Fish and Game staff will prowl rivers checking salmon

By: George deVilbiss/Special to Gold Country News Service
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There was all but a total collapse of salmon numbers a mere five years ago. Fishing for salmon in the ocean and river systems was closed.

Salmon numbers have rebounded since then. Some of the best salmon fishing in many years is being seen in the ocean. Their favored grub — krill and anchovy — are in the water. Chinook are gorging themselves and getting fat and big.

Not every salmon off the coast of California will be coming up the river systems this year. They return up the rivers to spawn and die when they’re 4 or 5 years of age.

Ocean salmon range from those released from hatcheries mere weeks ago to lunkers that have been reaching their maximum size before they make the run up the rivers.

Limits have been the rule with the ocean fishery. Fat and sassy with a lot of feed, they fight with ferocity.

Because of the tremendous offshore fishery, the main run in the fall is expected to be phenomenal as well in the Mokelumne, San Joaquin, Sacramento, American and Feather rivers.

Because they’re eating so well, there should be numerous record-size fish, too.

The Department of Fish and Game will get into the action. If a boat pulls alongside you and you see DFG uniforms, don’t get heart palpitations. DFG staff roaming the rivers aren’t wardens. They’re biologists.

Called “survey crews,” they’ll be counting the number of boats and anglers, weighing and measuring each fish caught. If the adipose fin is missing, it means the salmon was born in a hatchery, and when the fin was clipped, a small coded wire tag was implanted in its fleshy snout.

If you have a salmon with no adipose fin, they’ll request to take the head to recover the coded tag. Just an FYI. You can’t refuse. Fish and Game Code Section 8226 states, “Anglers upon request by an authorized agent of the Department, (must) immediately relinquish the head of the salmon to the State.”

During the 2011 fall run of Chinook, survey crews contacted more than 4,000 parties, measured 2,805 salmon and collected 652 heads. It was this and other baseline information that provided the total effort and harvest of salmon.

The results showed 60,500 salmon were caught and another 10,990 were released. Of the salmon kept, 70 percent were 2-year-olds, or “jacks,” and anglers fished an average of 14 hours to catch a salmon.

The 2012 season is expected to be considerably more productive than 2011. So if a DFG boat pulls up to you, don’t panic; just proudly show off your fish.

Current fishing

Numerous fires are burning in the north state, including a big one below Butt Lake in Plumas County. All the campgrounds are closed. When water is released from Butt Lake, it enters the Feather River system at Caribou. The road from Caribou to Butt Lake is closed, as is camping at popular Caribou.

Another fire above Redding is now contained. There should be no effect on fishing or recreational activities at places like the upper Sacramento River and Shasta Lake.

A storm system coming from the south end of the state may have disrupted some activities in the Sierra, but the impact was minimal. It was warm, and some areas were well lit with a lightning show, not a good thing this time of year.

Ocean salmon: The hot bite has tapered off. While a boat here and there might limit, the others from San Francisco, Bodega and Fort Bragg are having to work super hard to even find a fish here and there. There have been more bad days recently than what the fleet has been used to the past few weeks.

Local salmon: There are no big schools of salmon staging outside the Golden Gate Bridge or making their way up the San Francisco-San Pablo-Suisun bays. There are salmon, just not the big schools the river systems will see in another month or two.

It seems like several people want a salmon, evidenced by the number of boats generally clogging certain parts of the rivers in the morning hours. One wonders how any fish can make it through the firing line of offerings in their way. But many do. You can have a much better chance vying for the available Chinooks coming up the river, say around noon to dark instead of first light. Boater-angler traffic is much lighter in the afternoons.

Camp Far West: This lake is owned by a water district that has numerous contracts for water with farmers downriver. They must have considerable demand right now, as the lake is dropping fast. The launch ramp is still useable on the north-shore side. A variety of plastics worked along the Bear River arm have taken bass. A bunch of two-pounders and a four-pounder here and there have been reported. The main body and Rock Creek arm can yield a good number of catfish.

French Meadows Reservoir: It’s not the first time, but the water delivery system at Lewis Campground at the back (north) side of the lake, along with the nearby group camp, isn’t working. You can camp there if you bring your own water. Otherwise, you can camp at French Meadows. Fishing, however, is slow. Park near the bridge just above the stream that enters the lake and make the short hike down the hill. Fish the far upper end of the lake with eggs, crawlers and crickets, and you can actually do well.

Caples Lake: Shore anglers are finding the bite slow, but those who putt-putt around in trolling mode are finding rainbows to 1½ pounds. A threaded crawler or small Rapala off Wood’s Creek, the dam and the channel around the spillway are good areas to troll.

Frenchman Lake: The water level has dropped to just under 70 percent, but shore anglers and trollers are scoring on rainbows, some hitting 18 inches. For bait dunkers, set up your folding chair near the dam or off Lunker Point. Power Bait or a crawler on a sliding sinker rig should do the trick. Trollers need several colors of leadcore to get down as much as 25 feet. Downriggers will do it. Needlefish or a threaded crawler behind blades will get you bit.

Folsom Lake: You can get into a fair trout bite if you can get on the water before the water skiers and boaters. You won’t be able to top-line at this time of year. Trout are roaming 45-55 feet down, and that means a downrigger, something definitely worth its weight in gold this time of year.

Bass don’t like this hot weather either, so they’re holding in deeper water. They’ll move into shallower water early in the morning but will retreat to deeper, quieter, cooler regions once the sun hits the water. You can drop-shot or jig the rock piles and off the main points to get into a bite. Live bait like minnows or a small, live crawdad generally will get you bit, too. If you get on the lake at the crack of dawn, when bass are more in the shallows, toss topwater offerings or a crank or spinnnerbait.

Contact George deVilbiss at