Denis Peirce: Getting ready for the best fishing of the year
March 22, 2018
Heavy showers, thunder and lightning, intermittent sunshine, these are the hallmarks of spring in the Sierra foothills. What is predicted for next week is a string of sunny days with air temperatures as high as 70 degrees late in the week. This is the set up for excellent fishing. The longer days and clear skies will begin warming the water and fish will be on the bite.
The lower elevation lakes have had water temps in the low 50s. With next weeks warming I think we will see daily surface temps climbing as much as three to four degrees. They will cool back off at night as the surface mixes with cooler water below but the trend is definitely higher. Ideal fishing occurs as the water rises through the 50 degree range.
Update on the conditions
Lake Oroville is showing promise. The outflows from the lakes are being held to a modest 1050 cubic feet per second which is allowing the lake to rise as much as 5 feet in a single day this week. It has risen above the 750 foot elevation.
Prior to the recent stormy weather the land locked salmon in the lake were shallow. They were being caught from the surface down to 30 feet out over deep water but also close to the bank.
March is the pond smelt spawning month when they move into the shallows. This is the best time of year to fish these salmon close to the surface. A month or so from now they will be deep and much more difficult to target.
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The bass in Oroville should be coming on strong as well. The best bass bite of the year occurs in the spring on a rising water level. In the near term the fish will be active in the warmest water they can find. The other prime location is incoming creeks that will be bringing nutrients that will attract the bait fish.
Late March is the traditional time for the stripers to start their run up the valley rivers.
The other factor the stripers like for moving up stream, is a rising river. We definitely have both requirements now. I am guessing that the Sacramento River will be too muddy for striper fishing in the short term but it is only a matter of time for conditions to improve.
The Feather River is an unknown at the moment. There was tremendous silting in of the river a year ago filling in the channels in the lower river. The releases from Lake Oroville are minimal. The wild card is the flows from the Yuba River.
The flows this week are well above 27,000 cubic feet per second. The rule for stripers is, if you have high flows they will come. So based on Yuba flows we might get some fish if the flows can be sustained. The Sacramento River will be the best bet.
A pleasant surprise
The most unexpected fishery recently has been Bullard's Bar. It is primarily known as a trophy spotted bass fishery in the winter and a mediocre kokanee fishery in the summer. This year for some reason unknown to me, the kokanee bite has been good in March.
Not only have the numbers been good but the sizes are exceeding what we expect from mature fish at the end of summer. The fish are also "plump" for this time of the year. The prime months for weight gain are May through August as the food chain is most abundant.
Justin Leonard (Out Cast Guide Service) has been on this lake a few time in the past weeks and reporting good numbers of kokanee. His largest was 13 inches. He has been trolling for them from 15 feet down to 50 feet. The best colors have been pinks and oranges. The word has gotten out via social media and on his last trip he counted 21 boats fishing kokanee.
If you are not a regular kokanee angler with the tackle to fish deep there is a window of opportunity for these fish in the spring when the fish can be at the top of the water column. Justin has seen fish breaking the surface all over the main body of the lake in the lowest of light conditions.
In the low light of evening and during a recent snow storm the kokanee were on top breaking the surface. Under these conditions these fish can be caught casting small spoons or with a fly rod casting brightly colored steelhead flies in small sizes. Justin has been trolling with flies and doing well.
An interesting anecdote regarding Bullard's Bar, this lake dropped four feet this week. It has been nearly full this winter and I suspect that room was needed for the snow that has landed in the high country.
The next six weeks will be some of the best fishing of the year in the lower elevations. The reservoir bass, river stripers and mid elevation trout will be at their peak. If you don't fish a lot in the next six weeks why did you buy a fishing license?
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.