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6/25/2017
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Email a Friend North Fork Yuba River
By Walt Simmons

Click photos to enlarge North Fork Yuba River

The upper North Fork is a classic freestone river that runs next to Highway 49 for approximately thirty miles, a truly scenic stretch that is among the most beautiful drives in California. This river starts by Yuba Pass, where it is a small, tumbling, brush-sided stream that is home to pint-sized brook trout, browns, and rainbows. Most conventional-tackle anglers concentrate on the areas near the campgrounds, where the Department of Fish and Game plants. That leaves the fly angler with miles of productive water, including a Wild Trout section between Sierra City and the Ladies Canyon Creek confluence. While this section does not have the population of fish per mile as the Truckee or East Walker Rivers, neither does it receive the kind of fishing pressure as those better known streams.

The fishery of the North Fork is akin to many other Sierra streams. Browns slightly outnumber rainbows in the North Fork, though rainbows seem to be the catch more often than not. Smallish brookies are common in the headwater sections above Sierra City and can be fun on light gear. Stealth tactics are the rule there, and dappling over brush is sometimes necessary. The North Fork has nuances that may frustrate the novice angler, but not the way the McCloud River or Hat Creek can. As a whole, the North Fork is not big water. Accordingly, you seldom need to cast past 35 feet, and this river is reasonably easy to navigate on foot. The term “reasonably” accommodates ever present unstable banks, many of which are slag heaps from nineteenth century gold mining. Walk carefully and you should not encounter any problems.

The North Fork consistently produces some fine trout. The Wild Trout section requires artificials with barbless hooks, although a two-fish bag limit for trout 10 inches or longer is still allowed. The lower boundary of this section starts at the Ladies Creek confluence, the upper boundary is Sierra City.

A 5 weight rod between eight and ten feet is ideal. Lighter rods are fine in the morning, but afternoon wind can make you with you brought a rod with more backbone. There are many easy access points along Highway 49 where fly fishing can be productive. As a rule, avoid the campground areas where the most fishing pressure occurs. Some good pullouts are available along the scenic highway, and some put you right at productive waters. Some strategy is needed in line control. Removing line slack quickly is paramount since strikes can happen fast, but pulling too much slack from your line can also result in an unrealistic drift.

The section from Downieville and above is popular through the summer, while the lower sections become more a focal point with the onset of fall. A great time to work the lower sections of the North Fork is in the late part of October, when large browns migrate up from Bullard’s Bar Reservoir on their spawning run. When the October Caddis hatch is underway, this is a special place. Bring a 5-weight or 6-weight 9-foot rod, weight-forward floating line, and good supply of Orange and Yellow Stimulators, size 6 to 10.

In addition, there are some fine smaller tributary systems feeding the North Fork that provide excellent light-rod and fine-tippet fishing. A word needs to be said about mining claims that are commonplace along the river. It is common to see suction mining at various spots where you are likely to fish. Common sense dictates that you leave such operations alone, and if the operation is attended, keep on moving. Most miners are not belligerent by nature, but as they are often subsistence anglers, they can get a little testy if you fish too close to their claim. The river belongs to everyone in this area, but there is no sense in using that logic to insist on fishing a productive area by a claim.

There are also some fine tributaries that are deserving of mention. Lavezzola Creek, Pauley Creek, and the Downie River flow into the North Fork just north of Downieville. There you will find small, spirited rainbows, ideal for 4-weights or lighter rods. Size 16 dark caddis imitations, Humpies, and Royal Coachmen work well on these smaller creeks. For working these smaller streams, wear sturdy shoes with ankle protection. The canyon sides are steep, and you will find yourself scrambling as much as fishing. In some parts of these smaller canyons, a certain level of athleticism helps in negotiating the very steep terrain. Access: Highway 49 provides many access points to the North Fork. For Lavezzola Creek, Pauley Creek, and the Downie River, turn left into Downieville and follow Main Street to Lavezzola Road, which will take you into the canyon country. If you like the less discriminate feeding patterns of brook trout, try fishing Haypress Creek. From Highway 49 just east of Sierra City, turn right on Wild Plum Road to Wild Plum Campground. From there, hike up the Haypress Trail three or four miles above the DFG-planted section by the campground to find the brookies. The North Fork and its tributaries are open for fishing from the last Saturday in April to November 15.

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