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Written By: Headwaters Fishing Team, December 19, 2013
Location: San Joaquin River- Upper,
When I heard Dan Arbuckle had a Stanislaus River float planned, I was immediately jealous because I was of course, unable to make the trip. So I planned my own trip.
Of the rivers in the valley that I work on, the Stanislaus is where I spend the bulk of my time. Because of this I have had the opportunity to fish the river a lot, before and after work, perfecting my technique.
The trick is this: wait for high flow, take size 6 or 9 (depending on how high the flow is) all metal Panther Martin spinners in silver or gold, and side drift the river, casting upstream to likely spots and reeling the spinner slowly back to the boat as you float down. The key to this trick is the all-metal body spinners, which have enough weight to sink to the bottom where the fish tend to hang out.
The day of my float conditions could not have been better. The river was running at 1,500 cfs (nice and high), and it was partly overcast and the forecast was a warm day, perfect for insect activity to put the trout on the feed. I had my Coosa, newly rigged out with thigh straps and an anchor system by Dan, a spinning rod, and of course since it's me, a fly rod. My float mates for the day were a co-worker and his son.
The first spot of the day was right where we put in at Knight's Ferry. There was a nice eddy on the far side of the river. No luck. We continued our float down, hitting likely spots with fly rod and spinner, the river proving to be too swift and deep for very effective fly fishing. At about the 3rd likely trout lie as we floated down, a nice current seam, I hooked up on the spinner.
Hooking up while floating down a river at high flow, presents several challenges. First and foremost there is the fish darting for cover. While trying to fight the fish you also have to look out for obstacles in the river and then steer around them, all with rod in hand. Fortunately I had my new anchor system. Once hooked up, I floated about 10 yards, caught an eddy, dropped anchor, and successfully battled my fish into the boat.
Not only was the skunk off now, but also it was a beautiful 16 incher, (my personal best on the Stanislaus is 17 inches, so this was a great catch), making it a steelhead. I took some photos, successfully releasing the fish with a grin on my face. At this point I could end my trip a happy fisherman, and we weren't even an eighth of the way done with the float!
We continued to drift down without much activity for the next hour or so, enjoying the river and all of its surroundings. We floated through Russian Rapids, which at 1,500cfs is no joke. I was happy to have my new thigh straps, allowing me to be one with my boat and giving me the ability to lean into turns way farther than I could before.
By the end of the day we had hooked 7 trout and landed 3. The trout of the Stanislaus are no dummies. All of the fish I hooked did a lot of jumping and head shaking, making it easy for them to spit a barbless hook. All in all a terrific day. It's hard to beat a float trip.
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