Oct. 8, 2012 Sacramento River Salmon Run Shows Improvement Over 2011
Written By: Dan Bacher, October 9, 2012
Location: Sacramento River- Middle,
The Sacramento River, California’s longest and biggest river, features a vast array of migratory and resident fish including steelhead, striped bass, channel catfish, smallmouth and largemouth bass, and shad.
However, there is no fish that draws more angling excitement on the river than the annual fall run of chinook salmon. Scott Feist of Feisty Fish Guide Service reported “lights out fishing” most days in the river in the Chico and Ord Bend areas this season, with a few slower days mixed in. Anglers are also pleased that the salmon are averaging 15 to 20 pounds, a big improvement over last year when many of the fish were jacks.
Mel Gallaty of San Jose, Steve O’Hara of San Jose, Jarrett Smith of West Sacramento, Joe Boyce of Mount Shasta and I made a trip with Feist out of the Irving Finch River Access in Hamilton City on Friday, September 21. On the previous day, Feist reported that 3 anglers caught full limits of kings, along with releasing and losing a bunch of fish.
“We’ll be boondoggling with Pautzke-cured roe,” said Feist. He explained that while back trolling with plugs is effective early in the morning, he had been experiencing the most consistent action while fishing roe.
“The fish are still here,” Feist said excitedly as he looked at his electronic fish finder when we arrived at the “hot spot” in the pre-dawn darkness. The morning was cool, with everybody wearing a jacket. The graph was loaded with big concentrations of salmon.
He said we would be fishing the salmon roe with two methods – boondoggling with a foam “Salmon Stopper” bobber on a 3-foot leader and boondoggling without the bobber behind a Slinky weight. I opted to fish a rod outfitted with the Slinky weight.
The action didn’t take off right way. Having had only a couple of hours of sleep, I missed a couple of bites first thing in the morning. Other anglers, including deckhand Josh Giordano, missed bites also. Feist gave me and the other passengers a “pep talk” about the need to pay attention and set the hook.
“When you see a bite, reel down until you feel the fish and then set the hook,” he advised.
Mel Gallaty hooked up the first fish, which he lost. However, he soon hooked another fish around 18 pounds that he was able to land.
We hooked a couple more fish while boondoggling at a deep hole upriver from where we had been fishing, but lost them both. We went back to the original spot we started at, but the weren’t biting now.
Feist decided to go downriver to a run that was good for back bouncing roe. Of course, “hot rod” Gallaty hooked and brought in the only salmon from that hole while back bouncing the roe along the bottom. The sun was getting higher in the sky, so Feist decided to finally go back to the hole we fished first.
Josh Giordano hooked a quality salmon on a bobber rig and he handed off to another angler. Not long after, I felt a tug, set the hook and landed a bright king salmon myself.
The bite was finally turning on – or at least we were finally converting the bites and hook-ups to fish in the boat! By noon we had 7 salmon ranging from 6 to 22 pounds for the 5 anglers.
“We had a great day of salmon fishing today,” summed up Feist. “We went seven for the thirteen fish that we hooked. We lost some nice ones, but that's salmon fishing.”
On the next day, Feist reported banner action. “We caught our full limits of Sacramento king salmon to 20 pounds. I had my wife on the boat for her birthday and three of my favorite clients.”
Since that trip, the bite on the Sacramento fell off a bit, so Feist has moved closer to home to the Feather River.
“It’s been a quality salmon season on the Sacramento and Feather rivers this season,” said Feist. “I don’t feel that it is as crazy of a season as predicted by the fishery managers, but fishing has been fabulous at times with quality fish averaging 18 to 20 pounds. Our biggest fish this year weighed 32 pounds.”
Feist noted that the steelhead fishing in the Sacramento from Butte City to Hamilton City should bust loose in October and November. The Sacramento steelhead average 3 to 5 pounds, but a trophy fish in the 12 to 15 pound range is occasionally landed. He catches the steelies while still-fishing with roe and nightcrawlers, back bouncing roe and pulling plugs.
As salmon fishing on the Central Valley rivers continued, the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) recently issued preliminary counts of how many chinook salmon have been caught by recreational and commercial anglers in the 2012 ocean season. The counts are a big improvement over 2011 numbers, but the catch to date is considered only an average one by recent historical standards.
Nearly 300,000 salmon were taken off the California coast by both the recreational and commercial salmon fishing fleets as of August 31.
Commercial fishermen landed 172,914 king salmon, about two and a half times as many as they caught in 2011. However, that was only about one-fourth of their average harvest over the past 40 years, according to a news release from the Golden Gate Salmon Association (GGSA) (http://www.goldengatesalmonassociation.com). Recreational fishermen caught 111,196 fish, more than two times the 49,020 taken last year.
Representatives of fishery conservation groups reacted cautiously but optimistically to the release of preliminary salmon catch data.
“We’re happy to have had a decent season, but unless we can maintain restrictions on delta water pumping, we could soon be back to low salmon returns,” said Golden Gate Salmon Association (GGSA) president Victor Gonella. “It is too early to judge whether pre- season forecasts estimating 880,000 adult Sacramento River salmon in the ocean may have been a bit optimistic.”
The counting of salmon returning to Central Valley salmon hatcheries has just begun and will continue through the end of December.
“Rebounding salmon runs all along the coasts of Washington, Oregon and California all benefited from increased fresh water flows won in court rulings,” the GGSA emphasized. “Klamath River salmon, estimated to number close to 1.6 million, were helped by a 2006 court ruling ordering more water released from upriver reservoirs to help salmon. Likewise, Columbia and Snake River salmon benefited from a 2005 court order mandating greater salmon water releases.”
In California, a 2008 court ruling won by salmon advocates resulted in additional water flows that supported this year’s returns. Other factors including an apparent upswing in food available to young salmon in the ocean likely also contributed to this year’s resurgence.
Prior to major increases in freshwater diversions from the Bay-Delta Estuary that began in the early 2000s, commercial salmon fishermen regularly landed over 300,000 to 400,000 salmon annually. Salmon advocates believe that increased water exports from state and federal Delta pumping facilities over the last decade drove Central Valley chinooks, the driver of West Coast salmon fisheries, into steep decline.
For more information about salmon and other fishing trips, contact Scott Feist at Feisty Fish Guide Service, office (530) 923-2634, cell (707) 540-2381, http://feistyfish.netBack To Reports