The fall salmon run is ramping up in Northern California. On the ocean, the conditions have been very good.
Out of the Golden Gate, the party boats are increasing their fish per rod averages. In the past week, scores have been ranging from a fish per rod to limits on most party boats.
The late summer sea conditions are the most predictable of the year, allowing many boats out onto the ocean to help locate the schools. During times of rough seas, it can be difficult to find fish when the fishing fleet has been in port for a week or more.
Now there is a lot of current information based on where the fishing left off the day before.
The schools of salmon are converging on San Francisco Bay cutting the travel time for the boats heading out the Golden Gate. We are in the prime season for salmon in saltwater. If you have been waiting for things to get better, now is the time to go.
Closer to home on the valley river systems, the quantity of salmon moving through continues to increase. There are some trade-offs with regard to the fall run of fish.
There are good numbers now and they will increase up to the peak of the run in late September through early October. I rate the quality of the fish based on the percentage that are “chrome bright” versus those that have turned dark.
The early part of the run, those in the system now, have the highest percentage of bright fish. The color change is affected by time in freshwater, how warm the water is and how close to spawning an individual is.
Scott Feist (feistyfish.net) has been on the Sacramento River daily since the season opened in mid-July. He is finding 80 percent of his salmon are bright fish. Even those showing color have bright red flesh when cut open.
These proportions are as good as it gets in our valley rivers during the fall run.
Currently the temps from the Delta up through Woodson Bridge on the Sacramento River are too warm for good salmon fishing. Yes, an occasional fish is being caught there, but if you follow the professional guides who must consistently put fish in the boat, you will find them from Los Molinas upriver to Anderson.
The prime number for the salmon to bite is 65 degrees and below. The farther below the better. The cold water source is the depths of Shasta Lake and the farther down river the water travels the warmer it gets.
Another factor is the length of the day. As we get closer to the equinox and the weather cools, the good water conditions will extend farther downstream.
The trade-offs come down to these: we have to drive as much as two hours at this time to reach the good fishing grounds with a sunrise at 6:30. By late September, we can drive one hour and have a sunrise at 7.
There are hundreds of fish moving upriver currently but there will be thousands a month from now. Currently, the fish are 80:20 bright to colored. That could be 50:50 in late September and 20:80 well into October.
I think the best course of action would be to go weekly to experience the full range of possibilities.
On the Feather River, local angler Dan Grass caught a 12.5 pound salmon using a flatfish last weekend. He launched at Gridley and fished upriver from there.
For a long day of fishing, he was rewarded with a single fish. He put in quite a bit of time fishing both jigs and roe. There were two other salmon caught that he as aware of, both were caught on flatfish-style lures.
The issue was not lack of fish, they were rolling on the surface throughout the day. The salmon were just not in the mood to bite.
The water flow on the Feather River is comprised of 1,100 cubic feet per second of cold water coming down the low-flow section through town and 600 cfs of warmer water coming over the Afterbay dam.
The combined 1,700 cfs is half of what I would expect in a wetter year. This limits the boat traffic to small jet boats and drift boats able to navigate the riffles in the wildlife area.
This is good for the shore-based anglers. The low water allows them to wade the river below the Afterbay Hole without the normal boat traffic and the water temps are good.
The Low Flow, which is closed to salmon fishing, has the coldest flows and pulls the fish toward the hatchery.
For the shore-based angler, the Oroville Wildlife Area is your best bet; the best time is sunrise. It is possible to be on the water at first light and be back for work at a respectable time.
The next six weeks are the peak of the fall salmon run. Plan your time accordingly.
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.trollingflies.com.