OFF THE HOOK: Thermalito Afterbay has big, bad landlocked steelhead in abundance
After a long fight during which I had to chase the hooked fish around the boat, Rob Reimers of Rustic Rob's Guide Service put the net under the tired landlocked steelhead. He lifted the shiny, heavy-bodied fish into the boat and we both marveled at its size.
I put the fish across the measuring board on the boat and it went 211⁄2 inches. Reimers placed the fish on his digital scale and it weighed a solid 41⁄2 pounds.
It was over twice as big as the two other landlocked steelies we had caught in the Thermalito Afterbay that morning, both measuring 17 inches and weighing around 2 pounds.
The fish was one of 5,000 Feather River hatchery steelhead planted in the afterbay in February. This is the second year the plant was made — the first was of 10,000 steelhead in 2007.
How did this fish get so big so fast?
A.J. Dill, assistant manager at the Department of Fish and Game's Feather River Fish Hatchery, remarked that the fish are growing quickly because of the larger amount of amount of forage.
"In August, I saw fish caught by anglers that were already up to 17 inches long and 3 pounds in weight caught by anglers," he stated. "They were stuffed full of may flies."
While the fish put in the lake in February averaged 8 to 10 inches long and 3 to the pound, they varied in size. He said the fish I had caught could have been a larger, faster growing fish that was already 12 inches when planted in the afterbay
Dill said the hatchery plans to continue the landlocked steelhead program in coming years, providing they get enough steelhead yearlings to reach their mitigation goals on the river.
He said the introduction of the landlocked steelhead took place after the DFG was forced to stop planting catchable rainbows in Thermalito Forebay as the result of the Central of Biological Diversity lawsuit against the DFG.
"Planting the steelhead offered an alternative to planting the catchable rainbows," he stated. "However, the stocking of the fish depends on how many fish we are able to raise. It will only happen if we have an excess of fish we need for mitigation."
Some of the fish from the afterbay will end up in the river by going through the afterbay outlet and potentially go to saltwater. They DFG tagged 500 — 10 percent — of the 5,000 fish released this year. They have also done a secondary clip of the ventral fin, as well as the adipose fish.
I caught the 41⁄2-pound landlocked steelhead on Saturday, Nov. 4 while top-line trolling with a nightcrawler behind a Sep's chrome/red dodger. We landed the two other fish measuring 17 inches each while using the same rigs at 1.2 to 1.5 mph. To improve the landing to hook-up ratio, Reimers uses the crawler on a double hook rig.
On a previous attempt to fish the afterbay, a nasty wind made fishing very difficult. Reimers, his brother Ray, Bob Boucke, owner of Johnson's Bait and Tackle in Yuba City, and I hooked two steelhead, landing one 17-incher, while trolling minnows, hoochies and nightcrawlers.
Our biggest problem during the morning was the weeds that kept catching on the lines. About 11 a.m., the weeds began dissipating as we trolled on both sides of the Highway 162 Bridge. However, we hooked all three fish in a relatively small area between two points on the north side of the bridge.
"This landlocked steelhead fishery is a wonderful thing to have," Reimers said. "It offers an alternative to fishing for coho salmon on Lake Oroville, since you don't need to have downriggers and can troll with long lines or cast lures and bait from the bank.
"In my opinion, these steelhead fight way better than a landlocked coho or chinook salmon."
Shore fishermen also nail hefty trout while fishing nightcrawlers and minnows under bobbers, Power Bait, Kastmasters and other offerings, but there weren't any shore anglers to give a report on either one of my recent trips there.
The largest landlocked steelhead reported from the lake in 2007 was 9 pounds. A shore angler fishing with a nightcrawler in the channel between the forebay and afterbay hooked the big fish, according to Boucke.
If the landlocked steelhead fishing in the afterbay is slow, you have the option of fishing the Feather River in the low flow area or below the afterbay outfall.
For more information about guided fishing trips on the Thermalito Afterbay, Lake Oroville and the Feather and Sacramento rivers, contact Rob Reimers of Rustic Rob's Guide Service at 632-0051 or visit rusticrob.com.
For more information about fishing the Thermalito afterbay and the Feather River, call Johnson's Bait and Tackle at 674-1912 or visit johnsonsbait.com.