2005 Salmon Season
September 13 & 14, 2005
Old Sacramento River 18 Lb. Salmon
It was a pleasure to launch into my beloved Delta for the first time since April. I arrived full of hope and optimism as the salmon began their upriver journey. While the season officially opened back in July, the salmon never seem to cooperate ‘til this time of year. I’ve discovered that for me, it’s best to not get too excited much before mid-September.
This year I found much cooler water temperatures, perhaps as much as 10 degrees cooler than last year at this time. I felt a premature October-like chill during the evening and morning hours. In fact, for the first time ever this time of year, I had my cabin heater on during the evening and morning hours. It’s too early for the heater, for crying out loud it’s still summer!
It seems that most of the house boaters and fair weather tourists have packed it in. The ski boats and jetskis must be back on their trailers – at least during these September weekdays. The Delta, in all its late summer glory, has once again become a quiet, wonderful place to fish!
I began this year’s first troll at the Rio Vista Bridge by snapping a green, double bladed Silvertron onto my line. As the reel spilled line into the river for the first time this season, I announced aloud to myself that my Delta fishing was once again underway. That was a grand moment. Delta fishing is my favorite pastime.
The little Honda kicker pushed me upriver to the mouth of the “Old Sac” and I continued my troll towards Isleton. As I passed the picturesque homes of Long Island and approached the east power lines, my little Penn International screamed out the good news that this year’s first salmon was calling!
I dropped the kicker speed down to idle, set the autopilot and dashed out of the cabin to grab my rod and reel. It was a grand feeling to once again feel the power of a big salmon on the line, especially after suffering through a summer bereft of any notable fish. My salmon displayed an iron will as she continued to take line, doing her best to break away. I worked her to the boat two or three times before she seemed ready for the net. Eventually, with rod in one hand and net in the other, I scooped her up and helped her aboard. Aha! Success on my first salmon trip of the year! That hasn’t happened often.
She weighed in at 18 pounds and was a bright, beautiful specimen. Of all the fish I’ve caught over the years, including even a blue marlin in Mexico, nothing photographs quite like a bright, fresh salmon! They make even us old graybeards look good.
The challenge of catching a limit always accompanies that first salmon aboard the boat. I tossed the green, double bladed Silvertron back into the river and continued my troll. I kept the ½ ounce rubber core weight attached about three feet up the line from the snap swivel, trying to keep the same lure depth that my salmon had just hit. What depth was that? I’m not sure, but I believe that it was in the upper portion of the water column.
Some of the best salmon fishermen swear that the lure needs to be near the bottom. Some believe the lure should be higher. For myself, I tend to fish shallower most of the time, and when I’m not getting any results, I’ll go deeper. I like to think that the deeper lures are not visible to the shallower fish, but that the shallow lures are visible to the deeper fish. I figure that the deeper fish can see above due to the sunlight, but that the shallower fish cannot see deep due to the darkness. But, of course, this is just idle musing. And besides, I also think that the lure has to darn near hit a salmon’s face to garner a good strike. But, honestly, I don’t know…
I read a recent post on the Internet explaining that salmon will hole up in still water during the outgoing current to avoid wasting energy by swimming against it. The writer stated that they swim with the incoming current to be most efficient at their task of heading upriver. That makes sense to me, but does it make sense to a salmon? I am going to be more observant of the tides when I catch salmon in the future.
My efforts to fool that second salmon went unrewarded for the rest of the day. As dusk settled over the Delta and the egrets returned to their roosting trees just upriver from Vieira’s, I anchored near them. While they squawked and bickered among themselves I fired up my little Bar-B-Q and slightly singed a huge top sirloin steak in celebration of the wonderful day that was just winding down.
Did I mention that it had been a wonderful day? I had a beautiful salmon in the box, my cheap beer was ice cold and Merle and Dolly sang along with me on the XM radio. And when I sat myself down to that perfectly rare top sirloin steak, it barely fit on the little galley table! If life could possibly get any better, I probably couldn’t stand it!
The water may be calm and flat near the egret roost when the river is otherwise rockin’ and rollin’. While it may have been breezy elsewhere, I spent a quiet, restful night anchored near the bank, protected by the many trees that grow there.
Before daylight my anchor chain clanked its way through the windlass and into its locker. I woke up the egrets. A number of them took to the air, getting a much earlier start on their fishing day than they likely wanted. I was soon back at the business of trolling, heading downriver to meet my friend, John, at the Rio Vista ramp. As I idled toward the ship channel, a long parade of other troller’s navigation lights seemed to fill the Old Sac. Yes, the salmon season was well underway!
