Your gateway to the best fly fishing that California has to offer                                                                                                             
photo by Greg Vinci

the development of some of some of the finest fly tiers and most effective fly patterns of our time.  The Fall River was and is associated with legendary individuals as Bob Quigley, Andy Burk, Polly Roseborough, Andy Puyans, Cal Bird, and many others of that caliber.  In addition to the many unique spring creek patterns developed there, were many unique line handlingand rigging techniques specifically suited to the Fall’s slow moving crystal clear water. The challenging reputation that the Fall River has earned over the years is true to say the least.  In its slow moving crystal clear water the trout have plenty of time to give your fly a good look before making a decision to grab it.  Catching fish here requires the use of all the spring creek tricks that I’ve learned over the years in such waters as close by Hat Creek and on Hot Creek near Mammoth Lakes, CA..  Conversely, the refinements to those techniques that I’ve learned on the Fall River have improved my success nearly everywhere I’ve fished. 

Matching the hatch isn’t as difficult on the Fall as it is on some of the other spring creeks that I’ve fished, as there are usually only one or two bugs hatching at any one time. This is contrary to other spring creeks, like Hat Creek for example, where hatches can change between several different bugs, from one minute to another.  During the summer months on the Fall River the bugs most commonly found hatching are either PMD (Pale Morning Dun) or BWO (Blue Wing Olive).  Sometimes they both come off at the same time, but you still only have to pick from two when making a pattern selection.  If you’ve done your homework, you’ll have patterns in your fly box that can cross over between the two species, such as the neutral colored Adams Parachute in addition to more specific patterns such as tan Parachutes in size #16 & #18 to represent PMDs. You will also have patterns that represent transitional stages of these insects such as the Quigly Cripple or EC Caddis for example, in addition to their adult stages.  Spinners are an important stage in the mayfly lifecycle that freestone fishermen often ignore, but on spring creeks it is imperative that you recognize their presence and fish accordingly.  Some spinner patterns, such as those tied in the hackle stacker style, are often taken as newly emerged adults too, so if you miss judge what is exactly going on, on the water, you may come out OK anyway.  Cripple patterns, regardless of the species they represent, share the characteristic that the shuck of their exoskeleton protrudes below the surface film, and whether it be a PMD shuck or a Blue Wing Olive shuck, they both look about the same to the fish.  Consequently you double your chances that the fish will recognize your fly as food, no matter which bug is hatching at that particular time.  This is true on most other clear slow moving waters you may fish. It is often these types of patterns that catch the most fish. 

As with dry flies, patterns for fishing below surface on the Fall River are simple as well.  If you are one of the fly fishermen who like to fish bug specific patterns (that attempt to match the hatch), you generally need to only have ones that mimic the larval stages of the two bugs already mentioned.  Patterns such as Andy Burk’s Hunch Back Infrequenze or Dave Sloan’s Mighty May Baetis work very well on the Fall.  For the rest of you, something generic such as a #16 or #18 Pheasant Tail  or a Zug Bug will do just fine.  Even though  PMD and BWO nymphs present different silhouettes to the fish, their relative similarity in size and the fact that they are both dark hued nymphs means that a Pheasant Tail nymph pattern will work for both.  To catch the larger fish simple leach patterns or wooly buggers about size #8 & #10 in olive, brown and black are all you need.  Two of the most successful patterns over the years have been local guide Carl Jaeger’s Fall River Leach and the Hale Bop.  One of the great things about the Fall River is, that unlike many of the other spring creeks in the west, you don’t need a PHD in entomology to figure which bug to match.  It is sort of matching the hatch for dummies.  Learning to keep crossover and transitional patterns in your fly box is a valuable lesson that will benefit you anywhere.

Though fly selection is pretty simple, actually catching fish on the Fall River isn’t.  Over the years I’ve found that the techniques that have brought me success on the very challenging Fall River work just as well on other spring creeks.  Anywhere you have slow moving crystal clear water with trout, these techniques will work.  The challenging part of the Fall River fishing equation is presentation-presentation-presentation defined by the line handling techniques that you needed to master if you wanted to catch fish.  These fish have seen lots of tippet and fly lines and have learned that if the silhouette of a fly line passes over their head the next bug they see, should they close their mouth on it, will provide an uncomfortable experience.  Keep in mind that Fall River’s surface feeding fish are often holding only a few inches under the water’s surface so if a floating fly line passes over their head they will move out of its way simply due to an avoidance response and once they do so they will be out of the path of the fly’s drift.  The remedy for that is a downstream presentation technique that presents the fly first, and the line

handling technique to accomplish that is famously known as the “Fall River Twitch”.  The “Fall River Twitch” is executed by positioning oneself directly upstream from the where you have spotted rising fish.  In order to present the fly so that it comes into the view of the fish before the line, you point the rod downstream, and then wiggle the tip while at the same time feed the line through the guides at a rate that is equal to the river’s flow.  The fly will then drift downstream, hopefully in a dead drift.  Wiggling the tip to feed the line has worked well on other spring creeks that I’ve fished such as Hot Creek, where drifts are relatively short and the weeds are often on the surface, but as long time guide Carl Jaeger explained to me “on the Fall River you are trying to effect drifts of twenty feet or more and each wiggle has the potential to create hesitation in the fly’s drift which will eliminate its chances of it being grabbed.” He showed me a better way to feed the line that was specifically suited for attaining the desired longer drifts.  He explained that rather than wiggle the rod tip to help feed the line, you should roll the tip which will allow you to feed two to three feet of line each time and for fishing dry flies, this was the most important technique that I learned. 

