Big trout tactics for Shasta Lake.

 Multi pound brown trout are not easy to catch, but there are a few tactics you can use to consistently catch these monsters in Shasta Lake and other lakes that hold these amazing fish.

Multi pound brown trout are not easy to catch, but there are a few tactics you can use to consistently catch these monsters in Shasta Lake and other lakes that hold these amazing fish.

I'm going to start off this article by telling you all that I am far from being the best angler to ever guide on Shasta Lake, and I will be the first to admit that there have been many guides on Shasta Lake throughout its history that were excellent anglers and were very good at what they did for their clients to frequently put them on some great fishing.  Sadly, I never met any of the iconic old timer guides, and never had a chance to pick their brains about the fishing on Shasta Lake back in the good old days.  There are still a few long time anglers around, like Stan Kulak who owns Trinidad Tackle in Lakehead, Ca, who have provided some fishing history on Shasta Lake and have given me a few of the keys to unlocking the great fishing on the lake, especially where it pertains to big fish.

I started fishing Shasta Lake in 2012 when I moved to Redding from Eureka, Ca. where I spent many years fishing the coastal rivers, but rarely spent much time on the lakes, as most were relatively far away.  Besides, fishing for river salmon and steelhead was my passion which was fueled by growing up near Fernbridge, Ca. which is located adjacent to the once famous Eel River.  I've nearly always had a jet boat since 1992 and I still do.  I never imagined I'd have downriggers on my boats and never dreamed I'd have a bow mount electric motor, a windshield, and a top for sun and cold weather protection, but here I am with all of those features now.

 Having the right equipment on your boat is essential if you want to catch big fish.

Having the right equipment on your boat is essential if you want to catch big fish.

I've spent countless hours looking at different ways to fish Shasta Lake and although I haven't invented anything new, I've learned how to use several different methods to get my baits in front of the bigger fish Shasta Lake holds.  Most anglers out here in the west have a set or two of downriggers on their boat and thats the extent of their equipment used to get their presentations down to the fish.  I've identified several ways to accomplish the same thing, but with several other pieces of equipment.  To cover all of the seasons on Shasta and the different water conditions throughout the year, having more than a set of downriggers on your boat is critical to your big fish success.

Some of the techniques I'm about to mention are fairly difficult to deploy, but they are all tried and true techniques, that given time, will produce some of the biggest fish you'll ever catch.  I'm not going to explain how to use every technique in this article or even tell you when they work the best, I'm just going to tell you what they area and why I use them.  I will, at some point, write about each of the techniques and give some detailed information on just exactly how to use them.  In the meantime, you can study up on these techniques online or by reading content elsewhere that goes into more detail about using these methods to catch big fish.

 You will notice that many of my picture have these Church Tackle Walleye Boards in the background.  Well, I use them a lot, even in the summer months to catch big trout on Shasta Lake.

You will notice that many of my picture have these Church Tackle Walleye Boards in the background.  Well, I use them a lot, even in the summer months to catch big trout on Shasta Lake.

I'm going to start with the fall fishery on Shasta Lake and take you all the way into the summer months up until Shasta Lake turns over again in the fall.  Shasta Lake is defined as a warm monomictic lake, look it up, and it is very predictable because of this designation and its behavior throughout the year.  Right after Shasta Lake turns over, usually in late October, the fishing you are used to changes abruptly.  Everything you were doing a few weeks before will no longer catch big fish, especially if you keep fishing deep.  Having the ability to find water temperatures at depth throughout the year is important, but I'll talk a bit more about that later in this article.

So fall has arrived and Shasta Lake has turned over because of the much cooler conditions making for similar temperature conditions throughout the entire lake.  Turnover signals the big (adult) spawners to turn into the pre spawn mode and most will begin their migration up the arms of the lake.  I'm not saying you won't catch trout down in the main body of Shasta Lake in the fall, but I can tell you that you won't catch very many.  If you want to catch big fish, head north.  Thats where the big fish will be.  October can be a frustrating month to fish so if you need to take a break on Shasta, October is the month.

 Its late October, early November, and its time to break out the Church Tackle inline side planers.

Its late October, early November, and its time to break out the Church Tackle inline side planers.

Now that Shasta is pretty much sitting in the mid 50's temperature wise, its time to break out the side planers.  The big trout will be in the top 10' of the lake and will be cruising up the lake arms towards the head waters.  Sure, you can use 150' - 200' foot setbacks off your downriggers or by top lining, but your boat is going to spook more big fish than not.  Big fish, especially browns, are quite weary to boat traffic.  Driving over them will push them to the sides of the boat so why not have your trolling gear out there where they are swimming off to.  Makes sense, doesn't it?  The side planers are going to make little noise and their surface disturbance is minimal.  During windy/choppy conditions, the side planers will impart action on your lures thats just not possible while trolling with downriggers are fixed rod holders.  Lastly, you can cover a lot of water if you have lures off to the side of the boat instead of just running a few lines right behind the boat.

As fall progresses into winter, you will have access to the big fish migrating up river, spawning, and out migrating again down into the lake.  During winter, I will catch both pre spawn and post spawn fish in the same day.  Theres quite a few fish around and the combination of trolling with a spread of side planers and big, fast running spoons like the Trinidad Tackle Optimizer spoon, you can cover tons of water during your day on Shasta and will attract some big bites!  Side planers and even stern planers can be a deadly tool that can be used in many ways with several other items to make them even more effective and to help you cover more layers on the lake.

 Big browns on Shasta Lake can be caught trolling Optimizer spoons behind a Church Tackle side planer!

Big browns on Shasta Lake can be caught trolling Optimizer spoons behind a Church Tackle side planer!

 The only thing to consider when deciding on trolling depth in the winter is the presence of cloud cover and surface conditions.  If its overcast and choppy, fish high.  If its sunny and flat, run a few lines down to 10' as the bigger fish will push down a bit to get out of the penetrating rays from the sun and the predator birds overhead.  Shasta often time gets some great weather in the cold water season, but really the fish will still be up higher in the water column most days this time of the year.

As winter turns towards spring, Shasta will once again start to play tricks on you.  Sunny, calm days and traveling fish can make for a tough day on the water.  One tactic I have come to rely on is to not only work open water, but work the shorelines as the water begins to warm with the spring time sunshine when we tend get it.  The browns will move towards structure and will often times sun themselves along the warmer shoreline areas, especially where structure is available.  When trying to cover both deep water and shallow water near shore, there is no better technique than running side planers.  You can cover both areas at the same time whereby increasing your odds of finding fish dramatically.

 This winter rainbow was caught high in an arm of Shasta Lake using a small spoon behind a Church Tackle side planer along the shoreline in less than five feet of water.

This winter rainbow was caught high in an arm of Shasta Lake using a small spoon behind a Church Tackle side planer along the shoreline in less than five feet of water.

Spring brings a little more predictability to the big fish scene.  Most of the browns have migrated back to the arms of the lake downstream of their spawning grounds and the big rainbows are up in the rivers creating the next generation of wild rainbows in Shasta Lake.  Because the big rainbows are a rare find in early spring, its the browns I focus on once again.  A good percentage of the browns you'll catch will be near shore now, especially on big points and rock walls.  With more sunny days than not, I find that trolling right on the surface no longer gets most of the bites and I break out the downriggers again.  I'll still use the side planers, but I want some baits down a little deeper too.  Deeper means 20-30' and if I'm getting lots of bites at those depths, I'll use some line weights to get my side planer  lines down a bit as well.  Trinidad Tackle makes a system perfect for that technique, called Eco Weights.  They are a great tool for getting your side planer lines down to the browns in the spring.

March and April are my favorite months to catch big browns.  They are very active and sometimes their stomach over rides their weariness making them a lot easier to catch.  they have been back in the lake for a while now and most have fully recovered from the spawn.  These browns have the appearance of ocean run browns and are very brilliant in color and shine.  I will concentrate on browns solely during this timeframe and with browns over ten pounds caught this year, my calendar fills quickly and the big fish pics are hitting the internet daily.  I will let you in on one of my success secrets for this time of the year.  When I fish an area I know is holding big browns, I will troll through the areas with big Optimizer spoons at about 3.8 mph.  When I work a section of shoreline and don't get bites, but can see the fish sitting down below, I will size down and slow down.  I find that aggressive browns will crush big baits trolled fast, especially early in the day.  if they are not in an aggressive mood, I know they are in an opportunistic mode and will more likely grafter a smaller bait trolled at a slower speed.  

 Big Optimizer spoons catch big aggressive browns.  This Optimizer spoon was absolutely crushed by a Shasta Lake brown trout last spring.

Big Optimizer spoons catch big aggressive browns.  This Optimizer spoon was absolutely crushed by a Shasta Lake brown trout last spring.

As May approaches, the browns will begin to move again towards the main body of Shasta Lake which can present some challenges when fishing for them.  The good new is that the big rainbows are finishing up in the rivers and will be out migrating downstream making for another big fish alternative.  If you've pounded the shores for browns and come up empty, push out over deeper water and you may be surprised when your side planer gets slammed and your reel starts to scream!  The big rainbows are back and they are on the surface again over deep water.  Focus on the open areas of the lake at the entrance of the arms like Dry Creek, Big Backbone, Waters Gulch, and where the McCloud meets the main lake near Bridge Bay.  

I will often use a number of techniques to get my baits away from the boat because these rainbows will once again be high in the water column.  Big spoons, small spoons, and stick baits from Bay Rat Lures are a good bet this time of the year.  I like to troll a bit slower for the rainbows and find 2.5 mph to be a great speed for success.  Be prepared for switching it up and looking for both rainbows and browns this time of the year.  June continues to be a good month for both rainbows and browns, but the water temps are warming and the Thread fin Shad show up in numbers before their spawn.  The Shad like the warmer temps so you will first see them tight to the shorelines where the water temps are the highest.  This is the time of year when rolling Shad cured in Pautzke Bait Co. Fire Brine is absolutely deadly!  I like to use natural, blue, and chartreuse Fire Brine infused with matching color Fire Dye.  Run the shad on a double hook rig, naked or behind a 4" Fish Flash and its fish on!

 Blue Pautzke Fire Brine cured Shad rolled off a downrigger in May, June, and July is a deadly presentation for catching big Shasta Lake trout.

Blue Pautzke Fire Brine cured Shad rolled off a downrigger in May, June, and July is a deadly presentation for catching big Shasta Lake trout.

July brings the official jumbo summer rainbow trout season and it lasts through September when we've gone full circle and are looking at fall weather again.  The most important factor to consider this time of the year is the thermocline.  It changes nearly every week, starting from the surface to 30' early and from the surface down to 125' by late September.  You will find the fish where the water temps are below 65 degrees.  That is the top of the temperature range the trout will hang out in when they are looking for shad to feed on.  The shad won't go into cold water so the trout will have to come up out of temperature to find them.  As the hot summer sun warms the top layer of the lake, the trout and Shad will gradually go deeper and deeper.  By the time the trout are down below 80' its a downrigger show and thats pretty much the extent of my technique for this last few months of the summer.  Trolling Bay Rat Long Shallow stick baits, spoons (large and small), or spoon dodger combo's are what I use to catch big trout.  The Bay Rat stick baits are a killer lure for big fish, especially browns when trolled down deep.  Optimizers and other smaller spoons are very effective too!

This pretty much sums up in light detail the tactics I use to find the big fish on Shasta Lake throughout the year.  Of course there are tons of fine details to be mentioned, but for the sake of brevity, I think breaking down the specific techniques in other articles would be more informative for my audience.  You all see the success my clients enjoy when it comes to catching big fish on Shasta Lake so take what I've laid out here and implement it into your own strategy when hunting big trout on your own.  This is information I really on so I know it will help you as well.  if you want to get the hands on course, book a trip with me and I'll be happy to share what I know about catching big trout on Shasta lake.  Please remember that these trophy Shasta Lake fish are a precious commodity so handle them with care if you intend on releasing them.  Good luck and tight lines to you all!

Spring tactics for fishing Shasta Lake trout and salmon

The 2018 spring fishing season is in full swing on Shasta Lake near Redding, Ca. and we're just weeks away from seeing some of the very best trout and King salmon fishing Shasta Lake has to offer all year.  When I moved from the north coast to Redding in 2012, I had no idea that Shasta Lake would become one of my favorite places to fish.  Nearly six years later, Shasta Lake has not only become one of my favorite places to fish, but its also proving to be the biggest venue for my fishing guide business.  

People from all over the country are sending me messages or are calling to ask questions about fishing trips this summer on Shasta Lake.  The houseboat trips have been huge, but I'm finding most of my trips are all about spending time with family.  It has been, and will continue to be, viewed as a privilege to to share these days on the water with all of the fine people that come out to fish with me. I've been humbled by the notoriety and the amount of work Shasta Lake has provided and am so grateful to all who have chosen to spend a day or more of their lives fishing with me, and to pay me a good living in the process. 

 This husband and wife team are doubled up with rainbow trout on Shasta Lake during their day of fishing with me.  This day was very special to me in that Don Domingo had never caught a brown trout after many attempts and guided fishing trips.  He booked a trip with me to accomplish that goal so It was my pleasure to help Don catch his first German brown.

This husband and wife team are doubled up with rainbow trout on Shasta Lake during their day of fishing with me.  This day was very special to me in that Don Domingo had never caught a brown trout after many attempts and guided fishing trips.  He booked a trip with me to accomplish that goal so It was my pleasure to help Don catch his first German brown.

Where do I start?

During the spring months, Shasta Lake undergo's a big change in that water temperatures that remained in the low 50's for most of the winter begin to warm.  The warm water triggers and springs to life the food chain in the lake which is so important for so many reasons.  Both the German brown and rainbow trout spend most of the late fall through early spring in the upper tributaries spawning.  After the spawn these exhausted and very nutrient deprived fish make their way back to the lake to replenish and restore their physical health.  They do so by foraging and finding food sources which are high in protein content.  Fortunately, this spring period is also when the shad, planktons, and other food sources increase in numbers through reproduction and lake water conditions they also thrive in.

