Tag Archives: shad

Putah is on the wragg, and I wander in Bathwater

Took a pre-dawn run up to Berryessa again this week, just to fiddle with a few things and survey the damage from the Wragg Fire.  This area is fairly important to the San Francisco Bay area, as it contains Putah Creek , the closest trout stream to the hordes of anglers living in the City.

I don’t fish it much as the Lake has my full attention, and the mile or two of creek open to the public is overrun with anglers even on weekdays. As it is home to New Zealand Mud Snails, I cut a wide berth just to avoid inadvertently tracking the little pests into the pristine unclean of my local watershed.


The Wragg Fire burnt everything west of Putah Creek and Lake Berryessa proper. Those of you familiar with the area probably remember the Butts Fire (2014) burnt everything east of the creek, so the entire watershed has now been mown clean.

The picture above shows the creek just below the Canyon Creek Resort stretch. All the visible slopes have been burnt over, and the foliage is turning color as the trees die from the fire that swept through their understory enroute to the crest.

Dense timber typically burns quite a bit hotter and vaporizes both grass and trees, some of that can be seen down near the creek as well as the ridges above – like the dark patch on the ridgeline to the right, above.

Winter rains coupled with little remaining vegetation can push a significant amount of sediment into the creek, as there’s nothing to hold it in place on the slopes above. With both sides burnt over, and the rumor of a drought breaking El Nino effect possible this winter, the creek may be in for a slug of sediment.

Warm as Bathwater

Lake Berryessa proper is as warm as bath water. This being the tail end of August and the temperatures running fairly constant 90’s, any bite on the lake is short lived, but the lure picking has made up for the lack of fish, and each trip yields a pocket full of treasures.


This is typical of what I’m stumbling across. Hip boots give me an edge over the beer drinking bank crowd, as their eyes start to defocus after 10AM, and us sober types can edge them out with our ninja-like dumpster diving skills.

It’s akin to swiping golf balls off the golf course, instinctively you’re tensing up waiting to hear some fellow claim, “I just lost that, it’s mine!”

Despite the warm water and sputtering bite, pre-dawn is always worth a few fish. I am still fishing 20-30 foot deep, as the fish are preferring the colder temperatures that come with depth rather than panting in tepid near the surface.


I have been working on an amalgamation of fishing types to score consistently, something I’ll reveal once I get a few patterns refined better than they are now. Note the low light of the above picture, as most of the fish are coming between 6AM – 8AM, and when the light is on the water, the bite dies promptly.

I did manage to find a model forage fish for me to duplicate. A bit worse for wear, but it looks like a Shad (Threadfin?) of some type. Most the surface activity tends to be on the Northern side of points extending into the lake, and to stand and watch will reveal schools of bait and bass taking advantage of their density.


Once full daylight is on the water and the party barges and ski boats launch, the waves from their wakes will raise plumes of mud in the water off these selfsame points of land. The bait head for the discolored water as the predators can no longer see them distinctly. It’s akin to fighter planes using clouds for cover.

While streams and their ecology seem easier to catalog, I find the same skills in observation and the frequency of visitation are just as useful teasing the lifecycles of larger water. Come Spring, when the bite lasts all morning, it’ll be important to note those cloudy plumes hold the forage fish, and pulling a marabou streamer out of the dirty water and into view … should yield big benefits.

… and if it doesn’t, we’ll continue to add to our lure collection …

139 Yards of shattered glass

It was one of those rare opportune moments where a simple resupply of “frog” yarn revealed something really useful at a compelling price … even better …ample tonnage remaining to satisfy any fly tier’s ambition to lay in a goodly supply.

Bernat Boa is a synthetic polyester ribbon yarn that’s strong enough to use as hackle, has enough structural integrity to use as streamer wings, can be wound closely to make 3D shaped minnows, and can be knotted and teased into any number of fish killing uses.

I use it consistently in Shad flies, bass flies, and anything requiring saddle hackles, because the edge binding the polyester fibers is thin enough to wind, and can be tied off securely without inducing weakness due to bulk.

