The following appears in the August issue of California Sportsman:
By Chris Cocoles
When the California Department of Fish and Wildlife announced fishing season dates for Klamath and Trinity River king salmon, the predictions were not what anglers like to hear.
“The fall-run Chinook basin in-river quota for this fall period is 2,119 adult Chinook salmon for the 2022 season. Klamath River fall-run Chinook numbers remain low, requiring limited opportunity for harvest while this stock of salmon rebounds from the effects of challenging environmental conditions,” CDFW’s press release stated.
Still, veteran guide Mike Stratman of Redwood Coast Fishing (707-601-8757; redwoodcoastfishing.com) is hopeful that 2022 will offer some strong fishing in rivers such as the Klamath, Trinity, Eel, Smith and others.
“Our Klamath returns are expected to be slightly better than last year. Coupled with what we saw last year along with the good numbers of salmon in our ocean currently, I would expect solid fishing on the Klamath system,” says Stratman, who also offered this usual caveat for making any surefire predictions.
“As always, expectations are tough to get a good hold on. Anadromous fish runs can surprise you going both ways, as there are so many variables involved.”
FALL FISH ON THE WAY
A “truncated” spring-run Chinook season was set to run from July 1 to Aug. 14 on the Klamath (Aug. 31 in the Trinity system). But the fall-run season should offer more opportunities. The Klamath River opens on Aug. 15 for fall-run fish and Sept. 1 on the Trinity.
“Fall-run fish are in tidewater as we
speak in decent numbers,” Stratman says about the Klamath, “so hopes are high, as long as the mouth doesn’t sand over for an appreciable amount of time.”
As the season progresses into September and October, a variable will be rain. A late surge of spring storms provided much-needed water for coastal
rivers, but Stratman still emphasized that fall rain would go a long way toward a productive season.
Without steady precipitation, he fears fishing will be “difficult, as would be the case in any other year.”
“If there is water in the rivers, then it is always worth a trip simply because catching a trophy salmon is always a possibility. This, on average, is not a time of year to catch numbers. Rather, you’re looking for the bite from a truly large Chinook,” Stratman says.
“That being said, while we had decent rainfall and conditions for late October and early November last year, the average-size fish was much smaller than usual for our coastal systems. My feeling is that it is an aberration rather than a trend, but who knows.”
READY FOR SEPTEMBER
While Stratman says the lower Klamath River could see some nice fish by the middle of this month, traditionally the best fishing gets cranked up around Labor Day weekend. And are we headed for an upward trend of good fishing this season and beyond?
“It’s definitely hard to project,” the guide says. “My feeling is that our ocean conditions have been much improved the last couple of years, so I wouldn’t be surprised by an upswing for the next few years.”
But for now, Stratman, other guides and recreational anglers will give it a go. When he fishes the Klam-ath, he’ll take out his power boat.
“We tend to side drift on the Klamath, although plugs and back-bouncing can be killer there if you can find some quiet water to do so, usually later in the day after most people pull off the water,” Stratman says.
And as the season gets into the fall and conditions cool, the Eureka-based guide will fish various waters, including the Smith, Eel and others in Northern California, plus the Chetco just across the border in Oregon.
“The coastal rivers and Trinity River are mostly fished by me, with either sardine-wrapped plugs, back-bounced eggs or, especially in low-water conditions, bobber-fished baits,” Stratman says. “All have their time and place and are pretty condition-specific.” CS
GUIDE STAYS BUSY DESPITE RESTRICTIONS
First, the good news for Redwood Coast Fishing guide Mike Stratman: He should get plenty of business from salmon-chasing anglers on the coastal rivers around his home base in Eureka.
“Yeah, I’ll be full. All but a handful of dates are booked (through October). As I did last year, I will not be advanced booking any coastal salmon days,” he says. “Instead, I will wait for the rivers to rise and then go through my call list. If people are interested in getting on the list, we can make that happen.”
Still, as the Klamath River’s projection of just over 200,000 fish is slightly above 2021’s run, it still is falling behind previous years.
Many have been critical about the state’s salmon management policies in recent years, and while Stratman was accepting of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Chinook basin in-river quota of 2,119 adult salmon for 2022, he still thinks more can be done to help preserve salmon stocks in the state’s rivers.
“It would be nice if the state could figure out a way to adaptively manage the fishery in real time to accommodate inaccurate predictions,” Stratman says. “It seems ridiculous that we can’t use available technology (i.e. sonar) to monitor the fishery as the season moves on to account for how the escapement progresses.” CC