The lake will give away its secrets to success during this timeframe and everything will be told from what you observe.  The two most important things to consider are the water temps and the location of the bait.  Find the right water temps and you'll find the bait.  When you find the bait, the fish will be nearby in the water temps they feel most comfortable in.  The two most effective ways to find trout and baitfish are with your visual observations above the waterline and below the waterline using sonar.  These two very important pieces of the puzzle are critical to pay close attention to.  Because this article is about spring fishing, I will explain what conditions to look for and where during the months of April through early June.

The conditions on Shasta Lake vary from year to year, but, in general, when the water surface temps begin to rise, the winter trout and bait patterns will in fact change over to a spring pattern.  Trout love shad and shad love warm water.  When the surface temps begin to rise, the first areas you will want to look for bait fish will be near the shoreline and coves where the water will heat up first.  The Shasta Lake arms and shallower areas are the first place I look when looking for spring trout because thats where the shad balls will first be visible after wintering in the deep dark depths of the lake.  Many days will be spent high in the lake arms chasing trout.  The two temperatures you need to know the location of in Shasta is 54 degrees and 65-70 degrees.  Right now the trout will be hanging out in the cooler water near shore where they can just swim up and readily eat through schools of shad when they pass by.  It is my observation that the shad will be on the move all spring and so will the trout.

 Post spawn rainbow trout caught this month in the Sacramento River Arm above Antlers Marina.

Post spawn rainbow trout caught this month in the Sacramento River Arm above Antlers Marina.

How do I catch the trout and salmon?

It is my opinion that trolling for trout and salmon in Shasta Lake is undoubtedly the best way to catch fish.  This technique can be especially important during the spring months when the trout/salmon and bait are so spread out this time of the year.  Covering lots of water and lots of depths are the main formulas for success.  One of the main reasons I like to troll big spoons like the Trinidad Tackle Optimizer, is because you can cover miles and miles of water that you just can't when trolling or fishing from shore.  Big trout and salmon in Shasta are hunters.  To catch them, you have to beat them at their own game.  Depending on water temps during the spring transition, I will use side planers, downriggers, Eco line weights, or even just top line the surface to find the fish.  Theres a thousand things to use to get bites, but they are all presented by trolling.

I tend to troll spoons or bait as a single presentation during spring.  The fish will be near the surface and will have plenty of light to visually locate your offerings.  Its not until the fish start to dive deeper will I add dodgers/flashers to attract fish that are deep and in low light conditions.  I typically troll at higher speeds in the spring, probably because I have less gear in the water.  When you don't have dodgers or flashers running speed isn't as critical because your not limited by the speed at which the gear will effectively run at.  I generally run 2.0-2.5 mph during most conditions in the spring.  The only exception is when trolling all Optimizers and I like 3.5-3.8 mph when trolling them.

Bait can also be a great option and I think rolling shad is one of the best trolling bait options out there.  Running shad in spring is a top producer because its the top choice for trout and salmon right now.  Nightcrawler worms trolled alone or as an addition to a Arctic Fox Trolling fly can be deadly as well.  If you are looking for spring salmon, I highly recommend shad or anchovy rigs to have the best chance at catching them.  I like to roll shad on a double hook rig or an anchovy in a Trinidad Tackle Bait Head.  Salmon and trout can't resist the smell of fresh meat and the flash and roll of real bait.

 Trolling for Shasta Lake trout and salmon is my preferred method for catching these great fish year round.

Trolling for Shasta Lake trout and salmon is my preferred method for catching these great fish year round.

Where did they go and how do I find them now?

Like I explained earlier, the spring pattern is continuously under change because of the water conditions and bait migrations.  Just when you think you have found the fish and have them locked in at a certain depth, they disappear.  This can be frustrating but thankfully its only for a short period of time during the spring season.  After the weather patterns stabilize and a warm water layer develops on the surface, the fish will settle in and the fishing will really take off!  Once you establish a good depth for the bite, it remains pretty close to the same day after day, but will slowly go deeper as the surface temps get even warmer. This lake water thermocline will sort of lock the fish down into a smaller area and will generally be in the main body of Shasta Lake.  After spending months up high in the arms by June-July I'm fishing the same water nearly every day.  Working through this spring transition period is very frustrating but after a few years you'll have a far better understanding of how to effectively stay on good fishing when the lake is void of other trolling boats and recreational water users we typically see in the summer.

I hope some of this information helps to bring some understanding of how to fish Shasta Lake in the spring and what considerations should be made before heading out or throwing in the towel after the fall transition.  Shasta Lake is a world class fishery and its angling rewards can be extraordinary.  Persistence pays big dividends in the spring, but if you are out of area or just don't get out enough to stay on top of the good fishing please feel free to send me a quick message or call and I'll do what I can to help.  Better yet, book a trip with me and you'll have 8 hours to pick my brain and to accelerate your knowledge of Shasta lake trout and salmon fishing.  Sharing my fishing knowledge with others is a character trait that I hope will continue with future generations of anglers and will be one of the most notable gestures I will have offered to others long after I'm gone.

 This young man will likely never forget this fishing trip with his father and I hope that he will also carry something he learned on this day of fishing with me into his future and maybe even share it with his own child or another child he knows someday.

This young man will likely never forget this fishing trip with his father and I hope that he will also carry something he learned on this day of fishing with me into his future and maybe even share it with his own child or another child he knows someday.

NEW!! "Eco Line Weights" by Trinidad Tackle Co.

 Eco Line Weights are a very effective tool for catching fish on the lakes.

Eco Line Weights are a very effective tool for catching fish on the lakes.

Redding area lake fishing

I've made a lot of changes to my fishing style in recent years, especially when fishing the lakes here in the Redding area.  I've spent the majority of my adult life fishing and guiding for salmon and steelhead in both the Washington and California river systems.  With uncertain times in the fishing industry, fishing guides have to adapt to the changing conditions by relocating their business or adjusting their focus on different species of fish that are available in the areas they currently operate.  I've watched the Sacramento River fishing opportunities decline here in the Redding area for a number of years now and started to look for alternatives for running fishing trips here at home.  With three large lakes located within a short driving distance from Redding, shifting my business focus became a no brainer.  Whiskeytown, Shasta, Trinity, Keswick, and Lewiston Lakes all offer excellent fishing most of which is available year round.

Pinch line weights to catch more fish?

I've learned so much the past 4 years about fishing our local lakes and I'm finding great success on them all.  I have shared many of these tricks and techniques I have learned through study and time on the water here on my website, fishing report sites, and on social media.  The last few years have allowed me to spend even more time on our local lakes and I've stumbled on a particular weight system that has significantly increased my success when trolling, especially when fished in conjunction with inline side planers.  Its such a great tool for catching fish, I felt like it would benefit the fishing community by sharing what I've learned about using them.

What are Trinidad Tackle's new Eco Line Weight System made of?

I'll start off by explaining what these weights consist of and why it is important to use the components you'll see in these weight system kits.  First of all, we've all heard about the probable ban on lead fishing products in California, so with this in mind, the Eco Line Weights are made of non lead products, including the actual weights.  The weights are made of molten steel that is poured into molds to create the 1 oz. thru 6 oz. weights.  The weights are then powder coated and covered in a rubber type heat shrink as seen in the picture above.  The red pinch pads are strong and have a nipple inside the pinch surface which secure the clips to the line without coming off.  If you attach your line above the nipple, your Eco Line Weight won't fall off if you scrape bottom or fight a hot fish.  The pinch pad is simply attached to the Eco Weight with a metal "key ring".

 Trinidad Tackle Eco Line Weight attached to my main line before letting it out into the water while setting my lines back behind the boat.

Trinidad Tackle Eco Line Weight attached to my main line before letting it out into the water while setting my lines back behind the boat.

How to use Eco Line Weights for trolling.

Trolling with Eco Line weights is simple and effective whether you are using them on a side planer line, downrigger line, or just on your rod line when trolling off the side or back of your boat.  The 1-6oz. weights will obviously take your lines down to different depth when attached with aforementioned trolling methods.  I first realized the effectiveness of the line weights when I started finding that my surface trolling lines when trolling the Optimizer spoons were not producing like my downrigger lines.  Some conditions are such that you just won't find fish near the surface, like when the lake is flat and the sun is high in the sky.  When fishing with line weights in the top 20' of the lake during the cold water periods of the year, your presentation takes on a whole new level of performance.  I've caught more brown trout fishing weighted lines and inline Church Tackle side planers than any other method combined.  Some times of the year I'll be using up to six side planers, especially early in the morning or when we have a little chop on the surface.

No matter which trolling technique i'm using, I attach all the weights the same way.  I let out 50-60' feet of line behind the boat and then I attach the line weight to my mainline from the rod..  I then let the rest of the line out depending on how far I'm fishing behind the boat.  Fishing shallow requires at least 130-150' of line behind the boat, especially with downriggers or rods hanging out the back when top lining.  If you need to get down below the surface when trolling attach a 1 oz. weight and see if it gets your lures down in the strike zone.  If not, go to a 2 oz. or even 3 oz.  The weight, line diameter, and trolling speed will get varying results as far as depth goes so you'll have to play around with your equipment and trolling speeds to get your depth dialed in.  I run 30# braid line and normally achieve about 10-12' feet of depth with a 2 oz weight and around 15-18' feet with a three oz. at 2.5 mph.  It runs slightly shallower for each when I'm trolling Optimizer Spoons at a faster trolling speed.  When you get your speeds and depth dialed in you will be able to target fish below the top 5 feet of the lake more efficiently and your success rate will surely increase.  When you hook a fish, simply reel them in until your line weight is within reach of you or a boat mate, and take it off.  Once its off, you can play your fish to the net weight free.

Finally, it is my opinion that these weights can be used by all trollers while on the lake.  It can be used as a way to get your lines down in a kayak or from a big power boat.  There is no longer a need to attach permanent weight systems or divers to your lines to get your lures down to where the fish are.  They are hassle free and changing your weight size is a snap requiring easy on and off applications once you've found the depth the fish are biting.  www.trinidadtackle.com will have these weight systems available in a week or so.  Please visit their website or contact stan@trinidadtackle.com for more information.  Ask for them at your local tackle retailer.  If they don't have them, let them know you would like them to carry the Eco Line Weights.  Thats the best way to let them know they are in demand.

 7 of our 8 browns hooked last Sunday were hooked using Trinidad Tackle Eco Line Weights and inline Church Tackle side planers.

7 of our 8 browns hooked last Sunday were hooked using Trinidad Tackle Eco Line Weights and inline Church Tackle side planers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whiskeytown Lake Kokanee bait.

Winter in Northern California can be both beautiful and brutal depending on what kind of weather patterns Mother Nature send our way.  This winter has been relatively mild and we've seen weather that resembles spring time more than it does our typical winter.  On a positive note, some of our local fishing opportunities do very well in the spring so its no surprise that we have been experiencing some great fishing, especially for Kokanee salmon.  Kokanee fishing on Whiskeytown Lake is a well known fishery and every year we see people from all over the west coming to Redding to experience these top notch fishery.  Not only are they abundant, but they are some of the finest tasting fish that will end up in your smoker or on the dinner table.  With limits of Kokanee set at five fish per person, these 1 lb.- 2 Lb. Kokanee can add up to a nice harvest of salmon fillets.

 Whiskeytown Lake has become California's Kokanee fishing destination!

Whiskeytown Lake has become California's Kokanee fishing destination!

Living just 15 minutes from Whiskeytown Lake is beyond convenient for me and its a body of water I guide on a good number of months, especially during June thru August.  Fishing Whiskeytown Lake several months during the year has enabled me to become very familiar with the Kokanee in this lake and my success rates are quite high.  There are a few effective techniques available for catching Kokanee on any body of water that holds them, but Whiskeytown Lake is primarily a troll fishery.  The winter months are quite slow as far as boat traffic and the lake sees very little pressure until late spring when air and water temps start to heat up.  Many days in the winter will only have a boat or two fishing, but come summer time, its not uncommon to see 10-20 boats trolling for Kokanee.  Whiskeytown Lake has become Californias best Kokanee Lake and the increasing fishing pressure is on the rise.  With a steady source of water coming into Whiskeytown lake year round, and the pristine spawning habitat in Clear, Brandy, and Whiskey Creeks, provides for the Kokanee populations to remain abundant even with thousands of Kokanee harvested every year.

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Its no secret that Whiskeytown Lake Kokanee respond to bait presentations that include shoe peg corn.  I depend on its use to the extent that I wouldn't put my boat in the water if I didn't have it.  I use it on every singe bait I send into the water without question, unless I'm trolling small spoons.  I believe that the corn presents in such a way that Kokanee are visually stimulated to bite a bait that is rigged with corn.  I also believe that there is a factor that should never be underestimated, and that is the addition of scent to the shoe peg corn.  There are many, many scents out there that people use to add to their corn, but I can tell you that Whiskeytown Lake Kokanee have their favorites.  I go through a lot of corn every year and I don't always have the time or energy to run out to store to get more scent or shoe peg corn.  Fortunately, the Pautzke Bait Company has developed a superior, ready made, Kokanee corn that is deadly on Whiskeytown Lake Kokanee salmon.  Pautzke Fire Corn comes in a variety of colors and has been specially formulated with the addition of scents and bite stimulants, making Fire Corn the most effective Kokanee bait addition I have ever used.

 Pautzke Bait Co. Fire Corn and some additional scents I will add when fishing Whiskeytown Lake.

Pautzke Bait Co. Fire Corn and some additional scents I will add when fishing Whiskeytown Lake.

Kokanee salmon in Whiskeytown Lake primarily feed on Plankton blooms which are abundant during many of the nice sunny days we see throughout the year when water conditions are right.  I believe the addition of krill into the Pautzke Fire Corn is just one of the many things that make this Kokanee corn stand above others, including the competitive brands available on the market.  Plankton is similar to krill so it makes sense that Kokanee would have a tendency to react to baits that contain krill.  The Fire Corn carries a strong scent trail and I have found that just one kernel per hook has been quite adequate to successfully catch Kokanee.  Another feature that I have found to be a stand out when referring to Fire Corn is its toughness.  I've used store bought shoe peg corn in the past and I can tell you that the Fire Corn is far superior in its durability.  Its important that your corn has a toughness to it because Kokanee are known for hitting trolled baits numerous times before actually finding the point of a hook.  They also have soft mouths and will often come off before you even notice a rod bouncing on the downrigger.  I've trolled around a bait for hours while the other baits were getting bit only to find out that the corn on that one bait was gone when I finally pulled it off the clip and reeled it in.

