Denis Peirce: Despite disappointing salmon season, plenty of action on the Feather River |

Denis Peirce: Despite disappointing salmon season, plenty of action on the Feather River

Reed Pennell of Oroville with an 18 and a 20 pound salmon caught Tuesday morning. The story on the Feather is groups of salmon moving quickly up river. The most consistent action has been from the upper river where the fish stack up in the “Afterbay Hole.”
Submitted photo by Denis Peirce |

salmon season

The salmon season on the Feather River from the unimproved boat ramp above the Afterbay Dam to 200 yards above the Live Oak boat ramp, goes from July 16 through Saturday, Oct. 15. From Live Oak down to the confluence with the Sacramento River at Verona the season is open July 16 through Dec. 16.

The 2016 salmon season has been disappointing. The results from the entire West Coast from Alaska down to California have been below normal. We cannot have four years of drought and expect the fisheries not to be impacted. I am reminded of the maxim “If you add water you will get fish.” The ultimate solution is a series of wet winters.

The hope throughout the season was that the runs were delayed, and late in the season there would be a surge of fish. That has been the case on the Feather River. The Feather has been the brightest spot for salmon anglers in the Sacramento Valley for the last few weeks. The Sacramento River usually carries many more salmon than the Feather but this year the reverse is the case if angling success is the standard.

The story on the Feather is groups of salmon moving quickly up river. They are not pausing in the deep holes for any length of time. If you are on the river as they come through you can get your two fish limit, after the school moves on the bite stops. The most consistent action has been from the upper river where the fish stack up in the “Afterbay Hole”.

The Oroville Dam/Thermolito Complex includes the Afterbay, which is a 10,000 acre body of water below the dam where irrigation water is directed to the farming districts and it acts as a warming basin to bring the water closer to the original temperatures that existed before the Oroville Dam was built. The Afterbay Dam controls the flow back into the original river channel. When the flow from the Afterbay is greater than down the original river channel, the salmon head to the base of the dam. Occasional high flows from the Afterbay have created a 40 foot deep hole in the river bed, “The Afterbay Hole”. Ultimately, the fish realize they can’t get over the dam and they head up the original river channel to the hatchery.

On Tuesday I went to Oroville to check out the action in the Oroville Wildlife Area. There were few anglers along the length of the river below the Afterbay Hole. When I reached the Afterbay Hole that is where the anglers were. At first light the guide boats were on the water and the anglers were lining the shore on either side of the dam.

The action was sporadic throughout the morning. The shore anglers would see salmon rolling on the surface along the white water extending out into the hole. A few minutes later someone would yell “Fish on!” It seemed as though the fish would arrive in groups and then depart. The rolling salmon marked the arrival of more fish.

There has developed a protocol among the shore anglers. Shoulder to shoulder fishing has to be coordinated to prevent tangles. Casts are made straight out from the lineup, to the edge of the white water. Your line is then drifted with the current for a couple of dozen feet. If you drift too far there is a tackle eating snag. This group of anglers was surprisingly cordial, reeling their lines in when someone else had a fish on and netting each other’s fish.

The Afterbay Hole has a reputation for less than civil interaction when crowded, but this year that has not been the case.

I met a local angler, Reed Pennell. He retired to Oroville and has been regularly fishing for salmon over the last dozen years. He said the salmon fishing was slow until the middle of September when the salmon arrived in good numbers. He and many of his fellow regulars have been getting their two fish limits on a regular basis. Reed had his two fish in a couple of hours fishing. When asked to rate this season, his comment was the past two weeks have been the best action he has seen on the river in the dozen years he has been fishing the Afterbay Hole.

Day after day there have been salmon in the hole. Those who learn how to fish here have been consistently catching salmon. The season prior to the recent action was slow. How long the current run of salmon will continue is anybody’s guess. The salmon season on this area of the Feather closes at sundown this Saturday. Steelhead fishing will continue.

The hatchery is currently open and spawning fish. Once they gather all of their data we will have a more complete picture of the salmon run on the Feather River this year.

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

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