Denis Peirce: Thoughts on this year’s striper run
We are coming out of our second consecutive dry winter. A telling consequence of this is the Feather River. It is currently at 950 cfs near Gridley where in high water years I have seen it at 30,000 during the snow melt. And we are in the irrigation season. The lower Yuba River has a higher flow at 1250 cfs, recently raised from 750.
The traditional seasonal cycle for stripers has them in salt water in the summer, then migrating into the Delta during the Fall. They winter there and move up the Sacramento River system to spawn in the spring. After the spawn they head back down to the bay and ocean to feed and the cycle repeats.
Last fall the stripers did not return to the Delta in any significant numbers. Yes, experienced Delta anglers could catch fish but they worked hard for each one. There was all kinds of “guide talk” about where the fish were or if there had been a die off. From the bay to the Delta no one was finding quantities of stripers.
I have noted through the years that if you add water, you will get fish. It is true in the Sierra as well as in the valley. A guide once told me that if there is high water in the Sacramento River system during the spring, it will suck up every single striper from both the Delta and the Bay to spawn in the valley.
This is a drought year and the opposite is true. The striper guides are working the Sacramento River. The Feather River is so low it is a navigation hazard. The silt from the Oroville Dam crisis is still clogging the river bottom.
Low water conditions pose a set of conditions beyond low numbers of fish. Stripers do not like to have boats drive over them, especially in thin water. It puts them off the bite. These fish also like to have a bit of water over their heads and there is a lot less water of comfortable depth at these low water levels. With fewer places to hold they are concentrated in the deeper holes. The anglers know these spots and the fish are pounded.
I recently spoke with guide Robert Muller, who has come up with a creative solution, fish the river at night. The boat traffic is off the water. The dark conditions allow the fish to be comfortable in shallow water. Being pounded during the day forces them to feed heavily at night.
The knock on this is, if you get into trouble on the water at night, you are in real trouble. You have to know the river. A high quality GPS device where you have marked the snags and other boat hazards as well as the good fishing areas, is a must have. You don’t just go down to the river, launch your boat and go fish for the night. It takes a lot of preparation and recent days on the water.
Tactically Robert starts the evening throwing top water lures hoping to use a snag free technique. With top water lures you can hear as well as feel the take. If that does not work he switches to trolling the river, covering lots of water. He trolls by using his previous GPS track, avoiding snags. Untangling lines during the day is bad enough but after dark it can be a nightmare.
Despite this being a poor striper run in terms of numbers, there are some good fish in the river. If you can get the river to yourself for eight hours you can get some good striper action.
I spoke with Tom Page, Reel Anglers Fly Shop, he reports this past week a large school of shad moved up the Sacramento River though the Chico Straits. There were also good numbers of stripers with the shad. Stripers like to feed on shad. Since then these fish have moved on, presumably upriver.
Robert Muller was at Verona, where the Feather flows into the Sacramento River. On a recent morning he saw lots of surface activity at dawn. He presumed stripers feeding, but on closer inspection he realized it was shad. In the recent past there have been good numbers of shad at Verona. Robert speculates that these might be fish destined for the Yuba or Feather Rivers, that are stalled due to low water on the Feather. Both bank and boat anglers were doing well at Verona. If you go, do not expect to be there by yourself. You will have lots of company.
Next Tuesday, April 27, is the full moon. Both stripers and bass tend to spawn on the spring full moons. Based on water temps I expect the peak of the spring striper spawn to come on next week. The spawn will not be limited to the rivers. In low water years the stripers will spawn in the Delta as well. I did hear rumors of schools of stripers arriving in the lower Delta this week. I am guessing that these will spawn in the Delta wherever there are the right conditions.
If you are not going to fish stripers, we are in the peak of the pre-spawn bass bite in foothill farm ponds and our local lakes. This weekend is also the traditional opener for the Sierra trout season. Spring is a great time to fish and if you don’t go now you will miss some of the best fishing for this low water year.
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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