The opening day of the Sierra stream trout season is tomorrow. I have been observing the conditions on the opener for the last couple decades, and the norm is modest flows on opening weekend with cool weather, then the weather warms dramatically, and the snow melt raises river flows to unfishable levels in May. The duration of the high flows is based on the snow pack.
This year is markedly different. We have had warm weather on a very low snow pack. The water masters in charge of reservoir levels have done a good job of storing water and impoundments like Oroville are close to full. The results are fishable stream flows for the opener and more of the same in the month of May for the northern Sierra. Farther south where the mountains are higher there will be a stronger runoff.
The North Yuba River is approximately 50 percent of normal flow. The flows of 700 cubic feet per second are above the June ideal but fishable water will be available for this weekend. The water temps are in the low 50s compared to the high 40s which is normal for late April. The overall prognosis is for the June peak river fishing conditions to occur in May. Later this summer the best river fishing will be found below dams that can maintain a flow of cool water.
April has been a good month on the Lower Yuba. The insect activity has been good and the fish have been feeding. March Browns have continued to hatch and the fish have been looking up to find them. Swinging soft hackles and dead drifting cripple patterns have been effective in and just below fast choppy water. The Pale Morning Duns have also been hatching. With multiple reservoirs storing water on the Yuba water shed, the lower river may be one of the best bets this summer.
On the Feather River in Oroville Craig Bentley has seen an unusual event. There are large schools of salmon fry in the river through town. They can be seen feeding at the surface on midges and caddis. The unusual activity has been the spring run steelhead corralling them and feeding on the fry like bass will feed on shad. The steelhead will not look at the usual offerings such as nymphs or night crawlers. They are focused on salmon fry. Craig has tried a number of streamer patterns without success. If you have a very good salmon fry pattern about 2 inches long you might give it a try.
The high country lakes will be a good bet in the near future. The road from Bassett’s Station to Graeagle is now open. The lakes in the area are ice free. At Gold Lake the new boat ramp still has snow but the old launch site by the out flow stream is accessible. Gold Lake is a good early season bet for mackinaw.
As of the middle of this week the road to Jackson Meadows from Highway 89 has melted off as far as the Meadow Lake turn off, about a mile past Webber Lake. I suspect the locals will break through with their 4X4s in the not too distant future.
Another sign of an early season has been on Lower Scott’s Flat. Carpenter ants are out and the trout are feeding on them at the top of the water column. Normally the ants are out for Memorial Day weekend.
Bass fishing is nearing its spring peak. All of the foothill reservoirs have spawning activity. Lake Oroville has peaked at 25 feet below full pool, and it is starting to recede slowly with irrigation releases. The water temp is 63 degrees, which is prime spawning temperature.
Tom Moreno’s pond in Penn Valley has seen the bass and bluegill move out of the depths and into the shallows more than a week ago. The catching has been excellent. The water temps are through the 60s and heading into the 70s in the late afternoons. If you have access to any private ponds, now is the time to go. The weeds are growing and the best angling is of the season is currently upon us.
For the past month some of the best fishing has been in the valley rivers for stripers. Typically the striper run lasts well into May and on really good years early June. This year a number of factors have lined up to cut the season short. Low flows on the Feather and Sacramento Rivers due to water storing and warm spring weather have the rivers warming into the high 60s. Another factor is the full moon coming in late April. Stripers tend to spawn in 65 degree water during a full moon.
I spoke with guide Brett Brady (fishbarebones.com) who has been on the Sacramento River consistently for the past two months. He noted that the striper spawning run peaked late last week prior to the full moon. Last Sunday the fishing was good with lots of fish in the river. Since then the bite has dropped off with the fish moving down the river. He had been fishing as high up as the Colusa area and finished the week launching at Knights Landing and struggling to put fish on the boat. All of the female stripers landed this week were post spawn as well as most of the males.
Brett had predicted in late March that the season would end with the April full moon and his prediction seems to have proven out. In addition to the river spawn, the stripers have been spawning in the delta and lower Sacramento River as well.
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 http://fineflies.com.