The return of salmon season looms next week

By: J.D. Richey Journal Outdoors Columnist
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Well, it’s been a long time coming, but we actually have a (mostly) full-blown salmon season opening up in the Central Valley next week!
Portions of the Sacramento, Feather and American rivers all open to salmon fishing on July 16. Here’s a quick look at where you can fish and what to expect.
Sacramento River
• Middle Sacramento River Zone: Open July 16 through Dec. 18 from 150 feet below the Lower Red Bluff (Sycamore) Boat Ramp to the Highway 113 Bridge near Knights Landing.
• Lower Sacramento River Zone: Open July 16 through Dec. 11 from the Highway 113 Bridge near Knights Landing downstream to the Carquinez Bridge.
What you basically have here is the Sac opening from Carquinez all the way up to Red Bluff. The opener used to be unbelievable up at Red Bluff, but that just wasn’t the case over the last few years that fishing there was legal. The cold water curtain on Shasta seems to have changed where the fish hold now days, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth a shot. Up there, be prepared to run a jet boat and back-bounce or boondogg eggs or backtroll sardine wrapped Kwikfish.
There have also been a few years when the bite out of Ward’s Landing below Colusa was unreal on opening day, but I wouldn’t count on that being the case… might be a sleeper spot, however! Fish Kwikfish or spinners on anchor or troll ‘em.
A couple of other places to check out: The mouth of the American River, where most folks anchor up with sardine wrapped Kwikfish or FlatFish or troll Silvertron spinners.
Feather River
• Open July 16 through Dec. 11 from 1,000 feet below the Thermalito Afterbay Outfall downstream to the mouth at Verona.
Traditionally, mid-July was a good time for fishing spring-run Chinook on the Feather. However, gross mis-management of the water by DWR has changed everything on this creek. Prime example: The Feather was running high (up to 12,000 cfs) not long ago and anglers were getting excited about a good water year on the river. But suddenly, flows have been reduced to 3,400 cfs and the water temp at Yuba City is now 70 degrees. OUCH!
Still, there should be some fish up in the Oroville Wildlife Area but expect huge crowds on opening day. During the limited season opener last year, there were 80-something boats and close to 300 bankies spread between the legal fishing line below the outlet and the Gridley Bridge!
If you bring a boat, make sure it’s a jet. If you’re a bank fisherman, bring your own rock! Boaters back-bounce eggs or Kwikfish while bankies do well with Blue Fox Spinners early and then switch to drifting bait later.
There should also be some fish down below Yuba City, where most folks sit on the anchor with plugs out. Not too exciting, but there are days when it can be effective.
American River
• Nimbus Dam to Hazel Avenue Bridge will be open to salmon fishing from July 16 through Dec. 31.
• The USGS gauging station cable crossing near Nimbus Hatchery to the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) power line crossing the southwest boundary of Ancil Hoffman Park will be open to salmon fishing from July 16 through Oct. 31.
• The SMUD power line crossing at the southwest boundary of Ancil Hoffman Park to the Jibboom Street Bridge will be open to salmon fishing from July 16 through Dec. 31.
• The Jibboom Street Bridge to the mouth will be open to salmon fishing from July 16 through Dec. 11.
So, to decipher the slightly confusing regs, pretty much the entire American opens on July 16. That’s the good news. The bad news is the only place you have a legit shot at catching a fish (typically stray Feather River springers) is at Nimbus Dam. Not the nicest place to hang out, but if you drift roe with a Fish Pill along the bottom, you have a shot!
For the record, the American should fish pretty well later in the fall.
Overall Expectations
While I am excited about the prospects of having a real salmon season this year, I also must admit that I don’t think it’s going to be a real barn burner. It would be naive to think that after the three or four worst years in history that we’d be back to “good ol’ days” status right away.
I’m thinking that we’ll have a shot to catch some fish each day and the really cool news is the fish seem to be good sized this year. While involved in a hook and line tagging program this spring for the state, I’ve caught a bunch of nice kings and all but two have been over 25 pounds! So, there could be some real giants this year.
Salmon Techniques
To get you up to speed on salmon fishing techniques, be sure to check out my website,, which has all sorts of tips and tricks.
Guided Fishing
If you’d rather let somebody else sweat the details, I’ll be running guided jet boat salmon trips all summer and fall this year. Check out or call (916) 388-1956 for details.
J.D. Richey is a 1986 Placer High graduate whose outdoors pieces have been published nationally. His column runs Fridays in the Journal.