As each skein has three or four colors, it becomes really cost effective due to the additional colors that can be harvested from its “camouflage” coloration.

Yarns that are in consistent demand typically introduce new colors (and retire older non performers), and as I refilled my dwindling supply of Shad “pink”, I noticed new colors that made the material doubly compelling.


Apparently for Christmas 2014, Bernat introduced a series called, “Bernat Boa Holidays”, that added three additional festive solid colors;  Santa Suit (red), Holly Green, and Blizzard (white).

The white caught my eye immediately as I was tying some minnow patterns that needed a light colored body, and something about the original photograph suggested these filaments might be a form of Antron.

After I took delivery I was pleasantly surprised. This is a much softer and finer tri-lobal filament that has the “shattered glass” brilliance of Antron, but can be dubbed onto a dry fly.


Where this material truly shines is when it is clipped from the yarn base and mixed into a natural fur blend to offer a sparkle akin to  baby seal. This “shattered glass” effect is great for a medium (trout) sized fur blend, and given polyester dyes readily, additional colors can be made from the white to suit more “earthy” sparkle effects.


Holiday yarns tend to be limited release but I’ve not seen any mention of these being pulled post holiday season.

Do not buy these colors on eBay as they tend to range in the $6-$8 range per skein. Instead get them from YarnSupply.com or Knitting Warehouse – which has Blizzard on sale for $3.69 per skein.

These are often found in KMART stores as well, but holiday colors are typically swapped quickly to seasonal favorites shortly after the festivities are over.

139 yards per skein makes an awful lot of streamers or dubbing blends, I think you’ll find a multitude of uses quickly.

I wasn’t the only turkey in the parking lot, just the most photogenic

american_turkey300Once fully immersed I remembered how I’d sworn to replace my neoprene waders last season.

The tiny holes I’d been unable to track down being the causal agent. That irritating hole right in the billfold area that ensured your wallet and its contents were soaked, the right foot seam that had decayed to instability and was now dampening my sock, and the mid calf fabric leak that ensured everything between wallet and sock was similarly cooled.

Those being “character” leaks, bearable yet adding just enough suffering as to be retold at the campfire each evening, and ensures the patched and weathered exterior of now-porous waders continues to grant “parking lot cred”, that which separates the seasoned angler from the novice …

… yet, it was the Unforgivable Leak that had sprung last season that had sealed this pair’s fate … that mid groin hole that soaks the crotch and extends down the left leg, ensuring you are unfit for public exhibition.

Having skipped the Trout Opener in favor of working, and this being the first wader-clad scout of the year, I was prepared to work the kinks out of my gear, my cast, and my physique, but had forgotten the all-important Vow of Newness from the prior season.

Muscle memory neatly draped the running line over the fingers of the left hand, the shooting head sang out of the guides with only two roll casts and a single back cast, and what little rust that accumulated from seven months of enforced Shad idleness was quickly dispelled. I was feeling the kind of optimism that only a new fish and a new season can bring – unseemingly effervescent yet rooted to Earth by the spreading chill in my pants leg.

My optimism rewarded by the sudden tightening of the line on the swing, and the rod dipped abruptly and reel started its siren’s wail I figured this might be one of those rare nexuses of good fortune I’d alluded to with my earlier karma of bruised ribs and torn waders.

The unyielding mass suggested otherwise, however. Rather than dozens of voracious Shad skewered on a single hook – it was the beginning of my “American River Around the World”, wherein the aspiring angler attempts to catch one of each of the sodden clothing categories; Shirt, Pants, Hat, Swim trunks, or Other (unidentifiable).


This trophy was a 39 inch length of Other, possibly of the picnic tablecloth genus. It fought well, yet was not overly acrobatic. I added hat and tee shirt shortly thereafter, but of Shad there were none.