 Pautzke Fire Corn comes in a variety of colors.  Pictured here are some of my favorites for Whiskeytown Lake Kokanee.

Pautzke Fire Corn comes in a variety of colors.  Pictured here are some of my favorites for Whiskeytown Lake Kokanee.

Now while I prefer to use the natural color Fire Corn, there are days on the water when the Kokanee want another color.  This has been a game changer on many days for me and I always take different colors of Fire Corn with me when Kokanee fishing.  Another thing to consider is that there will be some days when Whiskeytown Lake Kokanee will have a taste for other well known scent additions to the Fire Corn.  I will often add the oil from a can of tuna to Fire Corn.  In addition to, or on its own, garlic is another great addition to Fire Corn some days.  And if thats not enough, I will also add a good dusting of the Pautzke Fire Power (krill powder) to give it an extra krill boost the Kokanee will go nuts for.  Pautzke Fire Corn lasts a long time, and lasts even longer if kept cool during your day on the water.  Because the Fire Corn lasts so long, the added aforementioned scents will soak into the Fire Corn over time and it will become even more potent as you continue to use it.  I always have a few jars on hand with different scents added and I know this often times gives me an edge on the water over other anglers fishing around me.  Give Pautzke Fire Corn a try if you haven't already, I think you'll be impressed with your results.

Brining bait for Shasta Lake salmon and trout.

Shasta Lake in northern California is the largest water reservoir in California, holding nearly 4.6 million acre feet of water.  With depths as deep as 517 feet, and over 365 miles of shoreline, it is very rich in its aquatic nutrients for resident fish species. It hosts a massive population of different fish species including, King salmon, trout, bass, panfish, and a variety of bottom dwellers as well.  Because of its excellent year round fishing opportunities, Shasta Lake plays host to dozens of fishing tournaments each year and is truly a fisherman's paradise, especially in the spring and summer months when the thermoclines develop.  As a full time guide on Shasta Lake, I have used numerous techniques to successfully catch the rainbows, browns, and King salmon when fishing my clients.  During the last few years one particular type of bait has stood out above the others and is now a part of my every day presentations.  The bait I'm referring to is not what you would expect to use in a freshwater lake located in the northern reaches of California, but for reasons unknown, its a very effective addition to any fisherman's presentations when fishing northern California lakes.

 Shasta Lake King salmon caught with a squid skirt tipped with an anchovy strip.

Shasta Lake King salmon caught with a squid skirt tipped with an anchovy strip.

The bait I am referring to is the Pacific Anchovy.  When properly prepared with Pautzke Bait Company Fire Brine, these small baitfish used whole or even filleted into small pieces, will absoluty get you more bites when fishing Shasta Lake.  Anchovies are rich with fish attracting oils and leave an awesome scent trail in the water when trolled whole or when cut into strips and attached as an additional attraction to a number of baits.  The greasy little baitfish can most often be found at any good bait shop or tackle store and will likely be found in frozen form.  You can buy the tray anchovies if you plan to run them with Trinidad Tackle bait heads and need them to look good, or you can buy the bulk bags if you plan to cut them up into pieces. Either way, anchovies are a fairly soft bait when thawed so brining them before use is highly recommended.

 Shasta Lake trout caught while trolling a streamer fly tipped with an anchovy strip.

Shasta Lake trout caught while trolling a streamer fly tipped with an anchovy strip.

I use Pautzke Bait Co. Natural Fire Brine because its very easy to use and not only enhances the toughness of my baits, but it increases the shine of the bait which is important when trolling the anchovies whole.  This makes for a very attractive presentation and you can troll the same bait for longer than you would really want to.  It is without a doubt the best bait brine on the market and has been for years.  I use the natural Fire Brine because I have confidence in how it prepares my baits and because it seems to produce the best results for me on the waters I fish.  Pautzke has several other color brines available so feel free to experiment with the different colors of Fire Brine on the waters you fish.  You might find that blue or chartreuse is a better color bait on your local lakes.

 Shasta Lake King caught with a squid skirt and a chunk of anchovy.

Shasta Lake King caught with a squid skirt and a chunk of anchovy.

I'd like to be able to say I have a secret Fire Brine recipe that I'm going to reveal to the fishing world, but the truth is, Pautzke has already developed the perfect brine.  All I have to do is open a bottle of Fire Brine and pour enough to cover my anchovies in a plastic baggie or a container.  Its very simple and saves me the trouble of making an inferior brine recipe like we used in the old days.  The following steps are the steps I take when brining bait with Fire Brine and the only thing that will change how I brine them is the amount of time I have to let my baits brine before I fish them.

Step #1

 Anchovies, Pautzke Fire Brine, plastic container, and rubber gloves.

Anchovies, Pautzke Fire Brine, plastic container, and rubber gloves.

I remove the number of frozen anchovies I anticipate using over the next few days based on the number of anglers I will have in the boat.  I either put the anchovies into a plastic baggie or into a plastic container with a lid that seals tightly when closed.  I will pour enough Fire Brine into the baggie or container to cover all of the anchovies I have in the container.  I like to stir all of the baits around making sure they are all covered in the Fire Brine.  I will then place the container in my bait fridge overnight, but try every few hours to move the bait around in the Fire Brine filled container to keep all the baits submerged throughout the brining process until I call it a night.  If for some reason I have a quick turn around and need the anchovies to firm up a little more quickly, I will sometimes add a liberal coat of non iodized salt over the brining anchovies to help speed up the firming process.

 Pour enough Pautzke Fire Brine over the frozen anchovies to fully cover them all.

Pour enough Pautzke Fire Brine over the frozen anchovies to fully cover them all.

Step #2

The following morning before I head out to fish, I'll drain the excess Fire Brine from the baggie or plastic container and get them ready for the day of fishing.  If I'm running anchovies in bait heads, I'l obviously leave them whole.  If I plan to use them as part of a presentation as a strip on a streamer fly or on a hoochie rig, I'll often fillet the anchovies and cut the meat into thin strips that will trail the presentations without interfering with their action.  A little goes a long way in the case of fishing for trout or salmon on Shasta Lake, so big chunks aren't necessary to get bites.  I'll often run the strips 1/8"-3/16" wide on a 1" strip, or a 1/4" X 1/4" chunk to put on a double hook rig with a hoochie skirt.

 Fillet the anchovy and cut into appropriate sized pieces for your presentation.

Fillet the anchovy and cut into appropriate sized pieces for your presentation.

Thats really all there is to brining anchovies, or other bait fish like shad or herring, with Pautzke Bait Co. Fire Brine.  At the end of the day after keeping it cold all day on the water, I simply return the container to the bait fridge for use the following day.  I've found that if you can keep it cold, you can use the bait or bait strips for several days.  If you don't have another day of fishing planned, simply put the baits in the freezer and save them for another day.  They will thaw out and fish just fine!

 Go catch some Shasta Lake salmon and trout!

Go catch some Shasta Lake salmon and trout!

 

 

 

  

Trolling flies for rainbows and browns!

There are hundreds of techniques trout anglers utilize to effectively catch trout and there are no limits to the number of combinations and presentations we see people fishing all the time.  It can be a bit overwhelming for some of you out there who find a way to spend the time to look for new ways to improve your catch rates when you get those rare days in your busy lives to actually get out and fish.  This short article about a technique that can be easily explained in a relatively short period of time and is a very effective method for catching trout on our nor cal lakes.

 This is a Shasta Lake rainbow trout caught on the McCloud arm while trolling an Arctic Fox (shad pattern) Trolling Fly this past December.

This is a Shasta Lake rainbow trout caught on the McCloud arm while trolling an Arctic Fox (shad pattern) Trolling Fly this past December.

Flies and trolling intro.

Trolling flies for trout is actually a very popular and even preferred technique for catching big fish.  A local northern California lake that this technique is often used is Eagle Lake and some have perfected this technique specifically on this body of water.  Some of the best knowledge and skill sets that have emerged from anglers and charter boat captains who are using this technique effectively can be found on lakes, Pend Oreille and Coeur D'Alene in northern Idaho.  Anglers and charter boats on these giant trout producing bodies of water run planer board systems off the sides of their boats on masts or outriggers and trail their fly presentations off the planer board lines with set backs exceeding 100'.  The flies are generally in the 4" range and are trolled on the surface where big cold water trout are often found, especially during the winter months.  

 This planer board system spread is quite similar although its a diagram provided by Trinidad Tackle for running their big fish Optimizer spoons.  Same principle though when trolling Arctic Fox flies.

This planer board system spread is quite similar although its a diagram provided by Trinidad Tackle for running their big fish Optimizer spoons.  Same principle though when trolling Arctic Fox flies.

After a limited study of this trolling fly fishery and the 20+ pound trout that are caught using this technique, it just makes sense to take a look at this technique for fishing northern California lakes during the late fall, winter, and early spring.  I've wanted to spend a little time on this technique and after acquiring some Arctic Fox Trolling Flies tied specifically for use on Shasta Lake, I found myself introducing them into my trolling spread.  This may have been a bold move considering I had clients with me and were depending on me to produce bites for them during their trip.  Well, as you can see in the picture above, it turned out to be a good move.  It wasn't all luck as some of you might be thinking, as I have used flies to catch trout for many years on many bodies of water.  Just never on Shasta Lake and never using the techniques I'm describing now.  I'm on a big fish kick these days and have been deploying everything I can confidently show these older weary fish in an attempt to get those big rainbows and browns hooked up for my clients.

Trolling techniques.

As with every fishing presentation or technique, there are numerous ways to get the job done.  It depends on many factors and you will have to find what works best for you on the body of water you fish and the type of boat and equipment you have.  For purposes of brevity, I will talk about how I fish them in my boat successfully.  I have found the most successful presentation method for me is to run the flies behind www.churchtackle.com side planers.  This allows me to troll my www.arcticfox.com trolling flies way off to the side of my boat where the boat noise and hull shadow doesn't alarm the fish I'm looking for that are holding off to the sides of my boat in the top 10' of the water column.  Trust me when I say it makes a big difference, especially when looking for a bigger class of fish.  My side planer rods are towing 30# Power Pro braid line with a 50' PLine fluorocarbon 10-15# lead to the fly.  The trout don't seem to be leader shy, so use 10# line or more and be confident you'll still get bites.  I like to run the flies 130-'150' behind the side planers and this time of the year, right on the surface at 2.5-3.0 mph.  

 Fishing with Church Tackle side planers is an absolutely deadly and very effective technique for catching big trout in our northern California lakes.  Keeping an open mind of course that these side planers have practical uses in just about every fishery in the country!  Visit www.churchtackle.com to see all of what they have to offer in this realm of the fishing world.

Fishing with Church Tackle side planers is an absolutely deadly and very effective technique for catching big trout in our northern California lakes.  Keeping an open mind of course that these side planers have practical uses in just about every fishery in the country!  Visit www.churchtackle.com to see all of what they have to offer in this realm of the fishing world.

If you feel like you need to run them a little deeper when searching for active fish, you can use a clip on weight, or split shot 10'-40' above the fly to get down a little deeper.  Lead core or copper lines run behind the side planers can also be used to get the flies down.  When going sub surface, "Wiggle Fin" action discs should be used to impart some action on the fly.  These discs are quite interesting really and have a lot of information for their use on youtube.com and also on the Arcticfox.com website.  I find that slowing my trolling speed helps these presentations fish best. From now on into spring, troll them high and troll them around 3.0 mph and you should entice some nice trout to hammer these flies.  PRO TIPS;  Make sure you incorporate some turns in your trolling pattern!!  Two rules also apply when trolling for big fish;  Big fish will eat big baits trolled at higher speeds out of being in a aggressive state.  Those same big fish can be enticed by smaller presentations trolling more slowly for less aggressive fish that will take advantage of an easy meal.  Plan your day around using those techniques.  If you can't find the aggressive fish, give the less aggressive fish  something to go after knowing they won't have to expend any real energy for an easy target resulting in a quick meal.

 Arctic Fox Trolling Fly in a shad pattern took this average size rainbow on Shasta Lake.

Arctic Fox Trolling Fly in a shad pattern took this average size rainbow on Shasta Lake.

Fly selection and hot patterns for Shasta Lake

There are a bunch of flies to choose from on the Arctic Fox website and I'm sure they all have their time and place to be fished.  My favorite colors are the black/white (shad) and the white with purple tinsel (smelt) patterns.  Its really a toss up for me as far as one color over another, mainly because I've caught trout on both colors.  One thing worth mentioning is making sure your fly is tuned before you let it out behind the boat.  Put your fly and line in the water next to the boat at trolling speed and see what the fly is doing.  If its swimming upright and not rolling around like a spinning drill bit, you're good.  If its spinning, try adjusting the fly material on the shank of the hook until it swims straight.  If you're a gear angler and like to fish bait, tip the fly with a worm, but make sure its swimming right.  Trout smash the flies that are tipped with bait! Lastly, these flies can be scented, but because the materials will not accept any gel or petroleum based or oil scents.  My favorite scent is the Pautzke Bait Co. Liquid Krill scent.  Give the flies a try, build your skill and confidence fishing them, and I know you will find that there will be days when the Arctic Fox flies will out fish all of your other presentations.

 This Shasta Lake brown was caught trolling an Arctic Fox Trolling tube fly in the white smelt pattern.

This Shasta Lake brown was caught trolling an Arctic Fox Trolling tube fly in the white smelt pattern.

The gear.

I use the same gear for trolling flies with Church Tackle side planers as I do when trolling spoons on the surface.  I have and use Shimano Telora 7' med/med weight rods with Shimano Tekota 300LC (line counter) reels and spool them with 30# Power Pro braided line.  Line counter reels are very helpful in keeping your line setbacks symmetrical and I wouldn't use any other reel for these trolling applications. PLine fluorocarbon 10-15# leader is then attached with a double uni knot to the braid.  I like to add a small barrel swivel and a 7' foot 8-10# leader to the fly.  The swivel reduces the chances of line twist and I like to tie the leader to the fly directly as it is easier to keep the fly swimming straight and keeps it from spinning.  Arctic Fox Trolling Flies including the tube fly versions are the predominant flies you will see in my fly box.  I use a rod holder tree and a track system from www.traxstech.com to keep my gear separated and working in the most efficient way possible.  I will sometimes run 6 or more rods when trolling flies so keeping the lines separated is critical.  Its not necessary to have all of this technique specific equipment, but as a professional, it really helps me keep things in order and my lines in the water where the fish are during my day(s) on the water while guiding.  

