by Jim Gade, Fellow Angler
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Thanks for choosing to come fishing with us at the SUGAR CREEK RANCH. Our trophy rainbow are special, and we want you to have a memorable day with us. Here are a few of the flies and techniques that have worked while fishing the ponds at different depths throughout the year.
All the ponds have thriving populations of brown dace minnows, suckers, sculpin, crawdads and leeches. All of these are food for the trout year-round. In addition, from April through early June the little rainbows that hatched during the winter are a major food source. The suckers are summer spawners and the trout eat their fry from mid-summer through mid-fall.
Fishing imitations of these involves getting the flies down deep enough. The prevailing wind patterns make full sink lines easier to work with than sink tips. Intermediate and level #1 full sink tapers work well although you might want to try one that sinks faster. The maximum depth in the ponds is about 20 feet and I recommend using a countdown system to experiment with fishing your streamers and leeches at different depths.
Strip rates also vary day to day, season to season, and with the flies you're using. Start with short strips with equal pauses in between. If that doesn't work, begin varying your strip rate. Don't forget to point the tip of your rod at the line, then stick the tip right into the water as you retrieve. A helpful variation for fishing crawdad and sculpin patterns is to use a very slow three-foot strip followed by a long pause, alternating with several short strips and pauses.
Keep your terminal tackle as heavy as you can when you're using these larger flies. 4X is good, 3X is ideal. As the year progresses, you may have to use lighter tippet to get strikes. However, if you do change to lighter tippet you will probably break off more fish on the strike, which is always the risk. Your best leader length is somewhere between six feet and seven and one half feet. Longer leaders fished with sinking lines and flies can make the fly float up on the retrieve. Straight mono works fine for leader material and it's cheaper than buying tapered leaders.
Favorite flies for subsurface stripping include
- a chartreuse bunny leech lightly weighted and tied on a six to ten hook. An excellent fly all year, this bug fishes well all day. It's especially productive in low light situations, however. Fish will often grab it as it sinks or after it's settled on the bottom, but before you begin retrieving it.
- Andy Burke's brown and gold bullet head streamer tied on size six to eight hooks. This is a great imitation of the brown dace in the ponds. Sunk and stripped back, these flies produce especially well spring and fall.
- zonkers tied to imitate rainbow fry, tied on size six to ten hooks. These work very well when rainbow fry are in the ponds. The ones with the chartreuse backs and gray brown rabbit fur also produce.
- large crawfish patterns, weighted and tied on size four to six hooks. A personal favorite is Terry Edelman's "crawdad". Fish it across the bottom using the alternating short then long strip retrieve I mentioned earlier. This fly takes fish all year.
- the Whitlock near'nuff sculpin in either green or brown tied on size six to eight hooks. This imitates the sculpin in the ponds and also produces year round. Fish it slowly across the bottom like the crawfish patterns.
- Denny Rickard's seal buggers, size eight to ten green and gray, magenta and red, black and orange, and brown and gray.
- muddler minnows also work to imitate the sculpin in the ponds.
Stripping back smaller midge and nymph patterns or fishing them behind an indicator are also quite productive at times.
Please note that a selection of effective flies for Sugar Creek Ranch is available for purchase at the Lodge. The fly bin is located just inside the front door.
The following all catch fish
- size 16 to 20 pheasant tail nymphs
- size 10 to 12 green and brown damsel fly nymphs
- size 12 to 20 gold ribbed hare's ears
- size 12 to 20 prince nymphs
- size 12 to 20 black AP nymphs
- size 16 to 22 midge pupa in various colors
- size 16 to 20 Burke's hunch back infrequents
- size 10 to 16 Rickard's still water nymphs
Strikes are usually quick and gentle with these smaller bugs so watch your line or your indicator closely. Leader length should be between thirteen and sixteen feet with these smaller flies. Your tippet can range from 5X to 6X. Start with heavier stuff and then go lighter if you aren't getting any action. If you're fishing your flies behind an indicator and you aren't getting strikes, experiment with changing the distance between the indicator and the fly. Changing the depth that your nymph is sinking to can often trigger strikes, saving you from changing flies.
Also, cast to cruising fish. Cast out far enough ahead of the fish so that you don't spook them. Casting several feet ahead of the cruising fish is a good rule of thumb. If the fish you are casting to abruptly changes direction when your fly lands, you've come too close. On the other hand, if the fish turns toward your fly and the light's right, you can sometimes see the white inside of their mouth as they open up to take the fly. Strike then -- don't wait for your indicator or line to twitch. Other times, the fish will swim right at the fly but turn away at the last second.
If you see a midge hatch over the water, particularly if it is accompanied by fish feeding with a slow head rolling rise, try fishing midge pupa behind an indicator or with a leader greased down to the last twelve inches. A retrieve that lifts the bug slowly is most effective. Try a slow hand twist. If that doesn't work let it drift.
In the surface film
Both midge and emerger patterns can be fished right in the film. Use a leader greased down to the last six or eight inches. With midge pupa, a very slow retrieve is usually most productive so try a slow hand twist first. If it doesn't work, experiment with a dead drift; use long leaders tapering down to 6X if necessary.
On the surface
As the season moves into spring, trout will feed more regularly on the surface. Midge hatches will begin in February or even earlier if it isn't too cold. As the season progresses, the variety and duration of the hatches increase. A standard repertoire of northern California dries is worth a try but some favorites include parachute Adams, Quigly cripples, pale morning duns, adult midges in black, grey, and white, elk hair caddis, and adult damsel flies. Terrestrial imitations take lots of fish during the summer and early fall along with black foam beetles (try to get the ones with a yellow thorax collar). Black foam ants and black cricket imitations also work particularly well.
Playing and landing
Sugar Creek trout are large and they fight hard. There is a tendency for the inexperienced to overplay them. Here are two insights into playing the big fish, courtesy of Wayne Eng, Dunsmuir guide. First, keep working your fish and always try to either take or give line. Second, keep trying to turn its head when it runs by, moving your rod sideways against the direction the fish is going. If the fish starts to spin over when you turn it, you've got it under control.
Landing these big trout without harming them is also a challenge. It's best to be in the water yourself when you try. Use the landing nets that Sugar Creek provides. Remove the fly. Use your forceps if it is in so deep that you can't get it out without forcing it. If you cannot retrieve the fly even with forceps, it's best just to cut it off and leave it in the fish. It doesn't make sense to permanently damage a big, beautiful trout that has just battled for its life for the price of a fly.
If you want a photo, have your camera ready before lifting the fish out of the water. Be sure you wet your hands before handling your catch to prevent injury to its protective mucus coating. As an added precaution, the Kalpin's would like you to hold the fish over the water to avoid dropping it on land. Also, please do not keep any fish out of water for more than 10 seconds.
Finally, when you are ready to release your catch, resuscitate it first by grabbing it ahead of the tail and under its belly. Move the fish gently back and forth to keep water flowing over its gills. Keep moving your fish in this manner until it shows clear signs that it's ready to swim off. This can take awhile so please be patient. Fish that are pushed away before they are ready to go may die later from the stress. When your fish is really ready, a pinch on the tail will send it off into deep water in a hurry.
Have a Great Trip
Catch the Fish of a Lifetime!
Jim Gade has extensive angling experience on the water at Sugar Creek. He has fished here every other month for the past year. He is constantly trying to maximize his success rate by fine tuning the wet fly techniques that he feels have proven effective on other waters. It is our hope this information will help you increase your success and enjoyment while fishing the Sugar Creek Ranch.
M.Kalpin., Sugar Creek Ranch