Over the past few months I've spent good deal of time extolling the virtues of the upper section of the lower Sacramento River in this column.
My first article outline the outstanding sturgeon fishing that exists in the stretch of river upstream of Hamilton City. In the second article I discussed the solid late season salmon fishing in the run of river upstream from Red Bluff. This week's What's Hot Fresh column will serve as the third part of my Sac River trilogy as we explore the superb wild rainbow trout fishing the upper section of the lower Sacramento provides.
So just how good is the Sacramento's trout fishing? Well it's darn good. I've fished for trout in many of the west's best fisheries including the much storied waters of the Yellowstone Country and I rate the Sacramento right up there as one of the best destinations I've ever had the pleasure of fishing.
There are really three driving forces that account for the Sacramento's fabulous trout action. The first factor is the year around abundance of cold water. The upper section of the lower stretch of the Sacramento draws its water from the Keswick Dam. Since Keswick's water comes from the bottom of Lake Shasta, the water maintains a chilly year around temperature ranging from the high 40's to low 50's.
The second force driving the river's trout fishing comes in the form of forage. As most anglers know the Sacramento is home to king salmon. The salmon provide forage for the trout in the form of eggs, but their importance doesn't end there. Once the kings die and decompose they introduce a massive amount of nutrients into the system. These nutrients fuel a robust assortment of caddis flies, stoneflies and mayflies.
The final facet that makes the Sacramento's trout fishing so good is a byproduct of the cold water and forage rich environment. I'm talking about the huge number of trout the river holds. The river houses thousands of trout per mile and naturally the more fish there are the better your chances are of hooking up.
"The wild trout fishing on the Sacramento River has been great this winter," reported guide Jason Thatcher of All River Fishing. "We've had quite a bit of rain over the past few days. As a result tributaries flowing into the river have muddied the water. Fortunately, the river clears quickly, so I suspect we'll be back on the trout in a short time barring another sustained period of heavy rain."
"The Sacramento is an incredibly healthy river, supporting a massive population of aquatic insects. The Sac's rainbows average 15 to 16 inches in length and they are fat healthy fish. The weight of the fish combined with both the way they fight and the way we fish for them reminds me of fishing for rainbows in Alaska.
He added, "In fact I believe that taking a drift trip on the Sacramento is about as close as you can get to experiencing Alaskan rainbow fishing without actually traveling to Alaska. While the Sacramento's trout average around 15 inches they get a lot bigger than that. The largest one that has been landed by an angler on my boat was in the 7 pound class," said Thatcher.
While Sacramento River rainbows can be caught using a variety of methods ranging from drifting bait to pulling plugs, many serious anglers like Thatcher prefer to target them with flies. "We spend most of our time drifting flies and egg imitations under indicators," disclosed Thatcher.
"With so many trout and aquatic insects in the river, a lot of guys are surprised when I tell them that we do relatively little dry fly fishing. You will see trout rising occasionally, but you can almost always bet that they will be small fish. It is dangerous up on the surface. If you are a trout, it is when you are on the surface that run the greatest risk of being picked off by an osprey or even an otter and the larger trout understand this. As a result all but the river's smallest trout prefer to spend their time holding near the bottom grabbing drifting nymphs and stray salmon eggs," stated Thatcher.
The fly fishing done on the Sacramento differs greatly from the type of fishing featured in the film "A River Runs Through It" where anglers are pictured making long graceful casts to distant trout. On the Sacramento fly fishing has been referred to as "flop fishing".
Typically anglers employ a 12 long leader of untappered fluorocarbon that is heavily weighed and adorned with a pair of flies. Where the leader joins the fly line a huge fluffy indicator is attached.
If you try any sort of fancy casting with this rig, you'll quickly find it wrapped around your head, partner, dog and anything else within range. Instead, the proper presentation consists of flopping the rig out on one side of the drift boat, pausing a beat and then flopping it out on the other side of the boat. Hey, it's not pretty but it works!
As far as fly selection goes stonefly nymphs, mayfly nymphs and caddis nymphs are staples as are egg imitating beads and of course the ever popular glo bug. Nymphs are generally kept on the small side with patterns running between size 12 and 18 being the norm.
"While the fishing has been really consistent recently, the bite will only improve as we get closer to spring. As the days get longer and the water gets slightly warmer the metabolism of the trout increases, they become more active and feed more aggressively. Right now we are getting most of our fish on egg imitations and stonefly nymphs. Latter on, generally in early March, mayflies and caddis flies begin hatching and the trout bite really comes on strong. When we start drifting caddis and mayfly imitations that's when we start hammering big numbers of trout," exclaimed Thatcher.
"In general I don't have a favorite stretch of the river. These days there are salmon in the river spawning up in the Redding area so that is where the best fishing is taking place. The rest of the season the trout spread out and I pick my fishing areas with the idea of avoiding other anglers," continued Thatcher.
If you'd like to get in on some of the Sacramento's fantastic trout action give Jason Thatcher a call at 916-997-2765. The fishing is going strong now and it will only get better over the next several weeks.