Golden Stones and Golden Days

There’s no doubt there would be tremendous dry fly action on the Upper Klamath if the fish could see the surface.

In the six-mile stretch below the Keno Dam, the water is stained with the proteins of Klamath Lake. But the same water that keeps bugs on the surface safe, protects fish from ospreys and packs pounds on the trout.

I first fished the Keno Reach with my friend Dan Turner in 1999. Since that October day, I expect big fish and am never disappointed.

This past year, I spent two days on the river with Roe Outfitters and overnighted at the Running Y Ranch, west of Klamath Falls. It was late May and the water was big. Above the waterline, three-inch stoneflies clung to boulders, swept there on the current by the thousands. It’s not a fishery for light tackle. I used my 6-weight with a 0X tippet to the point fly, a large golden stonefly nymph with a No. 14 rubber-legged Spitfire on a 2X dropper.

Gary Lewis Klamath River Rainbow Trout

When the indicator jabbed crosscurrent, I set the hook into a big rainbow. He showed me his flanks in the whiskey-colored water before he threw the hook. I looked at Darren and he lifted his eyebrows as if to say, ‘I wouldn’t have lost that one.’Downstream, I tried to redeem that fish with a 12-incher and then felt better about it with a two-pounder. Darren, in the back of the boat, saw his indicator streak mid-river and set the hook. It was five minutes later when he brought a five-pound rainbow to hand – great fish, but by no means uncommon on this stretch of river that holds resident rainbows as big as steelhead. Darren’s biggest to the boat in this section of river was 11 pounds.

Two days later I was back on the river with Roe Outfitters and Brent McLean from the Running Y Ranch. Coming out of a patch of whitewater, adult salmonflies and golden stones buzzed us like helicopters.

Klamath River Rainbow caught by Darrin Roe

In the spring, the warming water moves the big bugs to the shore – salmonflies and golden stones. Beneath the surface, the big bugs, crawl out of the swift water and into the shallows. On the move, they are easier targets for hungry trout.

From late May through June, they are found, in their nymphal stage, speckling the bottoms of driftwood and again in the shoreside grass and on the wind above the river.

Golden Stoneflies

The appearance of the big bugs is legendary on the Rogue, the Deschutes and the McKenzie as well. On Sunday, my wife and I joined Skip Morris and Carol Ann Morris at House on Metolius. Morris was rigged with a streamer and a dry fly, but he changed that as soon as we turned over a log and found several golden stones in residence.

Waded in at the mouth of Jack Creek, Skip plumbed the depths with a golden stonefly nymph for weight and his favorite attractor, Gabriel’s Trumpet. He shouted when his indicator stabbed downward and I joined him for what I thought would be a short battle. I had the net ready when the fish turned.

He was at least four pounds with a broad rainbow stripe. When he saw our feet in the water, the fish turned and streaked away. Morris glanced down at his reel and saw the backing disappear like cider at a barn-raising.

We plunged after the trout across the mouth of the creek and down along the riverbank. We caught up to him in the shallows and the trout streaked away; the line cut water like a torch through steel. The fly pulled out before the fish could get into the backing again. When we turned, out of breath, to look at the race we’d run, it had been a dash of 250 yards.

The stonefly hatch on the Metolius River

The next day, not far from where her husband had hooked the big one, Carol worked a similar combination. This time the fish was in about two feet of fast water midstream. Carol thought the rig had hung up, but when she tightened up, a fish torpedoed away. I was upstream, looking at bugs on rocks when I heard the shout.

Skip stood on the bank shaking his head. Carol was stuck to a fish, bigger perhaps than the one Skip had battled the day before. At one point, we thought we’d get him. The fish rolled mid-river and I saw his tail and dark fins silhouetted against bright water. A bull trout, I guessed. The line broke and Carol reeled in the slack. The fish had taken the big stonefly nymph after 13 minutes and a last headlong flight.

That’s what can happen in the golden days of early summer when big bugs are on the move and fish follow them into the shallows.

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Gary Lewis is the host of Adventure Journal and author of John Nosler – Going Ballistic, Black Bear Hunting, Hunting Oregon and other titles. Contact Lewis at www.GaryLewisOutdoors.com