SF American River

by jleal
(Novato, Calif)

During the last week of September, I was able to day trip up to the SF American river and Rock Creek, a sweetheart of a little stream. Both rivers are about a 2 hr drive from my home so they are manageable and make a long day trip. I was lucky enough to get told about little Rock Creek by another Tenkara angler. The SF American is a good size Sierra river that is very popular for rafting in the spring in its lower reaches. I fished the upper area, above the rafting places. The SF runs right along US 50 on the way to Lake Tahoe from the bay area and I've driven by it a hundred times but never stopped and fished it. Not this time. Rock Creek is a small tributary to the South Fork.

Checking my Forest Service maps and Google Earth, I got a good idea of access points and directions, so up I went.

I stopped at Rock Creek first and I was awestruck at what I saw for the first time. Looking down from the road bridge access point, here was this 8-20' wide creek with sufficient flow and depth, and over arching tree canopy. I knew it had to contain trout, judging by the conditions, but I could see that it wasn't going to be an easy proposition to get them. Talk about a small, overgrown stream!!! This would be my first time fishing such a small overgrown creek in all my 25 years of fly fishing. I went back to my truck and got geared up to go fish. The weather was sunny and warm so I set up to wet wade, wearing my shorts, wading boots, wool socks and neoprene booties, my usual backcountry and small river warm weather setup. My Ebira rod quiver, 12' Iwana, some lines and small fly box and off I went. Access was a little difficult and steep and after one butt fall and bush bash, I was at the water's edge, a pool or two up from the bridge.

Large boulders in and next to the creek presented their own complications in logistics and presentation, but that is what I came here for. The small plunge pools varied in length and depth, along with the tree cover, a very big concern. The creek was in a protected canyon of its own, kinda protected from the winds. I thought a 10.5' Tenkara USA line and 3' of 6x tippet would work, along with my favorite CDC caddis dry fly. Before my first cast, I definitely had to look all around me to find a suitable casting clearance area as well as where to place the fly for presentation to the fish. The casting clearance and the fly angle didn't necessarily line up with each other, if you know what I mean. After a couple of practice casts, I found the right combinations to get the fly where I wanted. I was rewarded with several rises, short and splashy. How the heck am I going to hook these fish? The trees are directly over and next to me, complicating things greatly. I moved up 1 or 2 pools and hit those current tongues, albeit only 3-4' long and 1' deep. I tried a wrist snap hookset to avoid the overhead cover and was rewarded with 2 small, feisty 7" wild trout. What beauties!!! Fighting and landing the fish was not easy with the trees, but I could do it. Several more rises and slashes had my adrenaline pumping. The hookup ratio was terrible, but I was having a lot of fun being humbled by these small creek denizens. Upstream from the bridge provided about 4 small pools to fish, each providing its own problems with tree cover and presentation. I was able to land 2 good fish, and I had one strong rise from a 10-12" rainbow that completely surprised me. In 1' of water!!! Where the heck did he come from???

I decided to return to the bridge and fish a few pools downstream of the road bridge after 2 hours upstream. I climbed down and positioned myself. Same type and size of pools and currents, same problem with tree/bush canopy and cover, but I was getting a little better at it. The furled line was smooth and precise in fly placement, making my presentations a lot easier than upstream. Short drifts and recasting up was the order of the day. A couple of more rises, splashes and missed hooksets. These guys are pretty smart. One good size trout below the bridge, but none landed.

As it was early afternoon already, I regretfully stopped my fishing and headed back to my truck, since I still had to try the SF American River, the main focus of my trip. I'll definitely be back here many times now.

