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Bass deeper and fewer at Lake Oroville

Oroville Waters by Craig Bentley author badge,

ake Oroville king salmon bite continues to produce limits for trollers while the topwater bite for bass continues as water temperatures warm and some big channel catfish are on the bite! Afterbay largemouth bass provide good action on topwater baits for boating anglers, while Feather River king salmon pour into the hatchery.

Lake Oroville
The Lake surface elevation continues to drop with increased releases, about a foot a day and is now at 717 feet. The surface temperature is rising and is now at 79 degrees. The water is clear up in the river arms and main body and coves with mudlines showing near points when the wind blows or when wakes from boat traffic pick up. Bidwell Canyon, the spillway and Lime Saddle launch ramps are open. Car-top boat access is now limited to Foreman Creek access and Stringtown access. Successful launching is dependent on the boat owner's ability to launch his or her boat.

The dog days of summer continue with sunny skies and hot temperatures. Daytime temps are forecast to be in the high sixties to the upper seventies in the mornings and the upper nineties to over 110 degrees in the afternoons. The national Weather Service has posted an excessive heat warning for the Central Valley and Foothills for Wednesday thru Friday with temperatures expected to climb to as high as 115 degrees.

Visitors can expect a big crowd at the lake for the holiday weekend with the big celebration and fireworks display being sponsored in part by the Discovery Channel and Destination America. The Party starts at 4 pm with the fireworks scheduled to begin at 9:30 pm at the dam.

The bass fishing continues in its summer pattern with the fish holding deeper and out over open water with water temps climbing into the upper seventies. The bite has remained tough with anglers working hard to catch a few fish and avoid the dinks. Boating anglers are scratching out only a few slot-sized bass and may only catch a few bass between two anglers for a half-day session. A tournament over the weekend was won with a fifteen pound limit that included an eight pound largemouth. Second place had a limit totaling nine pounds.

A lot of bass are suspending down deep over open water. There are still some small spotted bass holding from the bank down to 30 feet deep, but most of those fish are barely six inches long. The top water bite continues, with fish caught in the mornings or late evenings near deeper points, ledges, or rock walls. Zara Spooks, Rico's, Pop-R's and small buzz baits are getting a few blowups. For the finesse fishers, most anglers are drop-shotting small tubes, Senko's, four-inch worms, small grubs and small paddle-tail swim-baits on light line. Boaters are covering a lot of water and dragging tubes or worms to find some decent sized fish. Most anglers have switched to either drop-shotting, spooning or topwater. Spooner's use Kastmasters, Hopkins Shorty, P-line Laser Minnows or 3/8's to 1/2 ounce lead-head jigs. The reaction bite has slowed to a standstill.

Some big channel catfish are being caught up in the river arms. Anglers are reporting fish weighing into the upper teens biting cut baits such as anchovies, mackerel or sardines with stink bait, dough baits or chicken livers taking fish averaging between five and seven pounds.

King salmon fishing has been fairly consistent last week with most trollers catching limits or near limits of fish at most of the usual spots. Permitted guides caught limits of kings trolling bait and lures fishing down at 50 to 70 foot mark and deeper in the main body. An occasional rainbow trout are being seen in the catch with the salmon. The area along the dam has been seeing a decent bite early in the day, before the sun is on the water with trollers using all standard techniques to catch a few limits. The kings are also being caught while trolling over submerged islands or structure, in the river forks mouths, the slot and west of the green bridge. Some bigger fish are showing in the catches, with a few going to twenty-six inches. Most the fish caught recently are around 22 to 24 inches long. The best tactic is to find bait schools and troll your gear just under the bait. Speedy Shiners, Berkley Power minnows or Hoochies-tipped with a piece of anchovy, rigged behind a medium sized dodger, trolled at 50 to 70 feet, at 1.9 to 2.2 mph has been working for both salmon and trout. Mooching anchovies has produced some fish when they are on the bait over structure or near the bottom, early in the day. Minnows fished down deep under a bobber may entice a bite early in the morning before the sun is on the water for bank anglers.