 Just a few of the important pieces of my daily success on the lakes trolling flies.

Just a few of the important pieces of my daily success on the lakes trolling flies.

Please check out the Arctic Fox Trolling Flies website for even more information on the flies Denis Pierce hand ties and sells online.  He also sells the Wiggle Fin (action discs) which can be fished sub surface and provide an additional enticing action to the fly while trolling.  Feel free to sed me a message with any additional questions.  I can get you the answers you need whether its the answer I have or the answer I get form Denis at Arctic Fox.  Tight lines and happy fly trolling!

Trolling for Shasta Lake Trophy trout.

The Optimizer Spoon.

Its no secret that Shasta Lake holds a big population of trophy trout such as rainbows and German Browns.  Every year a good number of big rainbow trout in the 5-7 pound range are caught and the same can be said for the German Browns.  The chances of catching a big trophy size rainbow trout in Shasta Lake, especially in the summer months, is an every day opportunity most months of the year.  Trophy German Browns are likely to be more prevalent in Shasta Lake, but they tend to be much more elusive than the rainbow trout, making their presence a little less known on this popular body of water.  I don't claim to be the Shasta Lake trophy trout guru, but I have spent time talking with, and fishing with, men I would consider to fall into that category. That alone does not make me an expert, but it has helped me get some of my clients on some pretty impressive specimens in the 7 pound class.  No 10 pounders yet, but with access to the Trinidad Tackle Optimizer Spoons, its just a matter of time. 

 Mike Fisher with a trophy size Shasta Lake German Brown he caught with a Trinidad Tackle #3 1255 Optimizer spoon while fishing with Stan Kulak.  

Mike Fisher with a trophy size Shasta Lake German Brown he caught with a Trinidad Tackle #3 1255 Optimizer spoon while fishing with Stan Kulak.  

I have had the privilege to fish and consult with a local tackle manufacturer and long time Shasta Lake angler, Stan Kulak over the last few years.  Stan is the owner of www.trinidadtackle.com and has made a name for himself in the fishing industry from coast to coast.  He has produced many fishing tackle products for many of the species found here in the west and you can cruise his website to see all that his company has to offer.  Because this article is about targeting trophy trout on Shasta Lake, I'm going to write specifically about one of Trinidad Tackle's top producers, the Optimizer Spoon.

The Optimizer spoons come in two sizes.  The #3 is a 3 5/8" inch spoon and the #4 is 4 1/4" inches.  Both spoons come in similar finishes and can be purchased online or at numerous tackle retailers in northern California.  They come in a vast amount of high quality finishes and cover every fishing condition conceivable when fishing Shasta Lake.  Some of the colors many have found to be effective for Shasta Lake are, black/white, red or blue/silver, plain gold or silver, and many of the three color painted spoons available, just to name a few.  When I refer to gold and silver, I mean real gold and silver plating on these spoons.  These finishes will be more visible and reflect more light than cheaper made spoons without question.  Stan believes in using only top quality components when building his tackle products and it shows in his work. Honestly though, there are many colors I have yet to try, so I may be leaving out some finishes that are really big producers for the trophy fish in Shasta.  You'll just have to use some of your own intuition and pick some colors that catch your eye.  It may end up being the color that takes you to the next level in your pursuit of trophy trout!

I believe the Optimizer spoons come packaged with both a treble and a swish hook.  Stan includes both mainly because his Great Lakes consumers prefer the treble hooks.  I recommend using a single swish hook for the best hook to land ratios.  Both the #3 and #4 sizes tend to produce equally.  Cottonwood angler, Mike Fisher, uses these spoons pretty much exclusively when fishing Shasta Lake and says he will often times reduce the hook size to increase his odds when hooking smaller fish as well.

 Optimizer spoons come in dozens of colors and two sizes.  These are just a few of the finishes I have on my boat for chasing big Shasta Lake trout.

Optimizer spoons come in dozens of colors and two sizes.  These are just a few of the finishes I have on my boat for chasing big Shasta Lake trout.

How to fish the Optimizer!

The most important piece of information I can express is trolling speed when fishing the Optimizer.  These spoons are designed to catch big fish, thus the reason for their size and shape.   These spoons are designed to be trolled above 3.0 mph and can be most effective when trolled at a speed of 3.8-4.0 mph.  It doesn't matter if you are fishing at 100' or if you are top lining the Optimizers the above speeds apply.  Big fish expend valuable energy for bigger feeding opportunities, especially in the cooler months of the year.  Just by looking at the pics in this article, its clear that Optimizers have been proven to be worthy of their effort.  The bigger trophy class fish don't typically swim slowly through their travel lanes unless.  Only when they are working areas holding balls of bait, or when they are holding on structure in an effort to ambush their prey will they remain semi stationary.  These Optimizer Spoons are designed with bigger, faster swimming trout in mind and thats where their size and action comes into play.  Its also a big reason why they are so effective when pursuing trophy class trout.

Shallow or deep?

Shasta Lake has two distinct periods where trolling depth has to be considered.  The primary reason for this consideration has to do with water temperatures.  In the early spring and fall months, Shasta Lake has cool water temps near the surface and during these times of the year, thats where I will be fishing.  When fishing near the surface, I recommend the use of downriggers for fishing Optimizers below 15-20', but more importantly I recommend the use of side planers (see diagram below) when fishing at the very top of the water column.  keeping your Optimizer Spoons off to the sides of the boat and not directly under when trolling at 4.0 mph can make a big difference when looking for big fish.  These big fish are very weary and you're not going to get as many bites after blowing over them on the surface in your boat.  Trout will typically dive and swim away from the sides of a passing boat after you troll over them.  This pushes fish in your trolling lane out to the sides and into the path of your trailing Optimizers.  Running your lines out away from your boat with side planers helps target un disturbed fish that are more likely to react to the trailing spoons.  This technique is where the Optimizer presentations really shine and produce the most bites when fishing shallow.

During the late spring and summer months, surface temps on Shasta Lake will increase continuously and the surface will be void of anything but bait fish and the occasional feeding trout and Spotted bass.  The use of downriggers during this time of the year is absolutely essential.  I started my 2017 trout season in July this year and the trout were at 45'.  As surface water temps increased throughout the summer, I had to go deeper and deeper to consistently keep my clients on fish.  By early October this year, I was fishing down to 125'.  Its important when referring to the Trinidad Tackle diagram below to realize that the setbacks for the Optimizer Spoons are for the cold water months. You can shorten them up considerably during the deep water fishing in the summer.  125' set backs with all your lines on downriggers down deep is an invitation for twisted and tangled lines during turns or when fighting hooked fish.  This can quickly take you out of the game and valuable fishing time will be lost dealing with tangled gear.

 This diagram provided by Trinidad Tackle covers fishing with downriggers, side planers, and even a long line mast if you are set up for fishing with one during cold water surface fishing.

This diagram provided by Trinidad Tackle covers fishing with downriggers, side planers, and even a long line mast if you are set up for fishing with one during cold water surface fishing.

Good luck!

I can attest to the effectiveness of the Optimizer Spoons and to the trolling configuration in the diagram.  If you want to put yourself in a position to catch a trophy size rainbow or German Brown trout in Shasta lake, using these techniques when fishing the Trinidad Tackle Optimizer Spoons will surely give you a solid chance of catching a fish of a lifetime.  Please send any questions, comments, or trophy trout pics of fish caught while trolling Optimizer Spoons to stan@trinidadtackle.com.  Tight lines and happy trophy hunting!

This could be you!!

 Todd Henderson of Redding holding a trophy Shasta Lake German Brown caught and released on October 1st this season!  Good job!!

Todd Henderson of Redding holding a trophy Shasta Lake German Brown caught and released on October 1st this season!  Good job!!

Best baits for NorCal steelhead

The late fall King salmon run is on its way up river and the steelhead are right behind them.  We've already seen some late fall and salmon caught in the stretches of the Sacramento River below the Coleman National Fish Hatchery as well as some great hatchery steelhead.  With continuous drops in the flows from Keswick Dam, the Sacramento River will likely see a short period where these salmon and steelhead will stall their push up river, and fishing may see a short lull.  On the other hand, we are getting some rain at least and that may keep things going until we get a nice shot of dirty water which should pull enough salmon up to keep us busy until December 16th when salmon fishing on the Sacramento River closes for the year.  Even after the salmon season closes, the steelhead will continue to push up to the Coleman Hatchery through the end of the year and usually peak in numbers up here in January-February.  In the meantime, I have some free time on my hands and thought I would share some my favorite steelhead bait presentations for catching winter steelhead on NorCal rivers. 

 Pautzke BorX o Fire Natural egg cure and the new Pautzke Fire Balls are a deadly combination for catching Sacramento River steelhead.

Pautzke BorX o Fire Natural egg cure and the new Pautzke Fire Balls are a deadly combination for catching Sacramento River steelhead.

I have been using Pautzke BoX o Fire cure for my steelhead and trout eggs for years and have found great success using this product.  My success with Pautzke Bait products is shared by millions of other anglers worldwide, so theres no real secrets to give here, its just an easy to use and very effective product to use for catching steelhead.  I intend to write more about how to use BorX o Fire cures for curing eggs, but for purposes of todays article, I'll just focus on how I use these baits to catch steelhead and trout.  If you have some eggs available to cure now, you can go to the Pautzke Bait Co. Fire Blog and find many "how to cure eggs for steelhead" articles at www.pautzke.com.

The Sacramento River below Redding, Ca. runs "steelhead green" for most of the year and has periods where its actually quite clear in its visibility.  Because we see good clarity up here most months of the year, its important to know what the steelhead are looking for in a bait.  The Sacramento River contains King salmon, steelhead, and wild rainbow trout all year long.  At different times during the year, we will see ripe hens (female salmon and steelhead) in the system.  These female fish carry thousands of eggs that will eventually be harvested at Coleman Hatchery or will be deposited naturally by in river spawners.  Many have referred to these female salmon and steelhead as "egg wagons" and even the steelhead and wild trout in the Sac know what this means.  The steelhead follow our salmon into the system to spawn, but also know they will be dropping protein rich eggs as they ripen as they prepare to spawn.  The resident rainbow trout populations are also aware of this food source and take full advantage of these periods, gorging themselves with this source of great nutrition.

Because the salmon eggs in their natural state are an orange color, the steelhead and trout will key in on these colors, especially during clear water conditions.  Its important to "match the hatch" in most cases to find the most success when fishing for steelhead and trout.  If they are eating natural color eggs dropped or deposited from salmon, they will also eat a properly cured piece of bait or an imitation egg like the Pautzke Fire Balls that match the colors of the real salmon eggs.  This is why I will fish natural egg presentations 90% of the time when fishing for Sacramento River steelhead and trout.

 Pautzke Fire Balls are a new product and have yet to hit the shelves of our local tackle shops, but rest assured, they will be available soon and will be selling like wild fire when they do arrive early next year.

Pautzke Fire Balls are a new product and have yet to hit the shelves of our local tackle shops, but rest assured, they will be available soon and will be selling like wild fire when they do arrive early next year.

Its important to keep in mind that these fish are not eating big globs of salmon eggs, so keep your baits small, especially in really clear water.  It can be a challenge to keep such small clusters of cured eggs on your hook while drift fishing from a boat, especially when inexperienced anglers (some clients) are casting too hard, too short, or are hook setting on every bump they feel during the drift.  Keeping your baits small will help, but they will still come off when bit or if they see too much bottom action or rod jerking.  One of my new discoveries, which helps with this problem, is that by adding a similar color Pautzke Fire Ball to your presentation, you stay in the game even if you loose some or all of your egg cluster during your drift.  The Pautzke Fire Balls are tougher than cured roe and also have the color and scent needed to consistently catch steelhead and trout on their own.  Often times, I will notice my clients will still hook fish even after I'm sure their eggs are gone.  I've traditionally asked my clients to reel up after an empty hook set, but now I'm letting them stay in the game because I'm confident there will still be a Fire Ball on their hook to get the attention of a steelhead or trout during our drift.

Now with all that being said, I take my presentations a few more steps to make sure I'm going to be hooking fish.  I frequently add a small piece of UV yarn to my bait loop on my #4 Owner Mosquito hooks and usually finish off my presentation with a small Mad River Fish Pill.  This adds a few things to my presentations.  The yarn adds color, holds scent, and can get caught in the sharp teeth of a steelhead or trout giving you an extra second or two to detect a bite.  Pink, orange, or an egg yolk color is what I most often use on the Sacramento River.  Adding a Fish Pill will also help with your presentation in may cases, especially over "grabby" bottoms or areas where a lot of aquatic vegetation or moss exists.  The fish pill can also add color to your baits, but they can also add some buoyancy to your baits so they don't drag bottom and hang up or collect weeds/moss during your drift.

 Even if your eggs come off or was out during your drift, the Pautzke Fire Balls will keep you in the game!  They will keep the scent, shape, and the color of your bait in front of steelhead and trout drift after drift, giving you that extra edge sometimes needed while on the water.

Even if your eggs come off or was out during your drift, the Pautzke Fire Balls will keep you in the game!  They will keep the scent, shape, and the color of your bait in front of steelhead and trout drift after drift, giving you that extra edge sometimes needed while on the water.

These are the key components to my bait fishing success on the Sacramento River, and although I deploy other techniques when chasing steelhead and trout on the Sacramento River, drifting bait has always been my favorite way to fish for them.  Theres nothing that compares to a hot steelhead or wild trout going nuts on an ultra light spin rod after it grabs your eggs and gets hooked.  Line peeling runs and an "air show" displayed by these fish just never has, and never will get old for me.  I hope this article helps, at least some of you out there, find more success on the water on your next steelhead and wild trout fishing adventure this season and for many years to come.

