Follow pond smelt; find the fish
Article and photos by Denis Peirce
07/15/13 -- In the quest to catch fish, a good place to start is to identify the food source. From there you want to identify where it is located and how to imitate it.
The primary baitfish in our local lakes is the Japanese Pond Smelt. It was introduced into California in the late 1950s to provide a food source for rainbow trout in the reservoirs that were being built in that era.
The problem with reservoirs is the fluctuating water levels preclude the establishment of weed beds and the resulting food chain. Two of the most important food sources in our artificial lakes are the incoming streams and the sunlight driven plankton bloom. The streams are limited in their food production and trout don’t do well directly converting plankton to food. The solution was to introduce a bait fish that would convert the plankton into trout food.
The original plan was to introduce the native delta smelt into the impoundments. For some unknown reason this was not successful. The plan “B” was to introduce non-native species to fill the niche. The DF&G tried shad and the pond smelt. It was thought that the Japanese and the Californian smelt were the same species but this turned out not to be the case. This move did put the focus on lures designed to imitate this new bait fish, as shown here.
After more than a decade in a few smaller California test lakes, a population of smelt was transplanted from Lake Shastina to Lake Almanor. Somewhere in this time frame, pond smelt were introduced to Lake Spaulding on the South Yuba River.
During the ensuing years of study, a number of attributes of the smelt were realized. Japanese pond smelt are wanderers, migrating downstream over time, and they out compete other species that rely on their same food source. It is now the policy of the DF&G not to plant kokanee into lakes with smelt populations. Spaulding is a prime example of this. When sportsmen’s groups requested that kokanee be planted in Spaulding, the DF&G determined this was not a viable project due to the established smelt population. Instead of kokanee (sockeye salmon), king salmon were placed in the lake to feed on the smelt.
The migrating instincts of the pond smelt were proven at Lake Oroville. Almanor is higher up the Feather River system and the smelt population started in the 1970s, blossomed, and migrated down the river. Oroville was a “shad lake” up through the early 1980s. Since then, the shad have disappeared and the smelt schools at times can be as large in volume as a garage.
The same migration pattern developed below Spaulding. Both Scott’s Flat and Rollins Lakes now host substantial pond smelt populations. Water from Spaulding also finds its way to Folsom Lake. I have heard that Folsom, which used to be a shad lake, is now predominantly a pond smelt reservoir. Farther downstream, the Japanese pond smelt has become established in the delta as well.
The exception to this migration seems to be Englebright Lake. I have not heard any angler mention pond smelt at this lake which is below Spaulding on the South Yuba. If anyone has seen them here I would like to hear from you.
The point of this article is not whether non-native smelt are good or bad. Rather given the fact that they are here, how can this help us catch fish. The axiom “Find the food and you will find the fish” comes to mind.
Smelt like cold water if it is available. You are most likely to find them suspended in deep water during the warm weather months. Their food source is plankton that is driven by sunlight, which is most prolific in the top 25 feet of the water column. It is my supposition that the smelt may come up at night in the summer to feed on plankton. During the cold weather months I have seen smelt individuals along the shoreline in Oroville. Smelt will spawn in the lake shallows when the temps break up through the 40 degree mark. At Lake Almanor (elevation 4000 feet), this occurs in March, and you will find many anglers trolling with pond smelt imitations, working the shallows. Guide Bryan Roccucci targets the ten foot depth contour where it is close to the shore and has rock on the bottom about the size of basketballs. He is pursuing brown trout that come in close to feed on the spawning smelt. It is not unknown for anglers to pick up rainbows, salmon, or smallmouth bass at the same time.
RoboWorm makes a “Margarita Mutilator” that features a blue stripe and is quite effective. Other worm colors including “Morning Dawn” and “Warmouth” do well in pond smelt waters.
Lucky Craft lures makes a “Staysee Ghost Minnow” rip bait that I have done well with. For trollers, the Arctic Fox Trolling Flies in Pond Smelt are good producers.
