Denis Peirce: Where are the salmon?

The valley salmon season opens mid July and a normal reaction is to start fishing for them. Yes, some years we do get that early run. An early run most often comes after a heavy winter when there are still good flows going down the valley rivers. Without that, the most likely scenario is the salmon will come the week after Labor Day Weekend. This year looks like a reversion to that mean.

Salmon in the valley rivers has a lot to do with river flows. Currently the Sacramento River has been slowly falling about 1000 cfs over the last month down to the 6900 cfs level at Ord Ferry near Chico. The Feather River has dropped 600 cfs over the same 30 day time frame to 2070 cfs at Gridley. The American River in the past month also dropped 500 cfs to the 2000 cfs level. Symptomatic of this is Folsum Lake where the docks will soon be pulled due to the low water level. That is the bad news.

The good news begins with the salmon fleet off the Golden Gate, which has seen a dramatic fall in their salmon catches. A week ago party boats were bringing 24 to 30 salmon to the dock daily and recently the numbers of eight to 14 fish per day is more common. Local guide Justin Leonard (Out Cast Guide Service, on Facebook) interprets this as a sign these fish are headed our way. We have a full moon on Sept. 2, and 10 days past that we should see good numbers of salmon arriving in the upper reaches of the Sacramento Valley rivers. Right on schedule for a “normal” season.

Current conditions have the Sacramento River as your best bet. There are fish being taken there daily but in modest numbers. Up in the Los Molinas area below Red Bluff, the water temps vary from 55 to 58 degrees depending on the time of day and how hot the air temps are. There are fishable temps, 65 and lower, from Chico north. Almost all of the guide pressure is on the Sacramento.

The Feather River does have a few salmon. Most days a fish or two are taken from the Afterbay Hole early in the morning. Up stream at the pool below the hatchery ladder, there are some bright salmon jumping. This is a sign that fresh fish are coming up. The majority of the darker fish you can see in the pool are spring run waiting for the hatchery to open.

The water temps on the Feather are reasonable. At Gridley the temps start at 62 degrees at dawn and top out around 66 late in the day. Justin was on the river Wednesday and the Feather at Yuba City was 67 but the Yuba River was 9 degrees cooler at 59. At this time of year the cooler Yuba can attract salmon to hold in some of its lower holes.

The Yuba River has been the exception to the falling flows in the valley. The Yuba almost doubled in flow from 1200 cfs a month ago to 2200 cfs last weekend. This week it has backed off to 1500. As the Yuba mixes with the Feather, the cooler water is a shallow run which is traveling water rather than holding water, tougher to fish. Do not be tempted to go into the Yuba to salmon fish, the regulations prohibit this.

Last year at this time there was cool water flowing down the American River. This allowed the salmon to temporarily hold in the deep water of the Sacramento River just below the mouth of the American. This year these conditions are not present. The salmon are just moving through. The American River salmon run does not arrive until October. The big push of fish I expect in September will provide the best fishing on the Feather and the Sacramento rivers.

Kokanee, the other salmon, are showing signs of starting their spawning migration. Justin has also been on Bullard’s Bar. About 25% of this year’s fish are losing their scales and beginning to develop a hooked jaw. If you are looking for the bigger fish head for the North Yuba River, Willow Creek or by the dam. The tributaries attract spawning fish but the kokanee will also head to the spot where they were planted in the lake, the launch ramp.

Shaun Rainsbarger has been up at Stampede guiding for kokanee. He is seeing the same 25% of this year’s spawners losing some scales and beginning to hook their jaws. There are so many kokanee in Stampede this year that where on the lake you go is not important. They seem to be everywhere.

For those willing to travel for a day to get to good water the Klamath River fish runs began with the last full moon in early August. The first two schools of fish were summer run steelhead. About 10 days ago on the new moon the first school of salmon came into the estuary. The water in the lower Klamath is warm, 73 degrees. It needs to cool down for good fishing. But the arrival of fish means good fishing up river this fall.

We have a week or so to get our gear together, then it will be time to get on the river for serious salmon fishing.

Denis Peirce writes a fishing column for ’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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