Denis Peirce: Steelhead, salmon thriving in Northern California |

Denis Peirce: Steelhead, salmon thriving in Northern California

2018 was a good year for the salmon population. Dozens of thousands were processed through the Feather River hatchery, and since the end of the drought the Sacramento Valley salmon and steelhead have bounced back quite nicely.
Photo by Denis Peirce

Over the past ten days the Feather River Hatchery has been planting juvenile steelhead into the Feather River. This year the hatchery produced 460,000 fish for planting in the river and it took over a week with three trucks to get them all down to the Boyd’s Pump launch ramp. The ramp at Boyd’s Pump is a few miles below the mouth of the Yuba River and this year the conditions for planting the steelhead have been ideal.

The worst case scenario is low clear water where predators can find concentrations of small fish in shallow water. In these conditions both the birds as well as the stripers can devastate the juveniles as they slowly work their way down river. This year’s conditions were perfect.

Although the Feather has had modest flows as Lake Oroville is being refilled, the Yuba has been running high and dirty. At the start of the fish releases the Yuba was up above the 3,000 cubic feet per second level which is double the 1,500 level we had been seeing. By the 14th the heavy rains spiked the flows above 21,000 cubic feet per second and since then the flows have gradually dropped back to the 4,500 level. In addition to the water depth, the speed of the current probably has some of them into the delta already. The other factor is the silt in the water so that the juveniles can’t be seen.

It is these same conditions on the Sacramento River in January 2016 when the steelhead were released from the Coleman Hatchery into the Sacramento River which are credited with the record return of 10,000 fish to that facility this past fall. The Coleman Hatchery releases 600,000 steelhead in a good year where as the Feather River Hatchery aims for 400,000. All other conditions being equal, autumn of 2021 should be a banner year on the Feather for steelhead fishing.

The Feather River Hatchery releases steelhead at this time each year to go in and maintain the facility for the next generation of fish that are currently in the incubators. The hatchery crew began spawning steelhead the last week of December and finished on Feb. 1. This year’s take was just below 1,400,000 eggs. This is projected to produce more than the 400,000 fish target for release in February of 2020.

For the salmon population, the fall of 2018 was a good year. Close to 30,000 salmon were processed through the hatchery. This is way above what is needed to plant in the Feather River. This year all of the inland lake “land locked” salmon in California are coming from the Feather River Hatchery. Some of the eggs will be moved to the Silverado facility in the Napa Valley to be raised until it is time to plant the lakes next fall.

Since the end of the drought the Sacramento Valley salmon and steelhead have bounced back very nicely.

With all of the wet weather we have had, fishing locally has not been stellar. The rivers have been high and muddy at the lower elevations and up the hill skiing is the order of the day. The best location for boat anglers has been Bullards Bar. The lower end of the lake has relatively clean water. The kokanee will bite when you find them. Guides report good success when you have the correct combination of speed, depth and color. Anglers not getting the right combination are struggling.

The spotted bass at Bullards Bar are getting close to spawning. They are close to the bank in 12 to 15 feet of water. A recent report from some bass anglers referenced some good sized spots.

Over the hill at Pyramid Lake, Nevada, this year has been producing fewer but larger cutthroat trout. The Truckee River has been putting dirty water into the south end. Many of the anglers have been staying away from the murky water in the south and fishing the middle and north end. The problem recently has been getting over the hill on I-80.

In the near future the water levels on the Feather and the Sacramento Rivers will be dropping. Anglers have been seeing sturgeon on the move in both rivers. I expect we will have a good sturgeon fishing as the water conditions improve.

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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