Wednesday, December 14, 2016

How Do I Fish This: Deer Creek

Deer Creek is a tributary of the Sacramento River that begins its headwaters on Butt Mountain traveling downstream through the Ishi Wilderness Area to it's mouth near Vina. This stream is one of the few undammed tributaries of the Sacramento River that continues to support wild runs of chinook salmon and steelhead.

Deer Creek is split into two sections by the natural barrier of Upper Deer Creek Falls. The stream that flows below the Upper Falls is anadromous water that is catch-and-release with artificial barbless hooks. The water above the Upper Falls is stocked by DFG and is mostly a put-and-take fishery with no restrictions on gear.

This creek is where I learned the intricacies of fly fishing. The rich diverse insect life, beautiful scenery, and countless numbers of small wild trout make this stream one of the gems of the Tehama County.

Open Season
A) Headwaters to Upper Deer Creek Falls.
*Open from the last Saturday in April - November 15th
*No restrictions. Five fish limit.

B) From 250 feet below Upper Deer Creek Falls and fishway (located 1.5 miles upstream from Potato Patch Campground) downstream 31 miles to U.S. Geological Survey gauging station cable crossing at mouth of Deer Creek Canyon (see Section 2.35 for closure at Upper Deer Creek Falls).
*Open from the last Saturday in April - November 15th
*Only artificial lures with barbless hooks.
2 hatchery trout or hatchery steelhead. 4 hatchery trout or hatchery steelhead in possession.

C) From U.S. Geological Survey gauging station cable crossing at mouth of Deer Creek Canyon downstream to mouth of Deer Creek.
*Open from June 16th - September 30th
*No restrictions. Five fish limit.
2 hatchery trout or hatchery steelhead. 4 hatchery trout or hatchery steelhead in possession.

Access Points
Deer Creek is fairly accessible along HWY 32 making it a easy stream to access and fish. Access to the creek becomes a bit more difficult further downstream.
  • The headwaters of Deer Creek can be access just outside of HWY 32 by parking and crossing a cattle fence ladder.
    • This section resembles a spring creek and is fishable after the spring runoff. This section can get a bit low during the summer.

  • Deer Creek continues to follow HWY 32 downstream and becomes a freestone stream. You can find several turnouts where you can park and access the creek. There are three campgrounds along Deer Creek however only two of them are stocked during the camping season. This section is the most fished section of Deer Creek.
    • Elam Campground and Alder Creek Campground are both stocked with rainbow trout during the camping season.
    • Potato Patch Campground lies below Upper Deer Creek Falls and is therefore catch-and-release with artificial lures with barbless hooks only.
    • The planters are about 12" - 16'' and the wild fish are usually 10'' or less.

  • Red Bridge is the most popular access to fish the catch-and-release section. There is a turnout with a sign over the bridge on the northbound lane where you can park. The Deer Creek trailhead can be found across the bridge.
    • Deer Creek trail follows the creek for about a mile downstream. There is a ton of good water here so explore and find your water.

  • The last access downstream that I've explored can be found off "K-Line" (find the tree marked with an orange K on the left going northbound on HWY 32) where it winds down a logging road to Dumb Deer Road that crosses a bridge over Deer Creek.
    • There is some good water here but the fish here are smaller than your average Deer Creek trout.

  • Deer Creek is usually fishable during the opener on the last Saturday of April. Although flows can be a bit higher than usual, the creek is wadeable. The trout will be holding in the deeper pools and runs this time of the year.
  • If the weather has been warm leading up to the opener, you can find fish in shallower water or at the end of runs.
  • Nymphing works the best during the opener but the fish will quickly turn onto dries if the weather is warm enough. The end of May is usually when I can start solely throwing dry flies.

  • The summer is the best time of the year to fish Deer Creek. You can fish a dry fly through any run, riffle, or pool and rise fish.
  • I like to use size 14 and 16 royal wulffs, adams, humpies, and EC caddis dries.
  • Nymphing is also productive during the summer and will often attract the attention of bigger fish. Use general patterns and nymphs you have confidence in.
  • Deer Creek is a great stream to beat the heat since the water is spring-fed and stays cold during the summer. I spent many triple digit days in the valley up here.

  • Deer Creek slows down in the fall as temperatures begin drop. Like most streams in the fall, fishing pressure is nonexistent especially around the put-and-take section. You can try your luck for the stockies there or take the time to explore some new water.
  • Fall-run king salmon can be found below Lower Deer Creek Falls with the possibly of a few steelhead trailing behind them. If you are lucky you can potentially hook a truly wild steelhead. Try an egg pattern or nymph.
  • You can also catch a decent October caddis hatch at dusk in October.

Fish Species
Rainbow trout
Brown trout

2WT or 3WT slow or medium action rod
Floating or double tapered line
4x or 5x tapered leaders

Fly Patterns
  • Nymphs
  • Wet Flies
    • Soft hackles #14 - 18
    • Bird's nest #14 - 18
  • Dry Flies
    • EC caddis #12 - 16
    • EH caddis #12 -16
    • Adams #12 - 16
    • Royal Wulff #12 - 16
    • Stimulator #6 -8
    • Humpy #12 - 16
  • Streamers
    • Woolly bugger (olive) #6 - 8

  • Deer Creek is one of the easier fly fishing streams that I've fished. The fish are numerous and willing to eat both on top and bottom. This is a quantity over quality type of stream.
    • Wild rainbows run up to 16'' but are more commonly found in the 6'' - 10'' range.
    • These fish aren't too picky but some patterns will out fish others.

  • The put-and-take section can be a lot of fun to fish when it is stocked but the fish don't seem to spread out very much. This can make the more popular holes a bit of a combat zone.

  • Most riffles, runs, and pools will hold fish. For a shot at bigger fish, target holding areas that are 2ft or deeper.  
  • Deer Creek is truly a magical place to fish, explore, and experience. Pack out what you pack in and respect this beautiful stream so that others can experience as well.

Additional Information
Deer Creek Watershed
Ishi Wilderness
Lassen National Forest Campgrounds

Deer Creek Blog Posts

1 comment:

  1. All of the post and sites you have done are top notch. Very informative and accurate. I have also fished this stream virtually in its entirety. I remember when Potato patch was part of the regular stream and was planted. It took them a while to figure out the steelhead and salmon ran up to upper falls i guess. I seen many a fisherman catching the large salmon and steelhead sitting at deep holes with worms and treble hooks. Really hurt the incredible runs from past. But now it has started to improve. Lots of fly fishing now. I use to rarely see anyone at underdeveloped campsite except opening weekend. Now its popular. 12 cars a couple days ago. Wish they would of switched this to artifical barbless 40 years ago.