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Winter arrives along with bass tourneys

Oroville Waters by Craig Bentley

inter’s grip tightens on Oroville area waters as Bidwell Canyon launch ramp re-opens and tournament season begins on Lake Oroville, while low flows on the Feather River make steelhead fishing a tough prospect for the upstream opener above Hwy 70, January 1.

Lake Oroville
Lake surface elevation is rising about six inches a day and is now at 666 feet. The surface temperature has cooled to 52 degrees. The water is muddy green up in the river arms, main body and coves with mudlines showing near points when the wind blows. Bidwell Canyon launch is now open. The auxiliary ramp at the spillway is open. Four wheel drive vehicles are now required by State Parks officials for launching boats at the both the spillway and Bidwell Canyon launch ramps.

All of the car-top boat access points are closed with the exception of Foreman Creek where the gate is still open to access the lake. Boaters are advised to call the lake's Visitor Center at (530) 538-2219, to check the daily status of the launch ramps prior to making a trip up to the lake.

The weather this week will be mostly sunny and chilly through the weekend, with rain spinner baits next onday. Daytime temps are forecast to be from 28 to 35 in the mornings with daytime highs 50 to 54. Winds will be variable to 8 mph, from the north and then easterly in the evening.

The cold weather, rain and cooling water temperatures have not stopped the bass bite and fish are still being caught by anglers braving the cold to catch a good numbers of fish!

Brent Cline at Oroville Outdoors said the fishing is still decent with two anglers catching up to 25 bass a trip. Most anglers have switched back to finesse fishing for better results. Some anglers were finding success casting crank baits and spinner baits. Bass have been holding from about ten feet, down to 40 feet deep.

Anglers are either drop-shotting small tubes, or casting wacky rigged Senko's, dart-head four-inch worms, or fishing 1/4 or 3/8 ounce finesse jigs and small paddle-tail swim-baits on light line to catch decent numbers of bass, 12 to 14 inches long, with an occasional 2-1/2 to 4-pound fish being caught. Natural colors and earth tone baits like bait fish, Prizm shad, watermelon, pumpkin, oxblood and brown are all working.

King salmon fishing has remained slow with few, if any, boaters trolling for salmon. Some of the recently planted eight to ten-inch long juvenile kings along with some sixteen to twenty-inch long adult kings and a few rainbow trout are being caught by anglers fishing bait or casting lures from the shoreline. Popular baits have been cut anchovies, minnows, fished under a float and rainbow PowerBait.

A few kings are being caught by anglers fishing for bass with plastic worms along the shoreline. The fish have been scattered all over the main body of the lake and boating anglers are few lately. Boaters that are trying for salmon, troll lures down from the top 10 feet down to the 70 foot mark trying catch salmon or trout, or drift and cast spoons along the shoreline.

Salmon may usually be caught while trolling over submerged islands or structure, in the river forks mouths, the slot and west of the green bridge and along steep shorelines. Casting spoons or small minnow imitating lures to the shoreline will take salmon or trout. The best tactic is to try and find bait schools then troll your gear just under the bait. Berkley Power minnows, Apex lures or Hoochies-tipped with a piece of anchovy, rigged behind a medium sized dodger, trolled at 30 to 70 feet, at 1.9 to 2.2 mph has been working for both salmon and trout.

Diversion Pool
The fishing has been slow with only a few locals trying for trout when flows are up. Releases from Oroville Dam have been up to 1595 cfs in the afternoons. Trout and salmon may be active during the releases of water from the lake and occasionally some nice fish have been caught and released. Try casting and retrieving 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. 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.

Thermalito Afterbay
Largemouth bass and steelhead bite slow with continued cold water at Afterbay.
Pool elevation is 135 feet. The water temperature is 47 to 50 degrees. There's about five feet of visibility. Steelhead fishing is slow for boaters with few fish caught while trolling.

Bank fishing has been slow with a fish occasionally caught at the Wilbur Road canal and near the Hwy.162 Bridge. Anglers use pink Gulp eggs, with a nightcrawler or scented marshmallow, using a three foot leader and a sliding sinker setup, while bank fishing for steelhead trout or coho salmon.

Boaters usually troll with minnow type lures or a threaded nightcrawler behind a dodgeror drift a fly-lined nightcrawler from the surface down to fifteen feet deep, along the west wall of the Afterbay, on the flats, or on the edges of the channels in front of the outlets, north of the Highway 162 bridge and the mouth of the inlet canal.

Bass fishing has been put on hold at the Afterbay with the frigid water temperatures. Few anglers are trying for the bass. The bass had been holding in ten feet of water or more along the rocks and moving to deeper water as storms roll through.

Boating anglers cast wacky rigged Senko's, skirted jigs or white spinner baits near cover, or working Gitzits in the rocks. Drop-shotting small plastic minnows or tubes, off the rock walls will also work. No reports have come in from any bass anglers fishing the Afterbay last week.