… but Iron Crosses grew everywhere … and as the next swing tightened it snagged something heavy by the arse, and as the reel started giving line it’s telltale screech drew a gaggle of morning dog walkers to the bank to witness my struggle with one of the American River’s Golden Salmon.


“Golden Salmon” being the brown water label for Sacramento Sucker, and this fellow was about seven or eight pounds and most welcome. It was considerably more festive than the earlier struggle with the Tablecloth, and granted enormous “street cred” with the crowd behind.

They couldn’t see the shad fly buried in the fish’s arse that lent it “wings” (the reddish object in the belly shown above).

Naturally, I did my best to explain to the crowd of well wishers that it was both toothy and venomous, and how I’d saved the neighborhood – or at least its pets and small children …

But the best was yet to come …

Now that I’m a cause celebre’ I’m accompanied back to the parking lot by a vigorous crowd, and was stunned that my sedate little parking area had mushroomed into the headquarters for a “family 5K run.”

… which means I have to disrobe in front of a cast of thousands, and my newfound compatriots are suddenly arm’s distant as it appears I’ve peed myself …

I was acrobatic in my flight from the area … much to the giggles of the kiddies.

Wherein “reduced dressing” refers to your sudden lust for an Xtra-Strong 12

The local farm journal is bemoaning vines and trees budding earlier than normal. Early nut and vine crops are a bigger issue given the drought and the increased salinity of the Delta, whose waters are tapped when rainfall is absent. What little fresh water currently flowing from the hills isn’t enough to push the salt water back towards San Francisco Bay, and pumping brackish water is not an option.

I mentioned in an earlier post that the drought would advance the calendar of nearly everything; stoneflies gone before Opening Day, most hatches early versus their traditional schedules, and much of the Sierra fishing like August once June arrived. This from past experience of similar trauma in the Seventies, and how painful were the lessons learned.

While most focus on the high country and it’s Pristine, I’m already gearing up for the Other White Meat, Shad, and how the run, such as it is likely to be, will be small and arrive early, and how we’ll be further constrained by river closures, and last minute gear changes none of us seem plan for …

Chatting with the dam operator from last week’s outing, I was curious on how much they were releasing and what were their plans in the event of a windfall of moisture. “Eleven …”, says he, “We’re currently releasing eleven feet per second, and have no plans to release more until we fill the lake behind …”

With the drought-based closures of California’s more prolific fisheries due endangered salmon and steelhead – and with the potential for the Shad run to be smaller, shorter, and sooner, it’s likely that whatever 2014 has in store could be a “hot mess.”

… all fishing will be banned through April 30, 2014 on the American River from Nimbus Dam downstream to the power lines crossing Ancil Hoffman Park.

Excerpt from the Sacramento Bee, March 7th 2014

… late April – early May usually debuts the run, and if water conditions make them arrive sooner, they’ll be moving through the river without us doing more than watching.


Nimbus Dam and Folsom Lake (above), source of the American River.

The above shot of Folsom is prior to the most recent spate of showers, but we’re still absent the multi-day pounding rain that saturates the ground and generates runoff. Current flow in the American is 500 CFS, which is about 10% of what it should be – and about 20% of what it is when the fish are aggressively invading the river.

It may be time to ditch the Spey rod and grab the one hander. Distance won’t be an issue given the river shrinkage, and a sink tip may be better than a full sinking head in many spots. Don’t be surprised if smaller and “less bright” is the preferred rig, as you’re likely to be pawing through the bins hoping to see #12’s instead of the customary 6’s and 8’s.

As I fished mostly size 8’s last year, I’m looking at reducing the weight and dressing, opting for a dimutitive collection of bugs on 2X Strong, standard shank, 10’s – 12’s.

Bead chain can’t get much purchase on shanks that small, so if you use them be mindful the finished fly will spin with finger pressure and have a tendency to unwind and fall apart. A Model Perfect bend and single smaller bead – or 2AMP wire wrap – may be much better than the classic chain, both in weight and its resultant durability.

