Imitate Crayfish With Spinners or Flies to Catch Big October Rainbows
By Gary Lewis
Afternoon was slipping into evening as we left the truck and crashed down the hill. The Klamath River was down there in the gorge, still out of sight. I could hear the roar of the rapids below as we sought the trail we knew must be there. Heading straight down, we found the well-used path and followed it toward the water.
"There's the river," Dan said. The water looked high, fast and brown, but I guessed it was probably always that way. As the water in the lakes above is never very clear, so must be the river that flows out of it.
I followed Dan down a rock face, gear in one hand, branches, bunchgrass or whatever other handholds I could find in the other. He went right to casting, indicating that I should go upstream, allowing me the better spot to start.
Knotting a 1/6 ounce brown Rooster Tail to my line, I cast up and across, reeling madly to keep up with the current as it swept the lure down. Nothing. I cast down and across, letting the spinner sweep below me, to hang for a moment before I started reeling. Wham! I was into a fish.
The rainbow took to the air quickly, running then wallowing as I gained line. Presently I had it at the bank, unhooked, admired and guessed it at twelve inches before releasing it. Dan caught one about the same size before we moved upstream.
We were fishing the faster water more than I was used to. But on that section of the river, below Keno, you have to fish fast water if you want to fish at all.
I identified the seams, where river topography changed, fishing the upstream and downstream sweeps behind boulders and where rock-strewn shelves broke over into deeper water.
Close to the bank, there were cuts where, in three or four feet of water, a trout could lie next to a stand of reeds and watch nearby riffles for food. Many times, we had strikes close to the bank, where reaction time is so quick that we often lost fish by pulling the hook away before the fish had closed its mouth.
We used brown Rooster Tails and orange in the 1/4 and 1/6 ounce sizes to imitate the crayfish that we suspected that the larger trout were feeding on. Truly there were crayfish there and big ones at that. I could see them crawling in the rocks at my feet.
Every fish I caught was bigger and heavier than the last. We fished upstream and then as the light began to slip from the canyon, back down.
I bummed a big Rooster Tail from Dan (I'd lost all mine), and waded across to a brushy island where the water swept around and against a rock wall. The turbulence created an eddy which swung the water back upstream. Big islands of foam spun in the currents and I cast across them and retrieved slowly. There were big ones here if they were anywhere.
The water was, I guessed, between four and six feet deep, dark and roiled. As I cast and watched, I began to see fish. A few were feeding on the surface or just below, backs coming out of the water, porpoising. I had a jolting strike that almost ripped the rod from my hand. "They're here," I told myself. "Be patient."
I lost Dan's lure soon after to a boulder that had twice previous tried to claim it. Searching through my box I found a homemade spinner from past steelhead fishing days. It was brass, with a heavy #4 french blade and orange beads and tape on the inside of the blade. I knotted it to the line.
Not much light left in the western sky. I looked over at Dan, fifty yards away. He was still fishing, not waiting impatiently with hands on his hips. I cast and cast again, reeling slow. There wasn't much time left but I couldn't let my impatience be translated to the spinner. A slow, tantalizing turn of the spinner blade is almost always more effective than a medium or fast retrieve.
On the third cast, I let the spinner come right to the bank. Two feet from my rod tip, a trout grabbed it, going airborne the instant it felt the steel. Almost two feet of trout, completely in the air, less than a rod length from where I stood. I dropped my tip when it jumped and raised it again as the fish streaked away, line peeling out, my reel singing. But I forgot to set the hook and when it jumped again it was gone, the line going slack. The spinner sagging back in retreat.
I caught another fish and caught Dan's eye. It was time to go. We climbed out of the canyon in the dark, talking about next time. We would bring more spinners next time. Or large orange and brown crayfish imitations to cast with the fly rod and line.
Even with hunting seasons in full swing, there are still fish to catch. Fish that sense winter coming, strong from spring and summer feeding, still putting on weight in October.
If you fish the Klamath for large trout this month or the Rogue or the Umpqua or the Deschutes, they might be feeding on crayfish. Large spinners or jigs in orange and brown will work or weighted deer hair and feather imitations fished with sink tips or slow sinking lines.
Even as I write this I'm planning my next trip down that hill again. There is still a fish I need to catch.