Mark your calendar: Free fishing day is July 7

By: George deVilbiss/Special to Gold Country News Service
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When you think of the Fourth of July holiday, you think of what? Fireworks? Camping? Water recreation? Barbecues?

All of the above certainly apply. But many years ago, the state Legislature authorized the Department of Fish and Game to allow any person in the state to go fishing — two days a year — without a license.

Any angler 16 years or older is required to have a license in possession to fish in California, except on a designated free fishing day. A handful of states offer free fishing days.

The Legislature authorizes the DFG to set the actual dates, and the DFG picked the most prime times when a large number of the population is away from home and in the field: the Fourth of July and Labor Day holiday weekends.

The first free fishing day will be Saturday, July 7, from midnight to midnight.

There are a few restrictions. If you know where you plan to fish, it’s strongly advised you acquire a regulations booklet on the DFG’s Web site or at a sporting goods outlet.

All regulations, such as bag and size limits, gear restrictions, report card requirements, hours and stream closures remain in effect.

Additionally, there are report card requirements for abalone, steelhead, sturgeon, spiny lobster and salmon in the Smith and Klamath-Trinity river system.

If you’re a novice or just want to stay local and let the kids fish, the DFG sponsors a Fishing in the City program. Many major metropolitan areas offer free fishing day clinics designed to educate novice anglers about ethics, habits, tackle and effective methods for catching fish.

Many ponds in these areas are well stocked to accommodate those wanting to get a line wet. For the first-time angler, it’s an absolute thrill to watch the rod tip bobble with their first bite and double over as they fight their first fish to shore.

The clinics also instruct the proper way to clean and prepare that fish for dinner.

Current fishing

It’s one of the more dreaded times of the year, though many love summer’s blazing heat. Fishing isn’t great at midday, but early mornings and late afternoons can be, and there’s good rod-bending action once the sun sets.

Delta: When the heat settles in, catfish seem to be the most active. With hundreds of miles of rivers and sloughs throughout the Delta, the water teems with the whiskered fish and generally, once the sun sets, their appetites rage.
Soak a crawler, cut bait such as a chunk of anchovy, sardine or clam, and you can easily load the stringer. It’s mostly brown bullheads, but they’re still great eating.
The caveat is that the prime fishing time also is prime mosquito time. Be sure to have a good supply of repellant heavy in the ingredient DEET.

Ocean: Salmon fishing up and down the coast continues to be decent. There are some limits but generally one fish per rod and up. Boats are much more effective working for Chinooks when the wind doesn’t blow. A good number of kings being caught are in the 20-pound class.

The rock cod fishery is outstanding for boats out of the Bay Area. Expect limits of a mix of bottom fish. Big numbers of nice lings are being caught on every trip as well.

Collins Lake: Shore catches have tapered off considerably, as heat has driven trout to deeper water. Take a boat and troll, though, and you can do well. Some holdover ’bows are running to three pounds. Most productive is the east side and middle of the lake.

Hell Hole Reservoir: Launch the boat and deadhead to the other end of the lake. There’s a campground at the upper end. You can beach the boat, sit back and enjoy great shore fishing. Baiting one rig and cast-retrieving spoons or spinners from another should get you limits of rainbows with a brown trout or two thrown in. If you really want to troll, rainbows and kokanee are biting, and if you haul gear deep, you can get into a possible mackinaw bite with some hitting seven pounds.

Rollins Lake: The lake can get busy with recreationists, but the lake is full and if you get an early start, you can have good results. Power Bait will attract 14- to 16-inch ’bows for those trying from shore. Run up to the Bear River inlet and work Rapalas, and you can get into a decent brown trout bite.

Lake Camanche: There will be no more fish planting until the weather cools in the fall. Trout in the lake have gone deeper into the thermocline, and it will take downriggers to reach their depths, from 25-35 feet. Around the dam and river channel should provide plenty of action, though.

Jackson Meadows Reservoir: The lake is fully open only because of such a light winter and snowfall. The lake is full, and trolling along the east side is good for those hauling a set of small flashers or a dodger with a threaded night crawler following.

Eagle Lake: Tim Noxon, a guide at Eagle Lake, reports the marked channel from the boat ramp to open water at Spaulding Tract is about two feet deep. They expect the ramp region to be unusable soon. However, there’s a low water ramp at the south end of the lake. If you stay at Spaulding, it’s about a 25-minute run to the lower end. Bobber fishing at the south side of Pelican has been hot.
However, you’ll have to be in place early, as the bite generally totally tapers off by 6:30 a.m. Shrimp Island and Eagle’s Nest also provide decent bobber action.

Contact George deVilbiss at