Smoke em if you got em!

 King salmon, Kokanee salmon, or trout can be easily smoked and turned into a delicious treat!

King salmon, Kokanee salmon, or trout can be easily smoked and turned into a delicious treat!

Its the fall season in Shasta County and the bad weather is coming!  The leaves are turning, acorns are dropping, and the best fishing of the year is, for the most part, in the history books. We've had an exceptional year for fishing here in the north state and I'm sure a lot of you have some King salmon, Kokanee salmon, or even some big trout fillets in the freezer.  Maybe some of you even have some left over from last year.  Fresh fish is best for the dinner table, but if its last years fish or its a big fillet from a darker salmon you caught on the Sacramento River this year, smoking the fillets just may be your best option for turning your fillets onto a delicious treat.

Getting started!

Smoking fish is really easy as long as you have a smoker and a few basic ingredients.  The first step in smoking any fish is the brining.  Brining your fillets or cut pieces of fish is easily achieved using three basic things;

  • 1 cup non iodized salt
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 gallon of water 

These are basic ingredients for brining, but its what I always use as the ingredient base for brining before smoking.  There are a lot of brine recipes out there, but I find that I have a hard time telling the difference between my basic brine and one with 10 ingredients.  I've smoked lots of fish over the years and people who have had some to taste have favorable responses.  In fact, lots of clients and acquaintances ask for my recipe.  Sometimes I will add a little ground pepper, something a tad spicy, or even something to sweeten it up, but not until after I've completed the brining of the fish.

brining the fish.

I will add the salt and sugar into my brine bucket that is already filled with a gallon of water.  I stir in the salt and sugar until I believe it has dissolved.  Once the brine is ready, I fill the bucket with the cut pieces of fish.  I try to make the pieces of fish around the same size so it brines and smokes evenly.  For example, if you smoke a big chunk  and a small chunk of fish at the same time, the brine and smoke times will need to differ.  Keep them all similar in size and they will brine and smoke best at the same amounts of time.  I place the bucket of fish in my garage refrigerator over night.  The following morning, I will remove the fish pieces from the bucket making sure to rinse the brine off the fish before preparing to smoke.  I pat the pieces down with paper towels to absorb the rinse water and set them out on the smoke racks to get a bit tacky to the tough before I place them in the smoker.  When they have dried off a bit and are tacky to the touch, I will sometimes add some of the aforementioned spices, like pepper, to the meat sides of the pieces of fish.

Smoking your fish.

I will place the pieces of fish on the smoker rack skin side down.  This make turning, if desired, the pieces of fish over during smoking a bit easier and they tend to fall apart less when doing so.  Smoke time will depend on the type of smoker you have, and often time the outside temperature will play a role in smoke time as well.  I check on my fish often throughout the smoking process.  I think smoke time is critical and it will determine the quality of your smoked fish when its done. I would say I like the smoke time to be 4-6 hours.  If its done real quick it tends to end up like cooked fish, and if done too slowly may have an over powering smoke flavor when done.  I've tried most of the wood/chip varieties out there and I'm sold on apple wood for smoking fish.  Its got a subtle flavor that doesn't over power your fish.  One important thing to consider is where you locate your smoker.  It does create a bit of smoke in the air and if its near an open door or window in your house, it can leave a powerful smoke smell for days.

Finished product.

 Placed on a tray and vacuum sealed this Kokanee salmon will last for a good year or two if you can wait that long to eat it.

Placed on a tray and vacuum sealed this Kokanee salmon will last for a good year or two if you can wait that long to eat it.

Once you have smoked your fish and its ready to eat, keep it refrigerated and it will keep for quite a long time if necessary.  If you want to freeze and store some for a longer period of time, place smaller batches on a styrofoam tray and vacuum seal it.  It will keep in the freezer for a year or more without freezer burn.  Smokers can be purchased just about anywhere, but I buy my smokers and smoking supplies at www.sportsmanswarehouse.com.  They have all you will need to get set up.  This is just a basic bit of fish smoking information for beginners.  There is a lot of detailed information and brine recipes online if you wish to expand on what I have already passed on.  Good luck and enjoy eating your deliciously smoked fish!

Curing eggs for Sacramento River King salmon

The Sacramento River system in northern California has seen some pretty good King salmon fishing the last five years in spite of a relentless drought in the region that had plagued this watershed for nearly four consecutive years, beginning in 2013.  State and Federal hatcheries worked hard to raise juvenile King salmon for the annual spring releases which go primarily into the Sacramento, Feather, and American Rivers.  Hatcheries have seemingly reached their benchmarks for smolt rearing and release and the continued good returns are expected in the foreseeable future.

There are many techniques that are used to catch Sacramento River salmon, but dragging, hover, or back bouncing roe through holding water is certainly at the top of the list, especially in the upper reaches of the Sacramento River below the Coleman National Fish Hatchery near Anderson, Ca.  Coleman NFH releases twelve million fall run salmon smolt every spring which in most years, creates a spectacular fall salmon fishery in the deep swirling holes below Battle Creek which is basically the inlet to the hatchery.  The mouth of Battle Creek is located just above the infamous "Barge Hole" which, in some years, holds hundreds if not thousands of King salmon waiting for those October rains before pushing up Battle Creek and into the Coleman NFH ladder.

From August thru October every year its not uncommon to see 10-20 boats a day working the Barge Hole for King salmon and as many as 70 boats have been counted during the August 1st opener a few years back.  Anglers and guides alike hang (hover fish) 10-16 oz. cannon ball weights on a dropper in the deep water with 5-6' foot leaders which end with a 1/0 hook and a quarter size piece of cured roe.  The holes and flats above the Barge Hole are also frequently covered by back bouncing eggs and often times in the latter parts of the morning when the boats spread out or head down river, are worked over by boats that are dragging roe (boon doggin) from the mouth of Battle Creek down to the end of the Barge Hole.  All these egg fishing techniques have their standout days, but for any of these egg fishing techniques to produce consistently, your bait absolutely has to be dialed in.  These Kings are the most finicky biters I have ever fished for, and if your eggs lack anything but the best cure and bite stimulants, you're going to watch a lot of fish being caught in other boats.

Fortunately, the Pautzke Bait Company makes the task of producing a great cured egg that these Sacramento River Kings will consistently eat, quite easy.  Their product line offers all of the key ingredients, scents, and bite stimulants needed to cure up some of the best eggs to present to your target species on any body of water, including Sacramento River King salmon.  With everything you will need for a killer egg recipe already in the Pautzke product line, curing great eggs for finicky Sac River Kings has never been easier!  I've continued to find success using a specific recipe and its put fish in the box every single trip I've run this season.

Start with fresh skeins!

 Fresh, blood free skeins is a great starting point!

Fresh, blood free skeins is a great starting point!

Preparing your skeins before curing starts with bleeding out your salmon after its landed.  This will help reduce the amount of blood that will be left in the Skeins when you harvest them from the salmon.  I, like most, will take the skeins directly from the salmon before I cut the fillets and place them directly into a Zip Loc baggie and into the bait cooler.  Its stupid hot in August and September in the Sacramento River valley so getting your skeins in a cool place will keep them from really warming up.  When I get home after a day on the river, I will remove any blood that is left in the skeins and put them in the fridge.  Its not critical in my mind to cure them right away, but it should be done within a few days for sure.

First steps for curing.

 Butterfly your skeins with a dull knife or scissors and lay them berry side up!

Butterfly your skeins with a dull knife or scissors and lay them berry side up!

I butterfly several skeins and lay them side by side, egg side up.  This allows me to cure several skeins at a time and makes my job easier.  The first ingredient I add is non iodized or kosher salt to the open face of the berries.  Not a lot, but just enough to lightly dust the skein.  The Sacramento River Kings I fish for are 260 miles up river and slightly bumping up the salt content in my cure has proven to be effective.  I will normally hold off on adding Pautzke Fire Power krill because the Pautzke Fire Cure I use already contains it.  Some batches I put up will receive a dusting of Fire Power krill after I add salt to my skein, but I usually apply more Fire Power when I'm ready to fish them.

Its time for the main curing ingredients.

 This is the first layer of Pautzke Fire cure before I flip the skeins and dust the back side of the skeins as well.

This is the first layer of Pautzke Fire cure before I flip the skeins and dust the back side of the skeins as well.

I will now apply a light layer of Pautzke Fire Cure on all the skeins and then will flip them over and apply another light layer of Fire Cure on the membrane side as well.  Once this has been accomplished on all of the skeins I have laid out, I will lightly work with my fingers the Fire Cure into the berry side of the skeins.  I will then pick the skeins up individually and place them in a gallon Zip Loc bag and set them aside. 

Adding the last ingredient.

 Pautzke Nector is an essential ingredient in my salmon cure.

Pautzke Nector is an essential ingredient in my salmon cure.

After all of my skeins have gone through the aforementioned curing process and are sitting on my work surface, I add the final ingredient to my skeins.  I use a generous 1 second squirt of Pautzke (red) Nector into my plastic baggie containing whats usually about 4 salmon skeins depending on size.  As the curing process begins and goes through its stages of completion, the Pautzke Nector will be pulled back into the eggs giving them the final dose of stimulants needed to create a premier egg that will consistently catch King salmon on the Sacramento Rivers upper reaches.

Curing time is important.

 I prefer to allow the curing process to occur in a plastic baggie in a cool place.  For me, its the refrigerator.

I prefer to allow the curing process to occur in a plastic baggie in a cool place.  For me, its the refrigerator.

Curing time on the Sacramento River is very important.  Even though the Pautzke Bait products will have these eggs cured in a few days, I like to give them more time.  Its standard for me to let my eggs cure for 5 days before I prepare them for freezer storage.  I put the cure date on my baggies and always know I let them cure for 5 days before freezing them.  There are many different ways to store and freeze cured eggs.  I prefer to put two large skeins in a baggie, freeze them after 5 days and then vacuum seal the whole bag containing the eggs.  I can get 3 years of freezer storage if necessary using this freezing method.

Preparing to fish them.

 Once the Sacramento River Kings bite these eggs, they won't let go!

Once the Sacramento River Kings bite these eggs, they won't let go!

Since most of my Pautzke eggs are stored frozen to be used the following season, there is a process I use to prepare them for my fishing trips.  I will thaw my frozen eggs slowly before removing them from the vacuum sealed baggies.  I will open the thawed eggs and drain off the excess juice from the plastic bag and will remove the individual skeins from the baggie.  I drift fish most of the time so I need a firmer egg so they will stay on the hook.  To achieve the firmness I desire, I will set out the skeins on paper towels and let them get a little tacky before dusting them with borax.  Once they are firming up nicely after the borax application, I will wrap each skein in a an unscented paper towel, put them in a plastic baggie and refrigerate..  I will continue monitor the progress of the eggs and when its time to fish them, in the water they go!

How to make the best drift fishing weights!

I do a lot of drift fishing on the Sacramento river for salmon, trout, and steelhead.  In fact, its by far my favorite way to fish from my boat, when either side drifting or boondoggling through holding water.  I've spent countless hours on the water over the years drift fishing, and I've tried every weight system out there looking for the most efficient weight that is quick and easy to make and hangs up less than the others I've tried over the years.  Success on the water depends highly on keeping your baits in the strike zone and in front of holding fish.  Hang ups, and subsequent break offs will significantly reduce your chances of hooking fish when drift fishing.  The less we all hang up, the less lines and lead we'll leave on the bottom to create even more drift hazards in our favorite stretches of water.  The following drift weight system is by far my all time favorite and I know its helping me catch more fish by hanging up less.

The components;

 .330 lead shot, #5 barrel swivels, heat shrink tubing, and a heat gun.

.330 lead shot, #5 barrel swivels, heat shrink tubing, and a heat gun.

Ordering all the components for these weight systems is quick and easy.  First, I get my heat shrink tubing at www.buyheatshrink.com.  They have a huge of variety sizes and material and you can buy from 25'-250'.  I get my .240 and .330 lead shout from www.riverguidesupply.com and you can buy the shot in 5-10 lb bags.  As for the #5 barrel swivels, I get the cheapest I can find from eBay and they work great for this application.  The last item you may or may not need is a small heat gun for the spring wrap.

Prepping your weights;

 Three components make up these drift weights.

Three components make up these drift weights.

I use .330 size lead shot for my salmon fishing and use .240 shot for my trout and steelhead fishing.  I use the appropriate diameter heat shrink tubing for my two different size lead shot.  The  heat shrink is cut to the appropriate length for the size of weight I plan to make.  In the picture above you can see that I cut the heat shrink to a size a bit longer than the number of shot I plan to use.  This allows for shrinking and I can cut a number of pieces of heat shrink to speed up the process of making them.  

Making your drift weights;

 Heat one end of the heat shrink tube before you load your lead shot!

Heat one end of the heat shrink tube before you load your lead shot!

The first thing I do is to run one of the open ends of the heat shrink tubing over the heat gun to shrink one end of your cut piece.  This allows you to drop your lead shot into the tubing without any of them falling out.  Once you have filled the appropriately sized piece of heat shrink, simply add a #5 barrel swivel so that it rests under the last piece of lead shot.  Note the piece of 1/4" steel plate under the drift weight.  I use this under my weight to heat my shrink tubing so it doesn't burn or heat the average surface of areas where we usually do this sort of thing.

Finishing your drift weight assembly;

 Use a heat gun to shrink the heat shrink tubing around your lead shot and swivel.

Use a heat gun to shrink the heat shrink tubing around your lead shot and swivel.

I fire up my heat gun and heat both sides of the heat shrink around the lead shot and swivel.  It just takes a second to do both sides.  Once its completed, I set them aside individually to cool off for a few minutes.  Don't stack on top of each other until they cool off or the heat shrink tubing will stick together.  Its quick and easy!

The final product;

 Make as many as you need and use different size shot and numbers of shot to satisfy your drift fishing requirements for the areas of the rivers you fish.

Make as many as you need and use different size shot and numbers of shot to satisfy your drift fishing requirements for the areas of the rivers you fish.

