The area of the Feather River below the Thermalito Afterbay Outlet is legendary for the great steelhead and salmon fishing it has provided to anglers over the years.
It also became legendary for the crowds of anglers, including those prone not to obey regulations of any sort. For many years, there was a virtual shantytown of questionable folks located below the outlet, with lots of trash, drug use and drinking accompanying the fishing festivities.
The CDFW once referred in a press release to the “poaching community” located on the Feather below the outlet. The release inspired me to write an article about the concept of a “poaching community” with their “mayor” and “board of directors.”
I remember going up the Feather to the outlet from Gridley with Jim Zanocco to salmon fish at an Outdoor Writers of California conference in the fall 1996. “Welcome to the gates of hell,” Zanocco quipped.
However, the scene at the outlet has changed a lot at the outlet since I first went fishing there back in 1996. As we fished the Sacramento River at the Barge Hole, guide Jason Thatcher told Robert Weese of Northern California Guide Service. “I heard it’s getting medieval up there at the outlet,”
Weese replied, “I’m going up there tomorrow. It’s a lot better, a lot less crowded than it used to be.”
After I heard about the great action on Weese’s first trip the following day to the Feather River at Oroville, with early limits of kings, he invited me to come in the morning.
The next day, I fished with a hard-fishing family of four, including Jeff Bosshard, his wife Regina, 12-year-old Greyson and 10-year-old Vivica for one of the best salmon fishing trips I’ve been on anywhere in recent years.
There was a crowd of boats and bank anglers gathered there, but nothing like the craziness I had experienced the last time I was there. And everybody was good-natured, appearing to have a lot of fun enjoying the day on the water.
The shantytown was long gone and there were a total of 8 boats with 24 anglers total and another 24 anglers, according to the counts of Regina and I. Yes, it’s not exactly wilderness solitude, but it was less crowded than any previous time that I had been there. And the fishing was fabulous.
“We’re going to fish both Flatfish and salmon roe this morning,” said Weese. “We got the fish on both yesterday.”
He instructed us on how to fish both the plugs and the roe. “When a fish grabs your bait or lure, you want to set the hook hard, and then start reeling in. The fish will often run towards you, so you need to keep reeling unless the fish starts taking out line,” Weese tipped.
The action started almost immediately. Within the first 15 minutes, Greyson gave us a virtual on-the-water salmon fishing clinic. He landed the first two fish of the day, one bright and one darker salmon.
Then others in the boat hooked up, with Regina, Jeff and Vivica bagging big, beautiful salmon. The plugs produced the early morning fish, and then as the morning proceeded, the roe bite picked up.
It was tough at first for me, but finally I hooked a big, hard fighting king weighing over 25 pounds, followed another bright salmon around 8 pounds after Robert coached me to let the lure down more slowly to increase my luck. It definitely worked.
“You’ve broken your slump today,” said Weese, after he netted my second fish and put it in the boat, and shook my hand.
The four clients, Robert and I had put our full limits – 12 fish – in the fish box by 9:37 am. The salmon ranged in size from 7 pounds to over 25 pounds. We also lost another half dozen fish, as well as missing a number of bites. It was an action-packed morning.
“I’ve fished the Feather River since high school,” noted Weese.. “I’ve caught lots of steelhead and salmon from bank and boat over the years. My biggest fish ever caught on the Feather River is 51 pounds, while my biggest on the Sacramento went 67 pounds.”
“On the day before we had 8 fish before 11:30; we lost a lot of fish that day,” he noted.”
As we fished, I saw lots of boaters and bank anglers hook fish around me. Anglers fishing with guides Kevin Brock, Scott Feist, Aaron Zanocco, Manuel Saldana, Jr. and Raith Heryford were all catching fish after fish. It was beautiful fall weather, starting in the fifties and then getting warmer as the morning proceeded.