After John joined me, we began our troll at the Rio Vista Bridge. Our best efforts were completely ignored until we arrived at the Isleton Bridge, a bit before noon. As we passed under the bridge, John’s reel screamed to life! John grabbed his rod and the fight was on. As I tended the boat’s direction, John worked his fish to the boat two or three times before she was ready to board. When the time was right, John told me she was ready and I scooped salmon #2 into the boat.
John’s Old Sacramento River 18 Lb, Salmon
She weighed in at 18 pounds, the same as mine a day earlier. Our efforts had been rewarded! Even if we didn’t catch another fish for the rest of the trip, we both had beautiful salmon on our first days of this year’s run. Life is good.
And, sad but true, we didn’t catch another fish all day. Although we trolled another four or five hours, we didn’t have so much as a bump. Even so, nobody complained. It had been a memorable Delta adventure.
If prior salmon runs are any indication, this season should last into November. I plan to be out there every week, doing my best to boat my share of those majestic salmon!
Salmon #3 for 2005
September 28 – 29, 2005
Old Sacramento River 25 Lb. Salmon!
Other than the shorter days and the presence of salmon in the river, this week’s Delta adventure could have been July or August. The weather was unusually warm and the wind was calm. In fact, I would have welcomed a bit of wind to keep the bugs down and to cool my surroundings a bit. But I’m not about to actually wish for more wind on our often windy Delta. Not quite. I’ll be cussing the wind soon enough.
This first day of this week’s trip included the company of a fellow C-DOG, a rather fitting acronym for “C-Dory Owner’s Group” members. Jim met me at Vieira’s dock about noon on Wednesday and we trolled together ‘til about 5:30 that evening. Jim is no spring chicken, he’s in his late 50’s, but he has the most infectious enthusiasm for life of anyone I know. Jim doesn’t do anything without great enthusiasm and joy – especially boating and fishing. As is his nature, he was very optimistic about the prospects of catching a big ol’ salmon while trolling with me. I surely did not want to disappoint a fellow whose expectations were so high.
We trolled upriver to about a mile or two above the Isleton Bridge, then back down below Vieira’s. We trolled for about five hours. I tried deep. I tried shallow. Jim tried deep. He tried a Mag Wart. A Flat Fish. A Silvertron. Nothing worked. Nada. Zilch. I was disappointed that we couldn’t get Jim on a salmon. But Jim had a grand time trying and was still as exuberant as ever. Not much in this world can dampen Jim’s enthusiasm. I was getting enthusiastic about dinner.
A couple of Jim’s friends were also trolling the Straits of Isleton that day, and all of us had accepted Jim’s invitation to be his guests at Portofino’s Italian Restaurant at Vieira’s Resort. We enjoyed a very unique dining experience that evening; there was no menu, no order given and none taken. We simply ordered our drinks and after a short while four plates brimming with chicken fried steak, mashed taters and carrots appeared at our table. Huh? I explained to anyone listening that I hadn’t ordered yet. My friends informed me that the dinner that evening, the only dinner available, was just what was served. Nothing else was available. Well, now, how was I to know that taters and carrots and chicken fried steak were considered an Italian dish? As strange as a one item choice may seem, it was a very delightful and delicious meal. I do believe that the Isleton Italians have learned how to cater to us river rats. I look forward to my next meal at Portofino’s!
I bid good evening to my friends as they departed for home with empty fish boxes. None of us caught a fish that day, although several were caught by other anglers. I’d rate the day as only “fair” for salmon fishing on the Old Sac. After the farewells were said, I boarded my boat and headed upriver to my usual anchorage among the egrets. I was full of good food, the river was unusually flat and mirror like all night long and I slept very well.
I was back on the troll well before daylight, joining several other boaters who were trolling through the dark, only their navigation lights visible on the river. I’ve never caught a salmon in the dark, but that’s no reason not to try. I still haven’t caught one.
My morning was a bit frustrating as I dealt with two or three snags, one of which was an inexcusable snag on one of Long Island’s 5 MPH Zone buoys. Yeah, I really did snag one of them. When I find myself in a group of boats that I deem too close for comfort, I will make a big U-turn to the opposite direction and fall in behind the other boats. I need some elbow room when I’m trolling as I just don’t like being crowded, and it’s difficult to not feel crowded when the salmon insanity begins on the Old Sac. So, I was in one of those U-turns to avoid the crowd when I snagged the buoy and lost the lure. A bit later I lost two more as I trolled under the Isleton Bridge. Trolling deeper may catch more salmon, but it also loses more lures.
