Places

California’s Fall River


Within the magic hour on the Fall River, large Hexagenia mayflies flutter their wings to flee the pull of the water—and the jaws of rising trout. (John G. Sherman photograph)


The Fall River is a part of an unlimited advanced of springs round California’s Fall River Valley. They’re the lucky results of volcanic geologic formations that take up rain and snowmelt, and retailer the water in large underground aquifers. The chilly spring water that gushes from the bottom to kind the Fall River is definitely a mix of snowmelt and rain, however in lots of situations, it’s been saved and filtered via underground fissures for so long as 25 years earlier than it comes again to the floor clear, chilly, and able to maintain life.

Among the greatest trout rivers in California owe their productiveness to those geologic miracles. Hat Creek, the McCloud River, Burney Creek, and the higher Sacramento River are all spring-fed, however amongst these nice angling locations, one large reigns supreme. The 23-mile-long Fall River is, by quantity, the most important spring creek in California, and one of many greatest within the Western United States. The Fall River advanced contains Spring Creek, Crystal Springs, Ahjumawi Lava Springs State Park, Huge Lake, Eastman Lake, and the Tule River, all of that are primarily spring-fed. The one tributary that’s primarily fed by precipitation is Bear Creek, which flows into the higher Fall River.

California Fall River
Fall River rainbows are highly effective, hard-fighting fish. There are two distinct subpopulations within the Fall River—rainbows that spawn within the rainfall-affected Bear Creek within the spring, and people who spawn within the spring-fed tributaries most months of the yr. (Val Atkinson photograph)

As a consequence of its chilly, constant, and bountiful flows, the Fall River boasts one of many largest populations of untamed trout of any California waterway. It’s a Designated Wild and Heritage Trout Water by the California Division of Fish & Wildlife, and is world well-known for its highly effective native rainbow trout.

The chilly, barely alkaline circulation of the Fall River helps an unlimited community of aquatic vegetation, which in flip produces big numbers of aquatic bugs.

Fall River hatches are legendary amongst fly fishers and supply unbelievable dry-fly fishing. However the Fall River’s water isn’t vital only for fly fishing.



This water is used for agriculture within the Fall River Valley and generates energy via a number of hydroelectric stations downstream alongside the Pit River earlier than it lastly flows into Shasta Reservoir. It then contributes to the tailwater flows of the decrease Sacramento. A few of that water feeds the Sacramento River Delta, and a few of it probably makes it means all the best way to Southern California via the California State Water Venture.

As the most important spring-fed river system on the West Coast, the Fall River is one among California’s most precious water assets, and deserves particular administration and safety.

Fall River Entry Points

I grew up listening to of prolific, legendary hatches and constant dry-fly fishing on the Fall River. I learn concerning the clear, chilly, meandering water, and I used to be advised of the epic Hexagenia hatch within the early summer time, when huge rainbows slurped on the floor. However I additionally acquired the impression that Fall River fly fishers flew into non-public airstrips and fished solely with guides from non-public estates alongside the river.

These early perceptions turned out to be solely partially true. Whereas the Fall River is certainly surrounded largely by non-public property, there are additionally public entry factors and fishing alternatives for do-it-yourself anglers.



As a result of foot entry is tough and the river is so deep, one of the simplest ways to fish the river is by boat. Most non-public landowners have their very own boat launches, docks, or moorings, however a number of years in the past California Trout purchased a small piece of land simply off Island Highway, and maintains it as a public launch level.

You don’t must be a CalTrout member to make use of the launch. It’s free. The one hitch is that the river right here is restricted to electrical motors solely. Solely human- or electric-powered craft can launch from the CalTrout property, and you can’t launch from a trailer. You’ve to have the ability to drag or carry your craft to the water from the close by parking space.

California Fall River
As a result of the water is deep, virtually all of the fishing within the Fall River is finished from a ship. CalTrout owns and maintains a public entry simply off Island Highway, the place you’ll be able to launch electric- or hand-powered craft. Gasoline-powered motors are allowed, however they launch from non-public docks or boat ramps. (Val Atkinson photograph)

Historically, small prams and johnboats have been in style decisions for the Fall River, however new light-weight, frameless inflatables and fishing kayaks have made sensible boat possession a actuality for individuals who don’t have tons of money to spend. Fortunately you received’t must row or paddle very far—there’s nice fishing in shut proximity to the CalTrout property.

A straightforward various is hiring a information. Your information can have a ship already parked someplace with non-public entry. The previous couple of instances I’ve fished the Fall River it’s been with the guides from Clearwater Lodge. That is an superior previous constructing with property alongside the Pit River, simply ten minutes from Fall River.

It’s also possible to lease a ship from Circle 7 Ranch for $100 per day. There are some nuances to navigating the river, so do your homework, come ready with navigation software program in your telephone or pill, and don’t stray too removed from Circle 7 Ranch, at the very least in your first few tries.