In spite of less-than-stellar predictions by the National Marine Fisheries Service and a slow opener, this has been a good year for salmon fishing on the Feather.
“The fish were late in coming, but once the bite got going, a lot of anglers started catching limits and many are still catching limits,” reported Bob Boucke of Johnson’s Bait and Tackle in Yuba City. “While trolling with Blue Fox spinners from below Shanghai Bend to Boyd’s Pump, we caught anywhere from 1 to 4 salmon on the days I went out.”
Fishing for spring Chinooks in April, May and June on the Feather used to be very popular in the 1990s and early 2000s. The Feather River has been closed to spring Chinook salmon fishing since the fishery collapse of 2008 – even though the spring run Chinook fishery is a hatchery-based fishery.
The section from 200 yards above Live Oak Boat Ramp to Verona remains open to salmon fishing, although the section above where we fished closed to salmon fishing on October 15. The salmon season in the lower river runs from July 16 through mid-December, when the springers have already moved into the hatchery area. The opening and closing dates have changed with the annual regulation setting process in recent years.
The fish ladder at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Feather River Hatchery in Oroville opened on September 19. The hatchery spawns both spring-run and fall-run Chinook salmon.
The staff will take more than 3 million spring-run eggs and 12 million fall-run eggs over the next two months in order to produce Chinook salmon for release next spring, according to Penny Crawshaw, fish hatchery manager 1.
The hatchery has trapped around 1.560 spring-run Chinooks and has taken 2,903,434 eggs to date, according to a preliminary estimate. They began spawning the fall-run Chinooks on October 10.
“We’re loaded – we’ve already taken 120 pairs of salmon fish so far this morning,” she said.
Once the young salmon reach 2 to 4 inches in length, 100 percent of the spring-run stock and 25 percent of the fall-run stock will be adipose fin clipped and implanted with coded wire tags prior to release, according to Crawshaw. CDFW biologists use the information from the tags to chart the survival, catch and return rates of the fish.
Steelhead fishing in the Feather River will pick up as the fish forage on the eggs left by the salmon in the riffles. Use Glo Bugs, salmon roe, nightcrawlers, spinners and an array of flies to tempt the hard-fighting steelies.
For salmon and steelhead trips on the Sacramento and Feather rivers, call Robert Weese of Northern California Guide Service, 530-755-7196, norcalsalmonguide.com.
Feather River Facts
Location: The lower Feather River, the principal tributary of the Sacramento River, runs from below Oroville Dam to its junction with the Feather River at Verona. The river’s main stem is about 71 miles long. This river from Yuba City/Marysville to Verona is characterized by riffles, sandbars, long flats and some deep holes.
Seasons: The salmon season is open from July 16 through December 16 in the section from 200 yards above Live Oak boat ramp to the mouth. The limit is two Chinook salmon, Fishing for steelhead, striped bass, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, channel catfish and other fish species is open year-round.
Boat ramps: Public launching is available at the Yuba City boat ramp, Riverfront Park in Marysville, Star Bend in Marysville, Boyd’s Pump and the Verona Marina. For more information about boat launching or camping at the Verona Marina, call 916-927-8387.
Fishing Guides: Guides are available for king salmon, striped bass, steelhead and shad fishing during the different seasons. Guides include Robert Weese of Northern California Guide Service, 530-755-7196, norcalsalmonguide.com; Bret Brady of Bare Bones Guide Service 530-272-7137 or 530-263-4451, Manuel Saldana, Jr. of MSJ Fishing Guide Service 530-301-7455, James Stone of Elite Sportsman Guide Service 530-923-9440, James Netzel of Tight Lines Guide Service, 888-975-0990; and Kevin Brock of Kevin Brock’s Guide Service 800-995-5543.
Bait and Tackle Stores: Johnson’s Bait and Tackle, Yuba City, (530) 674-1912, Star Bait and Tackle, Marysville, (530) 742-5431, Oroville Outdoors, (530) 533-4990