Denis Peirce: Lake Oroville down, but bite will be bac |

Denis Peirce: Lake Oroville down, but bite will be bac

One of the better fisheries in our area is Lake Oroville.

The two most popular components are the spotted bass and the coho salmon. Currently the lake level is 715 feet with a surface temp of 47 degrees. The lake is full at 900 feet. The boat launch ramps are serviceable at 705 feet.

The point to these numbers is that the lake is 185 feet down because of the water sales last year following a dry winter. The lake level is rising only 6 inches per day due to the fact that most of this winters precipitation has landed as snow and is still on the ground in the high country.

If you are a serious bass angler now is an excellent time to get out on the lake to get a good look at what lies hidden below the surface at higher water levels.

Ed Everhart and I are offering a bass fishing class through Sierra College Community Education in March. We were on the water to photograph examples of the fish holding structure. It is surprising how many tree areas remain on the lake bottom. There are also a number of submerged hilltops that currently are visible.

Despite my comments to my wife about going to Oroville to get some work done, the majority of the day was spent fishing. Our theory being that the water is so cold, midday would be the best time to catch some fish. It was a good rationalization for sleeping in.

We spent the first hour searching for bass with no success. We concentrated on the sunny areas with small creeks feeding into the lake. The incoming water is consistently two or three degrees warmer that the lake. We did talk to other anglers pre fishing for a Sunday bass tournament. They admitted taking a few fish but competitive anglers are notorious for blurring the truth before a derby.

At midday we spoke with Dave Holloway and Brad Banuzzi who had been trolling since early in the morning. They had a respectable stringer of coho salmon they caught long line trolling with Arctic Fox trolling flies in brown. They spent most of the morning working an area in the Middle Fork. Later in the day they moved to the back of the south fork and landed a 20-inch brown trout.

Our boat switched to throwing lures for cohos. Finally we got into a cove with cohos and had a couple of hours of good coho fishing. The school we were over hit spoons in chrome and fire tiger as well as streamer flies in white or orange.

Based on the fish finder the majority of salmon were at the 8 foot depth. We lost many more fish than we landed. I sharpened our hooks but these fish were hard to keep on the hook. When one was hooked, a group of up to half dozen would follow it up to the boat. If a second angler is ready to cast as the group comes to the boat, you can get doubles on a regular basis.

The cohos are not evenly distributed through out the lake. We found our school based on info from trollers who had covered a lot of water. As we worked our way along the shore we lost the fish and had to go back to where the school was holding.

A rule of fishing is that to find the fish you look for their food. A reliable indicator of the bait fish on Oroville are the grebes. These birds tend to be present where the pond smelt are high in the water column. When we catching cohos there were a couple grebes close by.

We ended up taking home eight fish. They were either 11 inches or 13 inches long. It was surprising that there were no 12-inch fish. On one cast I let the fly fall while I did something else. Upon retrieving from considerable depth it was followed by a much larger fish.

I have heard stories of anglers occasionally taking cohos of 20 inches or more incidental to bass fishing at depths below 25 feet. The fish we caught were planted last November at 7 to 9 inches. The fish over 18 inches are hold-over fish from previous year’s plants.

The bass tournament on Sunday was won with a limit of 10.2 pounds. With a field of 25 boats only 14 weighed in limits. This is a good indication that we need warmer water to get the bass active.

On the Feather River below Yuba City there are stripers.

The DF&G has been putting the hatchery steelhead in the river and this brings the stripers up from the delta. The fish being caught are schoolie size which indicates that these are recent arrivals. The action is by no means a “wide open bite.” There is some action in the evening below Shanghai Bend on top water lures. Hair Razor jigs have also been producing.

The river flows at Oroville are only 1200 cubic feet per second. The best striper fishing coincides with high water flows. With Oroville low I don’t anticipate good flows until late spring.


Denis Peirce writes a weekly fishing column for The Union 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. He may be reached via e-mail at

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