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Damsels, Trout and Wind; Lake Davis can be a fickle place to fly fish

by Jerry Neuburger
Lake Davis, June 23, 2012 -- As I drove up to Lake Davis Wednesday morning I day dreamed of big trout sipping the Martis Midge Emergers I had tied in Joe Balderston's tying class a week before. I pictured a small cove with rise rings covering the water and me sitting in the middle in my pontoon boat, fly rod in hand and ready to cast a long line with a gently laid out fly.

Day one, my Creek Company boat in the foreground, Herman's Scadden in the background.
A hundred and eighty miles after starting my van in Lodi I pulled into Sleepy Hollow RV Park and was greeted by the camp hostess. She lead me in her golf cart to my slot and I backed my little trailer in next to Harv Hamlow's bigger fifth wheel. It was still before noon and I decided to stick around until Herman and Marty arrived so they could show me their favorite spots on the lake. It wasn't long before they showed, Herman in his van pulling his new travel trailer and Marty following in his pickup. Herman was directed to the other side of Harv's rig and backed in. Marty and I helped him set up so we could head up to the lake for an afternoon's fishing.

I followed the pair to Jenkin's Point on the west side of the lake, about nine miles from camp. I was surprised to see the shore lined with trucks, vans and cars and the lake covered with a small fleet of tubers, pontoon boats and prams. We took up our spots at the water's edge and began unloading and assembling our craft, Marty bringing a kayak, Herman with his Scadden frameless and me with my still new budget Creek Company pontoon boat.

As soon as I was in the water I could see the shucks of different bugs in the surface film. Most were from damsel nymphs but others were present as well as hatching callibeatis and emerging blood midges. I could also see at least one bent rod on a continuous basis from the 20 other fly fishers on the water. Although the surface was covered with insects, few fish could be seen rising so I opted for the other fly I had tied in class, Brian Chan's Baby Damsel Nymph. A few casts later and I was into my first Davis Lake trout. Before the day was over I landed two more, while Herman and Marty each more than doubled my numbers.

Brian Chan's Baby Damsel Nymph
We met Jim Rich on the water and he told us what had been working, unweighted very small brown damsel nymphs and size 12 blood midge larva. He had stuck a number of fish on patterns close to the damsel imitation, a short bodied olive chenille fly with a small light colored hackle collar and a wisp of a tail. The three veterans caught a few more fish before all of us headed back to camp for a late dinner and some fly tying to match what was turning out the be the day's hot flies.

Thursday morning we were joined at the lake's edge by Harv, Jim and Charlie Reames. The lake was flat, flat, flat. In addition, the number of vehicles lining the shore was even greater with club members arriving from Gold Country Fly Fishers out of Grass Valley/Nevada City and even  more from Tracy Fly Fishers. It wasn't long before all of us were in the water. I kicked over to a less inhabited spot where I could see fish taking something on the surface. I spent the next three hours of the morning throwing most of the drys in my fly box with no results while Harv and the rest of the crew worked the deeper water with good success, Harv putting at least 15 fish in the net and the rest of the crew coming close to that number.

"The parking lot with Gold Country, Tracy and the Delta Fly Fishers all represented"
Most of the crew took time out for lunch while I stayed at the lake, dug out my tying supplies and tied what I thought the rest of the guys were using. The crew returned at 5pm, about the same time as the wind, not a gale but just enough to make fishing little more effort, especially for those who chose not to anchor. I managed to get a few bumps on my new creations while the rest of the group did much better with three to six fish each. The constant wind brought an earlier end to the day's fishing than the previous day and we headed back to our camps for dinner and more fly tying.

With the late night tying session I was sure I had the right flies for Friday and decided to get an early start. I was at the lake's edge at 6:30 and found Jim Rich and Harv Hamlow sitting in Jim's van. As I walked over to ask what was going on I noticed the parking lot was practically vacant compared to the previous two days. When I asked why the two weren't on the water they told me that only few minutes before the lake had been covered with whitecaps and that some extra early arrivers had already left. We waited for about 20 minutes. The weather seemed to calm and we decided to launch. Marty and Herman arrived as well and we were soon all on the water.

