Denis Peirce: Feather River steelhead spawn |

Denis Peirce: Feather River steelhead spawn

Each winter at this time some of the steelhead/rainbow trout naturally spawn in the Feather River but the majority of the spawn takes place in the Feather River Hatchery. This week I checked in with the hatchery which is still spawning steelhead on a weekly basis.

The first spawn took place Dec. 30 with three more taking place so far in January. One or possibly two more will finish off the spawning activity at the hatchery. To date they have harvested almost one million eggs with a projected 1.2 million total for the season. On an historical basis this is a “normal” year for quantity of fish. Steelhead eggs have a much lower success rate than salmon. A harvest of 1.2 million eggs will produce 650,000 fry with 450,000 surviving to be planted a year from now.

The adult spawning numbers from the first three spawns totaled 283 males and 300 females. Of the females, 41 were wild fish with the balance being hatchery origin. Steelhead survive after spawning, unlike salmon. This year the females are released back into the river immediately below the hatchery but the males are being released into the Thermolito Afterbay. Anglers looking for a big rainbow/steelhead might consider fishing in the Afterbay.

The steelhead river planting goal for the hatchery is 450,000 fish weighing 3 to 4 fish per pound. This year the quantity available for planting is 440,417. When the target number is exceeded the balance are typically planted in the Afterbay for anglers to catch. A final decision has not been made about diverting some juveniles to the Afterbay this year.

Once the steelhead eggs have been fertilized they are incubated in trays. Then last year’s fish are sent to the river and the rearing ponds are cleaned to raise the new generation. This year the 440,000 juvenile fish will again be planted in the Feather River at the Boyd’s Pump boat launch ramp down stream from Yuba City. This will take place on a daily basis the week of Feb. 8 to 12. Instead of numerous smaller trucks, this year a semi trailer will be used for a daily load.

Many years there are stripers in the Feather to meet the planting truck with a resultant great slaughter of the six to eight inch steelhead. The DF&W personnel at the hatchery would like anglers to go down and catch some of these stripers.

The salmon which were spawned in the fall have hatched and are in the process of being moved into the rearing ponds. This year there were approximately one million eggs fertilized at the hatchery. Note to anglers: the salmon in the rivers are on the same schedule. Fishing with salmon fry imitations might be something to try.

The “springer” salmon will be planted first in mid March, followed by the fall run fish in late March at Boyd’s Pump. The balance of the salmon will be planted near San Francisco Bay in April.

An allotment of 125,000 salmon will be held until the fall, to be planted in Lake Oroville. Last year there were maintenance issues at the hatchery that precluded holding the juvenile salmon until the cool water season in November. This resulted in planting them in warm water where they were heavily predated by bass and adult salmon. This resulted in a year class with limited numbers. Hopefully this year’s age class will fare better.

Current fishing prospects

Pyramid Lake Nevada has its coldest water of the year, currently at 42 -43 degrees. This is warm by historical standards. I recall many years with temps in the high 30s. The fishing is a bit slow, especially for shore anglers. As the days get longer and the water moves into the middle to upper 40s catching will improve. I have heard from trolling boat anglers catching some good sized fish.

The lower Yuba is in the early part of the skwala stonefly hatch. This has a lot of the steelhead/rainbow trout looking up for a well presented dry fly imitation. Not having scouring floods in recent winters has the bug populations in good shape.

Winter bass anglers are picking up fish at Bullard’s Bar and Rollins. The key is slow presentations for inactive fish in cold water.

Kokanee anglers can catch good numbers of small kokanee at Bullard’s Bar.

Most foothill lakes around the Sacramento Valley have good trout fishing prospects at the top of the water column.

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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