Denis Peirce: Sierra rivers raging for trout opener |

Denis Peirce: Sierra rivers raging for trout opener

Aiden Rainsbarger caught this 26-inch, 7-pound brown trout a week ago on his ninth birthday on Donner Lake in Truckee. Dad, Shaun, in the back ground.
Submitted photo

Things are changing in the outdoor world. We have transitioned from winter to spring here in the foothills.

Up in the Sierra, winter still has a grip on some frozen lakes but others have recently iced out. The rivers are raging for the trout opener on Saturday but the lakes are where the best fishing will be.

Last week I received a couple of interesting reports from anglers catching brown trout. Shaun Rainsbarger ( has been fishing at Donner Lake often this year targeting mackinaw. But 10 days ago the brown bite came on and he picked up some nice fish. Of particular note was his son Aiden landing a 26 inch, 7 pound brown on his ninth birthday. These browns did not come from the shallows along the bank but deep in 50 feet of water. He has picked up more nice browns this week.

The other brown trout report came from Jeff Goodwin guiding at Lake Shasta. He had been targeting trout out over deep water for most of the winter catching mostly rainbow trout. Then last week he noticed a brown-orange goo on the water surface. He tried to get a sample but nothing would stick to his net. His first thought was algae in the water. The coloration stayed on the surface for a day and a half and disappeared. Immediately afterward, the brown trout bite began. He fished the early part of the day over deep water and then switched to trolling the edges concentrating on ridges dropping into the lake. As his lures were coming across the submerged ridges 5 to 10 feet down, he was hooking browns. His clients hooked seven and landed six in three hours late morning, the first day after the goo.

The best guess about the goo is that it may have been a post spawn daphnia die off. This is the third year Jeff has seen this phenomenon. It is brief and if you are not on the lake daily you will miss it.

The water temp at Shasta was 55 degrees when the bite started. At the same time, in the shallows on down wind shores in full sun, Jeff saw surface temps of 68 degrees. When you see warm temps in the coming weeks it will probably be just a thin surface layer over cool water.

Other notes on Shasta, the rainbow trout have been feeding at the surface on a carpenter ant hatch. In the stomachs of the browns, Jeff found remains of shad minnows. This is the first indication of minnows in the fish diet since last fall. Shad hibernate up the river arms in winter and spread back through the lake in spring.

This week Davis Lake thawed out. The most recent photo posted by Ed Dillard (Dillard’s Guided Fishing) showed open water but snow still on the boat ramp. I have been following conditions on Davis. Two weeks ago there was 8 inches of soft slush on the lake, a week ago it was 4 inches with a little open water in Mallard Cove and at the dam. Longer daylight hours and warm days help but wind is the factor that can take out ice overnight in the right circumstances.

Jim Johnston ( has been following the Lakes Basin conditions. Currently there is no access for lake fishing above Bassett’s Station. Sardine, the lowest elevation lake is still frozen over. Up at the crest near Gold Lake there is 10 feet of snow on the road.

The North Yuba is high and cold. There will be a plant before the opening day at Downieville. If you can find slow water along the edges, the river is fish-able. I drove up along the river a week ago. Every small gully has water flowing and many of the hillsides along Highway 49 have water weeping out of the slope.

The best fishing prospects are bass in foothill ponds and lakes. Tom Page (Reel Anglers Fly Shop) fished Scott’s Flat last weekend. He saw quite a few spawning sites in shallow water and good numbers of bass suspended in flooded bushes. He tried a number of different fly techniques with no response from the bass he was watching. He finally got their attention with a “fly” that imitated a soft plastic worm. He threw it close to a bush and let it fall vertically to the bottom. He watched as suspended fish saw it, followed it to the bottom and ate it.

This is the time of year for catching impressive numbers of bass in foothill reservoirs. A rising lake level and warming water puts bass on the bite. I have had reports of good bass fishing in Camp Far West, Oroville and Rollins Lake.

The striper run continues in the valley on both the Feather and Sacramento Rivers. On Monday the Feather River Hatchery released 500,000 juvenile salmon into the river at Boyd’s Pump and Gridley boat ramps. These fish are about 3 inches long. With the Feather flows from Oroville running 10,000 cubic feet per second and the Yuba flowing at 9,000 cfs there should be a good survival rate for this year’s class of salmon.

Striper anglers are fishing both above and below the Shanghai Bend rapids. Based on the mixed reports I am getting there are new schools of fish arriving but if there is a big school, fishing pressure will tend to scatter the fish. Minnows are the prime way to catch stripers but a 3 to 4 inch long minnow plug will get the attention of a striper if you put it in his face.

The Sacramento River has been steadily falling from 43.000 cfs to 19,000 cfs over the last two weeks. If the Feather is crowded I would definitely look to the Sacramento for striper action. Another good striper report comes from San Francisco Bay where the party boats are catching stripers and halibut.

There are so many demands on our time this season of the year. But mid April to late May is the peak of spring fishing.

Be sure to spend some of your time on the water.

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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