New year brings return of fishing on the American River

By: George deVilbiss
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To protect wild Chinook salmon that spawn naturally in the American River, a major chunk of the waterway is closed for part of every year to all fishing activities. The closed section is from the power lines around Goethe Park upriver to the Hazel Avenue Bridge just below Nimbus dam.

That closed part of the river will reopen to fishing on Friday.

The number of salmon returning to the river, wild or hatchery reared, is still disappointing. Following the salmon upriver, each year, are steelhead, which are really sea-going rainbow trout.

There is a steelhead run in August-September, but those fish tend to be smaller fish and today, the run is a fraction of what it used to be.

The winter run of steelies is also not what it used to be numbers wise, but the fish tend to be much bigger. Sure, you can waylay the usual smaller five-pounders, but you’ll also get into some potentially bragging-sized lunkers with a good number of fish well over 10 pounds roaming the waters of the American River. My personal largest was an 18-pounder.

Because we still have not had much in the way of rainfall, the American River is low and clear and those conditions can make steelheading extremely difficult.

Steelhead are a wary fish. They spook easily and if they see your line, they’ll lie low and not bite. If you make too much noise wading into the river, they’ll go into hiding and not bite.

So, when the river opens to fishing on Friday, with low and clear conditions, stealth will be the rule of the day – along with light gear.

Steelhead will be primarily on or near the bottom so you will need to get your offering right down amongst the rocks. You’ll need to have just enough weight that will allow your line to move with the current, lightly bouncing bottom but without hanging up.

Until you find just the right amount of weight for the part river you’re casting in, expect to lose gear. And, if you move any distance at all, you’ll really need to start the weight determination process all over again.

What works? For the bait and lure caster, just about anything that resembles their primary gourmet grub - salmon roe. A lightly hooked ball of roe, fresh or cured, will be one of the primary getters, but salmon eggs will work and so will just about any lure that looks like an egg. Fly fishermen do well on a wide variety of steelhead flies, casting with a shooting head that will get their line down quickly where it needs to be.

If you hit the river on Friday in the hopes of stringing up a fresh run steelie, remember that you not only need the new, 2010 fishing license but also the new Steelhead Report Card.


For a variety of fishing activity types, you’re required to have an addition to your current fishing license. Those additions are report cards, something the DFG uses to track the health of that particular fishery and how you, the angler, are doing in the realm of success.

Those report cards include the Steelhead Report Card, Abalone Report Card and the Sturgeon Report Card.

And, as soon as the license expired at the end of the year, so do the various report cards. If you’re going to participate in any of those particular fisheries, you’ll need to get 2010 copies.

Now that those report cards have expired, they need to be put in an envelope and sent back to the Department of Fish and Game. They are all due to the DFG by the end of January, and the return address for each is on the back of the report card.

Trout Plants: A number of lakes that weren’t planted throughout the past summer are expected to soon be planted. Some of those closer lakes that are popular with anglers include Rollins, Scotts Flat, Sugar Pine and Stumpy Meadows, so look for fishing successes soon at these lakes.

Camp Far West: Finally some good news. There’s been enough rain the past couple of weeks that the lake has risen enough where the concrete ramp is again back in the water and you can get a boat off the trailer. There are bass to be whacked but you’re going to have to work them slow and easy. Drop-shotting worms or slow working jigs should be all it takes to get bit. Work the points and drop-offs, and don’t overlook the rocks around the dam.

If you have any questions, comments or concerns, contact George directly at GeorgesColumn@AOL.COM.