Striper Season Could Be Epic On Sac, Feather Rivers

Guide Manny Saldana is excited about the spring striper run in Northern California. (MSJ GUIDE SERVICE)

The following appears in the March issue of California Sportsman: 

By Chris Cocoles

A lot of winter rain and snow means a lot of water in the Sacramento and Feather Rivers this spring, and that could mean a dynamite striped bass run.

Here’s veteran guide Manny Saldana Jr. of MSJ Guide Service (530-301-7455; msjguideservice.com) on how he thinks the next couple months could unfold: 

“I’m really excited. It’s going to be an epic year; I can sense it and I can smell it.”

The numbers already suggest the rivers around Saldana’s Marysville/Yuba City base will have ample and more importantly cold water when the fish start coming in toward the end of March and throughout what figures to be the peak in April. 

One such stat Saldana provided was that Keswick Reservoir, upstream on the Sacramento River near Redding, was already at 68 percent in early February just before a new set of storms slammed Northern California at the end of the month. A weather phenomenon known as an atmospheric river – similar to what happened in the state in 2016 – was responsible for massive amounts of rain- and snowfall late last month, which led Saldana to citing another telling number. 

“We have, right now, about 150 percent of normal of snowpack in the Sierra. So we’ve got a lot of snow,” Saldana said in late February. 

“I think if anything, (with more snow and rain) and the water temperature may be colder than normal, I think we have to switch up a little bit of tactics just a bit …” 

“But I think more water is going to favor us more than hurt us. Because if you think about it, before they ever put in a dam on the Sacramento or Feather Rivers, what melted is what you got. And by the looks of the numbers I think our fisheries looked better (before the dams were built).”

Photos by MSJ Guide Service.

KEEP THE WATER COOL 

Saldana said that as long as the water temperature in late March and throughout April and May stays around 55 degrees or slightly more, the stripers should remain active. 

“If it gets up to 60, 61, 62 and 63, they start to spawn. And so if we can get something in the mid-50s, that’s going to keep them there longer,” he said. “That’s why last year a lot of them ran in the mouth of the Yuba River, in that colder water. That’s where they were sitting and then they went back out into the other rivers like the Feather and that’s where they spawned and took off. They favored the cooler water. They typically say (spawning starts) at 68, but we start seeing them at 63 start to spawn. The colder water will keep the fish in longer.”

A key to how successful fishing in the rivers will be – especially in the larger Sacramento River – is in the form of all the creeks, channels and sloughs that enter the rivers. Local anglers refer it as the water getting “sweeter.” 

“Because we have so many different little rivers, canals, creeks, sloughs – more in the Sacramento – what that does is flush out a lot of food,” Saldana said. “It can be crawdads or anything the rice farmers dump out in the summertime. Stripers love it because they’re sitting there waiting for the food. There’s just a lot of food and nutrients for them.”

MSJ Guide Service.

GO ARTIFICIAL 

When the stripers are running, you can catch them with various methods, including drifting live minnows and other baits. Saldana prefers going in a different direction with his clients. 

“My favorite way, realistically, is doing it artificially. It takes more skill to catch them (with artificial baits) compared to putting on some live bait and drifting. Live bait is easy and effective,” he said. “But if I had my way, I’d prefer to catch them (with lures). It’s a little more of a challenge in training your clients to do it like this. Hopefully they can become better anglers as well.”

Saldana’s go-to artificial bait is the Optimum 4-inch swimbait, the Bad Bubba Shad. Casting these swimbaits offer anglers a chance of being “really interactive.”

Last year, another atmospheric river scenario brought a late burst of water into the rivers in late March, turning frowns upside down when the forecast for cooler water seemed bleak. 

Now, it appears that everything is set up for great fishing starting from late March into May, and some even hope that fish will still be around in early June.

“I’ll tell you what: If we have water and we have fish, it’s pretty simple; we’re going to have a good April for sure,” said Saldana, who then doubled down on the high expectations. “After we start in late March, we should have an epic April.” 

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