Denis Peirce: Consider it from a salmon’s point of view
A good way to think of it, from a salmon’s perspective, is that you have spent the last few years swimming in the North Pacific in water from the high 40s to the mid 50-degree range. You decide to make your spawning run and you have to go through the delta with water temps as high as the 80s.
Not dissimilar to stepping out of an air conditioned building on to an asphalt parking lot in full sun. You are going to go and not stop until you find some shade.
The first respite you will find is the mouth of the American River with cool water flowing into the Sacramento. The American River salmon run is one of the later ones in the valley and these July and August fish want to head up the Sacramento.
The two main destinations are the Feather and Sacramento rivers. The Sacramento River has very cold water coming from the bottom of Shasta Dam. This water warms as it flows toward the Delta. The water temps in the Red Bluff to Corning are in the high 50s, pleasant by salmon standards.
The Feather River has a cool water component coming from Lake Oroville. The After Bay system is designed to warm water for agriculture and the Feather River temps can vary. Fishing water temps are secondary to other concerns. The Yuba River can flow cold and it can help cool the Feather.
This background perspective makes it easy to predict the results for the fist week or so of the salmon season. The mouth of the American at Miller Park will produce a few fish early in the mornings. Probably less than a fish per boat. Experience and skill mean a lot when there are very few fish in the system. Heading up the Sacramento you might turn a fish as far south as Colusa but your chances go up if you head up the Woodson Bridge launch ramp on the road to Corning. Launching at Red Bluff has produced a few fish. Many of the salmon are headed for the Coleman fish Hatchery on Battle Creek which flows cool from the west side of Mount Lassen. The mouth of Battle Creek on the Sacramento River is the famous “Barge Hole” a perennial salmon fishing spot. The average on the Sacramento above Corning have been less than a fish per boat.
The Feather River has been tough going. Despite high flows the water temps at the “After Bay Hole” and below has been 64 to 65 degrees, right at the mark where the bite turns off. Guides have been fishing sardine wrapped plugs to pick up a few fish in “The Hole”. The Yuba is flowing cool but I have had no word on fishing the Feather River below the mouth of the Yuba. Tom Page has been seeing an occasional salmon on the Yuba for the last two weeks.
An indicator of the Feather River salmon bite was the number of river salmon guides moving to Lake Oroville by mid morning. The land locked salmon in the lake have been on a bite. Brett Brady (fishbarebones.com) has skipped the river fishing and been producing limits of salmon for his clients on the lake. Most of the lake salmon are 15 to 17 inches but there are a few in the 5-pound range.
The date for the mid July opener is set to let the spring run fish move up unmolested. Most years the fall run does not get going well until mid August. The salmon fishing off the coast has been good. This and other indicators point to a very good river salmon run this year.
A couple of rules for salmon anglers (there are exceptions): The fish bite begins at 65 degrees and gets better with colder water. In warm water the plug bite is better. As the temps get down into the 50s the roe bite is a better bet.
The hot weather this week has started to move the better fish to higher elevations. An example is the Lakes Basin above Bassett’s Station. The fishing at Sardine Lake has dropped off white up the hill at Upper Salmon Lake the bite has gotten stronger. The kokanee bite at Stampede and Bullard’s Bar remains good but you need to look deeper.
Tom Page (Reel Anglers Fly Shop) has been guiding the Lower Yuba and there has been a decided change since mid July. The may fly hatches have all but stopped. Instead in the last hour of the day the caddis hatch has been good with trout rising to the adult caddis. Grasshoppers have appeared on the river banks and the best results for Tom’s clients has been casting “Fat Albert” hopper patterns to the bank from his boat. On many stretches of the river there is a drop off from a couple of inches of water to a foot or more. Putting your hopper pattern over this drop off is the key to getting bit. This hopper bite continues throughout the day.
The heat wave we are in makes the two best bets for fishing at either of the extremes, high in the Sierra or else at sea level at the coast. But if you don’t have the travel time for these get out on the water anywhere you can.
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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