High Water Fishing (Part 1: Putah Creek)

10,000 cubes of water is a massive amount of whater. But it is all relative to the system. For example if the Yuba went to 10k I’d hardly be concerned. When little Putah Creek gets that big, the only word to describe it is: impressive. In perspective the river was running at 100 cfs before the glory hole spilled. Think of it this way, there are 100 more Putah Creeks coming out of the lake at that point.

This is nothing new but not something that happens that frequently. The glory hole in my lifetime has spilled four times. Two in the last three years, so it is rare. For those you who do not know what the glory hole is, its not a dirty porn term here. Be careful with your google searches. The top of the Monticello Dam is around 460 ft. high. The opening of the top of the glory hole sits at 440 ft high. So if the lake ever get so high where it could breach the the top of the dam, the glory hole will empty the water before it has a chance. Imagine a 440 ft boot, that paints a better picture of the shape of it. The impressive thing is when it spills it takes with it a powerful wind. Gravity pushes air down it along with the water. I know birds have been seen sucked down it. Don’t fly your drone too close, you will struggle to gain altitude if you get too close. I’ve fished where it spills out in 2017 and it produces about a 40 mph wind. It is probably even higher when the flows are higher.

When we flooded out in 2017, everyone was in panic mode. Most of us had never seen the rivers do what they did. We were aware that they can do what they did, but they were just stories told to us from older anglers. We had no idea about how long it would last and at what point could we try fishing it again. It was a big year of learning for us. I didn’t have many answers for what to do and where to go. I had no previous experience fishing in these conditions. Through some R&D with my guide buddies we figured it out. And what we figured out is it make fishing really good.

I was able to sneak in a do some floats in my raft in the floods of 2017. I have the perfect boat to do it. The Outcast Striker is a two man frame-less raft. It is very lightweight and extremely maneuverable on the water. The big thing is that it weighs 102lbs. I do not need a trailer to move it around, it easily fits in my truck bed. This means I do not need a boat launch, I can drop it in and pull it almost anywhere. We were able to spot float certain key sections of Putah Creek. This gave us a chance to cast streamers from the boat and get to some spots where we could get out of the boat and nymph on foot. Crossing the river at this point was hopeless, so we were the only ones fishing most spots.

The Striker from Outcast is an incredible little raft.  It’s light weight, versatile, and only needs a truck bed.

The Striker from Outcast is an incredible little raft. It’s light weight, versatile, and only needs a truck bed.

I remember the first time I ran it, the flows were just over 3 grand. That was pretty puckering to be honest. Ideally we want the flows to be below 2000. Before you run out and try to float the creek on your own seek professional advice first. It can be very dangerous if you do not know what you’re doing. There are several kayaks that don’t make it home every summer, and that is just from a small 800cfs. There have also been a few deaths that have occurred out there. So look before you leap, do your research.

The nice thing is that the clarity will be there before the flows get in shape. The lake settles a ton of the silt and even know its high it is still pretty clear. When Putah Creek floods it gets dirty because of all the bank erosion that occurs along the shoreline, not because of the lake. Once the river drops back to the main channel it will start to clear up again.

Now with all I said I am still learning high flow fishing out there. I have one season with it and was pretty successful. I am excited to see what I can drum up this year. When things like this happen it gives me a chance to keep learning and growing as a guide. Anyone can figure it out when it’s “normal.” You get a lot more days to practice. It’s when the shit hits the fan how succeed through it.

I will have some openings to get you out there. Probably by mid March it should be in shape unless we get a few more crazy storms. This a great way to see the river from a different perspective. The streamer junkie will be thrilled with it. Also, it might be the only thing to do for a while.

An absolute “Walerus” taken on an olive Sculpzilla out of the Outcast Striker in 2017.

An absolute “Walerus” taken on an olive Sculpzilla out of the Outcast Striker in 2017.

Stay tuned for part 2 of high water fishing where we discuss the Truckee at these stages. If you like what you are reading, share it with your friends and become an RSS subscriber.