Denis Peirce: The salmon season is on! |

Denis Peirce: The salmon season is on!

Denis Peirce

The river salmon fishing season opened two weeks ago and this is the best early season bite since 2012 in the Sacramento Valley. In recent years it has been common for there to be few fish caught during July and we had to get well into August for good numbers to show up.

I view the salmon runs as cyclical and I am hoping we have seen the bottom of the cycle two years ago and we are in an upward trend.

Off the coast, this has been a good year. The boats going out of San Francisco Bay have regularly been returning with limits of two fish per rod. Based on the size of the fish, many appear to be next year’s fish which is another good sign.

Fishing on the river

On the valley rivers all of them have had fish move in. The best bets are the Feather and Sacramento Rivers. The American River traditionally has its fish come later in the season.

Scott Feist ( has been guiding on the Sacramento River well below Verona and producing a lot of salmon for his customers. His strategy has been to fish low on the river system to catch the freshest salmon just out of salt water.

He has been fishing in water as warm as 75 degrees and that poses some challenges as well as benefits. Just a few days before, these salmon had been swimming in 50 to 55 degree water. To then hit 75 degrees is a shock. Their response is to keep on the move up river to find cooler water. They are in travelling mode.

Feist has been trolling spinners looking for a reaction bite. He has been quite successful with green/chartreuse colors and occasionally a blue one will hook a fish. There is a maxim in river salmon fishing that the best bite is in water below 65 degrees. Feist is successfully breaking that rule by covering a lot of water and getting a spinning lure right in front of a quantity of fish.

The water coming out of Lake Shasta is cold, down into the low to mid 50s. As the water moves down the valley it warms into the high 70s as it reaches the Delta.

Anglers have a choice between fish which may be holding in cool water up the valley or fast moving fish lower down. Currently Feist is choosing to fish lower on the system aiming at the brightest fish.

For those looking to fish cooler water a good place to launch is Woodson Bridge near Corning. Woodson Bridge reliably has cool water.

Up stream toward Los Molinos these are a lot of pools and riffles. Down river there is more slow deep water. In the cooler water flat fish lures with a sardine wrap or fishing with roe are the main methods for catching salmon. The river above Red Bluff opens to salmon fishing Aug. 1.

Above Red Bluff the most famous salmon fishing spot is “The Barge Hole.” It is at the mouth of Battle Creek and flows from Mt. Lassen.

On Battle Creek is the Coleman Hatchery which is the main salmon hatchery on the Sacramento River. Trout anglers in this stretch of the river have been seeing salmon for weeks now. This is earlier than in recent years and the numbers look surprisingly good.

There are no guarantees but 2018 is looking good for river salmon.

Try your luck at the lake

There are other salmon that are available in our lakes. Last week, guide Brett Brady ( fished kokanee at both Bullard’s Bar and Stampede, doing well in both lakes.

The annual Bullard’s Bar kokanee migration has begun and in June the bulk of the fish were to be found by the dam. These fish move up the lake in July and 10 days ago they were near the confluence of the Dark Day area and the North Yuba arm.

Yes, there are and will be fish staying by the dam and in the Willow Creek arm, but the biggest concentration is trending up the lake. By mid August the schools will be up near Long Point. Some time in September they will head up the North Yuba arm.

Stampede has slowed down a bit. The fishing pressure has been heavy. There have been as many as 30 boats weekdays and more on weekends. The size remains very good with the average 13 to 15 inches. There are a few close to 17 inches.

The third freshwater salmon fishery is Lake Oroville. It has king salmon from the Feather River hatchery. Brady has been on the water at dawn. He is looking for surface activity of birds, bass and occasionally salmon eating pond smelt at the surface.

These indicators have been good locations for fishing deep later in the day. The best action has been at the 55 to 65 foot depths. The fish below 70 feet have not been biting.

A common size is 15 to 18 inches with a few hold over fish in the 20 to 24 inch range. One of the keys to success has been to fish small pond smelt imitations in the 1 to 2 inch range.

The dog days of summer can be tough for the trout fishermen but they are good days for salmon angling.

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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