Productive techniques used here include casting crank baits, spinner baits, chatter baits and flipping Brush Hogs, Super Flukes, Sweet Beavers, Senko's or other creature baits to the edges of the weed mattes, or along the rocks.

Feather River
Steelhead are trickling into Feather River Hatchery, while fishing remains slow with minimal flows.
* The Feather River, from the Hwy 70 Bridge, upstream to the Table Mountain Bicycle Bridge in Oroville will re-open to fishing Friday, Jan. 1st, 2016 for Steelhead.
* Barbless hooks and a 2016 Steelhead Report Card are required.
* Salmon season closes on the lower Feather River from Live Oak to its mouth at Verona, today Dec.16th.
* The 2015 King salmon season closed Thursday, October 15th, for the water from the boat ramp above the Afterbay Outlet, downstream to 200 yards above the Live Oak boat ramp at Pennington Road.
* Fishing for the king salmon is closed all year in the Low Flow above the Outlet. There is no allowance for any catch and release fishing that targets salmon when any water is closed to salmon fishing.
* 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.

Flows are now 800 cfs in the Low flow at Oroville, with 150 cfs being released from the Thermalito Afterbay Outlet, for a total of 950 cfs below the Outlet. The project total outflow is 1100 cfs. The Gridley gauge data showed 644 cfs at the time of this writing, which is too low for safe powerboat operation and quite shallow for those rowing drift boats on the river below the Thermalito Afterbay Outlet. Remember that release changes can occur without notice.

The water temperature is now at 48 to 50 degrees at station FRA in the Low Flow. Below the Thermalito Afterbay Outlet at station FOW, the sensor remains offline with no current data available. The water is slate green in the Low Flow with about four feet of visibility and below the Thermalito Afterbay Outlet the water is stained with about three feet of visibility.

DFW's Feather River Hatchery personnel reported 59 steelhead over 16 inches long caught in their traps on Christmas eve, compared to only four fish caught earlier this month at the hatchery. Low returns don't make fishing prospects look too good for anglers on the New Year’s Day opening of the river above Hwy. 70. Low flows and below normal rainfall has continued to make it difficult if not impossible for the fish to come upriver above the Sunset Pumps at Live Oak. Flows in the lower river at Boyd's Landing are only 1885 cfs.

The river is in a winter pattern with some trout and small steelhead biting best in the afternoons in the tops of riffles or runs below drop-offs. Local anglers have been trying for trout averaging 14 inches with an occasional adult steelhead, over sixteen inches while fishing in the "Low Flow''. Reports from DFW's angler survey team and DFW's sampling crew, have been that adult steelhead seen in catches are few.

For trout or steelhead try side drifting Glo-bugs, single eggs, small clusters of cured roe, nightcrawlers with a 4mm fluorescent red bead, or size 14 Corky, or try soaking roe in the deeper pools, mid-day. Lure caster's use spinners, spoons, or small jigs. Fly fishers can try Glo-bugs, egg patterns, or troutbeads followed by a size 14 Birdsnests, Fox Poohpah, Prince Nymph, or Soft Hackle Emergers, in green, olive, or tan and San Juan Worms, in red or tan.

Boat traffic is minimal on the river below the Hwy.162 Bridge. Most drift boaters fly fish nymphs or egg patterns under strike indicators, or swing wet flies or streamers when fishing for trout or steelhead in the Low Flow. Some boaters pull plugs or side drift from drift boats on un-crowded days on 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 may produce a few bass, bluegill and sunfish for anglers fishing the ponds near weed beds or stickups. No recent reports have come in. Grass mats are gone. Use small chatter-baits, buzz baits, plastic worms, creature baits or nightcrawlers for bass and red worms or small flies and work them slowly for the bluegill or sunfish.

The General Hunting Season is now open in the Oroville State Wildlife Area.
* Waterfowl season opened Saturday, Oct. 24th and closes Jan. 31st.
Type C Wildlife Areas have been hosting some average duck hunting with some Mallard, Gadwall, Sprig, Teal, Widgeon and Wood ducks taken. Hunting on type A refuges and in the rice fields has been yielding limits of ducks and some geese for knowledgeable hunters hunting in pit blinds.
Most guides have been limiting their clients out on ducks and some geese.
Hunting conditions have been marginal between storms, with cloudy, windy days shooting better early morning with windy, rainy days shooting better overall.
* Rabbit season is open thru Jan. 31.
* Tree Squirrel season opened Sept. 12 with a limit of 4 per day. Closes Jan. 31
* Balance of State Quail season opened Oct.18, Closes Jan. 31
* Non-Lead Shot shells only are permitted for hunting on state lands.
**See regulations regarding Hunting and area use at Ca. Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, online 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 was posted courtesy of the Oroville Chamber of Commerce.

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