The fresh-run salmon ripped the line off the reel as I grabbed the long rod and struggled to keep up with the fish on the icy late November morning.
James Netzel of Tight Lines Guide Service reeled in the line on the other rod so it wouldn’t tangle with the hooked fish. The fish kept running and running and I did my best to keep the line tight so the fish wouldn’t get off.
Finally, I started to gain line on the salmon as I worked it closer to the boat.
“Don’t tighten the drag,” Netzel cautioned. “I’ve set the drag light because a light drag works best with the Cut Plug set-up we’re using.”
When I got the silvery fish next to the boat, it went berserk, making several fast, short runs before I was able to lift the fish’s head up and Netzel was able to net it.
It was a very chunky and ocean-bright late fall-run Chinook weighing 17 pounds, our first of the day. “The meat inside this buck will be a bright orange,” Netzel noted.
We were trolling on the Sacramento River in the Garcia Bend area of Sacramento, only several miles from the political bedlam of the State Capitol. In spite all of the problems that our salmon fisheries encounter because of the mismanagement by the state and federal governments, I was reminded that we are truly lucky to still be fishing for salmon in the heart of a major metropolitan area.
If it weren’t for tireless folks like the late Zeke Grader, Executive Director of the Pacific Coast of Fisherman’s Associations (PCFFA) and the late Troy Fletcher, Executive Director of the Yurok Tribe, there wouldn’t probably be any salmon left to catch in California’s river and ocean waters.
About half an hour later, Netzel’s friend, Troy Nimmo of Galt, hooked another fish. This salmon fought fiercely all of the way to the boat like my salmon did. It was another bright king, this one a solid female weighing 14 pounds.
The late fall-run Chinook is one of four runs of salmon that ascend the Sacramento and its tributaries every year..
The late fall run arrives after the fall run, the driver of West Coast fisheries, in late October and November. Unlike the winter and spring runs, both listed under the state and federal Endangered Species Acts, the late fall salmon population is considered to be stable by the CDFW.
We fished for another 30 minutes, didn’t have any more hook-ups, and called it a day early.
Netzel reported a trio of 4 salmon days recently. The latest was on November 30, the day after our trip, when two anglers bagged four salmon, topped by two fish weighing 20 and 28 pounds, while trolling with Netzel.
A fish per rod is more typical of a good day of late fall run fishing. However, these late fall kings are highly prized, since they are some of the biggest, brightest and tastiest of the salmon caught on the Sacramento River.
Plus, when the late fall kings arrive, most anglers are generally concentrating on other fisheries, such as Delta striped bass and sturgeon or crab/rockfish combos on the ocean, so fishing pressure is relatively light.
We were employing an effective technique, used for years on the Columbia River – trolling a cut plug behind a big dodger. Netzel discovered the technique after hearing about it from his friend Scott Barrett, who was experiencing top-notch action on Sacramento River salmon while using the method.
Over the period of three days, Netzel experimented and fine honed the technique. He uses a Brad’s Super Bait Cut Plug lure filled with canned tuna fish in oil and a scent pad inside the lure. The lure is attached via a snap swivel to an approximately 3 foot 40 lb. P-Line CXX leader.
The leader is attached to a 11 inch Pro Troll Pro Chip flasher, which is in turn connected to another 3 feet leader connected to the spreader. A 10 ounce lead cannon ball weight is then attached to a 1 to 3 foot monofilament 12 lb test leader that is connected to the spreader.
The gear he uses is a 10 ‘ 8” Lamiglas XCC 1088G14 Certifed Pro Kwik Series rod, teamed up with a Shimano Tekota line counter reel, filled with P-Line 50 lb. test braided line.
When fishing this rig, Netzel is careful to lay the rig out on the gunnel of the boat before letting it out into the water. He drops the lure into the water first, followed by the flasher and then the weight so they don’t tangle up in a frustrating mess.
“Since we started using this technique a couple of weeks ago, we have landed around 35 fish, the biggest 28 pounds,” said Netzel. “Most of the fish we’ve hooked have been in the 10 to 15 lb. range.”
Rather than dredging the bottom, Netzel is careful to keep the rig a couple of inches off the bottom so it doesn’t snag up.
He has also found that it is best NOT to set the hook. It is better to just pick up the rod, let the fish run and then start reeling in the fish.
“Since we started using a light drag and not setting the hook, we haven’t lost a fish yet to date on this rig, although we have lost fish on our traditional Kwikfish set-ups,” he advised.
If you want to catch a hard-fighting fall run Chinook on the Sacramento River, you don’t have much time left, since the salmon season closes on December 16.
Netzel is now booking trips for Delta stripers, Oroville kings and Folsom trout and salmon.
For more information, contact James Netzel of Tight Lines Guide Service, 888-975-0990, http://fishtightlines.com.