Denis Peirce: Get outside and go fishing
It is easy to sit inside warm and dry, watching it rain or blow outside. Combine that with no current fishing license and it is a recipe for staying indoors. Chances are that you will get pulled onto the internet. But if you dress well and get the license, there are some good fish to be caught in the cold weather months. I have found that committing to a day in advance assures that I will go.
A week ago I planned to go fishing on Lake Oroville with a friend Bob Lively and my son Colin. The word was out that the land-locked king salmon were biting. We agreed on Monday.
I rolled out at 4:30 a.m. to make breakfast, lunch and have the gear together for an early start. The day started with overcast skies and a bit of wind. Not a bad combination for fishing but not as inviting as a June morning.
Lake Oroville is a little over an hour from home — by the time we launched it was well after sunrise but the cloud cover kept the light low. Early on there was a stiff breeze out of the north. A few white caps were to be seen out over open water. We launched out of Bidwell Marina heading into the wind.
The salmon in Lake Oroville follow the pond smelt minnows. The two prime locations to find them both are incoming water or the down wind points on the main body of the lake. Incoming rivers are a 45 minute boat ride away, we were fishing the main body. I have heard a number of theories regarding why the down wind shore will hold bait fish. The most plausible is the plankton are blown there and the minnows follow.
As we reached Bidwell Point we turned left and headed across the wind aiming for the dam. I was not seeing anything on the fish finder so we had our gear high in the water column. This did not produce. We also fished along the face of the dam to no avail. Finally our first fish of the day came as we headed from the dam back to the east on the left side. By late morning we only had one fish in the boat.
As the clouds moved eastward over the Sierra the north wind was replaced by a light breeze from the west, coming over the face of the dam. This is a very dependable wind direction in the afternoons on Lake Oroville. That put the down wind shore on the east side of the main basin and that’s where we went. With the bright sun we fished 25 to 40 feet down and began to hook up with the salmon. The most consistent pattern for hooking salmon was as our flies came over a point dropping into the lake. The coves in between did not produce anything.
The most popular lures for king salmon in Oroville are hootchies in sizes from 1.5 inches up to 2.5 inches. The two best colors are white and chartreuse. Pinks and blue shades have their days also. Hootchies are pulled behind dodgers in the 3” to 5” sizes.
I tie flies and I tied up some in white and also in chartreuse for Monday’s trip. Chartreuse was the color the fish wanted and we obliged by putting these on all of our rods.
Depth is the other critical factor. There are times when the fish drive the minnows to the surface. The tell tale sign for this is the birds diving. Even birds loafing on the surface can indicate bait schools in the area. Running different depths searching is part of the process of elimination to find the combination that works on a given day.
Lake Oroville gets planted annually with surplus salmon from the hatchery on the Feather River below the dam. Most years the lake is planted with a few hundred thousand baby salmon. Many become bass food but there are plenty of them in the lake.
Currently there are two age classes of salmon in the lake. The most prolific are the 12” to 14” but there is a good population of 18” to 20” salmon. The bigger fish pull hard and have good sized fillets.
My hope is that you get your license now and get out on the water. It is very easy to stay inside during the winter and get hung up in the digital world. I want to see more of us outdoors in the real world. Go fishing!
PS, I wrote another Lake Oroville Column in March of 2019 about fishing with guide Brett Brady.
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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