Peninsula Fly Fishers

Beardsley `06
What' s It Like at High Flows?

by Joe Eberle

May 2006

Joe, Neil, & Jeff at Beardsley
Joe, Neil and Jeff  Ready to Go at Beardsley

The first few months of 2006 had been cold, wet, and miserable, and though some people don’t mind fishing in such conditions, especially if there’s the chance of catching steelhead, I’m not one of them.  So when I received an invitation to spend the first Sunday in May fishing the bass ponds at Kistler Ranch, the first thing that went through my mind was, “I wonder what the weather will be like?”  I had never fished for bass before, at Kistler or anywhere else, so I did some research and determined that since it was unlikely to snow or hail, I’d give it a try. 
I talked to my friend Neil about it, and discovered that he too had never fished for bass before.  It was something that had always interested him, and he was free that weekend, so we both signed up.  Neil has a cabin in Twain Harte, and he suggested we drive up Saturday and fish the Beardsley Afterbay, then spend the night at his cabin and drive from there to the bass ponds on Sunday. 

We made our way to the Mother Lode Fly Shop in Sonora.  The clerk behind the counter had nothing good to say about any of the venues we’d hoped to fish, and suggested we come back in a month or so.  His comments didn’t surprise me, and I gave him credit for being honest, but I would have felt better if he had been just a little less truthful. So we got back in the truck and headed to Beardsley.
We were there in about forty-five minutes, and as we got out of the truck, we saw a pair of fly-fishermen lugging their kick boats up from the bank.  They appeared to be in their sixties, and it looked like they were about to pack it in for the day, so Neil went up and asked them how they’d done.  One of them ignored us, and started breaking down his gear without even looking at us.  I took this to mean that he’d had a pretty bad day.  The other fellow was a bit friendlier, and said the fishing had been tough: the water was cold, murky, and there was too much of it, the fish were sluggish and unresponsive, and it would probably be another month before the fishing improved.  unched our tubes onto the water.

Beardsley in Spate
  Inflow to Beardsley Afterbay

I decided to fish the head of the Afterbay, while Neil floated down to the tail end where the water smoothed out before it went over the spillway.  I didn’t realize how strong the current was until I got out there, and it was tough kicking.  I had two hits on the stimulator I had tied up the night before, but missed both fish, and after awhile my legs got so tired that I decided to make one last cast before drifting down to the calmer water.  It was as I was drifting that I got another hit, and this time I was able to set the hook on a thin rainbow, which I landed and released.  The bats started coming out soon after that, and they kept landing on my fly and sinking it, so I headed in.  I’m not particularly fond of bats, and I was getting tired.  Neil came in at around the same time I did, and told me he’d taken a nice brown on a parachute Adams, but the bats had been drowning his fly too. 
While changing out of our waders, a young fly-fisherman and his girlfriend came walking up the trail towards us and asked us how we’d done.  They were locals, and had spent the afternoon fishing the river below the spillway.  I saw that his Sage was rigged with a pair of nymphs under an indicator, and because that’s usually an effective method of taking fish, I assumed he had done well.  I told him that we’d both had a few hits, but had only managed to land one fish each, then waited for his reply.  I was expecting him to tell us that he had caught and released a half dozen fish during the past hour, two of which were big browns over twenty inches.  Or something like that.  Instead, he just kind of stared at us for a moment, kind of shocked, then explained that he had spent the entire afternoon beating the water without getting so much as a bump.  He asked what we had taken our fish on, and when I told him dries, he looked at us as though we were some kind of fishing gods.  I’ll admit I got a kick out of that, but I’ll also admit that had he spent any time watching me cast, he probably would have thought differently. 

The next morning we arrived at the Kistler Ranch at around 9:00 AM, and there were already about fifteen people there, including a guide I had never met.  I asked the guide where he’d been fishing, and he said he had just returned from a month in New Zealand.  He told us he owned a house there, and that he spent a month or so there every winter.  I’ll admit I was impressed, because I didn’t think guides made that much.  Then he showed us some of his homemade bass and bluegill flies.  One consisted of a curved hook - about a size 10 - with four short feathers tied in at the bend for a tail, and a body of thin green foam lashed to the shank.  He said he was selling these for $2.50 each.  Neil and I both tie our own flies, and I could see that he had the same expression on his face as I did.  “$2.50 for THAT? “  After the shock passed, we told the guide that we had never been bass fishing before, and upon hearing this, he insisted on giving us a demonstration.  He set up his rod and tied one of these $2.50 foam things on the end of his leader, then walked with us down to the edge of the nearest pond and gave us some pointers on where to cast, how to retrieve, and how to set.  (“Don’t raise the rod tip.  Strip the line instead.”)  His bug skirted right over and around all the weeds without tangling up, and he was able to twitch it in such a way that from where I stood, it looked just like a frog.  Because we didn’t have anything in our fly boxes even remotely like it, we both ended up buying some.

My brother Jeff and our friend Ed had decided to drive up from the Bay Area early Sunday morning and meet us here. Jeff was coming out of the water as we parked the truck.  He said that Ed had already caught a number of bass using a wooly bugger, in spite of the fact that he was tubing without fins.  Ed had purchased brand new force fins the day before, but he had forgotten to bring them.  He'd also forgotten his waders, and I had to wonder what the hell he was wearing out there. 

