berry_Morning

I stomped the bank throwing my usual mix of Large and Gaudy and was ignored by everything underwater – although I created quite the entertainment for the squadrons of bass boats that rumbled past.

Being early is never bad thing as occasionally “early” yields a fishery that’s “just right”, with only you to exploit it, versus the more numerous, “should have been here last week.”

Purple_Flowers

I bagged it early and spent the balance of the day eyeballing the wildflower bloom. Like fishing, tracking the optimal flower show in a drought year is as bad as timing the bass spawn. A few colors were missing but the Poppies and the Purple Unknown were worth the early morning jaunt.

Exploring what little damp remains

Tracking down “little blue lines” on a map hasn’t proved fruitful of late, given that which was once blue … is now overly warm or dried up completely.

Having come over the hill from Santa Rosa last week and skirting the edge of Lake Berryessa, I noted a lot more bank was visible, yet Putah Creek still had ample flow despite scarring from the Monticello Fire of early June.

Olives, Pomegranates, and walnuts are compelling, but I’d played the  “Domestic Goddess” for most of the last month – it was high time aprons and fruit Pectin played second fiddle to a wisp of fiberglass waved in anger.

Last year I had fished Putah Creek from above, through the UC Davis campus and south of Interstate 80, and while access was plentiful due to sprawling campus, the water was sheathed in oak woodland which alternated with brambles, thickets, plowed fields, and blackberry bushes. So parking nearby was easy – yet achieving the water without injury proved much less so …

Putah_Wood1

Wading being a mirror of the terrestrial experience – given the perils of interlocking wader-killing underwater limbs, slick clay patches, and rotting vegetation that appears firm until it isn’t.

Opaque olive water may be off-putting to the trout crowd, but it’s a welcome sight to us “frog water” aficionados that recognize a combination of tough access, obvious bouquet, and discolored water, are hallmarks of the “new Wilderness” … ignored by fishermen, scorned by dog walkers and joggers, and home to unknown fisheries and homeless encampments.

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… and while everyone else roars past oblivious to the dark line of trees hiding the creek from traffic, it’s not without its moments ..

Black_Bass431

… and even if the bulk of its inhabitants were of the five-inch class, there were indications that an occasional resident reached larger dimensions. Naturally, they would only make an appearance when sliding across the slick clay yielded a tree branch through a wader leg – as only outright suffering makes wary fish less so.

Kelvin_CheckDam

A point debated by my fishing buddy, whose obvious delight at basking in the sun while monopolizing the only real estate permitting a free and unfettered back cast, overcame his lust for larger fish.

After clawing my way through alders, clinging underbrush, and gingerly negotiating a homeless bunker complex, the idea of resting without peril next to the babbling brook was most attractive.

Where we fiddle with worms and body armor

With the lawnmower disabled all thoughts of chores and responsibility were discarded in a hurry, and with only a scant few weeks remaining before silvery plankton eaters invade my waterways, I was intent on finishing up my spring project, rerolling the classic Texas worm rig into a fly.

Lake Berryessa being so close – and fish being visible and numerous makes for a good test bed. Clear water allows me to see the motion of the each faux rubber candidate, and visible fish allowed me to think victory as they approached – and defeat once they paused shy of eating the dang thing.

For “Dokter Frankenstein” only mass acceptance would be a surefire sign of a good design, as few tools in a bass angler’s arsenal are as consistent as a big purple jellyroll served with a side of egg sinker …

The wind was blowing a good clip on Saturday, and I’d planned on heavy flies and breeze, opting for a 10.5’ #7 Orvis I had purchased on eBAY some years back. It was a monstrous stiff rod, better suited for an #8, but was just what was needed to keep unwieldy flies from burying themselves in my hindquarters.

I opted for a Type VI sinking shooting head, as my plan was to fish the small coves that occur with regularity along the bank. As a right-handed caster I had to walk left to keep rod and line out over the water, and the cove indent allows me to cast to the other side and “walk” my “worm” down the far bank before stripping it back to me across the belly of the cove.

In these conditions you don’t have to cast far, as most of the fish are within 20 foot of the bank, getting the fly down to them fast enough is the real issue, and a real problem.

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The above picture showing a deep cove that allowed me to fish most of both sides, versus (below) a shallow cove that I could fish in a single pass down the bank.

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Mud plumes caused by wind and boat wakes keep me a bit less visible than normal, allowing me to splash around as much as needed when the bank is obstructed.

I was reminded of last week’s rib mash when I discovered the silver dollar sized hole I’d torn in the left boot when I slammed into the hillside. It was the shore-facing leg, and bothersome, but not as critical as the right boot which is planted deepest.