Now that you know how to make these great drift weights, I'll explain some of the advantages to their use.  I find that they are easier to make than slinky material weights and they are easy to attach a snap swivel to.  A little more labor intensive than pencil lead, but they hang up way less and you don't have to cut and punch holes in the pencil lead, sometimes guessing how much length you will need for the area you are fishing.  

The heat shrink is slippery in the rocks and doesn't grab like parachute chord or raw pencil lead.  The hang ups are far fewer and time in the strike zone is extended.  I can also easily organize my weights by the number of lead shot in each piece.  It also helps me to communicate to my clients which weights to attach to their lines for a specific drift on my home river.  As flows often reduce with water releases as they do on the Sacramento River where I fish, I can simply cut off a shot to adjust how the weight is fishing if its a tad too heavy.  Its a great drift weight system and if you use them I think you'll agree.  Good luck and I hope this guide proven drift fishing tip helps you put more fish in the fish box for many years to come!

 

Guide tips for Whiskeytown Kokanee.

 Ross Corbett with a nice Kokanee salmon on Whiskeytown Lake.

Ross Corbett with a nice Kokanee salmon on Whiskeytown Lake.

2017 WHISKEYTOWN LAKE KOKANEE SALMON FISHING

Its really been a tough year of Kokanee salmon fishing for many anglers on Whiskeytown Lake this season.  Hundreds of anglers experienced some of the best Kokanee fishing in recent years in 2016 and just about everyone who fished for them found at least some success on the Whiskeytown Kokanee grounds.  Coming off of a season like we saw in 2016, only to find much slower action this year, has been tough on a lot of people who fell in love with the Kokanee fishing Whiskeytown Lake can sometimes offer.  After reading about the slow fishing on Whiskeytown Lake and after talking with a lot of frustrated anglers at the Whiskey Creek boat launch, I thought I would share some of the tactics I've used this year on Whiskeytown Lake to successfully put limits to near limits in the fish box on every trip I've fished this season.

KOKANEE RIG SELECTION

I've written in many reports this year on Whiskeytown stating that having A LOT of Kokanee tackle on hand to show the Whiskeytown Kokanee has been critical to my success.  I want to drive that fact home, and if you get anything from this article, make sure its this.  Some mornings I have dropped a rod down and had a fish on before I could get a second rod out, but other mornings I've gone through several Kokanee rigs before I find one that they want.  To take it a step further, some of my best morning baits have become useless an hour later.  A continuous and constant effort throughout the day to keep productive baits in front of this years class of Kokanee is how you get bites on Whiskeytown this year.

I will typically start my day fishing Kokanee rigs that have produced for me most often this year.  Its not always successful, but it deserves a shot before moving on to something different.  Usually one of them will get bit right away.  I have established a trend towards darker colored rigs working best early in the day and pinks and oranges working better for me in the afternoon.  I will often times use black, purple, or blue hoochies and spin n glos on at least two of my four rods, and pink, orange, or white on the other two rods.  More often than not, the darker baits are getting the most attention early.  Make sure you notice when the dark baits stop producing bites because chances are, they have seen the best part of their day.  If you are trolling through pods of fish you are marking on your sonar and not getting bit, start changing out to different colors or even color combinations.  Tip your hooks with shoe peg corn soaked in garlic scent.  Try different scents if you want, but garlic has been my go to scent for Whiskeytown Lake Kokanee.

 Most of these Kokanee rigs will see action on any given day while fishing for Kokanee salmon on Whiskeytown Lake.

Most of these Kokanee rigs will see action on any given day while fishing for Kokanee salmon on Whiskeytown Lake.

KOKANEE SALMON DODGERS

Ok now that you have been given some ideas about what kind of baits you can find success with, lets talk about Kokanee dodgers.  The first thing I consider when using dodgers for Kokanee on Whiskeytown is the size.  I like to have a small dodger in front of my baits because with visibility that exceeds 25' feet in late summer, I don't believe these Kokanee need any more flash.  In fact, sometimes I have my best bites on very small dodgers like the Crystal Basin "Wild Thing".  Anything bigger than 4.5" inches is set aside for trout and land locked Kings on my boat.  Here is something that I think is very important and really goes with what I have been talking about regarding bait selection.  I know from experience that some dodgers will out perform others under different times of the day and different trolling depths.  This time of the year when trolling depths can be as deep as 80' feet, I like to have a UV enhanced dodger down in front of the Kokanee.  Its a solid choice every day, but it has its peak periods depending on the light penetration in the water.  When the available light is low, like first thing in the morning, try using UV enhanced dodgers or dodgers painted with an opaque finish.  A white Mack's Lure 4" Sling Blade dodger first thing in the morning is a solid choice and you'll see one on my boat every day.

I was saying that the Kokanee will have a preference for a certain type of dodger, and I stand behind this statement 100%.  It would be great to be able to throw just one kind of dodger on your line, but thats just not a reality as a fishing guide.  Different sizes, finishes, and actions can make a world of difference some days.  Change it up as often as you change your baits to see what the Kokanee want that particular day.  I know, its a lot of work, but if you want to fill your cooler with Kokanee on Whiskeytown, its another piece of the big puzzle.  So now that you are using different dodgers with different actions, its important to know how each one will impart action on your trailing Kokanee rig.  I can say that 90% of my Kokanee rigs are about 8"-10" from the dodger and that seems to put the right amount of action on my Kokanee rigs using the dodgers I'm showing you below.  Longer leaders will slow or eliminate the action, and shorter leaders will often times create too much action for the Kokanee to mess with.  Constant yet a subtle pulsing action seems to be what they prefer.

 Different shapes and sized dodgers are an important part of catching Kokanee salmon on Whiskeytown Lake.  These dodgers represent a starting line up for me most days, but I can assure you that I have dozens more to choose from if these aren't producing. 

Different shapes and sized dodgers are an important part of catching Kokanee salmon on Whiskeytown Lake.  These dodgers represent a starting line up for me most days, but I can assure you that I have dozens more to choose from if these aren't producing. 

FINDING THE KOKANEE IN WHISKEYTOWN LAKE

Whiskeytown Lake Kokanee are like most in that they are very transient.  Yes, I do find success during most of the summer in certain locations, but it will change as the season progresses.  I would say that the 299 bridge is probably the most frequented location for Whiskeytown Lake Kokanee, and many would agree.  There are a few things to consider though and it all has to do with the time of the year.  Whiskeytown Kokanee are very inactive in the winter and very early spring months.  As April rolls around, you can find the activity levels increase and they are much easier to catch.  I find that fishing outside of the creek arms will be most productive.  In fact, I will most often start looking for Kokanee out in the main body of the lake exclusively.  As the season progresses, look for the Kokanee to move around a bit until finally they start to stage in the creek arms in preparation to spawn.  Right now, the Whiskey Creek arm is loaded with Kokanee!

Early in the season the water temps are usually in the low 50's so almost all of the Kokanee will be in the top 15' feet of the lake.  Its important to know this because your sonar won't be of much help to you early on in the season.  The Kokanee are just too high.  This means you need to keep your rigs up high, 5', 10', or even 15' down and far away from the boat.  As the water warms, the Kokanee will drop deeper and deeper until late summer, early fall when the temps start to go the other way again.  This makes finding the Kokanee much easier because they will be clearly identified on your sonar.  When the Kokanee are visible, don't spend a bunch of time fishing an area thats not loaded with them.  move on to the next spot or troll until you find them if you'd like.  Theres no sense in wasting time fishing over an empty water column.  If you fish Whiskeytown Lake often enough, you will know where to look for them.  If you don't, ask someone, they are most often likely to help you out.

One of my most valuable tools on my boat is my iPad that has a Navionics app installed. It helps me document productive areas on any body of water I fish.  I use it everywhere except the Sacramento River up high where it doesn't really do me much good.  When I start fishing Whiskeytown Lake in the spring, I will start to mark locations I have caught fish.  Not every fish, just in areas I catch a bunch of them.  I will use these locations throughout the season to find those fish again.  Often times, I will troll over a spot I marked weeks or months earlier and catch fish there all season.  Besides the locations you catch fish, its important to keep tabs on the water temps in the lakes throughout the season.  The best way to accomplish this is to have a Fish Hawk water temp recording device.  You attach the Fish Hawk to your down rigger and send it down to your desired depth, say 100'.  You then retrieve the Fish Hawk by running your down rigger back up to the surface.  This device records water temps every 5' feet as it goes down into the lake.  You can easily retrieve the recorded temps by scrolling through the view button on the Fish Hawk.  The temps that are between 48 deg and 56 deg should be noted.  This is most likely where you will find the Kokanee biters.  Two tools here that I use every day and rely upon to help me stay on top of my game on the Kokanee grounds.

 The Navionics app for your phone or tablet can be of great use while fishing for Kokanee salmon.

The Navionics app for your phone or tablet can be of great use while fishing for Kokanee salmon.

TROLLING SPEED AND DIRECTION

Finally, you have everything in place to start your day on Whiskeytown Lake.  Your starting line up has been selected, and your location and depth determined.  Now its time to drop your Kokanee rigs into the strike zone and start working for those bites.  Even if you have all of the aforementioned boxes checked, if you screw up your trolling speed you might as well just enjoy your boat ride.  If you can't determine or control your boat speed, you have significantly  diminished your chances of catching Kokanee.  My eyes are constantly glued to my Lowrance, making sure I am over fish and I am trolling at the correct speed.  Too slow or too fast, and the bites will be few and far between.  I have found that staying somewhere near 1.3 mph on Whiskeytown Lake is the most productive trolling speed.  Slightly under or slightly over, and you'll be alright.  Whiskeytown Lake has been windy this year and if you aren't paying attention during windy conditions, you'll spend half of your day trolling to fast or too slow.  I try to keep the bow into the wind if possible because it gives me the most control to maintain boat speed.  If the wind isn't too bad, I'll troll with the direction of the wind, usually to the east, as long as it doesn't push my boat over 1.5 mph.  If it does, you have two choices.  Troll against the wind or head for calmer waters.  Calmer waters can usually be found in the Whiskey Creek arm or up by the Clear Creek arm (Oak Bottom).

FINAL THOUGHTS

I describe all of the information I have provided as pieces of the Kokanee catching puzzle.  These are the things that I consider to be the most important when trying to catch Kokanee salmon on Whiskeytown Lake.  Keeping all of these things in place will undoubtedly help you catch more Kokanee, not only on Whiskeytown, but on other Kokanee waters as well.  I have had many clients come to me looking for a day on the water just to learn more about how I have come to be so successful on Whiskeytown Lake.  I am happy to report that many of the guys and gals who fished with me this year have gone on to be successful fishing from their own boats.  This season is nearly over and will likely be over by October when the Kokanee start to spawn.  Between now and then, if you want to learn more about fishing Whiskeytown Lake for Kokanee salmon, give me a call and I'll try to get you out on the water if my schedule allows.  At the very least, I hope the information I have provided here will help all of you who want to be, successful Kokanee angers on Whiskeytown Lake.

 Happy client who's learned the ins and outs of catching Kokanee salmon on Whiskeytown Lake with me!

Happy client who's learned the ins and outs of catching Kokanee salmon on Whiskeytown Lake with me!

 

 

 

Drift fishing for king salmon

 Angler from Nevada hooked up with a Sac River King salmon while drift fishing roe.

Angler from Nevada hooked up with a Sac River King salmon while drift fishing roe.

The 2017 Sacramento River King salmon season is underway and things are looking pretty good for this years return.  We heard all the doom and gloom from fisheries managers this spring and the general consensus was that we would see a smaller run than we did last year.  As this years ocean salmon season began, the charter boat fleet found themselves to be in one of the best ocean salmon seasons in years.  This came as a surprise to all Nor Cal salmon fans at first, but since very little science goes into predicting salmon returns, it wasn't much of a surprise to me.

One dynamic to this years salmon numbers has been the amount of 2 year old fish (Jacks) that are being caught both in the ocean and now in the Feather and Sacramento Rivers.  This is a very good sign that next years returns should be quite good.  These two year old fish are immature and will return to the ocean for another year before coming back to spawn as three year old salmon.  The abundance of Jack salmon this year should provide some excellent fishing opportunities as these fish are known to be good biters, especially with bait.

 Freshly cured salmon roe.

Freshly cured salmon roe.

Because I think we will see a lot of these smaller salmon this year, it seems to be the perfect time to share some information about how to effectively drift fish cured eggs, or roe for them.  This article won't contain much in the way of how to cure your own eggs, but if you look back in the My Outdoor Buddy archives, I'm pretty sure I've already covered that topic if you are interested in looking for it.  So assuming you can purchase some good commercial cured roe, or can bum some roe off of friends or family, I'll go ahead and talk a little bit on how I drift fish for King salmon.

The first thing you will need to get started is all the gear needed to effectively drift fish for salmon.  One of the most important pair of items you will need is a rod and reel suited for drift fishing.  I use G.Loomis STR 1145S two piece spinning rods.  These rods are 9'6" long spin rods that can handle up to 17 lb test line.  These rods are well suited for drifting for salmon and have proven themselves on my boat all of last season.  I've paired these rods with the Shimano Sahara 4000 series spinning reels which have large capacity spools and hold plenty of PLine CX 15 lb Premium line.

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When guiding clients on the Sacramento River or just fishing with friends or family, its necessary to have plenty of leader spools filled with fresh leaders ready to go after you play a big salmon to the boat or if you break off on the bottom which will happen numerous times a day.  I use 15 lb. 4'foot PLine fluorocarbon leader and tie on a double hook rig with #2 Gamikatsu hooks.  Instead of using a fish pill that will likely come off during most drifts numerous times a day, I use a Mad River Mfg. hard pill and tie it in-between my two hooks.  Works just as good in my opinion and I have less down time pinning new fish pills on the hooks all day.  When adding an egg cluster to your double hook rig, the bait goes on the top hook.

For a drift weight to get your bait down into the strike zone (river bottom), I use a chunk of pencil lead, slinky, or a home made drift weight on a slider (snap swivel).  Just remember, if you're not feeling the tick, tick, tick of the bottom your weight is too light.  In contrast, if you are feeling every rock on the bottom, you have too much weight on.  Feeling the occasional tick of the bottom is perfect and you know you are fishing in the strike zone.  You can hard tie on the weight as well, I just like to have a sliding sinker.  It won't get stuck in the net, and I think it gives the angler more feel when getting a bite. 

