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Sacramento¿¿¿San Joaquin Delta

Largemouth and striped bass, sturgeon, king salmon, shad, catfish

16 Something fishy has been going on as real-estate development has rampaged up and down the Sacramento River drainage upstream from San Francisco.

“Salmon and striped bass took a hit, but almost everything that’s bad for those fish in the Sacramento¿¿¿San Joaquin Delta has been an advantage for largemouth bass,” says Dennis Lee, California’s warmwater fisheries manager. “I’m amazed at how many people don’t know there are tons of bass out there. The Florida-strain largemouths that were stocked in the 1980s are ranging to 18 pounds, and I don’t think they’ve peaked.”

Anglers still find salmon and sturgeon action in the delta, which sprawls through five counties. Conservation measures are also rebuilding striped bass numbers. Striper fishing can be excellent in April when they stack up at the mouths of spawning tributaries, and again in June, when stripers go on the feed as they drop back into San Francisco Bay.

But as any of the region’s bass anglers will confirm, largemouths rule the delta. “For largemouths, it’s absolutely the best fishery around for average size,” Lee says.

Sweet Spot: Big Break, a few hundred acres of flooded farmland near Oakley
What’s Hot: Yamamoto Senko
Local Advice: “You must tune into the tides,” says Don Payne of Delta Bait and Tackle in Manteca. “A 6-foot tide could turn the morning’s hot fishing hole into a mud bank by noon.”
Prime Time: Late February through March for big largemouths
Record Fish: 18.62-pound largemouth bass, a delta record, caught in January 2002 near Little Mandaville
More Info: California Delta Chambers and Visitors Bureau, 209-367-9840; (weekly fishing reports)

Skykomish River
Steelhead; chinook, coho, chum, and pink salmon; sea-run cutthroat trout; Dolly Varden

17 The Skykomish River is famous for steelhead that rise to flies and smack lures in the lovely July weather on the west slope of the Cascades, although the river also has a great winter run that enables steelheaders to relish the cold misery to which they are accustomed.

The current era of endangered stocks and the river’s proximity to the Seattle metro area translate into seasons that can change at a moment’s notice, depending on fish counts. That’s not a deterrent to savvy anglers within reach of a river with four salmon species, good boat access, and shore access. Staying legal is as easy as calling the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife rule-change hotline at 360-902-2500.

Sweet Spots: Holes at the Wallace River bridge near Startup for steelhead and salmon; Reiter Ponds area near Gold Bar for steelhead
What’s Hot: Marabou jigs, plastic leeches, fresh sand shrimp
Local Advice: “Instead of letting the dogs [BRACKET “chum salmon”] destroy your Kwikfish or other expensive plugs, just tie yarn or anything else that’s green and purple and cheap onto a hook, and they’ll attack it,” says Gary Perkins, a longtime Skykomish angler from Sultan. “They’re fun to fight, but one dog with those alligator teeth can ruin a $6 plug with one chomp.”
Prime Time: Early July for chinooks, July through October for summer steelhead, January for winter steelhead
More Info: Snohomish County Tourism Bureau, 888-338-0976;

Rogue River
Steelhead, chinook and coho salmon, trout, shad

18 The good old days of anadromous fish runs have never faded on theogue River, which attracts some of the West Coast’s strongest returns of wild steelhead and chinook salmon, plus hatchery stocks.

An angler who starts fishing with an arsenal of rods at the river’s mouth could go a lifetime and never find a reason to explore the entire 215 miles up to the headwaters at Crater Lake National Park.

Meanwhile, month after month, surge after surge of overlapping anadromous fish runs pile into the lower river.

Sweet Spot: Squaw Bar at the confluence of the Rogue and Illinois Rivers, a hotspot for any upriver fish runs
What’s Hot: Red Ant, Fools Gold, or Purple Peril flies for “half-pounder” steelhead
Local Advice: “Go ahead and think about going to Alaska, but you won’t find better fishing than this,” says Russ Stauff, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist in Gold Beach.
Prime Time: January for winter steelhead, August through October for half-pounders and cohos
Record Fish: 711/2-pound chinook salmon, pending IGFA fly-rod world record, caught by Grant Martinsen in October 2002
More Info: Gold Beach Visitors Center, 800-525-2334;

Washington Lake Rufus Woods Rainbow trout, walleye, kokanee salmon, smallmouth bass

19 State-record rainbows are caught with regularity in this 51-mile-long Columbia River reservoir behind Chief Joseph Dam. The reasons, however, aren’t entirely natural.

Fishing in Lake Rufus Woods is enhanced by a commercial net-pen operation about 16 miles downstream from Grand Coulee Dam. Genetically altered (triploid) rainbows are raised for market here, but thousands of the sterile fish, which grow to sumo wrestler proportions, are released for anglers. Walleye fishing can be good along the eddy lines when water is being released from Grand Coulee. Otherwise, troll spinners to search for them in midriver depressions as deep as 60 feet.

Sweet Spot: The buoy line above Chief Joseph Dam, good for both rainbows and kokanees
What’s Hot: PowerBait enhanced with nightcrawlers fished off the bottom for big rainbows
Local Advice: “You can tell when somebody’s new here because they’ll keep the first 5-pounder they catch,” says one local. “We break those little ones off.”
Prime Time: January and February for rainbows
Record Fish: 29.6-pound rainbow caught by Norm Butler of Okanogan, Washington, one of two state-record rainbows caught here in 2002
More Info: Grand Coulee Dam Area Chamber of Commerce, 800-268-5332;

Whiskeytown Reservoir
Kokanee and chinook salmon; brook trout; spotted, largemouth, and smallmouth bass; crappie; catfish

20 Kokanee salmon anglers are known for keeping secrets, but they couldn’t hide the size of the silvers they were hauling out of 3,220-acre Whiskeytown Reservoir last year. Just 15 minutes off Interstate 5 at Redding, the lake is stocked with brook trout, and the fishing can also be good for spotted, largemouth, and smallmouth bass, especially on summer evenings after recreational boating has subsided. Bass hang around underwater islands that are conveniently marked with buoys. Whiskeytown isn’t as big or productive year after year as nearby Shasta Lake, but this season, with another year class of kokanees reaching lunker status, it should be worth a road trip.

Sweet Spots: The dam area and along the main-lake side of the State Highway 299 bridge for summer kokanees
What’s Hot: Scorpion Spinner rigged behind a Sling Blade Dodger, both made by Shasta Tackle Co.
Local Advice: “The only problem with Whiskeytown is that it can get windy. You’ve got to get up early and get it done,” says Tom Stienstra, local angler and outdoor correspondent for the San Francisco Chronicle.
Prime Time: June through early September for kokanees, February through March for big spotted bass up to 5 pounds
More Info: Shasta Cascade Wonderland Association, 800-474-2782; correspondent for the San Francisco Chronicle.
Prime Time: June through early September for kokanees, February through March for big spotted bass up to 5 pounds
More Info: Shasta Cascade Wonderland Association, 800-474-2782;