Denis Peirce: First week of valley salmon
The salmon season in the Sacramento Valley opened July 16. The reasoning behind a mid-July opening date is that it precludes fishing for the spring run salmon and targets the more numerous fall run fish. Late July is the lull between the runs.
Historically the spring run fish migrated up the river systems during the snow melt, which gave them access to the high elevations in the Sierra. This is why there is a Salmon Creek above Sierra City on the North Yuba. These fish summered in the deeper pools in the high country and spawned in the fall. The fall run fish arrive from August through October and spawn in the lower elevations. Both species spawn about the same time.
The salmon fishing season, both fresh and saltwater, is set in the winter based on salmon abundance surveys in the ocean. The degree of difficulty in measuring salmon numbers in the ocean is considerable. This past winter’s survey painted a gloomy picture, prompting a postponement of the ocean season from April to late June. I was prepared for a very poor season in 2021 but I am beginning to see some anecdotal evidence that things might not be that bad after all.
Last week I heard that the spring salmon run on the Lower Yuba was surprisingly good. Well over 600 “springers” were counted climbing the fish ladder at DaGuerre Dam which is halfway between the Feather River and Englebright Dam. The two previous years had dismal runs. This year’s numbers were a welcome surprise.
I checked with the Feather River Hatchery in Oroville and they have tagged 4,797 spring run salmon this season which is well within the 3,800 to 7,000 fish range they have processed in the last couple of decades.
Off the coast, the salt water season opened with terrific results and has tapered to a more normal level of success. The sport fishing fleet is landing salmon daily.
The Klamath River has salmon attempting to enter at the mouth, the warm water is causing them to turn around and go back to the salt. The Rogue River in Southern Oregon has good numbers of salmon in the estuary with good angler results in the cool tidewater. A friend just returned from a week fishing in Southeast Alaska. The salmon fishing was very good, following two years of poor salmon runs around the same resort.
Do these isolated data points portend a good salmon season? Not yet. The answer will come in November, but it is reason for hope.
Currently, in the valley rivers, the season opened with limited success, which is normal for the gap between the spring and fall runs. There have been salmon caught on both the Feather and Sacramento rivers. The upper reaches of both rivers have decent water conditions despite the drought. The irrigation water has the rivers running well above what nature would have provided mid July with triple digit air temps. The Feather River water is being drawn through the original “low flow channel” at 2540 cfs with only 450 cfs coming from the warmer After Bay. This has the water temps at Gridley ranging from 64 to 70 degrees over the course of a day. These are decent flows and temps for mid July.
On Wednesday, I went to the After Bay Hole on the Feather and spoke with some anglers. That morning the shore anglers had not landed a salmon. Nor had they seen fish rolling on the surface. The evening before there were a couple of dozen salmon seen rolling. There were five truck and trailer rigs at the launch ramp. The talk was of fair summer run steelhead results.
On the Sacramento River there are 6000 cfs flows around Red Bluff dropping to 5000 cfs near Tisdale. The water temps are 58 to 62 degrees near Red Bluff warming to 72 to 74 degrees at Tisdale. There have been a few fish per day being taken. Given the calendar date these are normal conditions and results. The proof will come in August and September.
It is my supposition that with the low reservoir levels and the river flows, the water managers are gambling on a wet winter in 21-22. If we have another very dry year, things will be even more problematic.
There is another opening day on the Sacramento River Aug. 1, from Red Bluff upstream to Deschutes Road Bridge. This includes the “Barge Hole” at the mouth of Battle Creek. The Coleman Hatchery is on Battle Creek, and the Barge Hole is famous for producing salmon.
News from the DF&W hatchery on the Klamath River: This is the first year since the Iron Gate Dam was finished in 1962 that the juvenile salmon were not released into the river in May/June. The drought conditions have made the river so warm and low that it was feared that this salmon age class might have been wiped out. Instead, about half of the 2,000,000 salmon were transported to other hatcheries to accommodate these fish as they grow from the current three-inch length up to six inches. They will not be released until the fall, when rains will raise and cool the river. The transported fish will be returned to the Klamath River hatchery for a few weeks before being released.
Part of the reasoning behind this investing of limited resources is the planned removal of Iron Gate Dam by 2024. This year’s age class will be the first to return with access to the spawning areas above the Iron Gate Dam site. I will be keeping my fingers crossed that we will get a good return in 2024.
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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