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Winter Fly-fishing on the North San Gabriel


By Johnny (aka Hillfisher), Texas

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! ~ Hillfisher

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