100 Best: Fall River
Location: Northcentral California
Type of stream: Spring Creek
Angling methods: Fly or spinning
Species: Rainbows, occasional brown
Season: Late April to mid-November
Supporting Services: Fall River Mills
Short take: Best short float for trophy ‘bows
Handicapped Access: Via boat
Closest Chapter: Sac Sierra (Sacramento)
Fall River is one of those miracle streams that seems to boil fully mature from the ground. A vast network called Thousand Springs rises in just below the Medicine Lake Highlands and a heartbeat later Fall River takes on the water of Rainbow Spring. A third major tributary, Bear Creek, joins the river less than half a mile from its origin. The bottom is grassed with aquatic weed, waving in the steady cold current.
Rainbows in the 16 to 20 inch range are almost the rule for the entire 15 miles down to Fall River Mills. They feed on stunning hatches. If one had to pick a signature hatch, it might be the pale morning duns that begin to come off in May and continue nearly to July. Then again, it might be baetis on when overcast skies weep drizzle. Or if you’re fishing below the Cal Trout Access at Island Road Bridge, it might be the hex hatch starting in early July.
Though the water is as clear as Steuben crystal and often midge or blue-wing olive patterns require #18s, it’s no fun to hook an 18-inch bow only to have it dive into the grasses, bury itself, and break you off. Long 5x leaders of 12 to 15 feet fished with a 9-foot or 9.5 foot five-weight is the order of the day. A long handled net is a definite asset for landing fish mired in weed. From its headwaters in Thousand Springs to its confluence with the Tule River, only artificial barbless are allowed.
Below this junction, the river slows further and widens. Were it not for the swift current, the stretch down to Fall River Mills might better be described as a marsh-rimmed pond. In addition to the very real prospect of hooking a 20-inch ‘bow, you may tie into a lunker brown, particularly if you’re lucky enough to be working the hex hatch at dusk or under a dark and threatening sky.
Soft muddy bottom, thick undulating aquatic weeds, slow deep runs, and privately owned bank make this a poor fishery for walk-waders. There’s no option but to fish it from watercraft. Most common are low-profile jon boats with strong electric motors.