 My standard drift fishing set up.

My standard drift fishing set up.

I'm always drift fishing from my boat and will either boondoggle or side drift my baits over water holding salmon.  To boondoggle, start at the top of the drift and kick your boat sideways or perpendicular to the shore line or down stream current. When side drifting, you will face your boat with the bow pointed up stream and will control your drift speed through holding water with your kicker motor.  When boondoggling, I will have everyone in the boat cast upstream 60' feet or so and just let the baits settle to the bottom where the salmon are.  When we side drift, I'll have everyone cast off to one side of the boat slightly upstream at a 45 degree angle.  Side drifting is best suited for casting into shallow water or when the water clarity is such that your boat passing over the fish will likely spook them.

During either technique, most of your bites will start with what feels like a snag.  Often times I have clients try to break free when hooked up thinking they have hung up on the bottom.  Watch the tip of the rod and look for a pumping motion. If its doing anything but steadily peeling line off the reel, you're probably hooked up on a nice Sacramento River King.  Either way, throughout the day you will likely get some practice on the Squawfish and rainbows that will also bite your offerings during this technique.  Who knows, you might even get bit by a 6' foot Sturgeon like we did last salmon season.  Good luck out there this year, I think we're going to find plenty of salmon in our nets this season!

Shasta and Whiskeytown Lakes are fishing great!

 Shasta Lake jumbo rainbows are biting!

Shasta Lake jumbo rainbows are biting!

Shasta county lakes are fishing as good as it gets right now.  Whether you head to Whiskeytown Lake for Kokanee salmon or to Shasta Lake for big rainbows and browns, your chances of having a successful day on the water is very likely right now.  I've been guiding on both lakes almost daily and my clients are reaping the rewards of fishing with a guide who has spent most of the summer staying on top of these two fisheries.  Every season has its trends and fishing often will help identify them, allowing us to make the necessary adjustments to remain successful on the water.  With the in river Sacramento River King salmon season off to a slow start, having access to the great fishing on Shasta and Whiskeytown Lakes has filled the gap and has been keeping my clients satisfied with their fishing experience while on my boat.  

Shasta Lake has been incredible most days and many of the people who have been fishing with me have been going home with limits of big fillets.  The bigger fish are peeling off line and making big jumps at the surface, making for some really great displays behind the boat.  I saw the trout bite drop over 30'-40' last week from 65' to as much as 110'.  Trout can still be caught up higher, but your big numbers are going to come down deep now.  I've been using a variety of baits to attract these trout, but I'm finding that the Mack's Lure Humdingers run behind a UV sling blade about 3' feet is scoring me the most bites.  Our largest fish of the season have come from that set up for sure.  Trolling a little on the slow side has been productive and most of my bites are coming at the 1.7 mph to 1.9 mph mark.  To summarize the tactics for Shasta Lake, troll slow, troll deep, and use Mack's Lure sling blade dodgers and a Humdinger spoon trailing 3' feet behind.  

 Our clients are catching big brown trout at Shasta Lake!

Our clients are catching big brown trout at Shasta Lake!

On Whiskeytown Lake, I'm finding a steady bite and my last trip yielded limits of good sized Kokanee for three clients before noon.  The quality of the Kokanee is still outstanding, and although I think we have a smaller population of fish than we did last year, the over all population seems to be quite abundant.  All the usual places are holding fish, but I'm seeing more and more Kokanee inside the Whiskey Creek arm of late.  I caught a few Kokanee at 45' to start the day, but in the deeper water, try the 65' line for your best fishing.  The best tackle to use is anyones guess still because it changes daily.  Just start with some top producers and keep rotating baits until you find one or two rigs the Kokanee are keying in on.  Don't forget to use some shoe peg corn marinated in garlic scents and make sure your leader lengths are giving your baits some good action.  I really hope everyone can get out to experience Whiskeytown Lake this season.  The Kokanee are as good as I've ever seen them and they are pure fun to catch.

Both lakes should hold up quite well through September for anyone who is interested in getting into some quality fishing.  I have some dates that are still available in September.  If you are interested in learning, first hand, how to catch these great fish, please do not hesitate to give me call to set up your next Shasta or Whiskeytown Lake fishing trip!

 Whiskeytown Lake Kokanee salmon are beautiful this year!

Whiskeytown Lake Kokanee salmon are beautiful this year!

Fishing for Shasta Lake rainbow trout.

 Father son double hook up on Shasta Lake!

Father son double hook up on Shasta Lake!

Its no secret that Shasta Lake holds some of the biggest populations of rainbow trout in Northern California.  Not only are the trout populations abundant, but the average size of these feisty rainbows is above average for any lake in this part of the state.  Shasta Lake provides ample habitat and a food source for wild populations of trout and the tributaries continue to support natural spawning habitat which undoubtedly contributes to the health of this fishery.  Those factors alone would keep the population of trout in Shasta Lake healthy, but the populations are also augmented by annual plants of hatchery trout that number in the thousands.

Now Shasta Lake is no small body of water and with its 365 miles of shoreline, it is understandable that a lot of anglers find this body of water to be intimidating.  Every year I fish clients who book trips with me just to get some idea of where to begin when it comes to fishing Shasta Lake for trout.  I'm happy to report that most of my clients that spend a day or two on Shasta Lake with me often find success on their own after applying the techniques they learn during their day of fishing with me when fishing Shasta Lake.  It is a big body of water, but finding success on Shasta Lake, especially during the summer months, does not have to be an overwhelming experience.  

 Shasta Lake rainbow trout caught on a small spoon trailing a 4" UV dodger.

Shasta Lake rainbow trout caught on a small spoon trailing a 4" UV dodger.

Shasta Lake can be broken down into 4 main sections.  Those four sections contain the main body, the Sac Arm, Pit Arm, and McCloud Arm.  When I talk to anglers about fishing Shasta, I tell them to start with one section and learn it intimately.  Forget about the rest of the lake until you can consistently find success where you start your Shasta Lake fishing education.  Theres no need to chase fishing reports or run to the spot a buddy caught fish one day.  Its just too big of a lake to do such things and you'll stunt your Shasta Lake fishing growth.  The truth is, every part of Shasta will produce some good fish, you just have to know how and where to fish that section of the lake on any given day.  Once you become familiar with a section and learn the terrain and the feeding habits of the fish that live there, you will become more and more successful fishing that section of the lake.

The very most important piece of your fishing success on Shasta Lake will undoubtedly come down to your ability to determine how deep to set your presentations.  This can be kind of tricky, but with some good sonar equipment, you will be well on your way to finding the fish.  Something you must adhere to is the fact that the Shasta Lake rainbows are going to have a depth that they will consistently bite at.  More importantly, you must understand that this depth range will change throughout the year.  As water temperatures rise and fall, so will the rainbow trout.  In the spring, the trout are typically found in the top 20' feet of the water column, but as summer arrives and surface water temps increase, the trout will go deeper into the lake along with the cooler water.  If you really want to increase your fish catching abilities in Shasta Lake, buy a Fish Hawk water temperature sensor.  These handy little devices are the very best way to determine water temperature at different depths.  You simply attach the Fish Hawk to your down rigger ball and send it down to the maximum depth you think you will be fishing.  The device will measure and record water temp every 5' feet on the way down.  When you bring the device back to the surface, you simply scroll through the depth readings and note the corresponding water temps.  Trout and salmon will favor 48-54 degrees.  Now that just saved you a lot of time finding the cool water these fish will hang out in.

 These Shasta Lake rainbow trout are a ton of fun to catch and on most days will bite very good!

These Shasta Lake rainbow trout are a ton of fun to catch and on most days will bite very good!

Now that you have found the optimal water temps in the lake, you must determine what depth these fish will be active in.  I will typically start above the depth with the cold water and stagger my downrigger depths until I find some biters.  Lets say for example I have lines down at 45', 50', 55', and 60'.  I know the water temps are favorable in those depths because I sent down my Fish Hawk to record this temps.  I've got my sonar dialed in and I'm seeing fish throughout that water column that may be biters.  Now I'm running my presentations through those areas to see which one gets the attention.  So lets say for example that my 45' rod and my 50' rod gets bit.  Well thats great and now the 55'-60' lines are coming up!  You've found the fish and you've found the depth that they will take your offerings.  Chances are, you've nailed it and very little is going to get in the way of your success for the morning.  The only thing to consider now is, at some point in the day, the light penetration may push these same fish down a bit and that adjustment should always be considered.

The trout will undoubtedly move around throughout the day due to fishing pressure or to follow their for source.  If you are fishing an area and things just drop off for you, push into deeper water, push into shallower water, or even look for some structure along the bank or out on a big point.  Chances are, you'll find some trout again that are ready to eat what you have for them.  I rarely need to travel far when I fish for Shasta Lake trout, but I do have to travel throughout the day.  Its just how these fish work.  I won't go into any great detail about what kind of baits, dodgers, flashers, or hardware to use because there are just too many things that will work to catch these fish.  When I recommend trolling gear to people, I just say a few things.  Use something to attract these fish, like a dodger or a flasher and make sure it has some sort of UV finish or tape on it, especially when trolling deep.  When selecting a spoon or a soft bait like a hoochie skirt, consider that the bait (shad/smelt) these trout are feeding on usually are found in the 1.5"-2.0" range. You can't go wrong with baits or hardware in that size range.  Thats not to say the trout won't go after a bigger bait like a Trinidad Optimizer spoon, its just a good high percentage size to start with.  Trolling speeds vary with trout and often times its the type of gear you are trolling that determines how fast or slow you troll.  Trout like a variety of speeds so match your trolling speed to your gear and you'll do fine.

 Another father son Shasta Lake double!

Another father son Shasta Lake double!

I hope some of the things I've mentioned in this short article will help with providing a starting point for anglers out there who have wanted to tackle fishing for Shasta Lake trout, but have found it to be a bit overwhelming to consider.  Take some or all of these tactics I've mentioned here and give them a try.  I think the basics are covered here and if you can apply them, you will be well on your way to finding success when fishing Shasta Lake for big rainbow trout.  Thanks for taking the time to read this piece I've written and good luck out on the water!

 

Sacramento River fishing closure, good or bad?

 August will offer some of the best trout and steelhead fishing many have ever experienced. Double hook ups like these clients experienced last August are commonplace when fishing the Sacramento this time of the year.

August will offer some of the best trout and steelhead fishing many have ever experienced. Double hook ups like these clients experienced last August are commonplace when fishing the Sacramento this time of the year.

The permanent annual closure of the Sacramento River tail water trout fishery recommended by CDFW is now in effect.  The recommended seasonal closure of the 5.5 mile section of the Sacramento River below Keswick Dam down to the SR 44 bridge in Redding has made its way from CDFW to the Office of Administrative Law and is now a permanent fishing regulation.  

This section of the Sacramento River will now be closed every year from April 1st thru July 31st in a somewhat controversial attempt to protect the winter run King salmon that spawn in this section of the Sacramento River during the closure timeframes.  Three years ago, a claim was made by CDFW managers that winter run salmon were being caught incidentally by anglers who were pursuing the rainbow trout that have a prolific presence in this section of the river.  This closure remains somewhat controversial among local anglers due to the fact that CDFW has failed to provide or present any scientific evidence that closing this section of the river to catch and release trout fishing will help the winter run salmon rebound to appreciable numbers.

There are anglers, guides, and local fishing businesses that do support the closure and I think everyone agrees that the winter run salmon population just can't afford to lose even one fish due to an incidental catch.  Warm water temp's in this section of the Sacramento River due to poor flow management and faulty temperature sensing equipment at Shasta Dam have proven to be detrimental to the survival of the winter run salmon, but at this point in time, no one seems to have an answer for these issues.  Winter run salmon egg, fry, and smolt predation has also proven to be a serious problem, but are also falling short on solutions.  There are lots of factors contributing to the demise of the winter run salmon, but closing down all fishing in the winter run spawning areas is clearly the fastest and easiest attempt to protect these declining winter run salmon populations.

Many local anglers are distressed over losing access to one of the best wild rainbow trout and steelhead fishing areas on the Sacramento River for four months, but some of the anglers and fishing guides on the river have found the closure to enhance this fishery beyond initial expectation.  What I'm talking about is a world class rainbow trout and steelhead fishery that is further enhanced by taking all of the angling pressure off of these fish from April 1st to July 31st.  When this section of the Sacramento River opens on August 1st, anglers can experience some of the best catch and release trout and steelhead fishing they will ever experience in their lifetime.

Now while I still fish clients down river of the closed waters successfully, I find that the fishing from August 1st into late fall has no comparison.  The fishing is so good that I have adjusted my seasonal fishing schedule so I can offer my clients access to this incredible fishery.  No longer do I focus on salmon fishing in August, it's all about the trout and steelhead fishing in downtown Redding.  Every trip I had last year was absolutely epic, I only wish I could have introduced more of my clients to this great fishery.  Fortunately, most everyone who fished with me last year are coming back for more this year and my schedule is filling fast.

Hopefully I have managed to communicate the controversy which surrounds this new permanent annual closure on the Sacramento River, but have also outlined the potential benefits the winter run salmon will see in the name of conservation.  I also hope I have provided enough information to peak reader interest in this phenomenal fishery and would encourage everyone who may be looking to put together a great trip with friends or better yet, a trip for the whole family where everyone is likely to catch numerous wild rainbow trout and steelhead.  I still have some open dates in August so give me a call and let me show you what you've been missing since these closures began three years ago.  You'll be glad you called!

1st Annual Northern California Guides & Sportsmans Association 2017 Striper derby

The Northern California Guides And Sportsmans Association is holding its first annual Striped bass derby on April 22nd.  The NCGASA has recently re-emerged into a proactive posture for the sake of becoming a strong voice and advocate for maintaining and enhancing fishing opportunities here in northern California.  Our membership is strong in numbers, fiscally strong, and a recently appointed cadre of leadership and a board of directors has enabled the association to begin working on many significant projects aimed at saving our Sacramento River drainage salmon populations.  This organization has been in place for many years, but the fishing and hunting guide industry has since seen a turn in the direction of a newer generation of guides working the Sacramento River valley.  Although there are a good number of long time guides still around, it has been decided that the new generation should lead the fight for hunting and fishing industry interests moving forward.  