Your choice of lure will depend on whether you are fishing from shore, casting from a boat, or trolling. Will a blue smelt imitation always produce in local lakes? No, nothing always works. But if I am fishing Scott’s Flat, Rollins, Oroville or Spaulding I will have these in my tackle packs.
Denis Peirce writes a weekly fishing column for The Union of Grass Valley and is host of “The KNCO Fishing & Outdoor Report,” which airs 6-7 p.m. Fridays and 5-6 a.m. Saturdays on 830-AM radio. Contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit trollingflies.com.
Fishing ReportsOregon F&WC approves 2016 fishing regs 09/04/15 -- The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission approved the 2016 Oregon sport fishing regulations at its meeting in Seaside today. Under the regulations adopted today, anglers should find it easier to navigate the rules... Full Story
Fishing & crabbing available off Brookings
09/04/15 -- Anglers will be giving the ocean their last shot at catching Chinook this weekend before the general season closes its doors one hour after sunset on Labor Day, September 7. This has been without a doubt one of the worst... Full Story
Sac River rainbow fishing very good!
09/04/15 -- We are far from hanging up our trout rods for the year, in fact, we never usually do! With this year’s salmon season on the Sacramento River getting a late start, we have had the opportunity to stay on top of the trout...Full Story
President/spawning sockeye make a point By John McManus
09/03/15 -- As many of you may have seen, President Obama, while in Alaska, found himself in a photo op with a spawning sockeye salmon. The four-year drought and very warm water in the Upper Sacramento below Redding... Full Story
8th 'Save Kilarc' picnic coming up
09/03/15 -- The other day, as I have several times this summer, I went to Kilarc Reservoir by myself to see if I could catch a few trout for dinner. I suspected I could, and that it wouldn’t be much trouble, because Kilarc has been planted... Full Story
Wild coho seasons begin Sept. 15 09/03/15 -- Wild coho seasons on many coastal rivers and bays will open beginning Sept. 15. This year, rivers in 11 basins on Oregon’s coast will be open for wild coho harvest including Tillamook Bay, Nestucca Bay, Siletz... Full Story
Strange salmon season ends on Monday
09/02/15 -- The finish line is in sight for what can best be described as a very strange recreational salmon season on the North Coast. It began back in May with tons of excitement and optimism — the prospect of a million salmon... Full Story
91% of boaters want ethanol-free gas
GGSA Red Bluff Salmon Derby is Oct. 10 09/01/15 -- You can support California’s top salmon conservation organization while having fun and a shot at $1,000 in the annual Golden Gate Salmon Association Red Bluff Salmon Derby Saturday, October 10. The derby is open... Full Story
Bass Pro Hometown Festival is Sept. 5-6
Cooler temps improve Oroville-area fishing
09/01/15 -- Increasing numbers of Salmon show as water cools on the Feather River at minimal flows as Lake Oroville king salmon bite remains slow for trollers while bass fishing is fair for anglers using finesse techniques.... Full Story
OR streams re-open to afternoon fishing 09/01/15 -- Oregon fishery managers announced today that the afternoon fishing ban in place on most rivers and streams in the state will be lifted beginning Tuesday, Sept. 1. Managers also re-opened the lower Willamette River... Full Story
Striped Bass - CV's Most Popular Predator
08/31/15 -- When it comes to sport fishing, passions can run high. One of our most viewed blog posts of all time is a post from 2011 called Changes To California Striped Bass Regulations On The Table. The post con...Full Story
Late afternoon fishing at Bridge Park
08/31/15 -- Driving back from Reno, about 4 p.m. on Saturday August 30, I decided to pull off of Hwy 89 into Bridge Park on Hat Creek for a little break. The park was quiet. There was one truck there but no one was present...Full Story
Lake Berryessa: Just fine for late August