Olive_Rubber_Yarn430

Mix 15 turns of 3 amp fuse wire and 5.5mm bead to the front of a #2 wide gaped popper hook, and you’ve got the aerodynamic equivalent of the Spruce Goose, minus a few engines, and no ability to control its flight shy of the full head out of the guides to coerce the lumbering SOB away from an arse cheek.

Every puff of breeze brought an involuntary full-body clench, anticipation of impact shoved knees together, hat down to protect eyes and face, and cork grip white-knuckled knowing one of your limbs was likely in jeopardy.

I remember thinking to stuff my jacket in the rear pocket of the vest figuring it would staunch any bleeding. Arms were left defenseless as I’d be able to pry the hook out by sight, a back wound would have me operating by feel therefore needed additional protection.

While much refinement remains, the liveliness of the fly is without equal. But getting it to the water remains a bit problematic. The fish gave it a great reception, and I managed to catch both large and smallmouth on the fly in its debut.

Smallmouth430

Five inches of tough polyester ribbon yarn make the tail portion indistinguishable to the action of a rubber worm. I just need to lighten the fly to make it more comfortable to cast. As it is now the last 20 feet of the retrieve the fly is ticking off the rocks as you draw it to you, so it is making bottom early and prone to snags.

Smallmouth430_Cray

The crayfish was a welcome change up for those coves with shallow water. The bright colors make it quite effective in the mornings, and a bit less so at midday. I used both in the morning, and stuck with the muted tones of my Olive “worm” for the bright sun of midday.

The lake is starting to show a few aggressive fish, but the main body of the lake remains docile. All the folks I talked to on the bank mentioned  the visible fish ignoring lures of any type, a condition the locals insist are characteristic of “pre-spawners.”

We’ll continue to refine this beast over the next couple of weeks prior to Shad showing, on the surface the pattern holds some promise.

My Carbon footprint is more a muddy boot track

After spending the morning listening to the throaty bellow of twin Evinrudes echo off canyon walls, and admiring the resultant rooster tail that accompanied each watercraft’s emergence from the launch area, I’m thinking the average boat wielding Bass fiend may be a victim of his own mobility.

I’m perched precariously on a 30% slope carefully fan-casting to anything I can reach, and the flotilla of corvettes and beer barges pause just long enough for a couple of casts before mashing gas pedal and disappearing to greener pastures.

I can’t blame them for enjoying the adrenalin rush, nor the wind in their hair, I just think them a bit giddy knowing all that watery real estate has neither crosswalks nor stoplights, and there’s nothing quite like announcing your presence with authority.

Berryessa_BankSlope

Lake Berryessa is only a scant twenty minutes distant, allowing me to swing by periodically to see whether the Bass are on their beds and burble some poppers to see if the top water bite has started.

While the pitch of the exposed bank can be hell on ankles, the lake was is excellent shape given the drought, with only 30 feet of bank above the waterline. You can walk around the margin pitching flies into the shallows pretty effectively, so long as you walk in the direction that keeps your casting shoulder pointed towards the water. That keeps leader and flies out over the water instead of bouncing off bankside rocks and brush.

All the little coves and depressions along the shore line give you ample opportunity to fish, with one side invariably shaded and others featuring weeds or the occasional downed tree. I wear a pair of lug-soled hip waders to give me a bit more range of motion, as I can stand in the water where it’s flat, and provides a bit of separation from the bank ensuring you keep the fly over fish, instead of scrambling around unhooking it from accumulated brush and rocks.

The Bass are most certainly on their beds, but appear more intent on mating than eating, so it appears a trifle early yet.

Bass_nesting

The above shot shows a smallish (2 lb) fish and her beau hovering just off the bank on the bed. I trundled a crawdad imitation past the pair without them acknowledging me or the fly. The larger fish is around six pounds, and was worthy of nervous lip chewing on my part. (I am unable to determine sex reliably, but I marked them with a best guess based on observation of behavior.)

As today is the start of a general warming trend, I’d suspect the coming weeks hold potential for some spectacular fishing.

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I did manage to find a few fish early, before the boats starting rocketing about and while shade dominated the coves …

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All of the fish had a weakness for my ribbon yarn Crayfish (#2), built with a fistful of long fiber iridescent cactus chenille that I dyed for shad flies, married up with a generous dollop of ribbon yarn and rubber legs.

Yarn_Crayfish

A pair of large black bead chain eyes mounted in the tail position ensure the fly sinks dramatically, which is useful when fishing the deep water that a canyon lake presents. A simple pattern that take about the same amount of time to lose as to tie, ensuring the handful lost in fish and brush are not overly missed.