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Want a unique experience? Try floating valley rivers.
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A couple weeks ago I warned of the dangers of fishing Sierra streams that were swollen with icy cold melting snow water. While Sierra streams are still somewhat high and cold, there is a great alternative in fishing valley rivers below the giant dams. For example I just checked with the USGS website and found that the Stanislaus River is flowing at about 750 cubic feet per minute and the temperature is about 65 degrees. 

It seems that as each year passes our daily lives get more hectic and complicated. Along with such increased pressures, it becomes increasingly important for me to find ways to relieve the pressure. Heck, we probably all need to get away from it all slow down our pace, and take the time to relax, contemplate, and recharge our batteries. I have found nothing more relaxing than float fishing our valley rivers. 

There is a timeless quality about float fishing that makes it an island of sanity in a sea of urban madness. When you float around the first bend and leave our modern world behind, your companions become trees , kingfishers and beavers. Instead of the annoying sound of pagers, and cell phones,  the most disruptive sounds you hear are the splash of a rising fish or the shouts of joy from kids as they leap from a cottonwood tree into their favorite swimming hole.

It’s ironic that so many people are unaware of the recreational gold mine that we have right here in our back yards. We in the valley are especially fortunate to have the Stanislaus, Tuolumne, Merced & Mokelumne rivers flow right through our towns. Since the construction and filling of New Melones reservoir, the Stanislaus is undoubtedly the cleanest most beautiful river in the valley. The other valley rivers offer great float fishing as well. My favorite float trip is from McHenry Park to Mavis Stauffer Park, on the Stanislaus River. It’s an all day trip, but the fishing is great, the scenery is beautiful, and the pressures of work are the last thing from your mind.

O.K.,  so maybe you want to try float fishing for the first time. What do you do? That’s the easy part. You can float most of the valley rivers in anything that will float, a canoe, rubber raft, car top boat, or my favorite, the canvas float tube.  Fishing gear is equally an equal opportunity situation; use whichever gear you are comfortable with. Spinning gear, bait casting gear or fly rods will all produce fish for you. I was raised on a fly rod, so my first choice is to toss bass poppers, or foam rubber spiders with rubber band legs. I’ve also float fished with a light spinning rod, and tossed an assortment of spinners with great results. Hang a stringer off the side of your tube or boat and your fish will stay fresh all day. 

What else to bring? Make sure you bring your lunch wrapped in a water tight Ziploc bag, and polarized sun glasses to cut the glare, and lots of sunblock. I know it looks a little weird but I wear a light long sleeved cotton shirt when I fish. You can stick your arms in the water periodically and the evaporation will help keep you cool. The long sleeves will protect you from sunburn, bug bites, and scratches from streamside branches. A wide brimmed hat is also great. I use a John B Stetson and it protects me while keeping me cool.  Always begin your float trip as early as possible because it always takes longer than you think. I remember one time putting in the water at noon and still paddling under a full moon at midnight. I had told my poor wife I’d be home by 5 p.m.  and she had the sheriff’s deputies out looking for me. I’ll say it again; it always takes longer than you think.

One last piece of advice: be sure to wear your life vests. The river is a wonderful place, but it can also be dangerous. A life vest may seem like an annoyance, but its well worth it. Every week you read about drownings in the local rivers & ditches. I don’t want to read about you in the obits. Float fishing is inexpensive, relaxing and a great way to fish. Heck’ I just convinced myself, I’m gonna grab my gear and head for the river. 

Until next week, Tight Lines