Season’s change brings salmon |

Season’s change brings salmon

Salmon fishing in salt water has been phenomenal for anglers going out of Northern California ports this year. No one I know can remember a year this consistently productive.

The jury is not in as to whether there are more fish this year or whether the fish are summering within range of the fishermen. I would like to think that the former is the case.

Now that August is upon us, the focus will begin to switch from salt to freshwater for foothill anglers pursuing salmon. The spring run of fish has arrived by early July in our valley rivers.

Historically, spring run fish arrived during the snow melt and used the high water to ascend the Sierra rivers. They would spend the summers in the cool deep river holes and spawn in the fall as the rainy season returned to the high country. “Springers” are noted for their higher body fat content that sustained them for many months in fresh water without eating. With dams precluding access to the high elevations the springers spend the summer in the valley rivers.

The fall run fish usually begin to arrive in August. They did not spawn in the high country as the springers did. They spawn historically in the lower elevations that are accessible to late summer and early fall fish.

Salmon arrive in the valley rivers in waves.

These pulses of fish pass the Golden Gate during the full moon and to a lesser extent during the new moon. It might have something to do with the bigger tidal fluctuations at these times. It will take as little as 3-6 days for the lead edge of fish to reach the Feather River system. This past weekend was the first full moon of the fall run season. There were good numbers of fish passing the California City area in the bay. We should be seeing an increase in salmon numbers in the valley rivers by the end of this week.

So far this summer, the Feather River has produced the better salmon fishing. The Sacramento River is closed to salmon fishing to protect the springers until the middle of July. For the last two weeks there have been few fish caught. There is a fish counting station maintained by the US Fish & Wildlife Service at the Red Bluff Diversion dam.

Recently, there have been 12 to 18 fish per day climbing the fish ladder to continue up the Sacramento. Since early May, when the count began, there have been 1,854 salmon counted. Last year to this date, there had been 2,332 counted climbing the fish ladder.

When a wave of fish arrives at Red Bluff, the daily numbers will be counted in the hundreds. A general rule is that by August 15 there will be good numbers of fresh salmon on the Sacramento.

The Feather River has had high water flows for the summer. This translates into cooler water temps and better conditions for salmon. The July fishing has been fair. There have been days when good numbers of fish were caught and some fishless days also.

But now that we have passed the first full moon of August, expect a dramatic increase in the quantity of fish in the system. If the water flows stay high, the water temps will remain moderate, then fishing will be good. If the water flows are cut to low levels the temps will rise and the bite will be slow.

When the final group of spring run salmon arrived in mid-July on the Feather, they were followed by a run of summer steelhead. Most of the fish are 2-to-4 pounds. I have heard of two steelhead at the 10 pound mark being caught near Oroville in the last three weeks.

Look for these steelies in the colder water areas, primarily in the low flow section. They can be caught using night crawlers with a bright orange-red glass bead on the line above the hook. These steelhead also respond well to flies imitating the local insect life.

Note: I will be conducting a steelhead fishing class through the Sierra College Community Education Classes, Sept. 25 and 26 at Sierra College. Look for the “Kaleidoscope” class catalog to be in the mail soon. These catalogs are usually available at local post offices.


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

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