A nice Davis Lake rainbow, not too many copepods on this one.
It wasn't long before the wind returned. While Jim, Harv and Herman had all caught fish, they were tired from kicking and pulled their craft out before noon. Marty and I had anchored and were more comfortable and continued fishing, Marty landed about six fish with two more for me. The wind really started to blow and white caps were forming. Although I hadn't noticed, Marty had seen Ed Smith, a recent club member, launch an inflatable raft with an electric motor. Marty pointed him out cruising the lake. As the wind speed increased we could see Ed off in the distance and he appeared to be rowing. Marty was beginning to take on water from the chop and we decided to head in, being the last two on the water (with the exception of Ed who we could no longer see.)

Marty loaded up and thought he should drive to the east side of the lake to look for Ed. I was still packing up, a final pack since I planned to leave for home Saturday morning. Marty started to leave but returned a few minutes later saying that Ed had called him on his cell phone and was stranded on the east side of the lake and would be waiting for him on the road. Marty took off to find Ed and I finished packing and headed to the metropolis of Portola to fill my gas tank so I'd be topped off before heading for home the next day.

Back at camp I found Harv and then Herman and told them of Ed's dilemma. I had decided that if Marty didn't show up I'd set out to see if the two needed help with the raft. However, before long, Marty arrived and gave an account of Ed's stranding. Ed had run out of juice and could make no headway in the wind rowing. He was carried to the lee shore of the lake where he pulled the raft ashore and walked to the road and phoned Marty. When Marty arrived they decided to leave the boat for the next morning when Ed could carry down a fresh battery and power the boat back to a launch ramp nearby. (I'm sure that Ed's escapade will cause his nomination for the 2013 version of the Incomplete Angler Award.)

Marty asking Ed Smith if he has an anchor earlier in the day on Friday. Ed said his anchor wouldn't hold in the wind. Ed ended up on the lee shore of the lake and had to be picked up, abandoning his boat for the day with plans to come back with a fresh battery in the morning.
The wind had taken much of the energy out of the crowd and everyone retired to their camps for the evening. I was up early on Saturday morning and hooked up my trailer for the drive home. Harv had already left for the water. I walked over and said goodbye to Herm and Marty. Herman had planned to stay through Monday while Marty was to fish the morning and then drive home. Whether the morning fishing worked out is still in question. The weather reports were calling for rain, the sky was dark and the clouds were racing across the horizon, the wind still blowing.

It had been twenty years since I had last been to Davis but this year's fishing, while not what I expected, whetted my interest for another shot at those big trout. Before the wind blew us off the water on Friday afternoon I had put the hook into two good sized trout using a brown damsel fly imitation. The bigger fish streaked off close to 50 feet of line before being checked up. It made a few more powerful if short runs before ending up in my net. I plan to be back next year if not before for another shot at Lake Davis.

A short video of Friday's winds is available on the club's Faceook page:


A photo album of the outing is available on the club's Photo Gallery Page.

Post script by Herman Spalinger

After Jerry left on Saturday, we got in a fair day of fishing after 6:00 pm. Sunday the fickle wind came up again and we were again relegated to the evening fishing, which turned out pretty good for me (Herman) as I caught more fish than Harvey that night. I must say there’s some pretty nice fish in the lake now that put up a good fight since I heard during the outing dates of members complaining of break-off’s. (Make sure you tie that tippet knot correctly or you’ll lose a lot of fish, as I can attest). Monday was the same wind situation. After fighting the wind for four days my legs were more than tired and I lasted only an hour on the water before I came in. Harvey even returned to camp as I was buttoning up to come home. He didn’t seem to have any luck either.

Thus endeth a very nice outing with great camaraderie between members. For those of you who haven’t experienced Lake Davis, it’s worth the drive. There are a few places where the lake can be fished from shore by wading out in the sticky mud. Early morning and late evening are the best bet for that, and June/July and October are the better months from shore or floating craft into the fickle winded lake.

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