I rigged up my six-weight rod, since that’s what the guide recommended using, and after launching my tube, I immediately started hooking bluegill and sunfish with one of my homemade nymphs. After releasing a number of small fish, I switched to one of the purple dragonflies I’d tied up the previous week.  Then I lit a cigar, cracked open a beer, and tossed the bug out onto the water and waited to see what kind of reaction it would get.

I had just recently learned how to fish from a float tube, but I’d quickly come to realize that it has to be the most relaxing and stress-free method of fly-fishing there is.  There’s never anything to get in the way of your back cast, and if your forward cast comes down in a piled up mess, all you have to do is kick away from it a little bit and everything will usually straighten itself out.  If I really want to take it easy, I’ll tie on a dry fly and chuck it out there, or just drop it in the water and kick away from it, and once I’m happy with where it’s at, I’ll just sit back and wait.  The other thing I like about tubing on a pond or small lake, as opposed to wading in a river, is that there’s usually no current trying to knock you over or rocks to trip you up. 

I took another sip of beer and then made another cast.  The dragonfly disappeared soon after it hit the surface, and contrary to the guide’s advice, I instinctively raised the rod tip.  Surprisingly, the hook stuck, and a few minutes later, I was admiring the beauty of my first largemouth bass.  Soon after I released him, I was ready for lunch. 

Ed gets a Bass at Kistler
A  Nice Bass for Ed at Kistler

When we met at the truck, Jeff said, “I’m betting you used a purple marker to color the foam on your dragonflies.”  Before I could respond, he held up his hand so that I could see the dark purple ink stains covering his fingers.  He reminded me of an Iraqi citizen who had just voted, only there wasn’t any hint of civic pride or happiness in his expression.  The marker I had used said the ink was both permanent and waterproof, but it apparently only retains those attributes when applied to skin, and I’m still not sure what happened. 

We all drove back to the registration area, where the person hosting the fishout provided a nice lunch of grilled cheeseburgers, chili, salad, and other assorted side dishes, along with water and soft drinks.  Ed had tickets to the Sharks game that night, so he left right after lunch.  After seeing him off, Jeff, Neil and I headed back to the upper pond, where we fished for an hour or so without much success.  Then the wind picked up, and since the fish weren’t being very cooperative, we kicked back to shore and spent the rest of the afternoon sitting on the bank, using our tubes as makeshift easy chairs.  It was getting close to 6:00 before we decided to go back into the water, and during the next hour, I took some nice bass dragging a wooly bugger right down the middle of the pond.  Then the guide came by and told us we should be fishing the edges, so I cut off the wooly bugger and tied on his “hook with green foam,” and we all fished the bank for the next half hour or so, with no luck.  Earlier in the day, I had fished both the edges and the middle, and all the bass I’d caught had been in the center of the pond where the water was deepest, so I decided to ignore the guide’s advice and went back to fishing were I knew the fish were.  Two casts later, the foam bug disappeared and I was into my largest bass yet.  After Jeff saw the bend in my rod, he started fishing the middle too, and soon we were hooking into some really big bass.  We stayed out until dark, and then met up with Neil at the truck.  We were all suffering from allergies, but Neil’s were the worst, and unfortunately, he had knocked off early and missed most of the action because his eyes had swelled up. 

After loading up the truck, we drove to Jamestown.  Neil knew of a Mexican restaurant there he said was good, but by the time we arrived they had already closed, so we ended up having a very late meal at the Applebee’s in Sonora.

Monday morning we loaded up the truck while Neil shut down the cabin.  He gave the knothole another squirt of insecticide before locking the door, after which we drove to town and had breakfast at the Sportsman Coffee Shop, hoping that a good meal now would hold us until dinner.  After breakfast, we drove back to the Beardsley Afterbay and fished until 5:00, with dismal results.  Neil caught one trout and had two grabs, all on a wooly bugger fished with a sinking line.  Jeff had one grab for the day, using a San Juan worm, but the fish broke off and took the fly with him.  I threw everything I had; dries, nymphs, and streamers, but caught nothing and had no grabs.  I also made the mistake of taking off my glasses and putting them on the apron of my float tube while trying to tie a knot.  I’m still not sure what happened, since I never actually saw or heard them fall into the water.  All I know is that one minute they were there, and the next they were gone.

Jeff wondered if the otter we saw swimming in the Afterbay had adversely affected the fishing.  I don’t know if that’s true or not, but he startled me more than once that day by popping up out of the water when I wasn’t expecting it.  It can also feel kind of funny being in a float tube and knowing that there’s something that big with teeth swimming somewhere underneath you.

There was now nothing left of the trip but the long drive home.  During these final hours, we talked about the bass fishing, and about some of the other trips we’re planning to make during the months ahead, but not so much about Beardsley.  Even so, I’m sure that before the year is up, we’ll have some great days at the Afterbay; days that will rival our trip last fall, when all the fish wanted were big fat dries in any color and any style. Maybe next month.

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