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Denis Peirce: Springtime fishing

Tomorrow is the last Saturday in April, the traditional stream trout opener in the Sierra.

The “Opener” has lost some of its luster now that catch and release year-round trout fishing is the norm on most of the bigger streams in the mountains. From the valley rivers up to the lakes in the high country, there is an abundance of opportunities for those who can skip the weed eaters and lawn mowers to go fishing instead.

Down in the valley, the stripers have been spawning on the Sacramento River. In the last dozen days there have been a couple of flow increases that hit the 6500 cfs level and backed off. With the rising river, the stripers moved up and as the flows decline the fish tend to head downstream. Last Saturday, the water was 58 degrees and it has been rising 2 degrees per day, hitting 66 on Wednesday. All of these conditions led to the spawn and as the fish finish they head downriver. The catching has been declining this week. A number of the striper guides are headed for the Delta to catch up with the migrating fish.

On the lower Yuba River, Tom Page continues to do well on his guide trips. He is seeing good numbers of stonefly nymphs drifting in the current. In the last two weeks the river has come up from the 750 cfs range to over 1,100 cfs. Also, it has taken on some color with visibility in the 3- to 4-foot range. A bit of color helps the fishing. Tom has been fishing with “rubber leg” nymphs up to 2 inches long and with smaller No. 16 pheasant tails.

The foothill lakes have been fishing well. I was on Collins Lake last Saturday and the trout fishing was good. The best results came from boat anglers long line trolling on the east side of the lake. The trout were in the top 10 feet and the common denominator for successful anglers was the color orange. Most of the fish were caught on minnow plugs and on spoons. Everything that caught rainbows had some orange on it.

At both Scotts Flat and at Bullard’s Bar, the bass are on their spring time bite. Tom Page and his customers have been on both lakes fishing the “float and fly” technique at the 10-foot level. The fish at Bullard’s Bar are smaller but more numerous. Scotts Flat is full with temperatures ranging from 55 to 60 over the course of a day. Bullard’s is at 80% capacity, which is good for our third drought year.


A good bet for stream fishing currently is the smaller streams on the west slope of the Sierra. There are a number of them off the Bowman Lake Road that fish well early in the year. By midsummer I expect them to be too low. You might also look to downtown Grass Valley and Nevada City.

The North Yuba is running a bit high, which is normal for the end of April. A week ago the river rose from 700 up to 1,600 cfs. It has been declining daily and was down to 800 on Wednesday. The river is still a bit high for good fishing with a touch of color to it. Once it drops below 500 cfs, it will be in shape.

The road from Bassett’s Station to Graeagle has been plowed and there are lakes accessible.

The Truckee River has similar conditions. The river is a bit high, but local anglers are fishing the edges of the current and catching fish. As the Sierra rivers drop and get warmer, the spring and early summer fishing will be good. By late summer the water will be low.

Guide Shaun Rainsbarger has been fishing Donner Lake. The water is in the mid- to upper 40s. What is unusual is the water level. Shaun estimates that the lake is a foot higher than he has ever seen it before.

On a recent trip to Donner he was cleaning some mackinaw and each of them had minnows in their bellies that looked like golden shiners. He sent photos to a Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist, who concurred with Shaun’s opinion. He caught the mackinaw deep, but macs will move up to feed in shallower water then drop back down.

Shaun has not seen evidence of the lake being planted, but May is the month for the department to begin the annual trout plants.

Lake Davis near Portola has been producing some trout. As of early this week there were no campgrounds open. The big storm in December dropped 6 feet of snow and broke the tops out of many of the pine trees. One campground loop had 35 trees on the ground. Work is underway to clear the debris and there was hope to have camping available for this weekend, results unknown. The dock is not in at the launch ramp yet. The lake is 60% full. Overnight low temps are in the high 20s. There are still some patches of snow in the shady places. It is still winter in the higher elevations.

This is our third drought year in a row, although in many Sierra locations, this year has been a bit wetter than last. The best fishing will be spring and early summer. After that, we will be struggling to find good water to fish. Get out fishing now and put off your home projects until late summer.

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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