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Fishing a new Sierra stream

We planned to fly fish on the North Fork of the Stanislaus River on a recent trip to Calaveras County.

Several days prior, the weather delivered snow with lingering cold temperatures, so there was a typical fall feel in the air.

Because one of the anglers in our group was a professional photographer who wanted to get some early-morning photos, the guide agreed to meet us at 7 a.m. in the small town of Arnold, about 20 minutes up the road from Murphys on State Highway 4.



The five of us met our guide, Dan Leichty of White Pine Outfitters, in Arnold. Dan is also a Cortland representative. After introductions and some discussion, we agreed to follow him.

The drive was about 20 to 30 minutes on some winding paved and unpaved roads from Dan’s shop into a deep canyon that held the North Fork of the Stanislaus. My first view of the river was through the trees, many of which were changing colors, as we wound our way down to the river. It was a beautiful-looking freestone stream.



The North Fork of the Stanislaus reminded me quite a bit of the North Fork of the Yuba River, but it appeared to be flowing quite a bit higher. Large boulders were strewn all over the river and I saw some nice pockets and runs as we parked our vehicles.

Dan felt that we were pretty early to start fishing, but since we were there and our photographer wanted some shots, we would oblige him. We strung up rods. Dan recommended caddis imitations in a light color. I began with a tan fly that I use in the Truckee River during the fall with good success.

The stream felt cold as I waded in. The substantial flow made wading much more difficult than I had anticipated. I wished that I had brought my wading staff, which was back at the motel. It would have made fishing much easier and I could have gotten to some of the farther pockets that otherwise could not be reached.

The first hour and a half or so, I began nymphing with no indicator. I was trying a line that was new to me and was not having any success. I am pretty sure that I had one take during the early morning hours, but I missed it.

As the morning began to warm, I finally landed my first brown trout ” a nine-inch fish on my tan fly. After landing the fish I noticed that I was suddenly alone. The photographer had gone back to the main party that had the guide.

A little while later I saw one of the other anglers making his way upstream toward me. I walked downstream to talk to him. No one had had much luck because of the cold water. I decided to walk back downstream to locate some of the other anglers and to fish some of the waters that looked promising on my way up.

I stopped at the first pool that the guide had stopped at with one of the beginners in our group. By this time the sun had begun to hit the pool. On about my third cast, I lost what was my third set-up of the morning. I tied on my last tan fly along with a small p.t. nymph.

On about my second cast I hooked a small fish that came unbuttoned as I was bringing it in. About four casts later, I thought that I had hung up on the bottom again, but I looked down in the crystal-clear water to see a fish struggling on the end of my line. This fish looked and felt much better than the previous one.

Unfortunately, it parted company from me when it was only about halfway up from the depths. The good news was that both were hooked on my last tan fly.

After talking with the other anglers, I learned that no one had much luck. So we decided to call it a day.

I decided to ride with two of the anglers who planned to trek up Highway 4 another 30 minutes to take a look at Lake Alpine in Alpine County. We put my gear in their car and headed up there.

We fished for about an hour, hooking several fish that were eating small midges and ants. They were mostly planted rainbows. We did pretty well with the ants, but when I lost my only small ant, my afternoon was finished. Nothing else seemed to work. Fortunately it was time to go anyway.

It was a very enjoyable morning and afternoon and we all agreed that we would have to do it again as we drove back to the motel in Murphys. I had gotten to fish a stream that I had never fished before, the North Fork of the Stanislaus.

Though we did not do well, I attributed that to our early start. Typically, I do not fish real early in the fall. I like to get on the water around 10 a.m. or later, which gives the water a chance to warm a bit. Our guide agreed with that, but the photos that were taken by the photographer apparently were worth the effort.

Bruce Ajari is a Truckee resident and regular fishing columnist for the Sierra Sun and other area newspapers.


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