Lake McCloud Salmon Fly Hatch
By Richard Alves
I pulled to a stop behind the slow moving herd of cattle being driven by a few cowboys down the narrow road running along the South Fork of the Pit River. There wasn’t enough room to get around them in the narrow canyon so I parked and walked down to the river to pass the time while the herd slowly moved on.
The morning sun cleared the lava bluff on the canyon’s south rim. Within a few minutes swarms of large gray bugs started flying out of the trees that lined the river. The bugs continued to emerging from the trees and the canyon became so full of them they were blocking the sun. There had to be millions of them! It reminded me of a locust swarm. I didn’t realize at that time I was witnessing my first salmon fly hatch.
I grabbed one crawling on a willow branch and tossed it into the river where a large trout surfaced and slurped down the three-inch long treat. It didn’t take long to realize the fish were crazy about these things. But I had a problem. The fishing regulations for the area called for artificial lures only and I didn’t have anything even close in my spinner box.
A few weeks earlier I had fished Baum Lake. I watched as an angler with a fly rod caught and released fish after fish while I managed to catch only one on a cricket that day.
These two events led me to one conclusion: I was missing out on a lot of great fishing by limiting myself to conventional fishing tackle. Later that week, over twenty years ago, I purchased my first fly rod.
To this day, I have found very few angling experiences that can match the excitement of a big ol’ trout slowly sipping a dry fly on the surface. For me, dry fly fishing is fly-fishing in its purest form. However, the dry fly only works at certain times, i.e. when there is a hatch and when the fish are feeding on what is hatching. When those conditions converge, a fly mimicking the hatching bug is the only thing fish will take. There is no combination of conventional fishing tackle capable of inducing a trout to take during a surface bite.
Over the years of developing my fly-fishing skills, I’ve learned a few things:
1) Fly-fishing is more effective than conventional fishing in some situations.
2) Conventional fishing is more effective than fly-fishing in some situations.
3) There are a lot of fishing conditions where both are essentially using the same technique to entice the same fish to bite!
The common denominator for all successful anglers is presentation; the proper placement and imitation of the food the fish are currently feeding on. The combination of gear making the best presentation is going to catch the most fish.
Dead drifting a bobber or strike indicator on a river is a prime example of both fly and conventional tackle attempting the same presentation. Bait or a fly is suspended a certain distance below the surface by the bobber. The proper drift is achieved by getting the bobber to float at the speed of the current. Loops in the line caused by varying speeds of current have to be “mended” to achieve the dead drift. In this situation I find a floating fly line is much easier to control than monofilament. However, if the water level is low, the river is narrow, there are a lot of trees on the shoreline forcing a shortened back cast, there is a stiff breeze blowing or conditions on the boat dictate, the spinning rod may very well prove to be the best tool for the job. Conversely, for side drifting roe or a glo-bug near the bottom, I find mono easier to control than a sink-tip fly line.
The distinction between conventional and fly fishing is blurred by conventional anglers using fly and bubble or trolling flys and fly fishermen using scent solutions. If you want to start a lively conversation with a bunch of fly fishermen, just pose the question, “Is such and such really fly fishing?”
When I take off to go fishing, I usually have two fly rods and six fly reels, three spinning rods and a bait-caster. Recently I fished Lake McCloud with guide Scott Caldwell. Over the course of the day we used a dozen different rods and all produced fish!
Mt. Shasta looking over Lkae McCloud It was mid-March and it had not rained for a few weeks. Snowmelt was increasing flows in the McCloud River and there was very little snow left on the ground around the lake. Hearing there was an early morning March brown hatch, we decided to try a little dry fly fishing.
Upon our arrival at the lake, the wind was blowing hard enough to generate whitecaps. There were a few mayflies hatching but the wind immediately carried them away. Nary a rising trout was to be seen.
“Well we’re here, might as well fish,” Scott said. We launched and took a short cruise around the lake checking the more protected coves for a hatch. The quick survey proved fruitless. Our revised strategy was to do some trolling, thinking if we found a concentration of rainbows we could switch to nymphing with the fly rods.
We set out four spinning rods rigged with pieces of nightcrawler on thirty-six inches of leader behind a dodger. The first shade-covered point we crossed produced a fourteen-inch wild trout. Sporadic action continued throughout the morning with the 14-18 inch trout. The bigger fish the lake holds, approaching five pounds, weren’t eating nitecrawlers.
Steelhead with a Lkae McCloud Rainbow
The bite slowed during the early afternoon. The morning’s gear was replaced by heavier rods dragging plugs behind the dodgers. Once again we began to pick up a fish here and there. The snowmelt seemed to have the fish well dispersed. Any concentration of trout failed to materialize.
Methodically we worked the lake’s inlets all the way up to Huckleberry Creek. As the sun neared the mountains to the southwest, we called it a day and headed for the launch ramp. It had proven to be a pretty good day with nearly twenty fish to the boat.
Scott cut the throttle as we rounded the point close to the ramp. The wind had suddenly stopped blowing and Tarantula Gulch was full of rainbows gorging themselves on a mayfly hatch. “You are going to fish this, aren’t you?” Scott asked. “Nooooooo,” I replied as I grabbed my fly rod and headed to the bow of the boat. Suppressing an emerging case of buck fever, I lofted a cast toward the nearest rise. The loop unfolded perfectly and the dry fly gently landed on the water about a foot from the rise. The surface erupted as the rainbow slammed the fly. I gently set the hook and the fish took off on a run… definitely the right tool for this job!
For more information about Lake McCloud contact:
SC Guide Service
In addition to steelhead and salmon guiding on the Klamath River, Scott specializes in package family trips, including lodging and teaching, at the numerous local lakes.