Feb 7, 2013 A Magic Day Of Steelhead Fishing On The American
Written By: Dan Bacher, February 7, 2013
Location: American River - Lower,
When I arrived down on the banks of the American River at 9:30 a.m. on January 9, my fishing buddy Rodney Fagundes excitedly told me, “I just lost five fish in between the time I called you. Since I was by myself, I couldn’t get to the rod in time to reel in the fish. One fish snapped the line.”
However, he had caught one beautiful steelhead, a fish in the 9 pound class. “Get your stuff in the boat. The fish are biting,” he said.
I put my gear into the drift boat and he rowed down about 100 feet to his favorite spot right next to the trees above Sailor Bar. We fished there for several minutes, but after no bites, we decided to go out into the middle of the river.
A Department of Fish and Wildlife Crew was in a jet boat doing a steelhead redd survey as we arrived. Apparently, they spooked some fish up towards us.
I put a Hot Shot out, but it wasn’t working right, so I reeled it back in. I let the lure out again and once I was satisfied that the plug was working, I put the rod in the holder. As soon as I did that, a fish hit the plug and began pulling out line on the light drag.
I started reeling in the line and the fish went beserk, jumping at least a dozen times. “That’s a big fish, maybe 15 pounds,” Rodney said excitedly. After the fish ran all over the river and jumped again several times, I got it near the boat.
Of course, the big buck made another run before I could get it in the boat. The fish kept going from one side of the boat to the other. Finally, Rodney was able to slip the net under the fish and we released it. It wasn’t as big as we first thought, about 12 pounds, but it sure put up a fight.
I put the plug out again. For the second time, my rod got hit, but the rod didn’t stay down. I started reeling in the line and there was a scrappy half pounder about 14 inches hanging on the plug, a wild fish that I released.
After releasing that fish, I let the plug out again. Just like clockwork, the lure got smacked by a steelhead. But this fish jammed the rod against the holder so hard that I couldn’t immediately get the rod free. The fish was able to take out line because of the light drag on the spinning reel, but then suddenly the line went slack.
I reeled in the line and there was no plug there – just a severed spot on the line that looked like it was broken by the fish’s teeth.
Meanwhile, Rodney was having some fun catching steelhead himself. He hooked and landed two bright steelhead in the 7 to 9 pound range that I netted. He also briefly hooked another fish that came up.
However, the bite stopped for the next hour, maybe because of the commotion that the redd survey crew caused. Rodney rowed the boat over towards the bank. It wasn’t long before my plug, this time a green pirate Hot Shot, got slammed by a steelhead.
The fish made several leaps before tangling itself in the line. “It’s doing the steeelhead twirl,” quipped Rodney. I kept the rod high and kept working the fish towards me. Amazingly, the fish came free and I started working the fish toward me.
When I got it next to the boat, the fish saw the net and took on long run downriver and leapt several more times. It did the steelhead twirl again, but just like before, I finally got it untangled and got the fish, a hard-fighting female, in.
The bite continued in the afternoon. Rodney hooked and landed a couple more female steelhead, and I caught one buck steelhead before going home.
Adding up the fish that Rodney hooked in the morning, we ended up with a total of 14 hook-ups and 9 to 12 pounds landed. We went home with two bright hatchery fish on the stringer and released the rest.
After I got back to the hatchery parking lot, I saw Roland Aspiras, Fish Sniffer reporter, carrying a steelhead back to the parking lost.
“Hey. was that you out in that boat hooking those fish?” he asked.
“Yes, we had a great day of fishing. How did you do? I replied.
He said he had caught four steelhead, releasing three, keeping while using 1/3 oz. Little Cleos below the hatchery and above the Hazel Avenue Bridge.
The fishing was slower on a trip that I made with Yoshi Itamura of Watsonville and Rodney on January 16. We hooked four fish while using plugs and Little Cleos, but we managed to land just one, an bright 9 lb. fish that I released. On the next day, Rodney and Yoshi managed to nail two beautiful, bright hatchery steelhead weighing 8 and 11 pounds while working plugs in the Sailor Bar riffle.
The hatchery counts are exceptional this year, matching the fishing that anglers have experienced since the opener. The hatchery has trapped a total of 2086 adult steelhead to date, compared to 822 adults at the same time last year.
“We have trapped almost 3 times as many fish as last year,” said Gary Novak Nimbus Fish Hatchery Manager. “We counted 801 steelhead in one day – the most we can ever remember seeing in one day. And we still have 8 weeks to go in the run.”
Whether the enhanced run is due to improved ocean conditions, freshwater flows, a change in release location for steelhead, or all three factors, there is no debate that the steelhead run has definitely rebounded this year.
In 2010, the hatchery did an experimental release of half of the fish – 215,000 into the American and the remaining 215,000 into the Sacramento at Garcia Bend where Department of Fish and Wildlife staff has been planting the fish for many years.
The hatchery released the 430,000 steelhead yearlings into the American at Howe Avenue in 2011 and again in 2012. The fish we are seeing now are the 3 year olds released in 2011 and the four-year-olds released in 2012, along with some 2-year-old fish released in 2012. To me, it appears that releasing the fish in the American rather than in the Sacramento is resulting in the return of more steelhead to the American.
The run is just getting started. Anglers can expect the larger 7 to 12 pound fish being caught in the river now to be replaced by increasing numbers of 3 to 8 pound late run fish in February and March.
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