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Hat Creek Field Notes

Posted on 18 May 2017

Hat Creek Field Notes - The Ashland Fly Shop

I had the good fortune of making it down south to fish Hat Creek in Northern California recently and I thought I’d take the time the share my thoughts on the experience. The first thing that comes to mind from the trip is both the beauty of the area and the enjoyment of the fishing experience. I fished the lower end of the river during the middle of the day to no avail - both from lack of bugs and such few fish showing interest in them. Fishing the lower end, seemed to me, like a game of figuring out the places where the fish are most likely to hold. The river is chalk full of great seams, feeding lanes and structure, but not all those place appeared to have the proper depth to support a decent amount of fish. And because of that, I ended up fishing small buggers and leech patterns which allow you to cover more water in short order.

After picking the water apart with the streamer and not having much success, I decided to head upriver to the powerhouse riffle section. The first thing that really surprised me was the amount of folks fishing in that area – but I suppose that’s bound to happen when everything else is out of the game. A lot of folks were high stick nymphing around the main island. I decided to test my luck in the technical dry fly waters below. I was rewarded with a great eat on the second cast, only to have the fish wrap itself around a weed bed and break me off.

More than anything else, I want to talk about the technique involved in hooking fish in water like that. Fishing Hat Creek reminded me of the technical dry fly flats of both the Missouri and the Henry’s Fork, just on a smaller scale. In my mind, there are two things that make any fishery technical: the amount of insects hatching and the nature of the surface current.

If you’re fishing a stream with slower currents, the fish have more time to inspect your fly before deciding to eat it. In addition, if they’re used to seeing massive amounts of bugs throughout the day, they will be even pickier if yours doesn’t look like the natural they just ate. As far as technique is concerned, the speed of the water really influences my dry fly techniques. Slow moving water tends to collide into tiny whirlpools and eddies that we call micro current. All of those microcurrents can make it damn near impossible to get a drag-free drift, which is crucial to your dry fly success in a technical fishery.

So how do we compensate for all these factors working against us? The answer is actually fairly straightforward: use a downstream presentation. If you position yourself above the fish and cast downstream toward them, you help yourself out in two major ways. Firstly, you show the fish the fly before showing them your leader or fly line. That’s crucial when fish are easily spooked! The second advantage is that you can feed line downstream, allowing your fly to drift totally drag free to the fish. If you’re having trouble rising a fish over there, definitely switch over to a downstream presentation.

Now let’s talk flies for Hat Creek. If you’re high stick nymphing, a good bet would be a rubberleg stone in size 8, trailing a size 20 pheasant tail. If you’re up to the challenge, my success on the dry was had on a size 14 and 16 cinnamon ant pattern. But I wouldn’t step onto the river again without having damn near every dry fly I own between size 12 and size 22. My favorite dry fly rod is the Winston BIIIX in both the 9’ 4wt and 9’ 5wt. If you only have one, you should bring the 5wt, but if you have the option and the wind isn’t blowing too hard – the 4wt will be the most enjoyable experience.

As always, give us a call at the shop if you have any questions about flies or timing on hatches for your next trip.

AFS Staffer,

Marcus Mattioli

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1 comment

  • Jon Spillers : May 18, 2017

    Excellent report. I have never done well in that lower fast water. I would add to your advice re: the technical water, keep your casts short. If fish are working, pick a close one, and do everything else as you advise.

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