All of nature is getting a welcome reprieve from the hordes of summer visitors. Children are back at school, family vacations are over and wild places are once again, wild.
Imagine walking along the Merced River that serpentines through the valley floor at Yosemite, looking skyward to the tip-top of the granite monoliths and hardly passing another living soul. Or, taking a boat ride on the 1,000 miles of Delta waterways and not seeing another craft for more than an hour. Or, driving over Sonora Pass and encountering just a couple vehicles traversing the trans-Sierra along Highway 108.
It’s amazing what happens after the Labor Day weekend. The crowds seemingly have vanished and the fish that practically disappeared during the “dog days” of protracted heat are suddenly active with the cooler nights and shorter days.
Destinations such as Pinecrest Lake east of Sonora, and far-flung places like Upper and Lower Twin Lakes near Bridgeport, Eagle Lake above Susanville and Frenchman Reservoir near Portola, have suddenly turned on. And, giant Lake Shasta north of Redding is kicking out limits of 3- to 4-pound rainbows the likes that folks have never experienced before. Ever.
“No one can explain it, but Shasta is the big trout capitol of California,” said Steve Gaines, a director of the Shasta-Cascade Wonderland Association that promotes outdoor tourism in the eight northern-most counties. “The trout are so large, it’s just crazy.”
The same phenomenon is occurring at Clear Lake, where largemouth bass typically weigh 4 to 8 pounds. No fooling. Even pesky wildfires that destroyed hundreds of homes and thousands of acres of wild land around the natural lake haven’t deterred the bass from going on a wild feeding spree.
Salmon fishing on the Sacramento River, from the Golden Gate to Anderson, has suddenly ignited. Kings to 30 pounds are striking lures and anchovies at California City in San Francisco Bay and above the Delta from Ryde to Walnut Grove. At Hamilton City, the river’s temperature is 63 degrees and the salmon are keying on the cooler water as they migrate toward their natural areas to spawn.
Cooler flows on the Klamath River have drawn salmon and steelhead to the terminus at Iron Gate Dam. Bank anglers and drift boaters are hooking limits just below Hornbrook and down to Happy Camp. While there is a recreational angling quota on adult-sized salmon, fishing for steelhead stays open and only improves as the salmon run reaches its peak in October.
Foothill reservoirs are active. Hogan Lake, just outside Valley Springs, offers a daily striped bass limit of 10, with no size restrictions. Stripers, up to 7 pounds, bite best early and late, especially when they are feeding on the surface, gorging themselves on threadfin shad. Camanche Lake outside of Wallace offers big planted rainbows to 6 pounds for trollers while New Melones Lake near Angels Camp is yielding monster-sized channel catfish in the 14- to 20-pound bracket in the shallows and nobs of submerged islands.
West of Tracy, Los Vaqueros Reservoir is the only impoundment where the water stays cool enough to permit trout to be stocked almost the whole year long and gives shoreline fishermen opportunities to catch them, no boat required. A 12-pound trout was hooked last week. This destination has the unusual distinction of giving bank anglers the chance of hooking trout, striped bass and catfish on the same day, without moving their arm chair.
Ocean angling is good this week for salmon outside the gate and north to Bodega Bay. Schools of chinook are cruising offshore towards the Sacramento River, home to about 90 percent of the salmon found along the entire California Coast. As a bonus, autumn is the time when the rockfish are larger and coveted lingcod are easily accessible.
Now is the time to go outside and take advantage of autumn’s great weather, world-class fishing and the lack of crowds that persist during summer. On many days you’ll find that favorite spot and have it all to yourself.
— Contact outdoors correspondent Peter Ottesen at email@example.com