A break down of "Float'n Fly" Fishing

There has been a lot of talk and publicity lately about fishing the “Float n Fly” Tactic on our valley and foothill reservoirs during cold weather/water months. Union members Ryan Williams and Chuck Ragan are  leaders in fishing this method and bringing it to Northern California Fly Fishermen. Ryan pioneered it on Lake Oroville and Clear Lake and Chuck on Lake Englebright and Bullards Bar Reservoir.  

Guide Ryan Williams and Capt. Chuck Ragan have been pioneers of the Float’n Fly method in Northern California

Guide Ryan Williams and Capt. Chuck Ragan have been pioneers of the Float’n Fly method in Northern California

Float’n Fly Fishing while having “fly” in the name is traditionally a conventional angling tactic pioneered in the American south to fish for Spotted bass during the winter. It was eventually adapted by tournament bass anglers in Northern California to fish for spotted bass on reservoirs like Lake Oroville, Lake Shasta, and Bullarads Bar Reservoir. In the conventional world it is a pretty technical way to fish, having to balance floats with jig head weights and such. The guys over at Tactical bass fishing created a great video explaining how to utilize this technic fishing a spinning rod. In the end it is MUCH more complicated on spinning tackle vs Fly Tackle as the ability to cast and balance floats and jigs is a pretty complicated process with a spinning rod

Check out the video

 The beauty of float n fly fishing with a fly rod is that it is EASY and our valley and foothill reservoirs fish during winter and early spring months when NOTHING else does ie. Like this year when everything has been blown out due to epic rain and snow fall. I am not going to dance around the most common response though that I get from most anglers/clients though when I talk about float n fly ….and that is “BOBBER FISHING FOR BASS?!?!?!? I WOULD RATHER KISS MY SISTER”  

There is no getting around the fact that it is bobber fishing for bass…I totally get it if people have no interest in that, but that said over the years fishing indicators on still water has become DEADLY effective on lakes across the west for trout and on the trophy water of Pyramid Lake. It is widely accepted that when temps drop fishing under an indicator is an imperative on many trout lakes. Why not for bass…

I have talked many clients who have winter and spring steelhead and trout trips on the books into giving it a try when the rivers blow out. I have never had had anyone be disappointed! Is it as addicting as fishing top water or chasing big stripers? No, but it can be world class fishing when NOTHING else is fishing! AND it can be challenging and require precise casts in many situations that make a day full of challenges for even the best anglers.

What is appealing: The foothill and valley reservoirs are so foreign to most fly anglers they are not even convinced they will catch a fish. Hanging a balance minnow in 20-80 feet of water and having a bass come up from a given depth to eat is a hard sell for most fly fishermen. Ounce it happens a few times though it is pretty damn cool.

The Lakes are also incredibly pretty and isolated. Many days during the winter there is only a handful of boats on the water and with such big reservoirs boats spread out and you may never even see another boat. There are waterfalls dumping into the lakes and fishing current from incoming streams is pretty common.

The fish also fight like a TON of bricks. Spotted bass fight like a smallmouth and a 1-2lb spot will cork a 6wt rod easily. The world record size fish that live in the foothill reservoirs can reach double digits where fish in the 8-9lb range have been caught by union member Chuck Ragan.

Not Just bobber watching…this is not a cast a bobber out and watch it type of fishing. Many situations we run drifts in moving water or even current streams, we have to cast to structure along the bank and time drops along rocks, as well as even strip streamers or fish top water to fish schooling bait. The more we learn and the more time we spend with fly rods on these fisheries fishing for these fish the more ways we learn to catch.

There a few different ways to rig for this fishing. Most common “nymph set ups” that trout anglers have around California will work. 9-10’ 5-7wt rods with nymph tapper fly lines work great. With regards to the rig there are a few ways to rig it up. In the store we carry our favorites– the Jaydacator and Lance Gray indicator. There is a diagram of one of the simplest ways to rig up for float and fly fishing and a video below of how Ryan Williams rigs his set ups to really walk you through this. By all means though experiment and mess around with it and find what works on your fishery. With regards to flies the Fly Shop in Redding sells flies HERE and Ryan Williams will occasionally tie some of his patterns on a “custom tie” basis. Hit him up HERE or check out the California Bass Union Store HERE for indicators, flies, and other gear as it becomes available.

Any lake with spotted bass will provide the opportunity to get out and give float’n Fly fishing a try…the next month or so when all the rivers are blown out is a great time to give it a try. Pontoon, Float tubes, jon boats, or bass boat all work OR book a day with Chuck, Ryan, or myself and get out on the water and learn the method.

To Learn more Check out Ryan’s Podcast he did with the Barbless Crew HERE or Ryans video on how he rigs his float n fly set up and a diagram compiled by all Union members to fish deeper water. Also Check out the Union Store for specific flies and indicators as they come in.

Hogan Brown