During this week’s trolling, I heard a fellow on the radio talking about his GPS trolling speed. So, here’s a bit of advice to any fishermen who may measure their trolling speed with a GPS: GPS measures only speed over ground (SOG). SOG means absolutely nothing when trolling on moving water such as the delta’s currents. The primitive paddlewheel or other mechanical device that measures speed through water is the only measure that matters. While I trolled upriver that morning against an outgoing current my speed over the ground was probably about ½ MPH, which is the reading a GPS would
measure. But my speed through the water was a whopping 1.5 MPH – or thereabouts. And that speed through water is all that matters to the salmon and to the lure that I was pulling. So, when trolling through moving water, don’t pay attention to that fancy GPS, just read the old fashioned mechanical speedometer.
I faithfully trolled against that outgoing current, passing the grain elevators, the Isleton Bridge, and the many boats that turned back down river at the bridge. I had the river pretty much to myself above the bridge, and that’s just how I like it. I continued trolling upriver past the shoals where the river bends to the east. Eventually I passed the lonely Channel Marker #8 that sits in the middle of nowhere up against the river bank. I often wonder why the heck a marker was placed in such a desolate location, but for whatever reason, there it stands.
It was a bit above that lonely marker that my efforts finally paid off. As the river deepens above the shoals, I changed the half ounce weight on the bottom of the spreader with a one ounce weight to get a little deeper. This is the difference from last week’s skunk, I believe. I think that I was down approximately fifteen feet with the heavier weight, and that’s not nearly as deep as some fellas troll. But it was deep enough for me this week! Suddenly, my little Penn reel screamed to life!
I grabbed the rod, adjusted the drag to let my fish run against a lighter resistance, then dropped the little Honda engine down to idle. The fight was on! I kept the fish engaged, letting her run when she wished, reeling her in when she slowed. I also continued to keep the boat in the proper position to fight the fish as I shifted in and out of gear as necessary to stay in the middle of the river. I was busy!
My fish didn’t seem so big at first, but as time wore on and she controlled the fight more than I did, I knew I had a good sized salmon on the other end. She forced me to circle the entire boat, up to the bow along the starboard side, then back to the cockpit along the port side. She was definitely in charge.
Eventually I got my first look at her after about ten minutes of fighting. She again headed for deeper water, but the brief glimpse of her was an exciting moment! She was big and she was strong and she had more than a little endurance. The fight wore on.
After about fifteen minutes, she tired and came to the boat with little resistance. I grabbed the net and when the time was just right, I scooped her in. I had finally caught this year’s second salmon!
Her heft was about all that I could manage. I struggled mightily to hold her up on my little electronic scale, waiting for the numbers to settle on… 25 pounds! That made her the second largest salmon I’ve ever caught, behind the monster 41 pounder of the 2002 season. Wow! The many hours of trolling since my last salmon had finally paid off!
Once she was in the box and the cockpit cleaned up, I was again trolling and, in my imaginings, fighting that limit fish to the boat. I headed back downriver, delighted with my success.
As time went by and noon became mid-afternoon, that second salmon seemed unlikely. Although I’ve fished ‘til dark for that second fish in days gone by, I was thinking of the trip home, unloading the boat and all the other things I had to do before my day was over. A bit after 3 O’clock I reeled in, stowed the gear and headed to the dock. It had been a memorable day and the second biggest salmon I’ve ever caught was in the box. I can’t wait ‘til next week!
2005 was the lousiest salmon season of the four or five I’ve fished on the Delta. I suspect many guys did better than I did, but I also know of others with my luck. The next three weeks after the above 25 pounder, I didn’t catch a single one. I’ve never been so skunked. And this past summer’s lake fishing was very poor too.
2006: It was an even worse salmon year for me – and a lot of other fishermen. I was blanked entirely. Not one salmon. I gave up early in the season and began sturgeon fishing a bit early. Here’s hoping 2007 will be a better year. It certainly can’t get any worse!
2007: Salmon season was not an option; I had sold my beloved C-Dory and was without a boat. The season for others was much as ’05 and ’06 – another slow year.
2008: Salmon fishing was closed on the ocean and the rivers with the exception of a short season from Knights Landing to Red Bluff. I again had a boat, but wasn’t about to join the chaos of that short, very local salmon season. Here’s hoping 2009 will have a normal season. I sure do miss salmon fishing on the Sacramento River!
2009: Salmon closed on the Delta.
2010: A short season roughly the month of September was open on the delta, but I deemed it too early to get too excited about it. I went on a long motorhome trip instead.
2011: Salmon season again – at last! I began the season in mid-October, and landed one small salmon of about 8 Lbs. The 2011 season was scheduled as a normal one, the limit again being two fish, and the Sacramento River portion of the beautiful Delta was a part of the open waters for salmon fishing. It was about time!