NCGASA Striper derby flyer!

NCGASA plans to continue to build a large guide, sportsman, and business membership to further enhance our ability to have a strong voice for and against issues that relate to the hunting and fishing industry interests in northern California.  Events such as the 2017 NCGASA Striper derby are just the beginning of great things to come and will not only bring up our membership numbers, but will also bring awareness of the organizations existence and will raise money to help support the hunting and fishing opportunities in our area of the state we are seeking to enhance.  Anyone interested in participating in this derby is encouraged to talk to your favorite fishing guide and get your groups registration forms completed and submitted.  If you can't find an available guide to fish the derby, please feel free to call James Stone at (530) 923-9440 and he will help find a guide to fish your group.

Rules for the derby and a sign up sheet can be easily obtained by calling (530) 923-9440.

If you can not attend the derby but would like to be a member of NCGASA, you can join by filling out the above enrollment slip, or you can go to www.ncgasa.org and there is a payment option at the membership tab on the website.  Your participation in the derby is very much appreciated and should be a great event to be a part of.  Guide fees are not included in the $80 entry and membership fee so your guide fees will need to be established at the time you book your guide for fishing in the derby.  

Striped bass fishing on the Sacramento River at Grimes, Ca.  What a great way to spend the day!

The NCGASA leadership and board of directors would like to thank all of you for your support of this event and for your continued support as members of this very important organization.  The future of the hunting and fishing opportunities in northern California are at risk and on the decline.  Your support and participation will ensure NCGASA will have the opportunity to have our voice heard in support of maintaining hunting and fishing opportunities for future generations to come.

 

 

Pro tip #1 - Plug fishing for steelhead.

Plug fishing for steelhead on the Sacramento River, or any river for that matter, can be both challenging at times and very rewarding.  Steelhead are aggressive by nature, especially in the upper reaches of the rivers they were born in, and will readily hit a properly presented plug under most conditions.  The information contained in this Pro tip is intended to give the reader a basic to intermediate understanding of how to successfully fish plugs for steelhead.  I have spent a lot of time on the rivers of the PNW and in California plug fishing for steelhead and hope that the information I'm about to lay out here will help you become a better plug fisherman.

A large assortment of plugs can be helpful when fishing for steelhead.

Lets start by talking about the gear I use when plug fishing for steelhead.  I use G.Loomis E6X HSR 9000C hot shot rods when fishing for steelhead on the Sacramento River.  These rods are perfectly suited for steelhead fishing with plugs.  The HSR 9000C is a 7' 6" rod that has a sensitive tip, which helps the plugs swim properly, and a strong butt section which gives the rod the power to set the hook and to fight hot steelhead in heavy current.  I use a Shimano Tekota 300LC level wind line counter reel spooled with 30# Power Pro Super Slick 8 hi-vis yellow braid line.  I attach a 6' section of fluorocarbon leader to the braid using a double uni knot.  So, why use hi-vis braid you ask.  Power Pro braid has a small diameter, (30# braid = 8 lb mono), and provides virtually no stretch which is important in plug fishing.  I use hi-vis braid line so I can see where my plugs are digging and it helps me manage them better when I have 3-4 plugs in the water.  Finally, it is important to be able to set your plugs back at a specified distance.  This can be accomplished more easily with line counter reels.  I most often let my plugs out 50-70' behind the boat when back trolling and have found that you will get way more bites if the plugs are all swimming at the same distance behind the boat.  Presenting a wall of plugs can be most efficiently accomplished with line counter reels. 

G,Loomis HSR 9000C plug, Shimano Tekota 300LC reel, 30# Power Pro braid line, and a 3.0 Mag Lip steelhead plug.

Now that I have discussed the rod, reel, and lines I use its time to talk about the plugs I use.  There are lots of plug variables depending on where and what time of the year you fish for steelhead, but for the sake of keeping it local, I will talk about what I use on the Sacramento River from Redding to Red Bluff when plug fishing.  I have used several types and sizes of plugs on the Sac River and have found the Yakima Bait Co. 3.0 Mag Lip plug to be the most effective and best suited for the flows during the steelhead season.  Mag Lip plugs have a very good diving range and can be fished in 3'-12' of water on the Sac without any modifications.  These plugs are a perfect fit because most of the best steelhead fishing on the Sac can be found in 4'-10' of water.  The Mag Lip plugs are typically ready to fish right out of the package and don't usually require tuning.  Always check your plugs at the side of the boat to make sure they are diving and swimming straight.  Fishing a plug that is not running properly will result in no fish hooked!  If you have any doubt, pull your plug upstream.  If it swims to the side or surfaces when you pull against the current, it needs to be tuned before fishing it.  Tuning can be accomplished by very slightly bending the eye on the bill of the plug in the opposite direction the plug is swimming.  Once your plug is diving straight, you are ready to put it out in front of some fish.  I always add scent to my plugs before fishing them and it does make a difference.  I will apply a generous amount of Pautzke Bait Co. Liquid Krill scent every time I reel in to check my plugs for debris.  One small secret I don't often talk about is the addition of a small piece of crawdad meat to my plug.  I have found that soaking the crawdad meat in Pautzke Nectar overnight gets me more bites than when I run it plain.  I wrap the meat onto the plug using stretchy thread.  Steelhead go nuts for these plugs wrapped with crawdad meat and the strikes you'll get are vicious.  One word of caution is to not add a very big piece of meat to the 3.0's because they won't run straight if the meat is not precisely centered under the belly hook of the plug.  I use a very small piece of crawdad, especially of they have been soaked in the Pautzke Nectar because the meat will be loaded with scent.  Once your plugs are running straight and you have spiced them up, its time to put them out behind the boat.

Hands down my favorite 4 colors for the Sacramento River.

Now that you have all your gear straight and your plugs tuned and scented, its time to go find some steelhead.  Reading water can be tough for the beginner so I'll make this real simple.  Fish the flows that you are able to when pulling plugs, and don't get hung up on any other part of the river.  You can't fish plugs in the white water or in really fast current, and you can't fish the deep holes where your plugs can't reach bottom so eliminate that water as an option.  If you fish the current seams, (where fast water meets slower flowing water) you will find steelhead.  Early in the morning you can find these steelhead laying in 3' of water, but I usually target water in the 4'-10' range like I mentioned earlier.  If you don't see any current seams and you want to fish a nice long run, make sure its got a flat bottom, lots of rocks, and has a current flow that compares to a fast walking speed.  You will likely find steelhead laying in that section of the river.  If its too deep or the current is moving too fast, pick another spot to fish, there are plenty of them.  This is not to say that you won't find fish in other sections of the river I just told you to stay away from, but save those hard to fish areas for later in the day.  As steelhead see the light of day, deal with boat traffic and angler pressure, they will sometimes move into deeper water or a little further into the fast water where they will tuck in behind a big rock or behind a ledge that drops into a deep hole.  I typically hit all the holy water on my down river and then stop in the areas I just described on my way back to the launch.  Some of the best fish of the day can come from those hard to get to spots on the river.  As you get familiar with the stretch of river you are fishing you will know right where the steelhead sit and you will in most cases find success often.  One thing to pay attention to, especially on the Sacramento River, are the flows from Keswick Dam.  The steelhead will change their location in the river with flow increases and decreases.  You can fish a good looking section on the river on Monday and by Friday that section is a gravel bar or is too fast to keep a plug down.  I make a mental note or even write down what the flows were for any given day and note where I caught the most fish. 

 The section of the Sacramento River below Sundial Bridge is classic steelhead water.  It has a nice flat bottom, big cantaloupe size rocks, and is 8'-10' deep during the summer months and in the fall.

The section of the Sacramento River below Sundial Bridge is classic steelhead water.  It has a nice flat bottom, big cantaloupe size rocks, and is 8'-10' deep during the summer months and in the fall.

The final consideration for a successful effort while pulling plugs for steelhead is boat handling.  You can't catch steelhead with plugs if you can't control your boat.  You absolutely must be able to keep you boat tracking straight and managing your downstream presentation.  Plug presentation is most effective when you slowly put these plugs in front of fish and invade their space.  If you sit in one spot and move all over the place, you're not likely to get these fish to react to your presentation.  If you allow your boat to drop downstream too fast, the steelhead will likely move to the side and watch the plug swim by.  Find the area you wish to fish, set your downstream line and stay on track.  Some sections of the river, such as wide, flat bottom drifts, or wide tail outs will need to be worked over to cover all of the bottom area that will hold steelhead.  In those situations, slowly back trolling down stream and moving from side to side (sweeping) can be very effective.  I look to the shoreline as a reference to manage how fast I allow the boat to slip downstream.  A good friend and mentor, Ron Rogers, taught me that many years ago and its served me well since.

Thats me pulling plugs for steelhead in a tail out in the early 90's on the Skykomish River in Washington State.

As with anything, there are some fine points I might have failed to mention but if you follow most of everything I've written in this plug fishing for steelhead Pro tip, I'm confident you will have the basic information needed to find success while pulling plugs for river run steelhead.  If you would like to learn with a more hands on approach, I would be happy to have you book a trip with me and you can get some first hand experience.  I will teach you and demonstrate what you need to know to be successful when plug fishing for steelhead.  Its a great option for accelerated success and its how I got my learning start over 30 years ago.  Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions about this Pro tip subject at (707) 616-1905.

Sacramento River steelhead caught while trolling a plug doused in Pautzke Bait Co. Liquid Krill.

Shasta Lake fishing report 1/19

Shasta Lake is getting another dose of very wet weather again this week and with previous rains could have possibly filled by now if water managers would have allowed it to do so.  Its way too early in the year to top off Shasta Lake so releases from Shasta Dam have remained very high all week.  We're experiencing some significant amounts of rainfall and the snow pack is something to behold.  All this water, whether it be rain or snow, has ended the drought in northern California and fishing on Shasta Lake looks great!

Now while I've been concentrating on fishing Shasta Lake for Spotted bass the last few weeks, I've shifted my focus to the trout and land locked Kings.  Now with water temps around 48-49 degrees, trout and salmon fishing can be tough.  I've had some good days and a few slow days, but I'm catching fish every trip out so far this week.  Shasta is holding up very well through these storms and I'd have to say its in great shape.  The water color is very good and the debris in the lake is minimal.

I've been concentrating my efforts around the dam, Digger Bay, and the Dry Creek area.  This week I've found most of the rainbows and Kings to be sitting between 60' feet and 80' but have marked them above and below as well.  Most of my bites are coming in the 70-80' foot range consistently.  I'm trolling between 1.3-1.7 mph due to the very cool water temps.  My most effective color patterns have been baits in white or orange behind white or orange colored dodgers, although green dodgers with a green squid have taken fish as well.

Electronics are key right now and is the easiest way to find what depth the fish are holding.  There are literally salmon and trout everywhere, but working one area can be tough because the bite is slow.  I'm covering a lot of water and looking for biters, there just don't seem to be a lot in one place.  I've been trying different depths as well, but like I said, my bites are coming at 70-80'.

For those of your that have a boat but no downriggers, you are in luck!  There are dozens of creeks and drainage water coming into Shasta right now.  Not only are these creeks holding bass, the trout tend to gravitate to these areas this time of year as well.  be prepared to fish some dirty water and bring your spin gear.  Nightcrawler's are a great bait in these areas right now and the trout will readily eat whatever floats past them.  Try running some crank baits or spinner baits into the mouths of these creeks if bait fails.  Another favorite method for me is a drop shot rig with a black/red flake worm, earth worm color, or an ox blood color worm.  These seem to get both the bass and trout to bite under these conditions. Don't forget scent!

I'd expect good fishing on Shasta Lake to be up and down numbers wise, but I think its always worth a shot this time of the year.  With the winds blowing bait down toward the dam, I'd expect that area to continue to be a top producer.  The rainbows and Kings are definitely keying in on the shad and their bellies are stuffed with them.  That should give you some good direction on how to pattern your offerings on Shasta Lake.  Good luck and enjoy another great week on Shasta Lake!

 

Sacramento River steelhead fishing report 12/8/16

This last week has progressively revealed a slow down on the Sacramento River steelhead fishing for me, but we are still catching some very good fish. Fishing hard all day has paid off by days end and we are coming in with 10-15 Steelhead hooked.  These steelhead, mostly wild, are absolute rockets when hooked on plugs and are not easy to get to the net.  We are still landing more than half of the fish we hook on most days and my clients are having a blast fighting them.

Jim Malner with his first Sac River steelhead of the day.

I am still having the best bite on back trolled plugs, but you can still entice a few fish with egg presentations and Dick Nite spoons.  Solid and metallic gold 3.0 Mag Lip plugs have continued to produce the most bites for me still.  Keeping the plugs free from floating grass continues to be a challenge.  I've been pulling out my plugs when I approach some of the known steelhead haunts and make sure they are clean and freshly scented before dropping them back into holding water.  You have to make every opportunity count this time of year so a proper presentation is key.

Ralph Camacho of Corona, Ca. with his first ever steelhead.

I'm still plugging a lot of shallow water and am finding the most steelhead to be laying in 3-4' of water.  I'm still running my plugs out 70' behind the boat and concentrating my efforts on shallow slots, tail outs and current seams.  I'm not finding steelhead in the deeper drop offs I'm used to fishing in the spring and summer.  Water temps are sitting at 52 deg's and flows from Keswick are sitting at around 4950 cfs.

Oscar with a Sac River steelhead below Sundial Bridge.

On a side note, I fished below Roosters yesterday and found water temps of 48 deg's making for a tough bite.  Fishing is very slow in the Barge Hole area for salmon, but there are a few rolling at the mouth of Battle Creek and in the Barge Hole.  We have more rain in the forecast and flows are supposed to be on the rise, possibly reaching 10,000 cfs above Bend Bridge.  The 2016 Sacramento River salmon season ends on the 17th so Friday the 16th is the last day to fish.  If the river drops into a fishable condition again before the 17th then it may likely be worth one last trip to the Barge Hole!

Chuck Steen holds a nice Sac River steelhead above Sundial Bridge in Redding, Ca.