OFF THE HOOK: Salmon fishing hits stride on local rivers
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, Sept. 21.
"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. 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 down river 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 seven salmon ranging from 6 to 22 pounds for the five anglers.
"We had a great day of salmon fishing today," summed up Feist. "We went seven for the thirteen fish that we hooked."
The next day, Feist reported banner action. "We caught our full limits of Sacramento king salmon to 20 pounds. I had my wife, Amy, on the boat for her birthday and three of my favorite clients."
Since that trip, the bite on the Chico area of the Sacramento has slowed down, with the fish moving up to the Red Bluff and Anderson areas. Feist has moved to the Feather River, where fishing has been wide-open.
For example, on Oct. 11, Feist booked both morning and afternoon trips for salmon in the Oroville area. "We caught limits on both trips while fishing lures and Pautzke-cured roe," said Feist.
On Saturday morning, the anglers fishing with Feist hooked 16 fish and landed seven kings to 16 pounds.
"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 to date 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 10 to 15 pound range is occasionally landed. He catches the steelies while still-fishing with roe and nightcrawlers, back bouncing roe and pulling plugs.
For more information about salmon and other fishing trips, contact Scott Feist at Feisty Fish Guide Service at 923-2634 (office), 707-540-2381 (cell), or visit feistyfish.net.