Come Saturday, anglers across California will try to turn their fishing rods into magic wands.
At many lakes and streams, they just might be able to do it.
Unlike a year ago, conditions are good for the most part for this year’s opening of trout season.
The official opener takes place at most streams in the Sierra Nevada and Northern California, and lakes in the Eastern Sierra. The date is a symbolic rite of passage, even at streams below dams that are open year-round, as well as lakes across the Bay Area and the foothills of the Sierra, Cascade and Siskiyou ranges.
After warm weather Wednesday with high temperatures in the high 70s in the mountains and 80s in the foothills, the forecast Saturday is for party cloudy skies with high temperatures in the mountains ranging from mid-50s to low-60s. In Northern California, where the best prospects are, a low-pressure system could drop the high temperature to 50 degrees with a chance of showers.
The best destination is where Fall River, Upper Sacramento River, Hat Creek and other streams are in good shape, with moderate flows and good clarity, though cold water temperatures. The Lower Sac, from the Posse Grounds in Redding on downstream, open year-round, has been fishing good all month on float trips with drift boats.
In addition, many lakes with good trout fishing are in great shape, 90 percent full or higher. Campgrounds are open at lakes and streams across the foothills up the mountain slopes into national forest to roughly elevations in the 4,500-foot range, with some exceptions by region.
In the Bay Area, trout plants are at a year’s peak and bonus trout programs are in place at 10 lakes in Alameda and Contra Costa counties.
Great start to summer
To put the conditions of this year’s opener in perspective, just remember what we faced one year ago on this date: a mammoth snowpack, high, muddy and cold rivers, many unfishable, with water temperatures and radical weather a better fit for Admiral Byrd than trout anglers. The recent weather has been radical in the mountains: It snowed a week ago, approached 80 on Wednesday, and will be followed with a chance of rain Saturday.
Of the prospects for the opener, one of the best examples and destinations for Saturday is along the Sacramento River corridor.
Above Shasta Lake, the river looks great from Pollard Flat to Vollmers, as well as from Sims to Pollard. In Dunsmuir, the stream has been planted for the opener. Stream flows have been steady this week at 725 cubic feet per second (cfs), ideal for fishing, though the water is cold, as is typical for the early season, and if you don’t adjust to lighter takes, you can get the ki-bosh. Access is good at many spots from cutoff spurs off Interstate 5, but by raft, you can hit all the spots unavailable to those who wade.
Last year, the Upper Sac hit flows as high as 32,000 cfs in the floods and ran 3,000 cfs to 5,000 cfs for most of the early spring.
Downstream, Shasta Lake is gorgeous, 92 percent full of cool, clean water. Trout fishing is good trolling up the lake arms, best well up the Pit Arm, as well as along the Shasta Caverns on the McCloud arm and up the Sacramento River arm at O’Brien.
Below Shasta Lake, some guided trips in drift boats out of the Fly Shop have reported some mind-boggling catch-and-release numbers this month. It’s best side-drifting from the Posse Grounds in Redding on downstream.
Another prospect is Hat Creek in eastern Shasta County. Along Highway 89, the Department of Fish and Wildlife has stocked it twice, and on Wednesday, the National Forest Service opened the campgrounds along the stream here. The Wild Trout Section of Hat Creek, near Highway 299, is expected to be crowded with flyfishers at the best riffles.
In the north Sierra, the open/closed line is at about 4,500 feet elevation. At Stumpy Meadows Reservoir, the beautiful lake at 4,200 feet in Eldorado National Forest, the Forest Service will open its campground this week. Yet up the hill from Placerville, at the Crystal Basin Recreation Area, the Forest Service plans to open the campgrounds at Camino Cove at Union Valley Reservoir (4,870 feet elevation) and Gerle Creek Reservoir on May 18. The other campgrounds at Union Valley, plus the camp at Ice House Reservoir, is scheduled to open the following week, on May 24. Loon Lake (6,410 feet) isn’t planned to open until June 15.
In the Bay Area, 10 lakes have trout programs, most where anglers pay a daily trout-fishing fee and that money is used to stock trout beyond that provided by the Department of Fish and Wildlife. Those 10 lakes are Del Valle, Chabot, Shadow Cliffs, Don Castro and Temescal in Alameda County, and Los Vaqueros, San Pablo, Lafayette and Contra Loma in Contra Costa County.
