The Wild West On The Lower Klamath
Two years ago I wrote about the Lower Klamath and described it as a modern day “wild west.” Okay, so I’m a hack writer and going back to my own cliché.
I wrote that description two years ago, but it still holds true. If you are blasting up the river in a jet boat before the sun comes up, dodging wayward bats in the inky dark, and avoiding barely submerged gravel bars, you must have a sense of adventure about you.
If you head down to the estuary and hear shotgun pellets whizzing by as a Yurok Indian defends his gillnet from a rampaging sea lion, you also must be driven in your pursuit of purple backs and chrome flanks. It’s a decidedly remote region of the most populated state in the country, and it’s not a 2013 way of life to this city slicker.
I’ve had mixed experiences on the Klamath since I began fishing it when the Sacramento River run collapsed in 2008. I’ve been a witness to some epic fishing, and I’ve also been a party to some absolutely gruelingly boring fishing.
Last year the fishing was exceptionally good. It may not have lived up to the pre season hype, but in my eyes it was the best season I’ve had. I don’t think that anybody experienced the wide open catching that was predicted, but the average size of the fish was definitely above average.
The Klamath has a very well earned reputation of producing a lot of jacks. Usually on the Lower Klamath, it’s a big deal when you catch a hen so that you can replenish your roe supply.
Last year, quite a few of the fish we encountered were hens. Not to mention that I caught my personal best Chinook ever from the Klamath system with an absolutely mint bright 22 lb hen. I will always remember that fish.
On the previous two drifts at Blake’s Riffle, I had deftly positioned my driftboat for some primo drifts and scored a Chinook on each pass. I was in the zone. On the third drift when I felt the “womp, womp, womp,” of a big Chinook mauling my bait, I calmly set the hook and felt the weight of a very heavy fish.
I remember thinking that I clearly had a nice fish as line peeled off my Shimano Curado 201. The reader should note that’s a Shimano Curado 201; not a 200. As an evolved and sophisticated right handed fisherman, I cast with my right hand and retrieve with my left. Why anyone would want to switch the rod from their casting hand to their offhand makes no sense to me.
I digress, but this fish was clearly large judging from the big headshakes and big bow in my rod. I kept the rod fully loaded to the cork for a good 5 minutes before the big girl finally succumbed. It was an unprecedented morning on the Klamath for me.
We wound up putting a few nice big Chinook in the boat, and my dad also caught his first steelhead. I knew something was amiss when the would be “salmon” immediately launched out of the water four times trying to free the hook. When I netted the sea lice covered 5 lber with just a hint of a pink stripe on its sides, I was pleasantly surprised to see a wild steelhead.
I try to write as a straight shooter; no jive here. The Lower Klamath is a tough river for most non guided fishermen. If you want to ensure that you catch fish by all means hire a guide.
For starters, your access is going to be pretty limited if you don’t have a jet boat. There are only two public boat launches on the Lower Klamath. One is right upstream of the ocean at Requa. This boat ramp will let you access the mouth of the river and the sand spit.
The next boat ramp is the Terwer Ramp in Klamath Glenn. This ramp is the one that 99% of the guides use, and it can be a real zoo when the fishing is hot. You can bet that some of the local guides will be putting their boats on the water by 4:00 a.m. and running up river in the pitch black to avoid the crowds.
If you use the Requa Ramp, you can long line troll (75-100 ft. setback) ¾ or 1oz. gold Kastmasters in the estuary. Personally, this technique is about as fun as watching paint dry and on its best day will be moderately successful.
It is also possible to access the “jigging hole” above the 101 bridge from the Requa Ramp. You may destroy a prop in the process, but it can be done if you know how to read the water. I’ve done it. The jigging hole is the first deep hole above tidewater, and a lot of fish like to hold up there. Jigging 1 oz P-Line Laser Minnows with barbless single Siwash hooks is a proven tactic here.
The Terwer ramp sits just below the Terwer Hole, and it is possible to access this hole with a small prop drive boat. Boondoggling roe is the preferred tactic here. However, the rapids above the hole are the end of the road for non jet driven boats.
At the upper end of Blake’s Riffle you can beach launch a driftboat, pontoon, or small aluminum boat and run up to the lower end of Starwein. The lower end of Starwein is a deep dark run, and it is perfect for boondoggling roe.
If you don’t mind pissing off jet boats, it is possible to motor to the very top of Starwein and drift down. If you are a real idiot, like me, you can even drag your driftboat above Starwein to the Brooks Hole. It’s a back breaking drag through the riffle above Starwein, but it can be done. Above the Brooks Hole is exclusively the realm of jet boats.
So, get out the bright red sulfite cured eggs, Laser Minnows, spinners, Kastmasters, and perhaps even a gillnet, and enjoy this beautiful redwood enshrined gem of Northern California.Back To Reports