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North Fork of the Yuba River

Article and photos by Jon Baiocchi
07/09/12 -- The Yuba River’s North Fork is a classic freestone Sierra favorite among trout anglers of all kinds. Its headwaters start on top of Yuba Pass by way of cold springs, and as it descends down to the community of Bassets it picks up even more cold water from Salmon Creek and other numerous springs coming out of the ground. This upper section contains Brook Trout in the 5-7 inch range. It’s the cold water that makes this trout fishery so good all summer long.

This river provides fly anglers with the highly coveted “Pocket Water” -- pockets of water that are stacked in a series of boulders that are sewn together in a section of the river usually having a quick descending grade. As the river drops into the town of Sierra City it enters a gorge of tight granite walls that has been carved out over time by huge volumes of water.

As the river drops into the town of Sierra City it enters a gorge of tight granite walls that has been carved out over time by huge volumes of water.

This is where Loves Falls is located, and the Pacific Crest Trail crosses here over a footbridge. Fishing access is very limited here but the short hike down from Hwy 49 is well worth the eye candy it provides; absolutely stunning!

This upper section contains Brook Trout in the 5-7 inch range. It’s the cold water that makes this trout fishery so good all summer long.

There are special regulations on the NFYR from Sierra City to where Ladies Canyon Creek enters 4 miles downstream. The “Wild Trout” section requires barbless flies or lures only, a 2-fish daily bag and limit 10 inches or greater. This section is open year round. From Ladies Canyon Creek downstream to Bullard’s Bar Reservoir the daily bag and limit is 5 fish 10 inches or greater, and bait is allowed; but from Nov. 16th to the last Saturday in April, special regulations apply and only barbless flies and lures may be used. This section is also open year round.

As the river drops below Sierra City it heads to Downieville. This section of river has deep plunge pools, longer runs, and pocket water.

As the river drops below Sierra City it heads to Downieville. This section of river has deep plunge pools, longer runs, and pocket water. The trout are bigger down in this section ranging from 9-14 inches. The Department of Fish & Game does plant in this section but there are many wild rainbows to be had. Anglers also have a chance to hook into Brown Trout that are in the system and some of these fish can be in the 5 pound range. The big browns come out of Bullard’s Bar Reservoir in the fall and move up the NFYR to spawn.

Highway 49 runs along the river from the top of the pass down to the last bridge which is just below Carlton Campground, about 11 miles below Downieville. In fact, there are 12 campgrounds to choose from, making this area an ideal get away vacation for the entire family. There is so much to do and see; hiking, swimming, gold panning, mountain biking, birding, and of course the great fishing.

There are also numerous creeks to explore in the area and each one has wild Rainbow Trout that are such a hoot to fish for! Haypress, Lavezzola, and Pauley creeks beg to be explored. And don’t forget about the Downie River, it also has a great fishery beneath its waters.

I spend much of my time guiding and fishing here once the heat of summer is upon us. When other rivers and lakes heat up you can find my clients and me near the Sierra City area wet-wading in the cool water stalking wild trout. Fishing has been excellent in this section for the last couple of weeks, with eager wild rainbows 6-12 inches that will take dry flies on top, all day long and into the evening.

Effective flies have been small foam Grasshoppers #12, Royal Humpy #14-18, and Yellow Humpy #14-18.

Effective flies have been small foam Grasshoppers #12, Royal Humpy #14-18, and Yellow Humpy #14-18. Like I said, these fish are eager and will take just about anything you throw at them. Finding the right type of holding water and your presentation means more than the pattern of the fly. Caddis flies are the dominant aquatic insects hatching in the evening, and the old standard Elk Hair Caddis #12-16 in colors gray, green, and tan will work just fine.

The North Yuba is a fascinating river with a surprise around every corner. I really love this place; it reminds me of learning to fly fish on the West Branch Feather and the North Fork Feather Rivers when I was a boy. It's a rough and tumble kind of a river with a fast pace, and the roar of the white water echoes off the canyon walls. Where Robins stuff their bellies full of stoneflies, and take retreat on a low branch of a pine tree next to the river. They eat their meal, gaze about, and take in the sights and sounds of this most impressive watershed.

Jon Baiocchi has been fly fishing and tying flies since 1972 and is a California licensed fly fishing guide, published author, educator, innovative tier, and public speaker giving fly fishing presentations to clubs and expos around the state. Jon operates Baiocchi’s Troutfitters guide service in Northeastern California where he has a reputation as a hard working guide who has been trained by some of fly fishing’s best known master anglers. He can be reached at

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