Diversion Pool
The fishing has been quiet here last week with no anglers fishing and no reports coming in. Releases from Oroville Dam have been fluctuating from 2750 cfs at 6 am, up to 4200 cfs at 10 am then increasing to as much as 7500 cfs by 2 pm. Hopeful anglers cast and retrieve minnow imitations: soft plastics, stick baits, or spoons, or fish bait for the trout or salmon. Fishing is usually better when flows are up. Please note that DWR advises that flows can increase without notice and flows are subject to change throughout the day. No wading, swimming or floatation devices are allowed on this water above the buoy line that spans the pool, 100 yards below the spillway.

Thermalito Forebay
No recent reports have come in from the Forebay, however, populations of trout, salmon, bass, catfish and other species of rough-fish are present in the Forebay. Some transient trout and salmon that have moved down from the diversion pool to the South Forebay are occasionally caught on bait by patient anglers enjoying the solitude of this little used facility off of Grand Avenue. The Nelson Avenue Bridge may offer some fishing for holdover trout or salmon with irrigation releases and current running under the bridge. Grand Avenue and Garden Avenue access areas may also be worth a try, by soaking PowerBait or an inflated nightcrawler in the main channel there.

Thermalito Afterbay
Afterbay largemouth bass bite stays consistent and steelhead fishing gets tough with warming water temperatures for boating anglers. Pool elevation is 134 feet. The water temperature is 79 degrees with about ten feet of visibility. Steelhead fishing has slowed to poor. Most of the pond smelt have moved out of the canal into deeper water in the main body, where the inflow currents merge with the warmer water. The Hexagenia Mayfly hatch that was coming off at sunset has slowed to little or nothing coming off during legal fishing hours because of the heat.

For the steelhead, inflated nightcrawlers, or a 'crawler with a mini marshmallow, live minnows, Gulp Eggs, Power Bait and soft plastics may work for the bank angler fishing off the rocks in deeper water near the Hwy 162 Bridge or along the inlet canal below Wilbur Road. Boaters are trolling with a threaded nightcrawler behind a dodger at ten to fifteen feet deep, along the west wall of the Afterbay or in the channels in front of the outlets and the mouth of the inlet canal, about a half mile west of Wilbur Road.

Bass fishing has been consistently good with bass hanging out in the coves, tules and rocks with the warmer water. A topwater bite on poppers and grass frogs has been decent in the evenings. Casting crank baits, spinner baits, chatter baits and flipping Brush Hogs, Super Flukes, Sweet Beavers, Senko's or other creature baits into the tulles or rocks has been producing some nice fish to six pounds. Most fish are two to three pounds with some bigger fish also being caught. The bass bite will continue to pick up as the water temperature continues to rise into the low eighties back in the coves.

king salmon swimming under water, photo by Joseph Green
Warm water has been running in some of California's Central Valley streams and the Feather River is seeing the effects of water approaching seventy degrees since the heat wave began earlier in June. Here a spring run king salmon swims past a moss covered viewing window in the fish ladder leading to the Feather River Hatchery in an attempt to find cooler oxygenated water. The Feather is seeing increasing numbers of kings moving quickly through the lower river and into the cooler waters of the "Low Flow". The DFW and F & G Commission has continued to leave the closure in effect on the section of the Feather above the Thermalito Afterbay Outlet, leaving anglers little opportunity to find a legitimate bite in the warmer waters below the closure. Photo by Joseph Green

Feather River
King salmon pour into the hatchery as season opener nears and trout fishing is fair with increased flows scheduled this week on the Feather River.

