This is the last week of August and right on time the salmon are moving up the valley rivers. With this drought year we are seeing opposing factors converging, the water is dropping as the number of fish is on the rise. Luckily we have dams to draw water from to keep some flows going.
Years ago I fished with a striper guide near Sacramento. He had grown up in the valley before Shasta Dam was operational. He recalled some dry years where he could walk across the Sacramento River in ankle deep water. We have seen this before and ultimately we will get through this drought.
The Feather River is our closest salmon fishery. The water flows have been steadily dropping over the last month from 2300 cfs at Gridley to 1200. The projection is for continued cuts to the flows.
At these flows navigation on the river is tough. Normally there is a boat launch just above the After Bay Hole. You might get a car top boat in there but the larger guide boats have to launch down at Gridley. Even if you launch at Gridley the ride up river has been described as having a “Pucker Factor.” There are numerous sand and gravel bars with only a narrow slot that a jet boat could navigate. If you get the slot wrong you’re going to have a bad day.
Down by Yuba City conditions are not much better. The Oroville Dam problem of a few years back resulted in major silting of the river bed. Many of the deep holes that the salmon used as holding spots are now filled in. There are a couple of dredging operations under way. At the Yuba City ramp silt is being removed. There is a similar effort at the Live Oak ramp.
At Live Oak there is a rock dam that backs up the water for an irrigation take out. As the river flow continues to decline there is a concern that the fish may not be able to pass this obstacle.
Farther down river at Boyd’s Pump boat ramp, things are tough as well. The Yuba is putting about 400 cfs into the Feather above Boyd’s but it still is not enough water to get a larger boat onto the water. There have been big stripers sighted below the Shanghai Rapids feeding on pike minnows.
With these conditions the salmon fishing is primarily a search for deep water where the salmon will hold. At the 5th Street Bridge in Yuba City shore anglers are pounding the hole regularly, often using dubious methods.
Normal method for this time of year is drifting eggs as your boat rides the current. This year drifting is out of the question and “Hanging eggs” in a hole is the best bet. The problem is the few remaining holes have other anglers on them. Charlie’s Hole and the After Bay Hole close to Oroville have been producing a few fish.
The good news is that water temps from Oroville down to Gridley start the day in the high 50’s and get up to 62 in the afternoon. Most years, boat anglers out fish the shore anglers. This year as the water flow continues to decline, the shore anglers will have access to more water than the boaters.
The Sacramento River is doing better than the Feather for fish counts and water flow. At Colusa the river has 5000 cfs. Most of the fishing is taking place from Corning north, where the water is cooler. The guide reports are showing up to a fish per rod on good days. The flows here are being stepped down as the irrigation season draws to a close. To date the number of fish swimming up the river has exceeded the poor returns forecast last winter.
On the Lower Yuba there are good numbers of salmon in the system. Salmon fishing is not allowed on the Yuba. Tom Page, Reel Angler’s Fly Shop, has started fishing egg imitations for the rainbows and steelhead. This looks like a much better salmon return than we have seen on the Yuba in a few years.
I checked in with Tommy Chew at the mouth of the Klamath River. The summer run steelhead have been good in recent weeks. There have been fish up to seven pounds landed. Tommy reports that the fish were as high up river as Johnson’s (about 15 miles). The quantity of half pounders and adults looks like we are headed for a good year on the Klamath.
The National Forests in the northern Sierra are closed through the Labor Day weekend and possibly beyond. This precludes fishing on the North Yuba River and many high country lakes. Shawn Rainsbarger, Shawns Guide Service, has switched from Boca to Donner Lake for kokanee trips.
The solution for all of our fishing issues is more water. Pray for a heavy wet winter!
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://www.trollingflies.com