In search of salmon |

In search of salmon

The Union photo/John Hart
John R. Hart | The Union

The salmon fishing season opened in the Sacramento Valley July 16. We always hope for a good opener but mid-July has better prospects for saltwater anglers than river fishermen.

The valley rivers see two main salmon runs, the spring and fall. The spring run historically arrives during the snowmelt and, before the dams were built, spent their summers in the deep water holes in the high country, spawning in the fall.

The fall run begins to arrive in the summer and also spawns during the fall in the valley stretches of the rivers.

A mid-July opener lands in between the two runs. There have been years with good water conditions that have featured good numbers of fish in the areas open to fishing but 2014 is not one of these.

There were boats on the water at dawn at many of the traditional spots on both the Sacramento and Feather Rivers but most anglers were disappointed. The spring run fish had already passed up to the closed zones at the top of the rivers.

The open areas are traveling zones where anglers are targeting fish heading toward the spawning grounds.

There were some salmon caught on the opener. At the Afterbay Hole on the Feather, there were plenty of anglers and a few fish were landed. One boat was on the water at 4 a.m. to occupy the prime location in the hole and was rewarded for their efforts.

Local businessman Gerald Bond trolled both sides of the island down river from the hole and picked up two nice fish. He had better luck on the east side.

On the Sacramento River. most boats did not pick up anything. I heard of one guide boat scoring seven salmon working the top of the open zone from Red Bluff down to Los Molinos opening day.

2014 is a good year for salmon. There are good numbers of “springers” at the top of the Feather River close to the hatchery. The Sacramento River above Red Bluff is also holding good numbers of salmon. It is the traveling areas between the saltwater and the upper rivers that are slow at the moment.

Some of the factors that influence the fishing are water temps, flows and time of the month. Salmon have a decided preference for water temps in the 50s, the temps they grow up in off the coast.

When the urge to spawn hits, they enter the river and move up river through warm water quickly until they hit cool water. The lower rivers can be in the high 70s this time of year.

The upper rivers coming from the bottom of dams feature water often in the ideal mid-50s.

At Red Bluff, the daily water temps swing between 60 and 65 degrees currently. Farther up river at Balls Ferry the daily temps range from 55 to 58 degrees. The river above Red Bluff opens to salmon fishing Aug. 1st.

River flows on the valley rivers are more of a factor for boating than preventing fish movement. It is a greater factor on the Klamath/Trinity system than the Sacramento. Last year the low warm water on the lower Klamath kept most of the salmon in the saltwater an extra month.

When the conditions finally improved, the fish moved in one major run.

The time of the month has a major effect on the salmon movement. The largest schools of salmon come into the fresh water on the high tides associated with full moons and new moons.

On the coastal rivers. the highest and lowest tides of the month are often necessary to break open the sand bars at the river mouths to allow fish access to the rivers. This is not the case for the valley rivers but the main schools of salmon still move through the San Francisco Bay on the biggest tidal swings.

The new moon for July is Saturday. The full moon for August is the 10th and in September it is on the 9th. Five to 10 days after the full moon, the fish will arrive in the valley below us. If you have to plan in advance for a fishing trip, these are the prime times to go.

The best summer fishing as always is in the saltwater. There is an annual progression of the salmon schools down the coast in the summer. In late spring and early summer, the salmon fishing is best off Eureka and the farthest north ports.

By late June, many of these fish move south and by July and August they are found off Fort Bragg, Bodega Bay and the Golden Gate.

In the last 10 days, the fishing has picked up for all of these waters. In the ocean the sea conditions are a big factor.

Typically in April, May and June, the winds are strong and the seas are high keeping the fishing boats from going out for salmon. July, August and September are the prime months.

Besides more fish in the area at this time, having consistent calm seas allows boats to go to where the fishing was good the previous day to resume the hunt.

Intermittent good conditions require beginning the search each day with lower chances of finding good fish.

Fort Bragg is a nice drive from here and the salmon feeding grounds are close to shore. If the seas are calm, it is a good bet for private boaters.

Bodega Bay, aka “Blow-dega Bay,” also has close-in fishing and the drive skirts the top of the bay area rather than traveling into the heart of the Bay Area.

It has been referred to as “Salmon Central” for the month of July. The Bay Area ports have a longer commute to reach the salmon fishing grounds, but if the weather is bad, they have the option of fishing inside the bay. All have their pros and cons.

But if you want to catch prime table fare salmon, the coast has turned on in the past 10 days and the time is now through September. Good luck!

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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