Editor’s Note: With this Saturday’s statewide trout opener looming, we wanted to get you ready for the big day with a trout story a day.
Today: Fishing the Lower Sacramento River near Redding.
By Bill Adelman
If you’ve only heard, read or thought about fishing for lower Sacramento River trout, this fishery is definitely an outing that should be checked off your Golden State
angling bucket list.
We’re focusing on the creek from Redding south to Red Bluff. The greatest misconception today is that the entire lower river is closed to protect salmon, when in fact it’s only about a 4-mile stretch in Redding, ending at the Highway 44 bridge. At press time in mid-March the exact season dates had not been set, but the proposal is April 1 to July 31.
GET SOME HELP
This river can be intimidating to the novice, whether you’re doing a walk/wade trip or fishing from a drift or jet boat. As we all often hear, hire a guide for each different style (I was a freshwater guide for around 20 years and concur). Due to ever-changing conditions, trips are never the same. Techniques vary from day to day and season to season. Checking flows and water clarity are always good ideas prior to traveling. The Fly Shop in Redding (800-669-3474; theflyshop
.com) is a great resource, as they’ll readily give out information as well as hook you up with one of their guides. Owner Kirk Portocarrero of Sac River Guide(800-670-4448; sacriverguide.com) is another good source for this stretch of the river.
Nick Fasiano, who also organizes The Fly Shop’s private-water program, says April features some of the best fishing throughout this run. Should you have access to a boat, side-casting spinning gear while drifting is on fire right now. For many years, salmon roe or eggs were the hot ticket and will still produce, though these days don’t as consistently as they once did.
Bead-and-yarn combos are also kicking during the early spring. Some of the pros feel that the salmon numbers have been so low the past few years that trout are into feeding on their own eggs. The bigger native trout in this stretch also gorged on salmon smolt, and those numbers are also way down, thus back-trolling plugs has tapered off as well. If you wish to use plugs, look towards late winter to be the best option (please debarb all hooks, both on lures and flies, keeping in mind that from 650 feet below Keswick Dam to the Deschutes Road bridge, only barbless hooks may be used).
You’ll need a few different size beads in different natural colors, starting with a 6mm. The best way to pick the right one is if when you hook a trout and it spits up eggs, replicate that size of a bead.
Use the short-shank egg-style hook, size 6 or 8, and peg the bead about 2 inches above the hook. Adding a strip of yarn that almost completely covers the hook is deadly, and the general feeling is that it will hang on the teeth for an additional split second, allowing for a better hookset.
LOTS OF BIG FISH
This presummer fishery will generally produce 30 to 40 fish per day, with many measuring more than 20 inches. Of course, you have to employ the correct technique. When I guided, one of my favorite early-summer trips was to take off to the east just above Red Bluff on Jellys Ferry Road and drop off a vehicle at the Bend launch ramp, then head northeast on Jellys Ferry until hitting the river and launching a drift boat off the gravel. This drift was about 10 miles and we’d run nymphs on fly rods or small spoons on ultralight spinning rods about 40 to 50 feet below the boat and slowly track across the flow. Too many grabs to keep track of when it was on.
The fly guys are in trout heaven, beginning above the Sundial Bridge near the posse grounds all the way downriver, except for that 4-mile closure. They too are looking towards midspring, as the warming temps will generate bug activity and matching the hatch results in stretched leaders. This is caddis time, which again takes off in October. A size 14 indicator with a size 16 Birds Nest, or any of the other great caddis imitations, is the most prominent plan. However, as the water warms, ditch it and try the shallower areas and riffle tailouts using a larger bushy-style stimulator dry fly with a nymph dropper. And don’t overlook the caddis emerger, which can be fished below a dry and allowed to emerge at the end of the drift, then swung directly below your position.
When swinging just the emerger such as a Poopah, imitate your steelhead drift with either a floating or 10-foot sink-tip line. As summer moves in, the evening grab can be outstanding with swung emergers, as just mentioned, or go to dries as soon as the hatch shows itself. Waders have a real advantage here, as they can slowly work the action along a gravel bar.
A SEASON OF TROUT
Going into fall, the bite changes again and the indicator fishery kicks in, as do late-evening dry fly caddis imitations. When the king caddis show up, those bugs approaching an inch long, switch quickly and stick with an 18-inch emerger dropper.
Once the salmon show, the same set-up with beads works for the fly guys, assuming you don’t mind catching fish and don’t hold the position that beads aren’t flies. If so, use Glo Bugs – again, in an assortment of colors and sizes are necessary.
As salmon build spawning redds, they’ll dig up a bunch of bugs – mostly mayfly and caddis. Doubling up a Glo Bug with a caddis or mayfly nymph dropper is the best of both worlds; or you can use one of each and not a Glo Bug.
If the closure proposal goes through, Fasiano thinks some good news should come of it down the line.
“Another awesome byproduct of the closure is that the rainbow trout in the upper stretch of the river get a much needed break in fishing pressure,” he says. “Last year the August 1 reopening of the upper river provided some of the best trout fishing of the whole year.” CS