Feb 7, 2013 American River Opener Yields Steelhead Succcess
Written By: Mike McNeilly, February 7, 2013
Location: American River - Lower,
With high flows of 4,800 CFS and a nice stain to the water, the American River fished very well on opening day, January 1, 2013. It isn’t too often that the American’s water resembles anything other than gin, and when the urban river has a little color to it the steelhead that reside there usually respond with an aggressive bite. This year’s opener featured ideal conditions, and with plenty of fish stacked up in the upper river, the catching was exceptional.
I, like many others set my course for the waters around the Nimbus Fish Hatchery. There are steelhead in every mile of the American from its confluence with the Sacramento River all the way up to the foot of Nimbus Dam, but there is no doubt that the mile or so of river below the hatchery harbors the most fish. Apparently, this is common knowledge, and not surprisingly I shared some of my top secret fishing holes with other anglers.
My tactic of choice was to fish cured salmon roe on drift fishing gear. Last year I brought my driftboat for the opener, but this year I was unsure if I could drag it up river with the high flows. So, I decided to limit myself to the bank.
Little did I know, the higher flows actually made it easier to drag a driftboat upriver, and there were several boats anchored in the big slow moving pool right below the legal closure. Last year, the flows were much lower, and that big slow moving pool was too slow moving to hold fish. This year, with the flows at about 2.5 times higher than usual, the water in that big slow moving pool was moving at a speed conducive to resting steelhead, and the boats that anchored up there did pretty well.
I began my day in the area around the hatchery outfall pipe. Usually, this is considered to be the top spot on the American, and of course it is a closely guarded secret. Once again, somebody must have blabbed, because there were quite a few guys in that immediate vicinity.
However, there was no water coming out of the pipe, and early in the morning it didn’t appear that there were too many fish holding in that area. I was surprised that not many fish were hooked in the first hour or so in the honey hole, so I moved to greener pastures.
A big clue for any would be steelhead angler is to be observant. Sometimes, the clue may be a rolling fish that gives up its presence. Often times, if you see one roll you can walk right over to it and catch it. Other times, the observation may be to simply watch where others are catching fish and do a little “monkey see, monkey do.”
Frankly, I would rather be the monkey that’s doing instead of the monkey that isn’t catching diddly. So, I noticed an area that guys seemed to be routinely hooking up, and I quickly decided that a change was in order.
By the time I got to the secret spot, others had also noticed the hot action. In fact, the catching was downright fast and furious, and I witnessed one of the hottest bites I’ve seen in years. For example, due to the high water a perfect piece of overlooked holding water was formed right next to the bank.
Many anglers had already waded out to their waists in the water, and I watched a clever fly fisherman throw some egg patterns under a strike indicator and quickly bag two very nice chrome bright hen steelhead. Much to my delight, this guy wasn’t taking prisoners, and he bagged both fish and called it a day.
For one, it’s refreshing to me to see a fly fisherman that actually likes to kill a fish for the table every once in a while, and for another it gave me an opening to horn in on the hot action.
Of course, about the time I started casting, the bite seemed to die. My guess is that the pod of fish that was holding in the area probably moved a little bit or got wise and developed lockjaw. Ultimately they would return, and several more of their comrades would be caught and strung up.
That day, I was fishing with my friend Dan, and at some point he started to develop a down in the dumps look on his face. I said, “Dan, keep at it. The fish are here. You’ll see, just keep casting.” He gave me a look of, “Thanks for the pep talk coach, but maybe today ain’t our day.” I guess I’ve spent enough time on the American to know that there were a lot of fish around on the opener, and sooner or later my bait would be in the right place at the right time.
A little while after the pep talk, I felt the tell tale “womp, womp, womp” bite of a steelhead. More likely, I missed the actual bite, and about the time my sinker drifted past the fish, the fish began shaking its head trying to dislodge the sharp object impaled in it jaw. Needless to say, I reacted by striking hard, and the battle ensued.
I yelled to Dan, “Fish on!” and he looked at me with disbelief; to which I looked at him with a look on my face of, “I told you so!” The fish put up a spirited fight, but ultimately, she didn’t manage to throw the hook, and I managed to beach her. She was a bright hen for the American, although I could tell she had been in the river for a little while. At around 7.5Lbs, she would make a nice supper.
Shortly thereafter, I hooked up again, and this time it was a buck in the 6lb range with a tinge of pink on his sides. He didn’t fight nearly as hard as the hen, and ultimately I decided he could leave with his life so that I could keep on fishing.
About an hour after the buck was caught and released, I hooked up with a dime bright hatchery hen in the 8Lb range. I got the big girl right to the bank, and it had been a long battle that left her pretty much spent. Of course, she made one or two more headshakes and a death roll, and she managed to send my slinky and empty hook flying back in my face.
I knew she was adipose clipped, and she was so close that I tried to give her a soccer style kick onto the bank right as she was getting her wits about her, but it was in vain. Shortly thereafter, Dan and I called it a day. Dan got skunked, and I have to believe it was because he never believed he would catch a fish that day; not for lack of fish to be had.
Overall, it was an impressive opener and a lot of fish were caught. It is evident that this season looks to be promising. Hopefully, the rain doesn’t dry up, and the American maintains some of that color that we steelhead fishermen love so much on our coastal rivers but rarely see in the valley.
If that is the case, expect the catch rates to remain very good this year. Now that the dummies have been sore lipped or bonked on the head, expect the fishing to go back to the normal reality on the American.
Through the rest of the season, you can expect slow to fair fishing when the water is really low and clear and few fish are moving into the system. However, if you are lucky enough to be there on a day when a pod of fresh chrome comes moving up river, the fishing can be red hot.Back To Reports