The recent stretch of warm dry weather has my almond tree in the front yard about to bud out, and the first mosquito of the season was recently spotted in Penn Valley. These are much better signs of the end of winter than some rodent in Punxsutawney, but with four weeks left until the equinox, I expect another resurgence of winter conditions lies ahead.
Through the early weeks of this month, the Department of Fish and Wildlife planted its steelhead juveniles in the Feather River at the Boyd’s Pump ramp below Yuba City. They tried a new strategy of putting the fish into cages along the dock to acclimate them while they drove back to Oroville for the next batch. Hopefully this allowed them to get accustomed to the water conditions before running the predator gauntlet that is the Feather River.
In an attempt to better follow the migration progress, some of the steelhead have been fitted with acoustical tags so they can be monitored by sounding stations along their downstream migration. The young steelhead can reach the delta in as few as three days. Getting beyond the confines of the river channel is the first hurdle for these fish to overcome in a world of big eats small.
As usual, the stripers figured out where an abundance of food was available and arrived in short order. The February bite on the Feather River is an annual event, and some of the largest fish of the year are landed at this time. Bob from Johnson’s Bait & Tackle reports a few stripers in the 20- to 40-pound class being in the catch. A more common size fish is in the 5- to 7-pound range. The numbers of stripers coming up from the delta into the Feather is modest compared to the spring spawning run. The temptation when catching a large striper is to keep it. These are the primary spawning stock and will enhance our future sport if we turn them back.
As you may suspect, the best lures are plugs and swim baits imitating young trout as well as drifting with live minnows. You can fish from Shanghai Bend down the length of the Feather.
Due to the abundance of juvenile steelhead at the Oroville hatchery, 10,000 were also planted in the Thermolito Afterbay.
On the Feather close to Oroville, there are spring run steelhead to be had. Most of the fish range from 17 to 21 inches. Fly anglers have been successful with a variety of nymphs and San Juan worms. Night crawlers and Kastmasters have been effective for the spin fishermen.
Tom from the Reel Angler’s Fly Shop reports that the lower Yuba is producing fish for anglers drifting nymphs deep along the bottom. The bite is not “red hot,” but skilled anglers are catching fish. He recommends Rubber Leg Stones, Red Copper Johns and PMD nymphs. He also mentioned seeing redds from steelhead/rainbow trout spawning, which is taking place at this time.
For those who want to catch big trout, Pyramid Lake in Nevada is the place to put in your time. The Crosby Lodge Presidents Day Derby was won with a cutthroat weighing more than 17 pounds. Crosby’s features a photo of the largest trout weighed at its store each week. For the past four weeks, the largest fish have been a minimum of 18 pounds.
Lake Davis above Portola has a solid 12 inches of ice for those inclined to go ice fishing. Ed Dillard (http://dillardguidedfishing.net) has been fishing through the ice and picking up a couple of trout per trip. Ed has been using small jigs tipped with power bait. The top of the ice melts on warm afternoons and refreezes overnight, providing good ice skating conditions in the mornings. Based on many years fishing Lake Davis, Ed expects ice fishing to last through the month of March.
Local foothill lakes are worth an investment of your time. Oroville has a good coho bite. Dan Grass spent the day last Saturday fishing the middle fork arm of the lake. At the upper reaches of the middle fork, he “had hits whenever he had lines in the water.” The fish were 9 to 13 inches, and he caught them on tube flies in white or chartreuse as well as pink hootchies. He had action from noon until 3 p.m., water temp 48 degrees. I understand that last fall was the final season for coho to be planted in the lake. I recommend getting out to enjoy this resource while it lasts.
Collins Lake has risen to the 50-degree mark, and the water level is 3 feet from spilling. The first of the trophy trout plants has taken place this month with regular plants coming March through May. The regular planting of rainbows produces some opportunities for bass anglers. Large swim baits that mimic rainbows can hook up some surprisingly large bass. Collins is the closest lake that consistently produces big bass.
Mike Pumphery fished Scott’s Flat recently. Water temp was 46 degrees. He worked hard for two fish. He picked up a 14-inch smallmouth bass casting suspending rip bait from his boat casting toward the bank. His other fish was a 12-inch trout that took a soft plastic minnow fished on a light jig head.
This past weekend, Colin and I fished Tom Moreno’s pond in Penn Valley. The water temp will reach 50 degrees on a warm sunny afternoon, and we each caught one bass. Colin’s came to a chartreuse plug and mine to a Zoom Fluke. The bass fishing will only get better as the weather and water warm.
Denis Peirce writes a fishing column for The Union’s Outdoors section and is host of “The KNCO Fishing & Outdoor Report,” which airs 6-7 p.m. Fridays and 5-6 a.m. Saturdays on 830-AM radio. Contact him via his website at www.fineflies.com.