Big increase in state’s salmon population predicted

By: George deVilbiss/Special to Gold Country News Service
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State biologists are predicting excellent news for anglers who have been restricted from doing much salmon fishing. It appears we may go back to a “normal” population of Chinook salmon.

Why the population plummeted is still a major point of controversy. Nobody knows for sure why the numbers decreased so suddenly and dramatically. Dozens of reasons were given.

When the numbers plummeted, the 2008 and 2009 fishing seasons were cancelled and there was a small window of a season in the ocean in 2010.

Dollar losses were massive. Commercial fishing boats sat idle along the north coast, and many boat owners went bankrupt. With no income, they were unable to make payments on their boat, insurance, dockage fees, maintenance and everyday bills.

The rock cod season also was limited. That put party boats up and down the north coast in jeopardy.

Fishing communities from Monterey to the Oregon border rely on visiting anglers for their economies. Without a salmon fishery and a shortened, restricted rock cod fishery, the communities took major financial hits.

But hopefully, that’s going to make a major turn again.

The feds still haven’t determined season dates for the ocean salmon fishery, but word will come down in the next 30 days or so. Early predictions are that the state again will enjoy a full-blown salmon fishing season with a recreational and commercial fishery.

The salmon fishery could open in the middle of April in the upper northern end of the state, Humboldt County, which includes Crescent City, and probably within a week or two in ports further south.

Right now, the California Department of Fish and Game is projecting 729,000 salmon in coastal waters this year. That number compares to a 2010 projection of only 245,000.

The numbers look good, but the DFG also cautions that the number being projected is still well below their historical average.

If you don’t have a boat that will handle ocean water, make plans to hop on a party boat and do some trolling or mooching. Putting fresh salmon on the dinner table this year looks good.

Current fishing
It’s obvious winter’s grip is going to stick around with seemingly no end to the rain and heavy snow in the higher elevation, and that adds to danger factors.

Last week, rivers actually were in pretty good shape for boating and fishing, but that quickly ended with heavier releases out of Lake Oroville, Folsom Lake and Lake Shasta. Weirs have been opened to allow water to flood into the farmlands of the Sutter and Yolo bypasses. The Sacramento and Feather rivers are running high. Any boating on these waters now is dangerous, and steelhead fishing on the American virtually is washed out. Simply stay away for now.

There was significant tsunami-related damage at the Crescent City and Santa Cruz harbors. Little damage occurred in the Bay Area or Bodega Bay because the docks are highly protected.

There was a fair amount of damage to docks reported at the Noyo Harbor in Fort Bragg with pilings snapped off. Hopefully, they’ll be in full operation by the time the highly anticipated salmon season opens.

Lake Oroville: The lake is well into 80 percent of full and there is debris on the water, so if you do go boating, keep the eyes peeled. Coho catching remains the hot ticket for those trolling in the Middle Fork of the Feather River, and the salmon are being found in the top 10 feet. Hoochies behind a dodger should get you bit. Bassers have found the bite to be tough.

Folsom Lake: It may not be fast and furious action, but king salmon catches are decent enough to make the trip worthwhile. Haul a Needlefish down 45 to 55 feet, which means downriggers, in the North Fork, and you’ll generally limit. Water levels are rising, but because of the lower water temps, bass are staying deep, are lethargic and slow to bite. You could get bit drop-shotting in the backs of coves and having a great deal of patience.

Jenkinson Lake: The lake recently was planted so you can do well slinging bait from shore. The first and second dam regions along with the boat ramp area are seeing their share of action. Power Bait, eggs and crawlers will buy a bite.

New Melones: Wintertime trout fishing here is legendary, and the anglers this winter are up to par, scoring from the bank and by trolling. Creek arms are doing best for the shore slingers, while boaters are heading to the Coyote Creek area and hauling a crawler down 25 feet. It will take another warming trend, but bass are beginning to wake up in the river arm, mostly spots. Drop-shotting as deep as 40 feet with plastics has been successful with some bass over seven pounds being reported.

Contact George deVilbiss at