The 2018 Sacramento River basin King salmon seasons are typically set in late April of each year. The Pacific Fisheries Management Commission forecasted below average salmon returns for the Sacramento River and the season dates and possession limits were set based on their estimates. The in river season on the Sacramento River was set to begin on July 16th and is set to end on December 16th, which is a normal season for river anglers. The disappointing news sport fishermen and river guides ultimately received, was that there would be a (1) salmon per person daily limit. The PFMC decision was strongly opposed by the NorCal Guides and Sportsmans Association, but our arguments were given no consideration.
The saltwater sport and commercial seasons opened shortly after the seasons were set and to everyones surprise, the offshore King salmon fishing was very good. As the weeks wore on, everyones attention fixated on the catch results which were being posted by our north coast and bay area charter boat fleets. The numbers were impressive and the fishing was far and above what was expected after receiving the PFMC forecast in April. Although the in river salmon regulations remained unchanged, there was excitement and optimism shared within the sport and river guide communities.
Our 2018 season opened on July 16th and although the catch numbers weren’t all that impressive, the boat scores came in much higher than they had in over three years. Two weeks into the season, the Sacramento River opened for salmon fishing above Red Bluff on August 1st. The famous Barge Hole fishery was the focus of the annual August 1st opener and it was a huge success! Early limits were the rule and just about everyone who showed up went home with a nice bright King salmon.
The upper river fishing slowed, but the Corning, Ca. to Red Bluff, Ca. fishing steadily improved and just about every piece of holding water was teeming with fresh run Kings. The Sacramento River water temps were unusually cool and that really helped slow the migration of the Kings headed to Coleman National Fish Hatchery in Anderson, Ca. Guides and sportsmen alike have been spread out throughout the Sacramento and Feather Rivers leaving some of the best sections of the Sacramento River system with relatively light pressure.
Most of the northern guides, such as myself, have stayed up river above Orland, Ca. where we are catching bright King salmon daily. With cool river water temperatures, all the productive holes above and below Woodson Bridge have been holding good numbers of King salmon for us all. For the river guides, its been a banner year already as far as available fish, but the one fish limit has hurt many of the guides who are seeing reduced bookings for salmon trips. People who typically hire Sacramento River salmon guides are conditioned to a two fish limit, and many have been reluctant to book a trip knowing they can only harvest one fish. One and done has been the slogan many guides have been using to describe this years salmon fishing trips.
There are many techniques anglers use to catch Sacramento River King salmon. Back trolling big sardine wrapped plugs at first light, then most are drifting roe after the sun hits the water. This seems to be the two most popular techniques for sport fishermen and guides alike. With water temperatures hovering around 57-58 degrees in the Corning stretch of the Sac, the roe bite has been on fire this year. I’ve limited on Pautzke ‘s Fire Cured eggs on just about every trip so far since I started fishing in late August. I’m enhancing my eggs with Pautzke Fire Power Krill, and some days, the Atlas Mikes sand shrimp Glo scents are getting more bites.
The die hard plug pullers are still out there corking the holes, but the guys drifting eggs are catching way more fish. Boondogging from a jet boat is by far the top technique on the Sacramento River when drifting eggs. Its really caught on here in the Sacramento River valley and more and more boats are heading out in the morning with spin rods than ever before. My typical set up includes a small cluster of Pautzke Fire Cured eggs, a #4 Gamakatsu hook tipped with a #3 Mad River Mfg. Fish Pill, and is attached to a 5’ foot 15 lb. leader. The weight systems are simple and include a 1/4” dia. piece of pencil lead attached by an inline snap swivel. We’re covering a lot of water in a short amount of time, giving our Pautzke baits a lot of looks on every drift we make.
We are knocking on October’s door which means the upper sections of the Sacramento River open to salmon fishing will be seeing some very impressive numbers of King salmon. Currently sport anglers and salmon guides are seeing lights out style fishing near the Barge Hole and are getting their limits for their boats daily. As we see the first few weeks of October arrive, I believe we will see some of the best salmon fishing we’ve seen since 2013. Along with Octobers fantastic salmon fishing, we will likely see another great run of steelhead headed for Coleman Hatchery as well. This should help ease the one salmon limit dilemma, and clients possessing a steelhead report card can continue to fish for steelhead after retaining their King salmon.
The Sacramento River fall King salmon season will taper off in late October, but our late fall run of Kings should be available in good numbers from mid November until the Sacramento River closes on December 16h. The late fall salmon are often the biggest and brightest the Anderson area will see during our 5 month salmon season. This is when we will see an appreciable number of winter steelhead in the system as well making for some very productive days of fishing on the Sacramento River.