Tom Stienstra’s Outdoor Report can be heard at 7:35 a.m., 9:35 a.m. and 12:35 p.m. Saturdays on KCBS (740 and 106.9). Email: Twitter: @StienstraTom
Cold water temperatures in mountain streams can require flyfishers to use a technique called short-line nymphing. You tie a strike indicator to where your leader is tied to your fly line. From your leader, tie on a No. 16 Prince nymph. From the hook of the nymph, tie on another 10 inches of leader (5X fluorocarbon) a No. 18 Copper John (as a dropper). Make very short casts above pocket water and design perfect drifts right in front of you, where the flies drift downstream as if no line is attached. Other good patterns include rubberlegs, golden stones, midges and others. Every stream and river have their favorites.
— Tom Stienstra
Opening Saturday: Most of the state’s trout streams, all lakes in the Eastern Sierra.
Opening Memorial Day weekend: Eagle Lake
Open year-round: All lakes in Bay Area (San Pablo Res. closed in winter), all reservoirs in Northern California, most rivers below dams.
Best for opener: Fall River, Shasta County; Lower Sacramento River, Redding; Carson River, Mono County; Upper Sacramento River, Sims to Pollard Flat.
North state: Fall River/Big Lake (best by small boat); Upper Sacramento (access along Interstate 5, but best if floated); Pit River Powerhouse areas 4, 5 and 1 (difficult wading, cold); McCloud (cold water, crowded, access quota on best area that requires hike); Hat Creek (crowded, planted twice at campgrounds along Highway 89); Lower Sacramento River, Redding, need drift boat to do it right, launching from Posse Grounds in Redding.
Central Sierra: Carson River, vicinity of Highway 120 and U.S. 395 (good shape for early season), Truckee (easy access, but high and cold); Merced (west of Yosemite, high and cold); Stanislaus (small fish); Tuolumne (difficult access to best areas).
North Sierra: Middle Fork Feather (flows still high, when flows right, excellent by raft or hike-in); Yuba River (very cold, easy access along Highway 49, small fish); Deer Creek (easy access, mostly locals); Grizzly Creek (mostly locals).
Online reports: The Fly Shop, www.theflyshop.com; Jack Trout Guide Service, www.jacktrout.com; Northern California Fishing News, www.norcalfishingnews.com; Western Outdoor News, www.wonews.com; The Fish Sniffer, www.thefishsniffer.com.
Bay Area trout plants
This month’s trout plants at Bay Area lakes, reported by the Department of Fish and Wildlife, East Bay Regional Park District and Contra Costa Water District, and concessionaires:
Alameda County: 750 pounds of rainbow trout at Lake Chabot near Castro Valley, 3,950 pounds at Del Valle Reservoir near Livermore, 750 pounds at Horseshoe Lake/Quarry Lakes in Fremont, 1,750 pounds at Shadow Cliffs in Pleasanton, 750 pounds at Lake Temescal in the Oakland hills, 750 pounds at Don Castro in the Hayward hills.
Contra Costa County: 3,000 pounds at Los Vaqueros north of Livermore, 750 pounds at Contra Loma near Antioch, 3,000 pounds at San Pablo in El Sobrante, 1,750 pounds at Lafayette Reservoir near Highway 24.
Marin County: 750 pounds at Bon Tempe Lake near Fairfax.
San Francisco: 750 pounds at Lake Merced North.
Santa Clara County: 750 pounds at Sandy Wool Lake at Levin Park near Milpitas.
Sonoma County: 750 pounds at Ralphine Lake near Santa Rosa.
North state: Antelope (103 percent full), Shasta (92), Lewiston (91), Whiskeytown (90).
North Sierra and foothills: Frenchman (101), Davis (99), Bullards Bar (94), Englebright (92).
Central Sierra and foothills: Pardee (99), Don Pedro (91), Stampede (90), Camanche (88), New Melones (86), Beardsley (81).
Projection: Lake levels will peak in late May and through June for lakes in the Sierra foothills and at higher elevations in national forest, respectively.
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