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Cautionary advice for novice river boaters

Gary Heffley author photo,

By Gary Heffley
07/17/15 -- A new salmon season always brings out a crop of new river boating anglers. You know the type… I have a boat, I know how to turn it on and I have used it on the lake so what’s the problem? The Sacramento River, especially a crowded Sacramento River flush with other boaters and anglers is no place to break a maiden. If your lot is to test yourself on the river please heed the following warnings and advice.

The river is full of hazards some seen, but many lurking just below the surface. I was asked just today if a prop motor would handle the river just below Red Bluff. I have never fished in that region of the river, but I cautioned against it as potentially too dangerous, despite not knowing the type of boat in question. I recommended the Colusa area and below where the river deepens and widens for prop driven boats. In fact I cautioned against a prop motor anywhere upstream of the Princeton Riffle north of Colusa.

This year boaters will be faced, at least until the rains arrive, with “skinny water”. Low flows will expose many snags, shoals, sandbars, and riffles that can catch even an experienced river runner by surprise. Imagine running wide open and striking a sidebar; the driver and passengers will be tossed violently about the boat or flung overboard. Severe injuries are likely, and drowning, especially if not wearing a floatation device, is a real possibility. Even drift boats sliding along with the current can be caught by rocks and snags having occupants tossed overboard if boat control is not maintained with strict vigilance. And with this summer’s skinny water, even the shallowest drawing drift and jet boats will need to use extra caution.

Let us say you have managed to bypass the physical hazards of the river and you are charging into a likely fishing hole anxious to get a line in the water. WRONG! Never charge into or through a fishing spot especially when other anglers are present, and early in the season, you will always have company. Speeding a boat through or into a location will scatter salmon and ruin the location for everyone. Ease into a slot and respect the spacing of other boats. Even if bypassing boats fishing a location, slow down, and give a wide berth as not to ruin their chances.

It takes time to learn the skills needed to handle a boat, keeping a boat in position, and controlling a boat when fighting a fish on the river. I always suggest that new river boating anglers go to school by hiring an experienced fishing guide before venturing out on their own. Not only will the learning curve be accelerated on the proper fishing techniques, but much can be learned by watching the boat handling skills of a professional. And I can’t over emphasize the “experienced” part of the guide equation. Just because a guide has a license does not mean they have the skills you wish to learn from. Ask for recommendations from area shops or other anglers. Good guides will always answer questions and will readily do so if asked. So make sure to ask.

Another word of advice is that just because you are fishing from a boat, respect anglers fishing from the shore or wading, as in the case with the popular Gravel Bar run where beginning August 1, anglers will be lining the river. As shore and wading access is limited, give them space. I have seen and heard stories of untold boaters attempting to fish the slots anglers are casting to. 2 ounce weights have been fired across the bows of many boats from angry waders with threats of the next ones being targeted for the boat itself. While never seeing physical altercations I have heard that many have occurred between disrespectful boaters and angry wading anglers.

Remember that alcohol and operating a boat is the same as operating a car… the two don’t mix and drunk driving laws are the same for both.

The bottom line is to use common or plain good sense when operating a boat on the river. Pay attention when running the boat because dangerous obstacles and shallow riffles can come up fast. If the boat does not look like it can handle certain areas, or your skill set is not up to the areas in question, don’t go into them because you have to come back the same way to get back to the ramp. Always wear a floatation device and to put the kibosh to the age old argument, no they are not all cumbersome and bulky. The auto-inflate over the collar type popular with bass anglers for one style are perfect for river running and angling.

Be safe and as they say, “tight lines.”

Gary Heffley has been a valued contributor to MyOutdoorBuddy for over seven years serving as manager, sales representative and reporter for much of Northern California. He is an avid outdoorsman and loves to fish and write about his adventures. He has long history in the Sporting Goods field and is presently managing the Gift Bar and Camping Department at Sportsman’s Warehouse in Redding.

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