08/30/15 -- This past Friday evening just before sunset, I took Travis and his son Alejandro out for a couple of hours. We fished along the west side and within the first ten minutes Alejandro landed a nice bass which had him grinning from...Full Story
Catfish center stage at Collins Lake
08/30/15 -- It’s been a catfish jamboree at Collins Lake for the past several weeks. Jerry Rodriguez of Gilroy started off this week with a huge 10lb. 4oz. catfish catch! Jerry fished on the far side of the dam in a cove and fished with anchovies for bait...Full Story
Fishing McCloud Lower Falls
08/28/15 -- Driving up to Mt Shasta on August 26, I asked my daughter if she would like to see the Lower Falls of the McCloud River. She said she would, so we turned off of Hwy 89 onto the McCloud River Loop and headed down to the falls... Full Story
Kokanee great at Whiskeytown
08/26/15 -- When you get an invitation to join a top of the line guide like Mike Elster for an early morning outing on Whiskeytown Lake, the only answer is what time do you want me there? Of course, that is followed quickly with a number of heart... Full Story
Nickel strip mine threatens Smith River
08/24/15 -- Plans for strip mining along Oregon tributaries of the Smith River, California’s largest free-flowing river and premier salmon and steelhead fishery, could be stopped if you lend your support to the Smith River Alliance before Sept. 28... Full Story
McCloud Reservoir offers lots of action
08/23/15 -- First time McCloud reservoir fisherman Bryan Ischo and his 7 year old son Graham had a fantastic Friday (August 21). We all arrived at the McCloud just shy of 6 a.m. and were promptly greeted by two bald Eagles fishing and... Full Story
150,000 steelhead die at Oregon Hatchery 08/22/15 -- High water temperatures and repeated bouts of bacteria and parasite infections beginning in May have killed over 150,000 summer steelhead fingerlings at the Rock Creek Hatchery near Roseburg, Oregon. The hatchery began losing... Full Story
ODFW seeks comment on bridge at Selma 08/21/15 -- The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is seeking public comment on a request to exempt from fish passage requirements a proposed bridge replacement on McMullin Creek, a tributary to Deer Creek in the Illinois... Full Story
Sacramento River trout love Dick-Nite spoons
08/16/15 -- Trout fishing continues to be very good in the Redding area. All summer long, trout fishing has provided plenty of action for anglers who enjoy fishing for them. Early on, our lakes and reservoirs were producing very well, but as the... Full Story
Crystal Lake fish planting going well
08/16/15 -- This year The Crystal Lake Fish Hatchery will stock 1.8 million trout. In addition to the 16 counties in California which they normally supply, they are also supplying fish to the Darrah Springs Trout Hatchery east of Redding and the Mount... Full Story
Upper Sac River: Elbow room & lots of fish
Day Hike To Deadfall Lake
08/13/15 -- Early last week, when I learned that my brother Don was driving up from El Segundo for a visit in-between jobs as an aeronautical engineer, my daughter Meredith voiced the opinion that the three of us needed to... Full Story
The Importance of Fish Physiology
08/10/15 -- When salmon and trout are exposed to very high temperatures, they often die. Thanks to the study of physiology, we now know that one cause of death in fish living at high temperatures can be a heart attack...Full Story
Catching an opah video is amazing
07/25/15 -- On July 7, MyOutdoorBuddy posted the above absolutely awesome photo of a 114 lb. opah taken that day on board the Scrimshaw of Coastline Charters in Eureka. Thirteen albacore were also taken but the opah stole... Full Story
Dunsmuir: Headquarters for the Upper Sac
07/14/15 -- For a fly angler looking to ply the trout rich waters of the Upper Sac a stop into Dunsmuir and a visit to the Ted Fay Fly Shop is a must. The shop in downtown Dunsmuir at 5732 Dunsmuir Ave is the place for my current... Full Story
Farm pond, oh farm pond. Where art thou?
