Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Deer Creek Tradition

Fish On Deer Creek

Every year during the trout opener I visit where it all began. Years ago when I first picked up a fly rod, there was a time when I went troutless for four months. Despite catching a lot of warm-water species, I struggled to hook the species that created the outdoor sport of fly fishing. I'll never forget the first time I hooked my first trout, a beautiful four inch dink on a 6WT rod.

Tehama County Gem

Deer Creek is a special place. Many anglers that I've mention Deer Creek to have told me that this creek is where they first learned how to fly fish. With countless numbers of small rainbows that will literally eat anything you throw at them, this creek is one of the best streams in Northern California where you can learn how to fly fish. It's not uncommon to leave the creek with over fifty fish caught and released within a day, all on dries!

Deer Creek Tranquility

This year the creek is running a little higher than usual. As a matter of fact, the current flows are the highest I've seen the creek in over four years! More water means more happy fish.
Nymphing Deer Creek is typically the best tactic until the water warms up in late May. No need for an indicator here, tight-line that shiz because it's way more fun than watching a bobber all day.

Big Fish for Deer Creek

My dries were not working this opener. After a fishing a few spots where I knew fish were, I switched to a nymph rig and finally caught them. This was interesting because the water is fairly shallow making it easy to pick off bugs on top, however they weren't making the effort to rise. The water wasn't terribly cold but it just goes to show how important it is when trying to figure out what's working. Bugs were flying around everywhere. I saw march browns, green drakes, caddis, midges, and even a salmon fly.

Big Mac Bug

Tight-line nymphing produced the most fish. The good ole copper john plus pheasant tail dropper did the trick.

Truckee & Little Truckee
I spent some time on the Truckee and Little Truckee this week as well... and got my butt kicked. Skunked like a punk, not even a single bump all day. I saw some very nice browns where I was fishing and although I didn't catch them, it was cool to see a Truckee River brown in real-life. I'll get them next time.

Truckee River Grand Canyon

Ellis Lake
The spring crappie bite is on at Ellis Lake. Every other cast is producing a nice pan-sized crappie on a strip-strike. After catching a few on the main lake, I fished the northern lake where I ran into a gear angler who told me, "Someone caught a 20'' five pound crappie at Ellis Lake the other day." I call BS on that. When I got home I checked to find that the world record for a black crappie is five pounds. Either Ellis Lake is growing some monster mutant fish or someone is spreading fishing stories. The biggest crappie I've hooked there have been the typical mama 14''ers

Fun fact: Bluegills fight harder than crappie.

Have a Crappie Day!


  1. Great site Matthew - I really enjoy reading your entries. I live in Chico and fish Deer Creek. I was wondering if you have fished the lower part of Deer Creek, driving up through Cohasset? - Josh

    1. Thanks for reading Josh!

      The furthest down I've fished Deer Creek is about 2 miles below Lower Deer Creek Falls. You can either hike from Red Bridge down or drive on K Road which is a dirt logging road to get there.,+CA/@40.1521002,-121.5906028,571a,20y,2.01t/data=!3m1!1e3!4m2!3m1!1s0x80831f8dfc236487:0x308eeb8f793a4538

      I've never fished the Cohasset area. Ponderosa Road is a high-clearance 4 wheel drive road which I don't have. I know steelies will run up there as I have caught them below Lower Deer Creek Falls.
      If you're looking for a new place to fish on Deer Creek try the meadow section way up HWY 32. The drought hit it hard but it's a beautiful area to fish. Be ready to share the area with cows.

      Talk to Mac at Fish First Fly Shop in Chico about fishing the Cohasset area. I know he's fished that section before and caught a few steelhead there.

    2. Here is an interesting read about Ponderosa Road.

  2. Hi Matthew. Thanks for sharing your fly fishing experience. I find myself checking your posts at least weekly. My wife and I have the same tradition as you that is fishing the opener on Deer Creek. It happens to coincide with my birthday. Had some success up there with a grey drake hair pattern and a grey Wolff stimulator. Also had some success with a prince nymph. Had a 15 inch take the grey drake at the end of the drift as it started to submarine. Thought that was a pretty crazy take. Saw a lot of bug activity late in the day starting around 4-5. Fish were not where I expected with the water being pretty cold. Fish were holding in pocket water and in the soft water of fast moving runs as well as at the heads of pools. I thought they would be in deep water but that was not the case.

    I have fished the lower section of Deer Creek once. I have a Tacoma but would not make that drive again. That was 3 years ago and I'm sure with all the rain we have had the road has got to be all but impassable. It's a shame as that area is full of fish and very scenic. Mac takes his dual sport down there and I think the only way to get down there is a dirt bike or an atv at this point.

    1. Thanks for reading Nathan!

      What a great way to spend a birthday. I had the same experience trying to find the fish this opener as well. My usual spots weren't quite as productive as they are in the summer but I still had a lot of fun. I wished the dries were working for me a bit better but tight-lining the creek was a good change of pace.
      A 15''er is a great fish out on Deer Creek, especially on a light rod.
      I think the drought did some damage to the fish quality over the past few years. Before the drought got severe I usually found a few 12''+ each trip but these last two years have all been dinks. Hopefully this El Nino helps the fishery.

      Thanks for the insight about fishing the lower section. I've always thought about fishing that area but it looks like it's just a fish refuge now.

      Tight lines!

  3. Matthew,

    I am heading to Deer Creek for the opener this year for the first time. Are there any regulations I should know about? Barbless hooks? Limits to two flies on the rig? What dries do you typically have success with?


    1. It's barbless artificial catch-and-release only below the Upper Deer Creek Falls. Above the falls there aren't any special regulations and you can keep 5 fish.
      In California the limit of hooks you can have on a rig is three. On dries I do the best the a size 14 EC caddis.
      I wrote a "How To Fish" on Deer Creek that you may find helpful.