*Fishing for king salmon is closed on the Feather River through July 15th. Fishing for the king salmon is also closed all year in the Low Flow above the Outlet. There is no allowance for any catch and release fishing that targets salmon when the river is closed to salmon fishing. The reach of the Feather River above the Hwy 70 Bridge, to the Table Mountain Bicycle Bridge in Oroville is open to fishing for steelhead and all other species except salmon and Green Sturgeon, from Jan. 1, 2015 through July 15, 2015.

Only barbless hooks may be used in the Feather River above State Hwy 70.
Below the Hwy 70 Bridge, the Feather River is open year around for steelhead, trout, bass, catfish and panfish. Check DFW regulations for species limits, gear restrictions and salmon regulations.

*The 2015 King salmon season will open July 16, with a limit of two salmon per day, with a maximum possession of four salmon. Open water is from the boat ramp above the Afterbay Outlet, downstream to 200 yards above the Live Oak boat ramp at Pennington Road.

Flows are now 1800 cfs in the Low flow at Oroville, with 950 cfs being released from the Thermalito Afterbay Outlet, for a total of 2750 cfs below the Outlet. The project total outflow is now 5000 cfs. Flows will increase to 3000 cfs at noon on July 1st. The Gridley gauge data showed 2842 cfs at the time of this writing, which is okay for safe powerboat operation. Remember that release changes can occur without notice. The water temperature is 57 to 63 degrees at station FRA in the Low Flow and below the Thermalito Afterbay Outlet at station FOW, the sensor is still offline with no current data available. The water is clear in the Low Flow with about ten feet or more of visibility and below the Thermalito Afterbay Outlet, the water is off slightly color with about eight feet of visibility. Feather River hatchery personnel report that close to 5000 spring run King salmon have entered the hatchery so far this year and more are expected with the continued increase in flows to the river.

The river remains in its summer pattern with the hot weather, with fish biting early or late in the day in the heads of riffles and then holding in the deeper pools or runs during mid-day.

Higher river flows has made fishing tough and wading somewhat difficult in the low flow.
Summer-run steelhead fishing was fair last week with a few local anglers finding fish holding in deeper pools and runs. A few anglers found fish in the hatchery stretch last week. Other anglers tried further downstream in the Low Flow for some trout or steelhead. Some fish were caught side drifting nightcrawlers with a size 14 Corky and drifting or soaking roe in the deeper pools. The fish are occasionally feeding on aquatic insects. For the fly fisher, streamers and aquatic insect imitations: (Caddis, Chironimids, Mayflies & Midges) in small, size 14-16 nymphs are a good bet. Tan Birdsnests, olive or tan Fox Poohpahs, soft hackle emergers and San Juan Worms have been getting bit.

There's been little if any boat traffic on the river below the Hwy. 162 Bridge. Most boaters fly fish nymphs under strike indicators, or swing streamers when fishing for trout or steelhead in the Low Flow.

* Please note that only hatchery trout (those fish under 16 inches) and hatchery steelhead may be taken from the Feather. Wild fish- (those with an adipose fin) must be released. The daily bag limit is 2 hatchery trout, or steelhead, with a maximum of 4 in possession.

Oroville State Wildlife Area ponds are kicking out some bass, bluegill and sunfish for anglers fishing the ponds near weed beds or stickups. Grass mats are thick with bass hitting lures on top in the moss. Use small chatter-baits, buzz baits, topwater lures, creature baits or nightcrawlers for bass and red worms or small flies for the bluegill or sunfish.

The General Hunting Season is now closed in the Oroville State Wildlife Area.
Rabbit season opens July 1st. Non-lead shot shells only are permitted.
See regulations regarding Hunting and area use at Ca. Dept. of Fish and Wildlife webpage.

Craig Bentley has been an outdoor writer, photographer, outfitter and fishing guide for over twenty years in Northern California. Based out of Oroville, his articles, perspectives, reports and stories on fishing have been featured in many outdoor publications as well as local newspapers and radio talk shows. Craig can be reached via e-mail at His report is posted courtesy of the Oroville Chamber of Commerce.

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