I drove back to Placerville and took a left and headed up and east. Travelling about 15 miles brought me to the SF American, now rejoined with the highway and parallel with it. Smaller, more intimate water up here, many good looking sections and water types, some with parking spots, some not. You have to be careful where you park on the highway, as far off the roadway as possible, since Highway Patrol are a little fussy about that, it being a major highway from the SF Bay Area and the Sacramento area to Lake Tahoe. Up higher on the river here, there are several slower, shallower gentle areas, mixed with steeper, faster types as well. The places to legally park are another concern. After driving for 5-10 miles to check things and locations out, I picked an area that had good parking and 4 successive pools with good depth and currents. The weather was still very warm, so I kept my wet wading gear on and climbed down to the lowest pool. Typical mid-elevation Sierra Nevada canyon water, mix of long and short plunge pools, varied depth and currents and a whole lot of granite rocks everywhere. Tenkara perfect. I stayed with my furled line and CDC caddis dry since the wind was luckily very mild to non-existant, even up canyon like where I was presently. With the much bigger water up on the SF, I could have easily used a longer furled line, but I kept the 10.5' line on and did my best, still reaching many seductive runs and spots. 3 fish fell to my fly in the first pool. I scrambled up to the next pool and repeated. Another couple of beauties, 8-10" rainbows. Up to the next pool. Same scenario. all beautiful fish and fishing. The fly presentation and line control were getting much easier for me now. I was being rewarded with a good number of hookups, landings and releases. At my last pool, however, I encountered a different kind of problem. I had landed and released a couple of fish and was extremely happy, but I was encountering several good, strong rises but was not able to hook several fish. I was a little frustrated, so I sat down for awhile, had a smoke and thought about it for a few minutes. Instead of the usual straight up Orvis hookset, I figured that I should change my tactics a little. On the next drift after my break, a fish rose and this time I simply swept the rod,line and fly downstream in one smooth motion and I was rewarded with a solid hookup. Landed and released, I recast to the head of the pool. Another rise and another sweep down with the rod and another solid hookup!!! I surmised that possibly I was striking too fast and lifting the fly out of their mouths as I was trying to set the hook. The downstream sweep of the rod was instead pulling the fly INTO their mouths, resulting in solid hookups for me. I was very happy to say the least. My best fish of the day was a scrappy 12"er, average size being 8-10" rainbows.

It was getting towards 6:30 p.m., so I decided to pack up and head home since I had a good 2-3 hour drive home. So off went the wet boots and socks, tennis shoes and dry socks back on, boogie back to the bay area and home.

This summer of 2010 has turned out to be a very wonderful fishing summer for me personally. The introduction to Tenkara has been the biggest thing to happen this year, and the opportunity to fish several new rivers has increased my list of rivers tremendously. I recently retired, so that alone has enabled me to greatly increase my time on a trout stream. That and the intro to Tenkara has been extremely satisfying for me.

The SF American River turned out to be a little gem of a river, driven by many times and finally fished. Rock Creek is in a class by itself. Small, intimate, somewhat difficult access, very difficult canopy and presentation problems, but what a little beauty!!! And beautiful, feisty natives. The SF gave up many good fish as well, surprising me, being so close to a major thoroughfare. The driving distances are very managable for a day trip, and also provide the opportunity to camp and fish for several days as well. I also think that I would reverse the order of fishing so I could try each river at different times of the day. Each river could easily consume an entire day by itself. On this trip, I had two rivers to try, both luckily within short driving distances from each other. Many more new areas to fish at each river. For the future and beyond. I WOULDN'T EVEN THINK ABOUT TAKING A REGULAR FLY ROD TO ROCK CREEK. IT WOULD BE TOTALLY FUTILE. Tenkara made it possible for me. And without a doubt, on the larger SF American, the Tenkara rod and lines outshine any other method of fishing, in my mind. What a true joy to cast and catch trout on a Tenkara rod and lines!!! My 12' Iwana proved to be efficient enough on the small Rock Creek, and very efficient on the larger SF American River as well. I could have, and should have tried choking up on my rod on Rock Creek, and I thought about it on the drive home, but I was too excited to be there and getting all those hits that I neglected to think about it. I was getting snagged ocassionally and I think a shorter rod could have solved some of those problems, but I managed, and some snags are to be expected, either in the trees, or in the stream rocks. Isn't that why they are there, to humble us Tenkara fly fishers??? I gladly accept the fact. Like the big dummy that I am, I forgot my camera, so I don't have any pix unfortunately. Our trout season lasts for another month or so. I am definitely going to visit these rivers before season's end. I'll post reports and thoughts as they occur. A very wonderful and educating fishing trip for me. Thanks for reading. Tight lines.

Comments for SF American River

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Jul 22, 2016
thank you
by: michael grosse

I have been searching for places closer to Sacramento to attempt my first Tenkara casting sessions. I would prefer trout to pan fish, since that is what I bought the set-up for, for backpacking. It would seem that this is what I am looking for. My GF wants blackberries, so we may have to go up this weekend (July 24-25, 2016) and take care of two things at once.

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