Winter Doldrums

January 29, 2024 – The weather forecast was ominous as an atmospheric river was approaching, promising excessive wind and rain that could lead to street flooding and river runoff by Wednesday. However, today was a surprising exception for Dan Blanton and me as we enjoyed sunny skies and warm weather on an uncharacteristically pleasant winter day at San Luis Reservoir.

After a disappointing fishing day on the Forebay last Friday, I didn’t have high expectations for our outing on the lake, despite hearing positive reports from trollers and bait fishermen on Facebook. These reports rarely translated into favorable conditions for fly fishing since our target fish were typically found in waters no deeper than 40 feet. Fly fishing for schools of fish at 25 feet is already challenging, but attempting to do so when the fish are 60-80 feet deep is nearly impossible, even for experienced fly core trollers. While some might suggest trolling flies on a downrigger, fly rods were never designed for such heavy-duty use.

Today, however, was an exception on the lake. By 9:00 AM, both Dan and I had shed our jackets and layers, with me sweating even with just one  light shirt on for most of the day. We had heard that the eastern shoreline was where the fish were, so Dan and I decided to start our fishing adventure at Los Peidros and work our way along the shoreline towards Portuguese Bay, where we had heard reports of birds actively working the area. On my very first cast, I landed the first striper of the day, and as seasoned anglers know, that often marks the beginning of a challenging day of fishing – a superstition that suggests that if you catch a fish on your first cast, the rest of the day might be jinxed.

As we continued working our way down the shoreline to Portuguese Bay, we went without a single bite for a frustrating two hours. Eventually, we decided to change our strategy and headed to the Bay of Pigs and the Trash Racks, even though most reports suggested there were no fish to be found there. I deployed the livescope in the middle of the Bay of Pigs, in 25 feet of water, and it revealed multiple large schools of stripers rapidly moving around the bay. With well-placed casts, we managed to entice six more fish. Counting to 30 seconds to ensure the fly reached the desired depth and was in front of the fast-moving schools of stripers was quite a challenge. You had to anticipate where the fish would be by the time your fly got there-precision site fishing. An aiming trick to cast more precisely is to make a splashy false cast onto the water while observing the livescope. When you set the livescope in perspective mode, parallel with the water surface rather than facing downward, you can see the surface splash of the line, helping you gauge if your aim is accurate relative to the moving fish, much like a tracer round.

We continued to fish from the face of the dam to the guardrail without a bite.   Eventually, we decided to check out the trash racks. While the racks lacked significant schools of shad or stripers, I could spot a few fish circling the rack pillars at around 30 feet. We made some casts close to the pillars and managed to catch only one decent-sized fish. With the day still young at 3:00 PM, we decided to wrap up our fishing adventure early and headed back to the Dinosaur Point ramp, well before the sunset at around 4:30 PM.

We found that two of the fish had mature delta smelt in their stomachs, with one measuring 4 inches. It was likely that the fish in the Bay of Pigs had been feeding on these moving schools of delta smelt.

Overall, it was an enjoyable day spent with Dan on the lake, a rare and exceptionally beautiful day during what is typically the slowest and coldest time of the year for fly fishermen.

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