By Chris Shaffer | 06/24/2013
It’s not too often one chooses to fly from Burbank (CA) to Sacramento and then drive two hours north to catch rainbow trout. Meanwhile, my buddy Mike Bogue had been taunting me with photos of big Sacramento River rainbows for two years now. The emails came monthly, with attachments, showcasing big, wild, vibrant rainbows caught daily, by the dozens, in shorts and t-shirts.
Keep in mind this fishery didn’t explode overnight. The Sacramento River’s wild trout have been spectacular for more than a decade, or two. Meanwhile, crowds never mass. Anglers will fly to Sacramento from across the country, bolt north to the edge of the Upper Sacramento Valley and cast at our fall run of king salmon, but fewer seem eager to travel and chase the bows. That might be a mistake.
There’s few places left in the United States where strong, aggressive, colorful, 14-26 inch rainbows await with each cast. Yes, the fishery is this good. No, none of them are stocked. Rainbows to five pounds are common and surprisingly, those smaller than a pound-and-a-half aren’t common. The Sacramento River between Red Bluff and Redding is plugged with beefy, vivid and lively rainbows that rival just about anywhere else in the Lower 48.
I’m sure many will argue that other rivers and streams yield bigger trout. Still, it’s tough to match the number of fish available here and the miles of river they are found in. There’s more than 30 river miles to target, all boasting these bows.
The resurgence of guides targeting this stretch isn’t a surprise. Two years of good salmon runs have trout standing taller. When lots of salmon are spawning between Redding and Red Bluff the trout prosper by slurping down salmon eggs tumbling downriver. The more salmon, the more food available, the quicker trout grow. Even last week we saw salmon spawning in the river and, of course, trout eating their loose eggs.
The fishery will remain in good shape for years to come. With clear, clean, cool water being released daily from Lake Shasta there’s nothing on the horizon to bring the trout down. In fact, this year’s banner salmon run can only help an already spectacular fishery. The river does, however, fish best from late February through November.
Fortunately, you don’t have to be a hardcore angler to be successful. Having a good guide, like we did, (Bogue of Mike Bogue’s Guide Service is in his 26 year on the water here) generates endless success. Many fly guys can be seen casting, but we are in the bait business and invest our time drifting bait, something that produces strikes on every pass. Think ‘match the hatch’. Trout are sucking down eggs and bugs for a living.
Sometimes, Bogue drifts Glow Bugs teamed with a Pautzke Orange Deluxe or Yellow Jacket salmon egg, but last Wednesday’s trip was defined by roe, namely natural BorX O Fire cured roe. Due to high flows (the river was running at 14,000 cubic feet per second the day we fished) Bogue chose to use smaller, nickel size piece of roe that was tacky, rather than wet. This prolonged the life of the bait. Casting a wet, larger glob of roe would result in the bait breaking apart sooner. Flipping roe into riffles bring the trout to life – and results in many anglers catching a rainbow of a lifetime.
Editor’s Note: Chris Shaffer is the Director of Operations at Pautzke Bait Company. Bogue baited Shaffer’s hook for him. To learn more about Pautzke pro staffer Mike Bogue’s world class Sacramento River rainbow trout trips please visit www.mikebogue.com.