I’ll add some tips on reduction in a future post.

I am a known whiner and slayer of Rose Bushes

I figure the Fishing Gods ignore whiners even when they’ve paid their earlier dues without complaint. I suppose lucky and unlucky have a minor role, as does Karma, but there must be more than simply the number of times you go fishless that turns their gaze benevolent, rather it’s in the degree of suffering endured and having made amends for being so full of yourself on your last successful foray.

… then again The Gods could simply grow weary of your constant swearing.

I swore my mightiest oath in the face of a pending three day weekend. If by mid morning the fish corpses weren’t piled deeply at my feet, then I’d put that mighty arm to work clearing brush from the backyard, turn that wrist flaccid in the face of a quarter acre of lawn mowing, trimming rose bushes, and the sweaty eternity that is stump removal.

And as each dawn broke I was waist deep in the American throwing heavy and monotone, extra heavy and gaudy, tiny and bright, big and drab, or beaded and eye searing.

… and each noon found me with a pitchfork and a growing pile of organic debris by the curb.

I endured the catcalls from the bankside revelers, stalled traffic from the hordes fleeing civilization, the mounds of sweltering garbage stacked around stuffed trash receptacles, and the stick throwing dog walkers, each intent on exercising “Cujo” – the wet and overtly hostile quadruped ignoring his stick and intent on taking a bite out of my ass.

I managed to land one pair of medium purple thong underwear and a brace of Orange soda, whose misfortune it was to tangle plastic holder with my weighted shad fly.

As I made the lonely walk back to the car each morning I resolved to try it again in a different spot, knowing that eventually my suffering would begat some form of divine intervention …

… which I gratefully used up when that drunk careened out of the ditch and across a couple lanes of traffic attempting to knock me into the center divider. Suddenly it was okay that I hadn’t been bit and my afternoon would be a symphony of pitchforks and dry grass. The welcome boost of acceleration squeezing me between guard rail and  oncoming SUV, just prior to his impacting the rail before caroming back into the ditch from whence he came.

I watched the thick dust cloud from his end over end grow smaller in my rear view, knowing that the Holy Blessed Mother of Acceleration had not failed me in my moment of need, and the matched pair of Orange Soda was the opening benediction of whatever grace was my fate.

I pulled out of the driveway the following morning not sure whether to simply admire the big pile of debris, rub all the aching body parts involved and opt for a donut, instead of making the pilgrimage to the river.

I opted for more piscatorial pummeling, enduring the clammy waders and pin prick hole on the right arse cheek at mid-wallet. Yesterday’s leak now a chill reminder that eventually my luck would meet Karma, and both arrows might eventually point skyward …


… which occurred about 90 seconds after wading in at the new spot, and the initial tangle of chilled Amnesia was undone in time to set hook on a shad intent on surveyor’s tape …

It’s that rare moment when a strip of brightly marked tape fluttering on a surveyor’s stake makes a light bulb flash in the mind of the onlooker, which isn’t genius by any stretch given his propensities for fly tying and hoarding.

… but the shellback on a Czech nymph tied for Shad?

Divine Intervention making anyone look good, no matter how weak of mind, or strained of idea …


This is tied on a blued 3XS (short), 2XS (strong), kirbed hook, giving the impression of a smaller fly but with a bit of extra hooking ability given the offset point. It certainly proved to be effective as even the spin fishermen on the far side started to mutter at my good fortune.

It’ll be their turn next week and I’ll pay for any immediate successes in Spades …


I spent the morning swearing off all forms of tool usage as the blisters they raised interfered with my double haul, especially so given the corpses of “dried grass” accumulated at my feet.

A couple of four pound hens will do that to you.

Where we attempt to divert your attention hoping you won’t notice we haven’t caught anything

Despite three fruitless trips and stinging only a single fish, I’m confident that Shad Fishing Died for Your Angling Sins.

A long winter of tying drab and dull, your “light” reading a mix of dusty tomes featuring metatarsals and pronotums, and you’ve exhausted both social venues and social networking and are conspicuously absent any cocktail invitations.

