The end to long truck rides for baby salmon

By: George deVilbiss
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For quite a few years, after artificially-spawned salmon eggs hatch into the next generation of salmon, Department of Fish and Game hatchery personnel have a numbers problem.


The staff at the Nimbus Hatchery on the American River have millions of little baby salmon to care for.  The only home these little baby salmon, better known as smolts, have known since birth are the huge, long, concrete runs. They’re fed a regular diet of pre-prepared dry food.


In order to make life easier for all these little babies, when it was time to release them into the wild, to swim free in ocean waters and feed on their natural food stuffs, the DFG would load them into trucks and haul them west.


For a number of years, they were held in pens in Suisun Bay, acclimating to natural waters, still being artificially fed. When the time was right, they were released right there.


The fallacy is that the striped bass quickly learned of the practice. They would find the holding pens and cruise the area until the smolts were released, which occurred over the course of many days.


It was a major feeding frenzy on the stripers part, gorging themselves on all this fresh food being handily delivered right to them. How many of the smolts actually survived to make it to open ocean waters is really unknown. Suffice it to say that a great many were on the menu for predators.


It took a few years, but the DFG apparently wised up to the massive predation that the anglers knew about but the DFG did nothing about. So, instead of releasing the smolts in Suisun Bay, by boat they hauled the pens to the area of the Golden Gate Bridge and released the fish there with a shorter run to the open ocean waters.


Nobody knows for sure whether there’s a correlation to releasing the smolts so far away from home and the collapse of the returning salmon to the river system. The thinking today is that perhaps being released so far away from their birthplace, that the river and hatchery just wasn’t properly imprinted into their inborn homing device.


There is a very real possibility that the theory is true. Of course, it begs the question of just where did the salmon migrate to at the end of their life cycle, if not to their original birthplace.

Right now, the smolts have been released out of their concrete runs at the Nimbus Hatchery. And this time, their truck ride was a whole lot shorter.


Approximately three-million little baby salmon have been released at Discovery Park, the mouth of the American River. All of these little baby fish will have to find their way downriver, through bays, escaping gaping jaws of predators along the way, in order to reach the open waters of the ocean.


But hopefully, when it’s their time to return at the end of their life cycle, in anywhere from two to five years, the American River will be well imprinted in their homing device, and those who didn’t fall to anglers or predators, will return to their birthplace just like they’re supposed to.



It’s the Memorial Day Holiday weekend, and it’s one of the times where fishing is just not that great. Tons of people are visiting just about every waterway in the state and the better fishing just won’t occur until a great deal of the traffic decreases.


One area, where you can generally find solitude and quiet and still have some fun rod bending action, is stream fishing. Many are still running high and fast, but that can work to your advantage. With water moving so fast, you can use a little heavier line and it won’t as easily spook the trout.


Of course, you’ll also have to add a little more weight in order to make an adequate drift.

Trout will be lying in the quieter pools such as those created by large rocks. Cast upstream and let it drift down through the faster, possibly even white water, and swirl in the eddy and pool below the rocks.


There are virtually thousands of miles of streams and even rivers in the north state and just about every one of them can and will provide some good fishing opportunities. If you’re fly fishing, with the current water conditions of streams, you’ll still do better with nymphs than any other type of fly.


It’s also the time of year for the annual American Shad run in the river system. With larger releases into the American River due to Folsom Lake being all but full, and other rivers also running higher than they have in the last few years, it can make the fishing a little more difficult.


Shad are an extremely bony fish and not usually worth keeping. De-boning is an extremely difficult process. However, the bones are pretty much neutralized when the fillets are smoked and the meat is so excellent eating.


So, whether you keep any of the fish or not is purely a personal decision. Either way, they are a tremendously fun fish to catch and to fight, especially using light gear, and then simply releasing them once they’re brought in.


I’ve gone out with line weight as light as four-pound test using a very long, whippy rod. And what a kick when you tie into a three to five-pound fish.


Shad darts and flies are the primary attractors for these fish, also known as the ”Poor Man’s Tarpon.” Hang the dart or fly about 18-inches below a three-way swivel with the weight at the swivel. You’ll need enough weight to bounce and move along near the bottom but not to stop and hang up.


Give it a try. You’ll love the action once you get the hang of it and start tying into shad.


Any questions, comments or concerns, contact George at GeorgesColumn@AOL.COM.