Spring Creek Fishing Methods

Nearly all of the fishing on Fall River is out of an anchored boat. Fishing whereas the boat is drifting is poor etiquette, and also you’ll find yourself interfering with different fly fishers who’re anchored. The standard technique is to discover a part of water you wish to fish, and anchor the boat above it. This fashion, you can also make a downstream presentation to rising trout so that they see the fly first, and never the road or chief. When you’re not catching fish, it’s not as a result of there’s an absence of fish in that spot, however as a result of you should change your flies and/or strategies. There are fish throughout this river.

California Fall River
Spring Creek, Crystal Springs, Ahjumawi Lava Springs State Park, Huge Lake, Eastman Lake, and the Tule River are all components of the Fall River advanced and contribute to its clear, chilly, constant flows. (Sean Kerrick Sullivan photograph)

As a result of the water is so constantly chilly, many hatches come off at noon or early within the afternoon, fairly than within the late night as on many different fisheries in the summertime. The principle hatches on Fall River are largely Pale Morning Duns (PMDs) and Baetis. There may also be a good Trico hatch on the higher river within the late summer time and early fall. Most traditional mayfly imitations will work, however the fish undoubtedly choose slim, lifelike, and low-riding dry flies right here.

On the Fall River, You received’t want your large, bushy attractor flies.

My favourite sample, in fact, is the Bob Quigley Hackle Stacker, which was designed particularly for the Fall River and first described by the late, nice Bob Quigley right here within the pages of Fly Fisherman. previous Parachute Adams someday works too, in sizes 16 and 18 for PMDs and sizes 18 and 20 for Baetis hatches.

When there’s a hatch going, you’ll undoubtedly see rising trout. The sport is to choose a particular goal, land your fly 10 toes above it, and bump mend, feeding out slack line and drifting the fly down the fish’s feeding lane.

Fall River ’bows are hard-fighting fish. The chilly water makes them supercharged, and each single trout is wholesome and fats. Touchdown them is difficult since you should use mild tippets—5X and 6X are the norm right here—and the fish regularly wrap themselves up within the weeds.

The Fall River is legendary for its hatches and for its spectacular dry-fly fishing, however these noon hatches usually final solely an hour or so. When you’re eager to catch fish all day, nymphing is the secret.

The everyday Fall River nymph rig consists of a few small flies—usually small mayfly or midge imitations, a small split-shot, and a transparent or neutral-colored strike indicator. You current the nymphs the identical means, casting down and throughout, and then you definately bump mend to feed out slack line because the indicator drifts away from you.

Generally you forged the rig solely 10 toes from the boat, then spend most of your time mending to make a clear drift as far downstream as you suppose you’ll be able to set the hook. It’s sort of a enjoyable recreation to see how far you will get a drift to go—however setting the hook at this angle, and with all that line out, is tough. Mercer’s Micro Mayfly (#16-18) and Jiggy PMD (#14-16), developed by Mike Mercer at The Fly Store in close by Redding, California, are nearly as good as any nymphs on the Fall River. Different good decisions embrace the Root Beer Baetis, Two-bit Hooker, and Zebra Midge.

One other Fall River subsurface approach is swinging soft-hackles, emergers, or small leech patterns on a transparent intermediate line. Most individuals use a 9-foot, 4X tapered chief, and add 2 or 3 toes of 5X tippet. With this system you forged instantly throughout the river and let the fly swing slowly and sink within the gentle currents till it’s hanging instantly downriver from the boat. Twitch and retrieve the fly slowly when it’s hanging instantly beneath you. Craven’s Tender Hackle Emerger (yellow, #16), the Improved Pheasant Tail (#16), and Mayer’s Mini Leech Jig (#14) are all stable beginning factors.

The Fall River’s Hex Hatch

The world-famous Hexagenia hatch is what the Fall River might be most recognized for. When you’ve by no means skilled this, it’s a phenomenon you should see to imagine. The Hexagenia mayfly is the most important species of mayfly on the planet. They’re remnants of a special age, when some mayflies had wingspans of two toes. The trendy Hexagenia is usually 1.5 inches lengthy, and may have a wingspan of greater than 2 inches. To me, they resemble flying bananas—hearty meals for keen trout. Hexagenia mayflies usually hatch from the muddy bottoms of the decrease Fall River, and in contrast to different mayflies on this river, they emerge at nightfall.

California Fall River
The longest, most constant hatches on the Fall River are Pale Morning Duns (PMDs) and Baetis. The fish right here choose slim, lifelike, and low-riding dry flies. Traditional parachutes will catch some fish, however the late nice Bob Quigley developed his Hackle Stacker patterns whereas fishing the Fall River, and they’re nonetheless high producers in the present day. Use sizes 16 and 18 for PMDs and dimension 18 and 20 for Baetis hatches. (Dennis Pastucha photograph)

In some years, the Hex hatch can final from June all the best way to August. Nevertheless it’s most frequently simply three or 4 weeks in June into July.