Your banter is free of celebrity gossip and your brow furrows over the finalists on American Idol, you’re prone to mumble, and coupled with a fetching hint of mothballs from your only sport coat, you can’t sustain eye contact with a nervous hostess as you can’t tear your gaze from her fish tank.

… and after months of isolation with Internet forums and that aging stack of fly tying magazines by the Crapper, you’ve bought their false prophets and notion of the One True Sport.

Trout fishing.

Replete with its aromatic tobacco, dimutitive flies, expensive tackle and long stemmed glassware, practiced by those strong in the ways of credit card debt.

You’re insistent that a large gold bead on your nymph has a parallel in Nature, a pre-emergent pronounced thorax, and while you struggle to pronounce “4mm, slotted, and Gold” in Latin, are just as insistent nymph fishing requires a floatational aid to make it more like Dry Fly fishing, elegant, gentlemanly, eliminating guesswork and a couple centuries of nymph fishing lore in the doing.

“Fling and swing” replaced by an upstream presentation, and should some timorous fellow suggest it reminiscent of the Unclean Sport, bait fishing, it’s an “Indee-kay-tor” versus “bobber” and how dare he insinuate otherwise …

… and now that darkened basements and the shameless exploitation of furbearers is out, your fascination with the “bug-like” thing is no longer quaint or charming, rather you’re linked with pressure cooker enthusiasts and egghead Chechnyan separatists. Our former, “ill at ease” with joggers and the cyclists suddenly an unpopular legacy now that BB guns and our leftover tins of black powder are under a societal microscope.


In contrast, Shad is the festive “Other White Meat” fishery – like Bass and Carp, a landscape where periodicals fear to tred, and its practitioners have firm sweaty handshakes, buy their rods on EBay, fashion their flies of Christmas tinsel, and non-tapered monofilament …

… that’s “mono-fila-ment” not “fluoro-carbon” – only asshats and Momma’s boys fish $22 tippet …

Empty beer cans line our rapids, castoff underwear festoon the brush and drunken college students holler encouragement as they wallow through our tepid water to throw up somewhere downstream. Shad fishermen embrace society and its many foibles rather than flee to the upper elevations and its gentrified antisocial notion of Pristine.

Shad fishing being the Mardi Gras of fly fishing, with brilliant tinsels, florescent, opalescent, and iridescent, mixed with chrome hooks, shiny toilet chain, gleaming gold beads, ALL designed to act like split shot and sink our fly like a leaden sonofabitch.

There’s no extended pinkie in our fishing, no privacy, no hushed bank of spectators intent on watching some fellow melt into hysteria when his BB shot and non-biodegradable bobber loop fetchingly around a distant tree branch. Neither do we complain about updrafts when explaining why our fly is imbedded in our arse cheek, or tree branch behind us.

Instead we hear the big gaudy SOB whistle towards us and duck while giggling mightily, knowing we’ve cheated Death – and how that interloper wading in behind us won’t be so lucky …

A tepid water introduction, compliments of a sharpened treble …

Shad fishing is for people that count fish, that club baby seals, that wax eloquent at the prospect of laying waste to hundreds of His creatures, who would rather torture and maim than kill and eat cleanly.

Our fishery, as brash and sordid as it may sound, doesn’t require us to tiptoe around concerned about we brought with us, what may have hitched a ride from our garage unbidden … we’re reticent to get into our water more afraid of what we’re about to step in …

A Fish so boney and unloved as to have never been eaten, never considered for table fare, and never commercial grown for anything other than fertilizer. Yet despite its peasant nose, wild, sea run, and having the pedigree of sport fish prized the world over.

Beats hell out of a fish spat “wildly” from the end of a hatchery nozzle, that dines wildly on floating plasticine dough or dyed salmon eggs –whose misfortune it was to he “shat” into water at elevation – and therefore conferred “wild” like a second virginity.