Carl anchored the boat about forty-five feet upstream and slightly to the side from a pod of rising fish.  He had me cast my fly to about 45 degrees to the side and just upstream of the rise location, and when the fly was in the feeding lane, he had me lower my rod tip so the fly could drift to the feeding fish.  If I needed a longer drift, he had me use Fall River twitch, which allowed the fly to dead drift for those final yards.  At the relatively long distance you needed to keep between yourself and the feeding fish, it was hard to tell if a fish was taking my fly or perhaps a bug floating next to it, so I quickly determined that the best action would be to set on any rise.  Carl showed me a little trick to use that will often get strikes if the fish seem to ignore your fly.  He had me present the fly using the downstream technique but just when the fly reached the sight zone of the fish, he had me stop its drift by lifting the rod tip slightly, which thereby caused the fly to submerge beneath the surface film. He explained that it would then appear as a drowned cripple to the fish, and would often elicit a grab.  The fly first technique will improve your success on all slow spring creeks or on waters with finicky fish, though you will have to adapt the line handling method to match the particular peculiarities of the water.

If the fish aren’t rising it’s time to go to nymphs or streamers.  There are four basic sub surface methods used on the Fall River, dead drifting a nymph under an indicator, a swinging indicator/nymph technique, swinging a nymph without an indicator and swinging a leach imitation or a streamer.  When fishing a dry, you already know where the fish are located and you present your fly to that specific location, but you can’t see the location of sub surface feeding fish, so when fishing nymphs you want to cover as much water as possible and you need to handle the line in a manner that will accomplish that end.  In normal years, by the middle of June, the Fall River’s river bottom is a carpet of weeds and the currents create lanes in the weeds where the fish hold so feeding your line and fly down that lane is where you are going to get the most grabs.  Normally the fisherman positions his boat upstream from where he assumes the fish are holding (usually over a channel or lane in the weeds) and by making a short cast downstream he can then begin feeding the line down the lane using the Fall River Twitch technique, to where you feel the fish are holding.  A strike can come at any time.  After almost twenty years of guiding on the Fall River, Carl has developed some interesting ways to present a fly, and one of them is a swinging indicator/nymph technique, which is a swinging presentation that incorporates a floating line and strike indicator.  Rather than feeding the line and indicator directly downstream from the fisherman’s position, he positions the boat in the middle of the current or about halfway between the banks of the river, and then has his client cast about 60 degrees towards the bank and then make a hard mend downstream towards the boat once the fly reaches the end of its drift.  The indicator and fly will then begin arcing across the current or perpendicular to the current’s direction causing the trailing nymph pattern to rise in the water column behind it.  That is when you’ll usually get the strike.   If you don’t know where the fish are holding then the most successful strategy is to (as when fishing streamers) begin by casting close to the boat and swing in greater increasing arcs thereby covering every inch of water.  Carl prefers using a strike indicator like a Pop-Top or Insta-Set Indicator that can be rigged in a ninety degree dropper configuration.  This is 
very beneficial, being that though the leader between the line and the indicator is horizontal, the dropper or leader between the indicator and the weight/fly descends vertically, which facilitates strike detection.   The protruding bright orange peg on Pop-Top Indicators, make it easy to see at a long distance and when the peg is pointing straight up, it helps his client know that his or her fly is in dead drift.  Carl’s indicator rig consists of a Pop-Top Indicator with enough leader (5x or 6x fluorocarbon is recommended) descending below it so that the weight (one BB is usually enough) and fly drift about six inches above the weeds. 

In between hatches streamer fishing is one of the most successful techniques used on the Fall River.  The first time I fished with Carl, I was already rigged up with an intermediate sink tip line, but he immediately switched me over to a full sink.  He said that a full sink line would tend to pull the fly horizontal where a sink tip would impart a more vertical action to the fly, which for some reason wouldn’t work as well.  He positioned the boat directly in the gap between the weeds and he then had me cast at almost a ninety degree angle or towards the shore and then make a quick mend of the line, similar to the technique we used with the swinging strike indicator mentioned above, that way the leach pattern was always facing upstream as it drifted in the current.  Once it reached the position downstream where we thought the fish would be he had me stop mending which allowed the fly to swing to a position directly below the boat.  I then made made a slow retrieve with a small twitch for every couple of feet of line that I stripped. Usually I got a grab near the end of the swing but if not, then the grab would come after a pause when stripping the fly. 

A similar technique can be deadly for swinging nymphs such as Pheasant Tails or Zug Bugs.  When the fish cease to rise for a period of time, many dry fly fishermen find success by quickly converting their dry fly rigs to a nymph swinging rig.   To do so, extra tippet material (5X fluorocarbon) is added to the dry fly rig to allow the nymph to drift just over the tops of the submerged weed beds.  Lots of times I make my first cast so that the nymph swings right through the area where I last saw rises.  If after a few casts I don’t get a grab there, I then begin by making a series of swings, the first being close to the boat, and then gradually longer 45 degree casts, each time letting the nymph swing in an arc to just down stream from my watercraft’s position.  I make each cast longer than the one before it so that I cover every inch of the water.  Either an un-weighted (bead-less) fly such as a Pheasant Tail, with split shot placed about eighteen inches above the fly or a heavily weighted double bead “Depth Charge” style fly will get the fly to the right depth.

All of the techniques that make Fall River fishing a success work just as well on all spring creeks with slow current and relatively deep water.  The downstream dry fly and nymph presentations covered in this article will improve your success on almost every spring creek and on the flat-water sections of freestone streams too.  Fishing transitional patterns during hatches, will catch you many more fish than if you only fish duns.  Swinging a nymph or soft hackle through rises is deadly everywhere whether it is a spring creek or freestone water as swinging leach imitations which will usually catch you the largest fish.  These lessons learned on the Fall River will bring you success no matter where you fish.