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Tackling steelhead spawning

Last Friday, I dropped by the Feather River Hatchery to get a first-hand report on the steelhead planting on the Feather River.

February is the month when the steelhead spawned the preceding winter are released into the Feather River. Rather than just turning loose the vulnerable 6 to 8 inch juveniles into shallow water up near the town of Oroville, the Department of Fish and Game trucks them down river to deeper water. This in no way prevents them from ending up as a meal for larger fish, but it does increase their odds for survival.

The winter 2005 adult steelhead return to the Feather River Hatchery was close to the 2,000 fish target. The normal number of steelhead juveniles released each winter is close to 450,000 fish. This past year, the hatchery was plagued by a cold water bacteria and the final count of fish available for planting this February was only 327,000. Of this number, 237,000 were released at the Live Oak boat launch ramp upriver from Yuba City and 90,000 were released at Boyd’s Pump launch ramp downriver. The DF&G personnel accomplished this by making 37 truck runs between Feb. 6 and 16.



What the DF&G is looking for in a release site is ease of truck access and close proximity to deep water with current. The Yuba City ramp is not acceptable because the fish would end up in a backwater off the main river, easily trapped by stripers and other predators. Surviving the trip downriver and staying alive in the ocean is a low percentage game if you are a young steelhead or salmon. Putting in 450,000 8-inch fish for a return of 2,000 adult fish is some pretty low odds.

Some of the largest losses are due to stripers coming up the Feather River to feed. The river channel is a confined space where prey can be easily corralled and consumed.




The point of this article is not to evoke sympathy for the poor steelhead, rather to give the reader a better idea how to target the stripers. Typically the young steelhead will stay along the edges of the current often in shallow water. The sand bars on the inside of river bends are good spots to try. The steelhead will be up on the bar and the stripers will be deep water alongside by day.

In low light conditions the stripers will move into the shallows to feed. Other places to look are near deep holes, at the mouths of tributaries and below the rapids at Shanghai Bend. The best lures resemble a 6- to 8-inch trout.

Some of my fishing spies were on the Feather this past weekend and the results were disappointing. The cold weather kept air and water temps low. Also, the flows on the Feather have been dropping. On a dropping river, predator fish will tend to move down river, returning once flows are stable. So the prognosis for the future is positive. All of the ingredients for a good Feather River striper bite are in place. A change in the weather should get things going. Save a steelhead, go catch a striper!

Incidentally, the adult steelhead return to the hatchery was low this year. The total was only 918 spawning adults. This is not a good sign for next years release of young steelhead. The stripers might be disappointed.

This past weekend was the conclusion to the Crosby Lodge Derby at Pyramid Lake. The winning fish was a 13-pound 6-ounce cutthroat caught by Heather Perry while trolling. No details were forthcoming as to how and where. There were off and on snow showers throughout the final weekend. The cold conditions required chaining up four wheel drives to launch boats.

Tonight, the Gold Country Fly Fishers will be holding their monthly meeting at the Helling Library near the Eric Rood Center off Highway 49 in Nevada City. The program will feature six of the club members showing effective flies, rigs and techniques for fishing the Lower Yuba River. The Lower Yuba can be a difficult river to master. The presenters are the some of the most experienced anglers on this river and are a wealth of knowledge. There will be something for all of us to learn.

The new president of the club is Bill Sunderland. His goal for this year is to offer beginner and intermediate fly anglers a series of classes to get them going in the sport or move them to a more proficient skill level. The classes start in the near future. For more information, come to the meeting at 7 p.m. tonight.

Denis Peirce writes a weekly 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 denisp@theunion.com.


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