Denis Peirce: You’ve got three good weeks up
The most important thing to realize about water allocation in California is the people are in the south and the water is in the north. Lake Oroville is one of the main components of the State Water System. It stores an incredible volume of water when full and it is drawn down dramatically when water is needed for farms or cities. Water levels are not maintained for the angling public. We must deal with conditions set by others.
The last two winters have been dry and the water demand has drawn down the water level from full, 900 foot elevation, down to 695 feet last December. This spring the snow melt raised the lake up marginally. Since April 1 it has fluctuated between 750′ and 760′. With the summer starting, the lake will continue to get lower until the rains come again in the fall or winter.
I spoke with Eric See, fisheries biologist for the Department of Water Resources (DWR) in Oroville. My interest was in angling conditions for the coho (silver) salmon fishery in the lake. Summer into fall are the prime months to fish for these land locked salmon. By this time, they have reached maximum size but they are deep looking for cold water. This necessitates a boat to get at them and a ramp to launch your boat.
The current paved launch ramps go down to the 704′ elevation. Last winter when the level went down to 695 temporary measures were employed to make old road ways usable to launch small boats. The minimum pool of the operational range for the lake is 640′. Depending on water demand and how soon the wet season arrives, the lake will go well below 700′. It is possible that it could get down to the 650-foot level or below.
The DWR is planning to use this opportunity to extend the paved ramps down to much lower elevations. The last ramp to offer launching during the draw down will be the spillway ramp on the north end of the dam. The best estimate for launching boats will be from now to mid-July.
The coho fishery is doing well with the fish planted last November at 7 to 9 inches are now 14 to 18 inches. Their preferred depth varies from 25 to 45 feet in the last week or two. The green bridge over the combined middle and south forks is the spot where many of the successful anglers spend their time.
Another current event that will impact the fishing is the early planting of the 2008 fish. The hatchery in Oroville will be closed for maintenance this August. The target date for reopening is Sept. 12 to be on time for the salmon spawning season. The cohos were kept in the hatchery as long as possible until the lake water temp reached 65 degrees.
Cohos prefer water in the mid 50s. A 10 degree temperature variance is the maximum they can handle when planted. When the surface first reaches 65 degrees, the cool water is not far below the surface, giving the fish quick access to their preferred zone. An added bonus to planting in these conditions is that as the fish go down they tend to scatter more readily. Silvers planted in the cool fall water tend to mill around the surface near the launch ramps for long periods. This makes them vulnerable to predators.
Due to the smaller 5-inch size planted in June, the numbers have been bumped up from 180,000 planted in the fall of 2007 to 363,000 this month. The increased numbers will compensate for losses due to predation by larger fish. The plants last fall were spread around to all ramps. The recent plant was limited to the Lime Saddle ramp, which had the coolest water. These fish are aggressive feeders and anglers are advised to keep away from the Lime Saddle arm of the lake in order not have to deal will lots of small fish.
My point is that we have a limited window to fish the cohos at Oroville this season. The next three weeks will be the best if this years plants do not mingle with all of the other schools of silver salmon. The levels of the lake are constantly monitored and available on line at the California Data Exchange Center web site: http://cdec.water.ca.gov/river/res_ORO.html . Check these before you go.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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