OFF THE HOOK: Klamath River: Salmon fishing doesn't get any better
Anglers fishing the upper stretch of the Klamath River from below the Iron Gate Fish Hatchery to the Klamathon Bridge this October experienced some of the hottest fishing in over a decade, with fishermen reporting catching and releasing large numbers of chinooks.
After 9 years of not fishing this beautiful stretch of river, I had a chance to fish this area with Phil Desautels of Phil's Smiling Salmon Guide Service on Oct. 17. The Upper Klamath, unlike the lower river that flows through redwood and fir forests, is located in the scenic high desert country of Siskiyou County in northeastern California.
For three weeks, Desautels had experienced wide-open salmon fishing on the upper Klamath River. "We have had 20 to 50 fish days," Desautels said. "Fishing has been good as it gets."
We planned to fish until noon; Desautels normally fishes the Klamath until about 2 p.m., but I wanted to go perch fishing in the afternoon at Iron Gate Lake and he needed to go to Willy Boat in Oregon to get a new boat.
After we got on the water and Desautels began working the drift boat through the holes, I experienced one of the most memorable days of fishing I have ever experienced.
"That's a nice, clean female," Desautels remarked as he netted my first fish of the
day, a salmon just starting to get is copper spawning colors. I kept that one and two others throughout the morning; the limit on the river this year is four fish, regardless of size.
Desautels worked the boat downriver to the Blue Heron Hole and as the sun rose over the water and the cold air temperature warmed up, the fishing only got better. I would hook one fish, land it or lose it, rebait and then immediately hook up another salmon. Each one put a great fight, pulling off lots of line off my reel, and a couple became caught in the weeds.
Around us, we saw anglers fishing with Ron Denardi, Albert Kutzkey, Billy Jesperson and other guides also constantly hooking up hard-fighting salmon.
Before 11 a.m. we had put 15 adult salmon and one jack in the boat and we kept fishing until noon. The adults ranged from 6 to 25 pounds in size. Desautels figured I had landed about 22 fish.
"Guys land more fish here in two hours than in two days on the Smith and other rivers," Desautels noted. "It's the easiest salmon fishing in California because there are so many fish concentrated below the dam. Where else can a guy catch 22 fish in a day?"
While we didn't see any steelhead caught that day, Desautels said anglers have caught a few steelies while fishing for salmon.
Now that the salmon fishing is pretty much over for the season as the fish spawn in the river and Bogus Creek, Desautels is now targeting the much bigger and brighter king salmon found on the Smith River. When the steelhead begin showing in December, he will start fishing for them also.
Federal scientists say that a record 380,000 Chinook salmon will return to the Klamath River system this fall.
To date, the Iron Gate Fish Hatchery below the dam has counted 24,709 salmon. "We're up to our eyeballs in salmon," said Keith Pomeroy, hatchery manager. "We've already spawned over 2,000 fish and our goal is to spawn 3,200 fish."
While this year's fall Chinook salmon was a welcome change from the sporadic runs of the past several decades, the river remains in serious trouble, according to a statement from Yurok Tribe fisheries biologists. The biologists attribute this year's out-size run of king salmon to three main scientific factors.
First, in 2010, when all of these salmon were at the most critical stage of their development, the basin experienced plentiful spring rains, giving the juvenile fish access to the best rearing tributaries.
Second, ocean conditions were phenomenal. Krill, the foundation of the food chain, were abnormally abundant, giving salmon in the ocean a better shot at making it back to the river to spawn.
Third, the Tribe has spent millions of dollars over the past two decades restoring several key Klamath tributaries where many salmon start life.
"We will have a decent run next year because a large percentage of 4-year-old fish will return, but after that it will go back to the unacceptable path of uncertainty about whether there will even be a harvestable number of fish," according to the scientists.
While salmon fishing is at its peak from late September to late October, the river below the dam offers excellent year round fishing for rainbows and good fishing for steelhead in November through March. Anglers catch the trout and steelhead while fishing Glo Bugs, salmon roe, nightcrawlers, plugs, spinners and an array of flies.
For more information, contact Phil Desautels of Phil's Smiling Salmon Guide Service at 707-487-0260 and at www.smilingsalmon.com.