OFF THE HOOK: A hot steelhead on the Feather
Bob Boucke, owner of Johnson's Bait and Tackle in Yuba City and longtime salmon and steelhead fishing enthusiast, kept the pressure on the fish as Dave Barbieri rowed his drift boat downriver in pursuit of the steelhead.
The fish took one last burst of the fly line as Boucke kept steady pressure on it. Boucke slowly lifted the steelhead's head as Barbieri thrust the net under the fish.
The steelhead was 19 inches long, but fought like a much, much larger fish. It was a silvery, robust hatchery steelhead. After a few photos, Boucke released the battler back into the river.
"That was the most unbelievable fight — I can't believe the fish fought so hard," said Boucke. "I've caught a fair amount of steelhead on fly gear, but this was such a hot fish that it seemed like it was on for 10 minutes.
"It just kept ripping off line and running downriver. I though the fish was a 5-pounder at least by the way it fought."
Feather River fish average 2 to 5 pounds, though fish up to 10 pounds are taken every year and steelies in the teens are occasionally hooked.
Boucke is definitely no stranger to steelhead fishing — he has caught lots of steelhead up to 9 pounds on the Feather, but this was one of the most memorable fish he has ever hooked.
The Feather River is not known for the size of its steelhead, but what the fish lack in size they more than make up in fight, as Boucke experienced.
Boucke was fishing with egg patterns and a variety of nymphs on a 9-foot-6 weight Sage fly rod, outfitted with a Reddington reel, Reel weight-forward floating fly line and a 4X (7-pound test) tippet, in the low flow area from the Highway 70 Bridge to above the Thermalito Afterbay Outlet.
The low flow area was a miracle of nature, with huge numbers of chinook spawning on every riffle. We hooked five steelhead and missed others on our trip. It was difficult to get through the salmon, as well as the pike minnows and suckers that were also feeding on the eggs along with the steelhead.
On Barbieri's previous fly fishing trip on the Feather, his two clients hooked 16 and landed nine steelhead to 5 pounds.
The fishing got even better on Oct. 13, when two anglers fishing with Barbieri hooked 30 fish and got 17 to the boat.
"Eight or nine were in the 20- to 23-inch range and the rest were 16 to 18 inches. We hooked the fish both on egg patterns and on caddis and mayfly patterns," Barbieri said. "The steelhead fishing is very good on the Feather River this season. The only problem is getting through the salmon now."
While the fly fishing is very good, 2011 was an even more fabulous year for steelhead on the Feather, with anglers hooking up to 20 fish per day during the summer and catching fish even on live jumbo minnows while striper fishing.
The wild trout fishing has also been excellent on the Yuba River from the Highway 20 Bridge to Sycamore Ranch as salmon move into the river to spawn.
"There was a lot of dry fly action with the caddis and baetis hatches taking place," noted Barbieri after he got back from fishing the Yuba on Oct. 14.
"They're really hot, hard fighting fish," he emphasized. "We hooked around 25 fish and landed six. These wild rainbows ranged from 14 to 18 inches."
Dave Barbieri is an FFF Certified Fly Casting Instructor who has over 30 years angling experience on the trout rivers of Northern California as well as some of the best trout streams of the Rockies.
The section of the Feather from the unimproved boat launch ramp above the Thermalito Afterbay Outfall to 200 yards above the Live Oak boat ramp closed to salmon fishing on Oct. 15. This section will remain open to fishing for steelhead and other fish species.
The Feather from 200 yards above the Live Oak boat ramp to the mouth of the river at Verona will remain open to salmon fishing through Dec. 16.
The Feather from the Highway 70 bridge to the unimproved boat ramp above the Thermalito Afterbay Outfall is open to steelhead fishing year round, but closed to salmon fishing.
Dave Barbieri of Dave Barbieri's Guide Service is available for guided fly fishing for steelhead trips on the Feather River and wild trout adventures on the Yuba and Upper Sacramento rivers at 916-224-7444 or intheloopfishing.com. For more information about Feather River fishing, contact Johnson's Bait and Tackle at 674-1912 or visit johnsonsbait.com
Note: The Department of Water Resources recently dropped combined releases on the Feather below the outfall from 6,000 cfs to only 2400 cfs, dewatering many of the salmon redds (nests) in the river below the outlet.