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The 'Other' Chinook

The 'Other' Chinook

Missing your king fix without an ocean season? Check out Lake Shasta and Folsom Lake for inland chinook to 5 pounds and up! (September 2008)

Once your depthfinder locates inland chinook, entice them to hit with heavily scented shad-imitation lures.
Photo courtesy of Chris Shaffer.

This fall, there's good news and bad news about catching inland chinook on Lake Shasta.

First, the good news: Right now, you can catch some of the largest inland kings of the year.

The bad news? This is also the most challenging time to catch them.

Each September, veteran guide Gary Miralles, owner of Shasta Tackle Company, takes clients onto Shasta's deep waters in search of kings. He promises them they'll have to work hard to catch fish.

But they'll also have a chance of landing chinook up to 5 pounds!

Come September, those two themes -- big fish and hard work -- hold true at Shasta as well as Berryessa and Folsom reservoirs.


These three NorCal reservoirs are the best places to find larger numbers of inland chinook. And in a year when salmon fishing in the ocean and some rivers is closed, the inland kin of the kings look a lot more attractive.

Shasta will likely receive the bulk of the fishing pressure. Fortunately, its chinook population is stable enough to handle the influx in angling.

Keep in mind that at Shasta, three year-classes of salmon are available. Miralles and his clients look to target the three-year-old fish because they're the largest.

Shasta's chinook numbers are driven by the amount of shad in the water. Nonetheless, in September, shad make up a smaller part of the chinook's diet than in winter and spring.

The chinook have other goals in mind. "In September, they're trying to spawn," said Miralles. "They don't care about the shad anymore. They're here to defend their territory, so it kind of changes your point of attack."

According to the California Department of Fish and Game, these chinook don't reproduce -- even though they attempt to.

During the fall, the largest kings in Shasta aren't necessarily feeding. Instead of taking care of their diet, they try to spawn, becoming territorial and protective. They'll strike at anything that comes into their spawning area.

To get the bite, Miralles trolls with lures that agitate and irritate them.

"I'll bash them with different stuff and stay on them," he said. "If you do that, you'll get them to hit."

This means that you must know how to use a depthfinder to find fish and target them accurately. The kings won't be schooled up, but they might be paired. A depthfinder is the only way to know exactly where they are.

Once Miralles finds them, he'll target the fish with an eight-inch Sling Blade in conjunction with a large Hum Dinger or some sort of rattle bait.

Miralles said that in the fall, fewer anglers are targeting salmon. His guess is that's because catching the bigger fall fish is a lot of hard work.

But hard work can also mean big rewards, of course. In more than 20 years at Shasta, the biggest salmon Miralles caught weighed 8 pounds.

That was back in 1994. In 2007, nothing greater than 5 pounds was caught. This fall, Miralles expects 5 pounds to be the pinnacle again.

In September and October, 3-year-old kings are found in the deepest sections of the reservoir. But you can troll for other younger year-classes in shallower water.

"In the fall, I find them suspended on deep-water points and deep-water islands," said Miralles.

Adults are usually caught in the 120- to 180-foot range, although some have been caught as shallow as 80 feet.

"In the fall, they really relate to structure," said Miralles.

"It can be tough fishing. It's a lot of work. You have to bounce the bottom to get them."

To score some big fall salmon in Shasta, it's imperative to troll lures with lots of action and bright colors that are visible in deep water.

Two areas are known to hold the 3- to 5-pound chinook: Dry Creek and the dam. In September, they return to these areas to spawn because it's where they were stocked as juveniles, said Miralles.

You'll find salmon in other areas of the main river channel and at the mouths where the rivers meet the main lake. But these will be younger fish, not the fully mature ones.

Only recently has Folsom's inland chinook fishery begun to shine. And as a side note, this will likely be the last year for anglers to find good fishing. Due to issues at hatcheries, kings haven't been planted in Folsom for the last few years.

After this fall, there won't be any more juvenile kings available to grow to adults. It's unclear whether the program will continue in the future. The DFG is hinting at switching the stocking allotment to kokanee.

This could be the end of the line for great chinook action at Folsom. But anglers have a chance at catching 5-pound chinook right now!

"It's extremely good this year," said guide Fred Thomason of Last Cast Guide Service. "We haven't seen Folsom this good in at least four years."

The state planted chinook two years ago, and this year, Thomason said, they're finally seeing those fish.

September can be a good time to target these chinook, but you'll have to deal with boat traffic.

Fish from first light till roughly 9 a.m., particularly on the weekends when the lake can look like Interstate 5, except with boaters.

The California State Parks at Folsom State Recreation Area may implement a no-questions-asked 5 mph speed limit on the entire lake, in response to extremely low water levels that expose underwater hazards.


changes everything," said Kyle Nesser of Crystal Basin Tackle and Guide Service. With the speed limit, it's a fisherman's lake, he said.

Folsom's adult chinook are creatures of habit. You'll find them off the face of the dam and up the South Fork Arm.

Anglers will need a depthfinder to locate the exact range they'll be in, but expect them to be in roughly 50 to 150 feet of water.

"In the spring, they were running 22 to 24 inches, and I'd think they'd be much bigger in the fall," said Nesser.

"By then, they could be close to 30 inches. If we are catching them at 2 to 3 pounds in the spring, they should be close to 5 pounds this fall."

Jay Rowan, a California Department of Fish and Game biologist, said this will be the last year for a while that anglers will have an opportunity to catch the chinook.

Even if the DFG were to restock the lake in future, it would take at least two years for trophy fish to be again available.

"They're going to be tougher to catch in the fall because there's going to be fewer fish than there were in the spring," said Rowan.

The ones in there now are getting towards the end of their lifespan. There's going to be fewer available."

But by September, they should be good-size fish he said.

Once you locate the kings, catching them won't be a chore.

Trollers tend to drag shad-imitation spoons behind dodgers and stickbaits and roll shad and anchovies scented in garlic, krill or anise.

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