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Peirce: Seasonal fishing pattern has shifted

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

The wet weather pattern of fall is coming on. The storm track that has been flirting with us has been directly impacting the north coast and the Klamath Trinity drainage.

The dry season river closures on most of the small coastal rivers have been lifted. The salmon spawn that is peaking in the Sacramento Valley is in its early stages on the Smith and Chetco Rivers on either side of the California — Oregon border.

The annual peak for the salmon run in these two rivers occurs in November with the Thanksgiving weekend often being a good time to be there.



There have been salmon in the Smith River estuary since September, but there has not been enough water flow to move them up river in quantity until recently. Last Saturday the river rose six vertical feet at the Jedediah Smith State Park gauging station between noon and 10 p.m.

This week the flows dropped back but today’s storm will bring it right back up. It is this cycle of rising and falling flows that bring in waves of salmon through the month of November and the steelhead starting in December and lasting through March.




The Smith is noted for its large fish. The most recent pulse of salmon included some which were over the 40-pound mark. Another reason to consider the Smith River for salmon fishing, when the river is flowing well, is that these fish are less than 20 miles from the saltwater. It is extremely difficult to find a salmon in good condition in our valley rivers at this time.

On the Smith, the older salmon have moved up into the closed spawning zone and the incoming fish are fresh from the Pacific Ocean.

The key to fishing the Smith is catching the water level as it falls from the 14-foot mark down to 8-feet. A rising level in this range does not fish as well as the declining flows. To follow the flows online, visit cdec.water.ca.gov for real-time data for the Smith and many California Rivers.

The Sacramento Valley Rivers are at the peak of the salmon spawn. The primary angler focus is on the steelhead fishing. Early this week the Low Flow section of the Feather River and down stream turned muddy. At one point, there was only a couple of inches of visibility. Unconfirmed reports point to two sources of the silt in the water. One is the work extending the Bidwell Marina launch ramp. The other source is reported to be water coming down the South Fork of the Feather River into Lake Oroville.

The Feather River below Oroville Dam is known as the last river in California to “blow out” during a period of prolonged winter rain. The lake above buffers the muddy run off, discharging green water from the bottom of the lake. The lake currently is 240-feet below full pool and about 33 percent of capacity.

There is not enough volume of water to keep the turbidity from rapidly passing through. I have not heard reports in the last couple of days, so this may not be the current condition.

This week I drove down Highway 395 to Mammoth Lakes. The fall colors have peaked above 7,000 feet. There are still groves of aspen with leaves but many wind-exposed areas have no leaves left on the trees.

There is frost in the morning and the streams are so low that there is little angling pressure. The best bets are the lakes that are fishing very well.

Crowley Lake is producing a lot of trout as the end of the season approaches. Burgundy leech fly patterns are working well.

At Lower Twin Lakes near Bridgeport, the trout are in the top 10 feet of the water column. The hot fly for trolling is a pink body/black hackle wooly bugger. I have never heard of this color combo but according to the owner at Twin Lakes Resort it is an annual thing for this fly to fish well in the late fall.

Lower Twin Lake is a famous trophy brown trout lake. Three weeks ago there was a 10-pound brown taken at the mouth of the incoming stream.

The fish was caught with a spinner. This was early for a brown to be staging pre-spawn at the mouth of the creek. The locals take this as a hopeful sign of an early winter. I would like to believe that.

Fall is the spawning season for brown trout in the Sierra lakes. With the low rivers and creeks, they may have to wait until we get substantial weather to move upstream. The Department of Fish and Wildlife in their wisdom have stopped planting browns in many waters.

These spawning browns will be the only source of recruitment in our lakes. Please consider catch and release for these fish. Browns are hardy and I do not believe that DF&W can eradicate them. There will always be browns in California. There will be a fishable quantity only if we limit our take.

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.


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