Peirce: October ‘as good as it gets’ |

Peirce: October ‘as good as it gets’

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

If forced to choose one month of the year for prime fishing, October would be my pick.

The transition from summer to winter is consistently predictable in the fall month of October. The spring transition is less predictable due to late storms, the snowpack and the timing of the melt off. The prime spring fishing can be anywhere from April to June.

Currently, there are a number of waters that are fishing well despite low water conditions. The best trout bite in the north state is at Eagle Lake. The fish started to rise out of the depths in August to feed at the top of the water column. Since then the angling has been consistently good.

About two weeks ago as the water cooled into the high 50s, the fishing took off. The trout which had been feeding near the surface over deep water have begun to move toward the shallows to feed.

There are still good numbers of fish out over the depths, but the larger fish are more consistently being taken early in the day close to shallow rock structure.

The best colors to fish continue to be florescent orange and dark browns.

Eagle Lake is known for its fall fishing. The lake produces good fishing until the close at the end of the year. But to experience excellent angling in mild weather conditions, the time to be there is now.

The salmon spawn in the Sacramento Valley is nearing its peak.

I associate the peak salmon spawn with Halloween. I have never eaten a salmon egg, but they must be delicious because every critter from crawdads to catfish wants to eat them.

Some anglers continue to target salmon which are still moving in from the ocean. The bulk of the salmon have turned color and are good for a pull on your rod and a photo op but make poor table fare.

The best valley river fishing is for steelhead. There are extensive spawning areas in the upper valley reaches of the Sacramento, Feather and Yuba Rivers. These fish are keyed in on the “egg bite.” Tom Page, owner of the “Reel Anglers Fly Shop” has been guiding frequently on the Yuba and says “This is as good as it gets.”

In addition to the steelhead (sea run rainbows), there are schools of resident rainbows that migrate throughout the valley river systems. Throughout the year, the resident fish come and go based on a host of factors. But when the egg bite is on, we can count on the fact that they will be where the salmon are spawning. It is the combination of this concentration of fish and a predictably certain food source that can make this the best action of the year for trout in the valley below us.

Even if you do not fish, going to the lower Yuba to see the salmon spawning is worth a few hours of your time. Drive down Highway 20 and make the left turn immediately before the Yuba River bridge. Under the bridge is the start of a good gravel road along the south side of the river.

Look for salmon in the shallow lower ends of the pools, just above the top of the fast choppy water. A high vantage point and polarized sunglasses will help. You will see fish as long as your arm in a foot of water.

Another phenomenon this time of year is the pond smelt in lakes migrating into the shallows from deep water. There are a number of lakes within driving distance that feature this baitfish. Locally Scotts Flat and Rollins contain this fish. Farther afield Oroville and Almanor are noted for their smelt populations.

A recent report from Scotts Flat mentioned good action using smelt imitations fishing from a boat and casting toward the bank. As the water cools the trout have joined the bass feasting on these bait fish in the shallows.

Tom Maumoynier, Almanor Fly Fishing Company, has been fishing the shallows at Almanor. The trout have been corralling the smelt schools close to shore.

Trout will slash through the school wounding the smelt, some of which end up crippled on the surface.

The predators will then come up to the top to pick off the easy meal. Tom fishes a floating smelt fly, casting it out and allowing it to sit motionless, giving it an occasional slight twitch. This is a consistent fall pattern at Almanor. I suspect that this same feeding pattern occurs at Scotts Flat and Rollins. If anglers see this, I would like to hear about it.

The water level at Almanor has been dropping rapidly this fall. Throughout the warm weather months water was stored at higher elevations to reduce evaporation losses, and Almanor was surprisingly full.

Now the water is being shipped down the hill and some of the launch ramps have had their docks pulled for the winter.

Last week my son and I fished Tom Moreno’s pond in Penn Valley. The water temp was 65 degrees then and the current temp is 61. Colin caught his largest bass of the season. The weight is unknown but it measured 19 inches long. The water was clear and the fish ate a chartreuse spinner bait retrieved slowly along the bottom. It was the day after the rainstorm and the catching was quite slow in the late afternoon. As the sun was getting low in the sky, the bite picked up. It was worth staying late!

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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