The Upwelling

July 15, 2023 – Two hundred and fifty feet down and a football field out from the trash racks exists a fishing phenomena I call “The Upwelling”. It occurs when water is pumped into the lake from the forebay through the massive pumps at the base of the trash racks. On a calm day like today, you can see the surface currents that spin up from the bottom of the lake. Oneill Forebay is muddy from the record sierra runoff and it marks the upwelling with clouds of muddy water on the surface “. This upwelling is rich in nutrients from the more organic forebay and attracts schools of American Shad, bait and hungry schools of Striped bass. Massive schools of juvenile stripers swim in and around the upwelling and I have been able to record massive schools of fish in the 10s of thousands with the livescope sonar. The stripers in the upwelling are an easy mark, but catching a keeper out of the upwelling is difficult. After months fishing it, Ive only caught a handfull of keepers here. This makes sense since these smaller stripers are like vacuum cleaners eating anything that swims in front of them and out compete the big ones.   The day before,  the larger fish I caught seemed to be swimming with like sized fish.  I believe the bigger fish are away from the upwelling and cruising the shoreline so as not to compete with the faster juveniles.    Dan’s theory is there are 40 lbrs eating them .   That said,  i bet one 10 inch striper lasts a long time in the belly of a big striper.  Most fish we caught today were 12-17 inches.   We got one keeper around the racks.

LIvescope Range at 200ft

Livescope Range at 100 ft

I asked Dan Blanton to fish the upwelling today and he was anxious to fish the lake since its been closed 30 days in the last 45 days due to excessive winds. We got to the racks at around 9:00 and on our first five casts we had three doubles. I asked Dan if he was more interested in catching numbers over size and he felt that if we caught enough dinks, we would eventually get a couple keepers.  We pulled out the light gear -him with a 6 wgt and I with a 7.

We steadily caught fish most of the morning fishing in and around the trash racks, As hard as I tried, I had no luck  scraping  a big one close and deep to the racks like I did yesterday. Dan was so glad to be finally fishing on the lake that he was happy with catching numbers. His 6 weight and my Bad Ass Glass 7 wgt were bent all day long .  We took a break around 10 and went over to the Bay of Pigs to look for the schools of big fish that Brian said were there yesterday having told Rod that he had 6 fish over 24 inches.  We fished around the entire bay and caught many dinks but no keepers.  Perhaps the difference was that the water pump at the Bay of Pigs was not on.   Most of the fish seemed to be along the shoreline.

I felt like Dan really just wanted to catch a ton of fish so we went back to the trash racks. When the wind suddenly died, I could make out a slight disturbance in the water 500 ft out from the trash racks.   Its hard to see it when there is wind but as the lake calms down.   its much easier to differentiate it from just wind hitting the water off the racks.   I decided to go check it out with the Livescope in Perspective mode and found those massive schools out there in 250 ft of water.  Sometimes these massive schools of fish are deep, but today they were on top of the water column.   As we searched the upwelling for fish,  we could see very large schools of Shad pushing wakes as they milled around the area.  I spotted schools of stripers as well swimming with the Shad.

Dan counts boat fish on a clicker and when I asked him what was the most fish he had caught in a boat at San Luis in one day, he replied 70 and that was with Vaughn.    At that point, I decided we had to try to set a personal best numbers day–something to remember.  With Dan in the boat,  we both went into ovedrive and worked at catching as many fish as was physically possible.  We were at around 40 when we decided to shatter the 70 fish day record and go for 100. After a couple hours of intense fishing and fast releases, the clicker read 93 fish before we decided to leave around 4:30. It was an epic numbers day and I realized that it takes unwavering concentration and intense fishing to put 100 fish in the boat with two anglers. Each angler would need land a fish every 6 minutes continuously for 5 hours. Had we not used Dan’s clicker, I would have only guessed that we caught 30 each since its hard to count fish when you are concentrating on catching them. ( or old age and memory issues ).    We ended the Day with 93 fish which is Dan and I’s personal best day for numbers in the boat ever. In addition, we caught 4 large American Shad on flies as well.

Yesterday, I tied some flies specifically for the upwelling and trash racks wall. A small size sparsely tied , white and light brown clouser the the heaviest Eyes has lots of jigging action and seems to hook fish better. Despite it being a Saturday and 27 boats had Launched before us, we did not see another fly fisherman on the lake all day.

I was put in the penalty box for an hour today with the mother of all running line tangles. Im not sure why it happened,  maybe not enough water in the stripping basket, but I learned that if you don’t have access to the end of the line because the tangle is closer to the backing ,  you can take your reel off the rod and use it as an end to unlock the loops.   We would have caught even more fish today if I hadn’t taken that penalty.

The upwelling today was very visible with the muddy water from the forebay swirling up in contrast to the clear water in the lake.   I was in awe of the interesting currents created by pumps that were 100s of feet away and 200 ft down.   The lake truely felt like the ocean today with tides.   I had to keep spotlock on all day long or we would quickly drift off the sweet spot.   Huge schools of shad were swimming right up to the boat today. I think the muddy upwelling was hiding our boat.  Also there was so much current out there today that we fished the lake like a river.  casting and swinging our flies in 250 ft of water.   It was epic.

I really enjoyed Dan company today. There are not many left him as one of the old icons of the sport.  He was the first to tie biminis and a pioneer of Salt Water Flyfishing.   Many  of the fundamental  techniques and flies in Big Game salt water flyfishing.  I have always felt like Dan was one of the last ones left at 80 years old  and Im glad we can still fish together on our favorite local lake.   My hands are throbbing and Im seeing double vision.

Recently Dan did a Podcast with Brandon White where he talks about  the history of Salt Water Fly Fishing .

Apple Podcast

Spotify Podcast

4 thoughts on “The Upwelling

    • You might be right. But they would have to compete for bait with the minions of juvenile Stripers and shad. Plus you can only eat one 16 inch shad or striper a day before napping.

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