06/29/15 -- The thrill of victory doesn’t end with downhill skiing. In many cases, it ends with a farmer giving you permission to fish a private farm pond. When I relocated to farming country in 1959, it didn’t take long for the mystique of farm... Full Story
Finding Fish from Discarded DNA
06/22/15 -- To round out our series on environmental DNA (eDNA), in which we've described the basic concepts of this technique* in aquatic research, as well as its challenges and limitations**, here we highlight... Full Story
Domoic acid levels too high for razors 06/17/15 -- With concentrations of domoic acid reaching levels not seen since 1998, ODFW shellfish biologists see no possibility that razor clamming on Oregon’s most popular beaches will re-open before the annual conservation... Full Story
Dunsmuir continues trophy trout program
How to make Tuscan Tuna Salad with Fennel By Frank Galusha
05/04/15 -- OK, you went ocean fishing. If your fish is fresh or if you have processed, vacuum packed and frozen your catch properly, there are many ways to enhance your meals. Almost everything taken from the ocean is not... Full Story
Pacific halibut 2015 regulations in effect
Agencies halt commercial sardine fishing
F&GC adopts in-river sport fishing regs 04/23/15 -- The California Fish and Game Commission adopted changes to the Central Valley and Klamath River basin salmon sport fishing regulations for the 2015 season on Friday, April 17. The changes include fall-run...Full Story
OR DFW seeks help with stocking program 04/16/15 -- This year the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife plans to stock 11,000 rainbow trout (including 3,000 of trophy size) in popular Lake of the Woods, and the agency would like anglers help in figuring out what...Full Story
Fishing the Klamath below JC Boyle Dam
03/02/15 -- Year round trout action can be found on the Klamath River within the 20 or so miles of free flow within Oregon and California. While fishing below the flumes at the JC Boyle powerhouse, it can be difficult to know just when...Full Story
The Mystery of the Middle Fork, Part IV
11/10/14 -- This trip was to be the final chapter in the saga that began three years ago but is actually over 20 years in the making. As Bruce, Tuck and I journeyed back to the Middle Fork of the Feather River we made...Full Story
Climbing Terms for the Fisherman
German brown trout afternoon in Modoc
09/04/14 -- Catching a German Brown Trout from the creeks in Modoc County is a fine way to spend an afternoon. There are many creeks in this part of California that drain the Warner Mountains. Stream trout fishing in this region opens...Full Story
Throw the kitchen sink at them
08/20/14 -- Our wilderness areas are special, where Mother Nature is landlord and natural forces operate freely. Within the wilderness you will find no roads, shelters, picnic tables, toilets, or other conveniences. You enter at...Full Story
Humboldt Bay: Busy port, excellent fishery
Pulled into the pipes: Green Sturgeon
03/04/14 -- [Posted with permission of FISHBIO] Living in the Sacramento River can be a risky business for juvenile green sturgeon (Acipenser medirostris). The young fish must swim through a gauntlet of water... Full Story
Not Just Any Fish
02/14/13 -- Trout have inhabited California waters from the Sierra Nevada and Warner Mountains to the Pacific Ocean since prehistoric times. However, most of the trout caught by anglers are either hatchery raised fish...Full Story
Fishing with Phideaux
01/26/14 -- Meet Phideaux, a 110-pound neurotic chocolate Lab. His name is pronounced “Fido” but it is spelled “Phideaux” because he is a Cajun dog. Anyway, last summer Phideaux took his human (that’s me) on a trout hunt up into...Full Story
A primer on fishing Lake Shasta By Gary Heffley
01/01/12 -- Shasta Lake draws more visitors to Shasta County than any other single attraction. While it is often a challenge to fish, it is more likely to produce stringers of fat trout or spotted bass. Trout to four and five pounds are caught here routinely...Full Story
Lake Oroville; 'tis the season By Chuck Giles
01/11/12 – Lake Oroville is probably one of the best lakes for sheer numbers of Spotted Bass in Northern California. This is not just on a seasonal basis, but year round. To start, I have a list of baits that produce decent results... Full Story