Hex fishing on the Fall River is an after-dinner exercise. The great fishing lasts for less than concerning the final hour of daylight. Sometimes, you spend extra time getting the boats on the water and entering into place than really fishing the night hatch. Place the boat the place you might be at an affordable casting distance from the shore, and the place you received’t be wanting instantly into the night glare. After just a few nights on the river, you’ll be capable to gauge one of the best path to identify your fly, even in low-light situations. Generally seeing your fly doesn’t even matter. If it will get too darkish, you simply pay attention for a slurp and raise the rod.

The Hex hatch is greatest on calm evenings, when the water is glassy and nonetheless. Every thing across the river comes alive at the moment of evening. Birds begin chirping, hawks swoop throughout the horizon, and coyotes begin barking. Then a trout breaks the mirrored floor of the river. Then one other. Quickly, you see the massive grownup mayflies on the water. They’re arduous to overlook. When there are only a few Hexagenia flies on the water, and the trout are keying on the primary few adults, that’s your greatest alternative for catching fish. Later, the hatch can turn into so heavy that it’s arduous to pick your fly on the water, and the fish have so many targets that it’s arduous for them to seek out your fly.

Massive flies like Hex Paradrakes or Hex Adults are so large that they land with a tough plop on the water. That’s the best option to find your fly.

Because it’s a little bit darker and the fish are feeding with reckless abandon, you will get away with shorter leaders and heavier tippets. Sometimes you should lead a rising fish by solely 5 or 10 toes. In broad daylight, Fall River trout are choosy eaters, cautious, and spooky, and it appears as in the event that they rely the tails in your fly.

Throughout the Hex hatch, they’re at their most susceptible. Most fish come on a useless drift, however you too can induce strikes by skating and or bouncing the fly round a bit. The takes are all the time explosive. Generally the trout “Jaws” it from beneath. At different instances, they launch themselves all the best way out of the water and eat the fly on their means down. It’s about as a lot enjoyable as you’ll be able to have with a 9-foot 5-weight in your hand.

Science and Advocacy

The Fall River advanced is floor zero for a complete rainbow trout inhabitants dynamics and genetics examine carried out by the UC Davis Middle for Watershed Science, the California Division of Fish & Wildlife, California Trout, and The Fall River Conservancy.

Since 2013, there have been annual fish-tagging occasions during which trout are gently geared up with small passive built-in transponder (PIT) tags, which assist scientists monitor their actions all through the spring creek system. Practically 4,000 fish have been captured and geared up with the PIT tags.

California Fall River
(John G. Sherman photograph)

All through the river are PIT monitoring arrays, which accumulate trout motion information and ship that info to a database. A number of guides on the river carry wands that may learn the PIT tags—they scan each fish their shoppers catch. This info tracks trout actions all through the complete system and all through all seasons. As well as, every tagged trout is given a really small fin clip to offer tissue samples for genetic evaluation. Thus far, the examine has yielded spectacular outcomes, that are already influencing administration choices. Genetic evaluation has proven two distinct subpopulations of rainbows inside the Fall River system. The smaller inhabitants is tailored to spawning in the one rainfall-affected tributary, Bear Creek. These fish observe conventional rainbow spawning instances on the top of spring runoff in April or early Could.

The opposite, bigger subpopulation of rainbow trout is uniquely tailored to spawning within the spring creek tributaries. These fish spawn all through eight months of the yr. Throughout a lot of the yr, the 2 populations intermingle and feed aspect by aspect.

However in the case of spawning, the distinct rainbow populations have traditionally remained distinct from each other. It’s unattainable to inform the 2 strains aside by visible inspection. Differentiation is feasible solely via the genetic evaluation of the tissue samples.

This scientific info is vital in making administration choices for the Fall River. The science has already come into play within the California Division of Fish & Wildlife’s overhaul of the state’s trout-fishing laws.

Traditionally, the Fall River and its tributaries have been regulated beneath the standard trout season, and open to angling from the final Saturday in April via November 15. Below the brand new laws, the Fall River is open to angling all yr. From the Saturday earlier than Memorial Day via September 30, there’s a two-fish bag restrict, synthetic lures solely. The remainder of the yr, it’s catch-and-release solely.

California Trout and the The Fall River Conservancy are upset that barbless treble hooks are allowed in catch-and-release waters. Single barbless hooks should not required on any California waters.

The Fall River Conservancy and California Trout are at present petitioning the California Division of Fish & Wildlife to designate the complete Fall River as catch-and-release solely, and to shut Bear Creek to angling within the spring to guard the distinct, spring-spawning inhabitants of fish.

Michael Wier grew up within the Sierra foothills, the place he break up his time between snowboarding and fly fishing. He spent 15 seasons fishing and guiding the waters of the Truckee, Carson, and Walker rivers. He additionally began BURL Productions, producing out of doors movies similar to Trout Bum Diaries 1, Soulfish, and Cali Rush. He’s a Patagonia ambassador and outreach coordinator for California Trout.



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