Winter Fly-fishing on the North San Gabriel
By Johnny (aka Hillfisher), Texas
Archive of Panfish
It's the first weekend of the New Year and the weather
is absolutely perfect. Not a cloud in the sky, a very
light variable breeze and unseasonably toasty 72-degree
temperature. I decided that the North San Gabriel River
would be the spot to try. Being a small spring fed river
the water temperatures usually stay within the sixties and
the panfish will willingly bite throughout the year. I
have several well-liked areas and one of my favorites has
been closed due to the construction of a new bridge. So
for today I had to go to another area that also
consistently produces beautiful sunfish and the
occasional accidental bass.
The bridges of Interstate-35 that cross the North San
Gabriel provide an excellent access point except when
there is a rain or the ground is still muddy from a
recent rain. The topsoil is very slick clay and the
entry point is a steep drive to the water. On one side
they have laid in stone and gravel, but it too, is quickly
eroding away. Even with a large heavy 4x4, it is almost
impossible to make it out when it rains.
Fishing around the support columns of the bridges can provide
hours of fun. The bream here range from the small up to 10 plus
inches. Up next to these support columns are pockets of water
that are about 5 feet deep and have undercuts in the limestone
created when the highway department drilled and blasted to
build the foundations. Here is where the larger bream tend
to congregate. These bridges are not all that small. The
interstate is above you by a good 50 feet or more so the
constant traffic is not too annoying.
However an added benefit is during the summer, night fishing
is great due the lights from the bridges lighting the waters
bringing in the small minnows and naturally feeding on them,
the bass. You just have to brave the snakes. I know for
some people that is no small task.
While fishing around the bridges I used a bead-headed, squirrel
tail nymph. I was first introduced to this fly in a fly swap
and it has proven to be very successful in our waters here.
This variation has flat rubber legs tied in an x-wing
fashion and may be the key to its success. Tie a few,
as the river bottom is rocky and to fish the nymphs
correctly, expect to lose a couple or so.
Moving up river away from the bridges there is a long
stretch of fast moving shallow water. The bottom is
smooth slippery limestone and felt soles are a must!
I bought some really good hip boot waders for fishing
the smaller shallower rivers. However they are knobbed
rubber soled and are extremely dangerous to use. Well,
some Scotch Brite and Shoe Goo took care of that and
they work great!
Above this stretch of water you come to some truly beautiful
pristine pools formed below tall stately limestone canyon
walls. There are cottonwood and willow trees growing thickly
along the edges laying their branches protectively low over
the waters, challenging the flyfisher's casting into the
bountiful waters. Fallen boulders are strewn throughout
the pools creating dark holes full of promises, secrets
and rewards of large bream to the diligent flyfisher.
These waters are not for the novice as it is fairly
close quarters for casting. Roll casting, side casting
and steeple casting is the rule. These pools contain
large bream and bass and they are very willing players.
I lost my last squirrel nymph to a fly collecting tree
and switched over to another nymph, and I use the term
"nymph" lightly, it was actually nothing more than a
practice hook for some dubbing practice. It was the
only thing I had left, as I did not bring my nymph box
with me. This was just a gray dubbing material laid
on the back half with flashy red dubbing on the front
half. No legs, beads or any other additions. Well,
I guess I'll be tying a few of those for another time
as it surprisingly produced some really nice bream in
those pools as well as a couple of bass of which I can
only figure that they were really desperate! I have no
idea what the actual material is as it was samples that
came with the spinning block I use. When I have a working
alternative, with known material, I'll let you know.
In the mean time take the photo and get creative!
Many fish later and the day is waning and the sun has
lost most of its warmth. Old Man Winter's icy breath
is once again creeping across the waters and his cold
cloak of promised frost is once again being laid upon
the lands. Time to head back to the warmth of home
and family. Until next time, good fishing!
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