Denis Peirce: An unusually good season |

Denis Peirce: An unusually good season

In a sense, the salmon year begins with the winter salmon abundance surveys compiled from ocean data. Then in the spring the seasons are set for both the ocean zones and freshwater rivers.

As the various seasons progress, watching where the anglers go and how many fishermen there are, is a sure indication of the salmon runs. The final score comes from the hatchery return where there is hard data.

The 2017 season was projected to be subpar over all and downright awful in some places like the north coast of California.

We had an unusually good ocean season this summer from the Golden Gate down toward Half Moon Bay. Many commented that the salt water salmon fishing there, was the best in decades.

A slow start

The salmon season in the Sacramento Valley opened in mid July with the usual slow start. By mid August as the fish began their fall run, it became obvious that the Feather River was the place to be.

The hot spot was the “After Bay Hole” near Oroville. The anglers were out in force. Guides who normally work on the Sacramento River were on the Feather. There was much speculation that Sacramento River fish were running up the Feather due to the high water flows in this river.

One anomaly was the poor fishing lower down on the Feather. The salmon had to run the length of the river to get to Oroville but they did not want to bite until they reached the After Bay Hole.

A week ago today the Department of Fish & Wildlife crew finished the hatchery spawn at the Feather River Hatchery in Oroville and the numbers are in.

Despite this year’s return being born in a drought year three seasons ago, the return is in line with the norm for the hatchery. The return was close to 19,000 fish which produced over 22,000,000 eggs.

The mitigation goal is to produce nine million fry. The egg supply this year is sufficient to meet this goal.

The speculation regarding Sacramento River fish diverting to the Feather was unfounded. Based on the nose tags injected into juvenile hatchery salmon, there were only 36 Sacramento River fish identified at the hatchery which is fewer than last year.

The other bright spot for salmon and steelhead has been the Mokelumne River Hatchery. This run is later than the Feather. The best fishing for these salmon is in the Delta.

There was barely a place to park at the boat ramps on the Mokelumne in late October. The hatchery has yet to conclude the spawning but the mid November count of 13,799 is way ahead of the 4,129 count at the same date in 2016.

Breaking records

The all time record for the Mokelumne is 18,000 in 2011. There is a strong possibility that 2017 can break the 2011 record.

Steelhead on the Mokelumne is another success story. The historical returns have averaged 100 fish per year. In 2016, 600 steelhead returned. So far this year, 350 steelhead have arrived and there is hope of matching last year’s record.

The steelhead run on the Feather is also looking good. This season to date, 500 have returned to the hatchery. The steelhead will continue to arrive through January. The steelhead hatchery spawn begins in mid December and can go into February.

Last year the return of 900 fish produced 750,000 juveniles to be set loose in February. This is way above the drought low of 142 adults producing only 73,000 juveniles in the winter of 2016-2017.

The goal for the Feather is 450,000 steelhead to be released. Once that number is reached there are fish available for planting in the After Bay this winter.

In contrast to the Feather and Mokelumne Rivers, the Yuba has had a poor salmon return. There is some spawning activity but the numbers are low based on observations by anglers who float the river.

The “egg bite” never came on for steelhead anglers. The current reports mention smaller fish feeding on blue wing olive mayflies.

There are good hatches and the fish can be caught on small #16 and #18 nymphs and dry flies. The best steelhead action this season continues to be on the Feather River.

Fisheries tend to be cyclical. We get good years and bad. The drought and other factors knocked down the numbers but we are seeing a rebound on some rivers.

For now the Feather and the Mokelumne Rivers are the bright spots.

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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