Denis Peirce: Salmon are in, but it is not about the salmon
Now that we are into the first week of November the salmon spawn in the valley is peaking. Yes, there will be more fish coming but the bulk of the run is here. This year is the best run we have seen on the Lower Yuba River since the drought. Hopefully this is an upward trend.
From an angler’s point of view it is not about the salmon at this stage. The salmon are dark and not too far into the future they will become the fertilizer for the food chain the next generation will need to survive and grow.
The real game is steelhead, a traveling version of the rainbow trout. A great fighting fish that can be tough to find and catch.
I have never eaten a salmon egg but they must taste good because everything tries to eat them. For a salmon egg to become a fish it first must get by sea lions in the estuaries, fishermen on the rivers, then bears, crawdads, birds and steelhead.
The fall salmon spawn is a magic time on our rivers because the steelhead concentrate in and around the salmon redds. As the salmon dig their redds, a buffet of insects and some loose eggs are kicked up into the current. Early in the spawn the steelhead lose much of their caution and compete with one another for a spot in the buffet line. Once they have been caught and released they will be a little more selective but they still succumb to gluttony.
Tom Page, Reel Angler’s Fly Shop, guided local anglers Steve McKenzie and his daughter Lauren Garrison last Sunday on the Yuba River. The trip started at the Hwy 20 Bridge at 9 a.m. and ended at dusk at he Sycamore Ranch take out. There were salmon spawning the length of the river that they fished. Salmon spawn at the tail out of long smooth water pools, just above the fast choppy water where the river drops in elevation.
The steelhead can be in among the salmon, fighting for food or waiting in the fast water below for the chow to come to them. The Yuba has good spawning locations every quarter mile or so as you head down river. Each location is a new game with hungry and hopefully unsuspecting fish. Riding the current in a drift boat you can sneak up on the fish and be in position the get a “Good Drift” with your flies. This is the most efficient way to fish the river.
There are other opportunities in between the stops near spawning salmon. In the deep water pools there are hatching insects that a percentage of the steelhead/rainbows will choose to feed on. Tom and his clients for the day did well fishing dry flies in the pools as well as the “Eggs and Legs” bite in and around the salmon.
The good fishing will last well into late November or longer. The river above the Hwy 20 bridge is closed to fishing through the prime spawning time and will reopen Dec. 1. If you have not seen salmon as long as your leg up close, I recommend going down to the river just below the Hwy 20 bridge. Look for the salmon splashing. The fish will be in water as little as a foot deep close to shore. The bright clean gravel marks the spawning redds.
If you have guests from out of the area it is a fun and short excursion to show them some of the wildlife that is mostly seen by anglers.
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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