Banner Year Expected For Sacramento River King Salmon
King salmon are expected to return by the hundreds of thousands to Northern California’s Sacramento River this fall, despite a statewide drought. Mid-August to September will be the best time to catch one of the 635,000 Chinook salmon predicted to return to Northern California’s Sacramento River for the fall run.
The California Fish and Wildlife (CFW) and local guides expect a banner season, despite the persistent drought. The season is open (July 16th below the Red Bluff Diversion Dam and August 1 above), but the action generally gets hot in mid-August and lasts well into October.
The prime stretches of the river during this period are north of Sacramento, particularly above Chico as the fish work their way upstream. Runs on the Sacramento begin in mid-July with fish trickling northward, then build to huge numbers from late August into October. 20-pound fish are common, and 40-pounders are not unusual. The California state record–an 88 pounder–came from this stretch of the water, and larger ones have been found.
Anglers unfamiliar with the river from Chico north to Red Bluff and above would be well served by one of the numerous guides targeting salmon. Knowledge of the local holes where salmon hold up is critical, and jet boats are invaluable on the often-shallow northern stretches of the Sacramento. Techniques are usually variations of back trolling, often with fillet wrapped flatfish, or bouncing salmon roe off the bottom.
While the drought has played havoc with other fisheries, this year’s fall salmon run should be largely unaffected, according to CFW. Water temperatures in the lower river have slowed the king’s ascent, but substantial numbers should be in the upper waters by mid-August. Water flows also affect how quickly kings move upriver, but so far the state has managed to maintain adequate levels. As California’s largest river, the Sacramento is less affected by water levels than some of the lesser tributaries with salmon runs, such as the nearby Feather River.
Be prepared for cool temperatures in the early morning – guides put out before first light – increasing to brutal mid-day temperatures, often well above 100 degrees. Dress with sun protection in mind. While August is hottest, the potential for high temperatures can last well into October.
Popular boat launching facilities are found at the Irvine Finch River Access near Hamilton City (east of Chico on Highway 32); the Woodson Bridge State Recreation Area near Corning; Mill Creek Park in Los Molinas; and the Sycamore boat launch just below the Red Bluff diversion dam. These ramps are extremely crowded at first light during the season, as all the guides and the most serious fisherman try to get out on the water early.
The daily limit is two king salmon. This year a change in regulations has upped the possession limit to four salmon; so fortunate anglers on a two-day outing can carry home four in their ice chests.
For maps and detailed information about the Sacramento River, including public access points, try the Sacramento River Forum’s website.