OFF THE HOOK: Big bulls, wild horses and yellow perch at Iron Gate
One of the strangest stories to come out of the Klamath River watershed is the one I heard from guide Phil Desautels when I went salmon fishing with him on the upper river near the Oregon border in mid-October.
He was driving up Iron Gate Road, the road that winds around Iron Gate Lake on its way to Copco Reservoir, to try perch fishing for dinner a couple days before when he was forced to stop his truck as a big bull approached him.
"There was a big brown and white bull about 1,800 pounds, with horns with close to a 36-inch spread, standing on the roadside," Desautels recalled. "Once I came around the corner and he saw me, he moved to the center of the road.
"He kept walking up the center line towards my truck," he stated. "He got 20 feet away from the truck and then started snorting and dropping his head. That's when I put my truck in reverse and backed up to a place where I could turn around. He was still walking towards me."
Rather than experiencing a bull attack on a truck, he made a U-turn on the road, ceding the road to the giant animal.
"He didn't like the red GMC emblem in front of my black truck," Desautels quipped.
I didn't encounter the surly bovine on my afternoon trip to the reservoir, although I kept an eye out for the critter. I did see lots of beautiful wild horses relaxing and feeding around the reservoir, and I caught all of the scrappy perch I wanted while enjoying complete solitude.
Those who wonder why people would get excited about catching a bunch of hand-size yellow perch have never eaten these fish. On their days off, many guides, rather than going salmon or steelhead fishing, will often head up to Iron Gate and Copco to catch a big bag of the tasty panfish.
In California, Iron Gate Reservoir, Copco Reservoir, the Klamath River and Lafayette Reservoir in Alameda County are the only places you can catch these popular panfish.
The native range of the yellow perch (Perca flavescens) is the Atlantic, Arctic, Great Lakes, and Mississippi River basins from Nova Scotia and Quebec west to Great Slave Lake, Northwest Territories, and south to Ohio, Illinois, and Nebraska. It is found south in Atlantic drainages to Santee River, South Carolina and east of the Alleghany Mountains as far south as Georgia.
"Yellow perch are abundant in reservoirs (especially Copco Lake) and dredge ponds of the Klamath River, where they were first discovered in 1946 (Coots, 1956), according to Peter Moyle in his outstanding book, "Inland Fishes of California." "They have since been found all of the way to the mouth of the river. These fish are presumably descendants of perch planted in the upper Klamath River in Oregon."
I had fished for perch three times before — once in April 1994 with Ron Denardi of Denardi Outfitters in a boat and twice from shore by myself in October 2002 and 2003. Every time I have found superb fishing for these scrappers, but the latest adventure to the reservoir, after a morning of incredible salmon fishing on the Klamath below the Iron Gate Fish Hatchery, was the best.
After going to the Hornbook Chevron and icing down my salmon with two bags of ice, I drove up to the reservoir, passing wild horses and hillsides studded with Oregon white oak and large junipers.
I headed to my old reliable perch spot — the Klamath River inlet on the lake I tossed out my threaded nightcrawler 5 feet under a clear plastic bobber and immediately got bit. The first fish eluded capture, but after that I caught one perch after another on threaded pieces of crawler. The fishing was so fast that I used just one rod.
The perch were concentrated in the open water over weed beds about 40 to 60 feet from the bank. I kept a bunch in the 8- to 10-inch range, along with releasing smaller fish. They weren't as big as they were the last time I fished the lake, but they sure were willing to bite!
Besides yellow perch, the lake also hosts good numbers of wild rainbow trout, largemouth bass, bluegill, channel catfish, crappie and bluegill,
However, the perch are definitely the most abundant and most popular species at this reservoir. Perch can be taken year round at Iron Gate, but spring and fall when the water temperature is cool are the best times.
Also, during algae blooms in the summer when the lake is posted with signs urging people to avoid contact with blue-green algae, anglers should limit or avoid eating fish. If fish are consumed at this time, remove guts and liver, and rinse meat in clean drinking water, the California Regional Water Quality Control Board, North Coast Region, advises.