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Salmon/Steelhead – River

General

  • The main objective is to get your lure or bait right down on the bottom of the stream. Steelhead and salmon that are migrating in streams and rivers are not very interested in eating. They generally strike out of instinct, curiosity, or to protect their turf.
  • Best spots for steelhead fishing include at the mouth of a tributary stream, just off the main current of a river in 3-8 foot deep water, at the head or tail end of a deep hole, along a deep side channel, just above or below a riffle, the tidal basin of the river, and along underwater ledges.
  • Best spots for salmon fishing are the deep holes in the river or the deepest areas of tidal waters.
  • You need to check with California State Fish and Game Regulations for restrictions on individual rivers.

Here are some of the key fishing methods:

Drift Fishing

Technique

This involves drifting a bait or lure along in the river or stream current. This is generally done from the shore or while wading out in the river. Occassionally, it is done from an anchored boat.

The terminal tackle is cast upstream at about a 45° angle, then allowed to drift down the stream into likely holding areas. A key factor is to use just the right weight so that the bait or lure moves freely, yet remains on or near the bottom, tapping and skipping along the way. For a slight variation known as “Float Fishing”, you can add a float or bobber to your rig set at just the right height to keep the terminal tackle near but off the bottom.

Pay careful attention to the fish strike, which may be very soft and easily mistaken for a hit or skip at the bottom. Momentary slowing or stopping of a drifting lure or bait is most likely a strike and you should set the hook hard.

Weights, Lure & Bait

There are several different weight setups that drift anglers can use. Commercial weights designed to avoid snags include Slinky Drifter and Bouncing Betty. Other popular alternatives include:

The appropriate pencil lead weight is inserted in the rubber tubing. It slips out to free the rig if it gets snagged.

Hollow Pencil Lead

The pencil lead weight is lightly crimped to the knot dropper at the swivel and if hung up, it will pull away from the lead.

3-way Swivel with Dropper

This setup is preferred if heavier weights are required.

In all cases, the weight system is attached 18-24 inches up from the lure or bait. Leaders are the same as the main line.

Some of the most popular lures and bait for salmon drift fishing include:

Salmon Roe

Put about a 1/2 to 1 inch diameter red Maline bags on a size #1 steelhead baitholding hook.

Nightcrawlers
Thread these on a hook, allowing about 1 inch at the end to dangle free.

Drift Bobber

These are bouyant, brightly colored lures that often rotate and vibrate in the water. Popular brands include Okie Drifters, Spin-N-Glo and Glo-Glo.

Tackle & Equipment

Use a 8-9 foot medium-light to medium action spinning or bait casting rod with two-hand grip and sensitive tip. Spinning reels or bait casting reels should hold about 200 yards of 10 lb monofilament line and have good drag systems. For larger salmon, you can use 20 lb line.

Plunking

Technique
Plunking means still fishing and involves putting enough weight on your terminal tackle so the bait or floating lure does not drift. You should plunk at the border between fast and slow moving water.
Bait & Lure
Bait and lure can be the same as for drift fishing.

Tackle & Equipment

Use a 8-9 foot medium-light to medium action spinning or bait casting rod with two-hand grip and sensitive tip. Spinning reels or bait casting reels should hold about 200 yards of 10 lb monofilament line and have good drag systems. For larger salmon, you can use 20 lb line.

Casting

Technique

Use a small snap swivel at the end of your main line to attach a casting spoon or spinner.

Cast up the weighted spinner or spoon across the stream and then retrieve it. The retrieve should be natural and near the bottom. Adjust the size (weight) of your spoon or spinner to match the speed of the water.

Lure

The best spoons to use are 1-3 inch long, wobbling spoons that are striped, dotted, or bright flourescent colored. Popular brands are Kastmaster and Daredevil. Size 4 and 5 Mepps or Mounti-type spinners in nickel, brass or copper also work well, especially in roiled or low light waters.

Tackle & Equipment

Use a 8-9 foot medium-light to medium action spinning or bait casting rod with two-hand grip and sensitive tip. Spinning reels or bait casting reels should hold about 200 yards of 10 lb monofilament line and have good drag systems. For larger salmon, you can use 20 lb line.

Backtrolling

Technique

This involves fishing from a boat. You face your boat upstream and run the engine just enough to allow the boat to slowly move downstream. Using a deep-diving plug, weighted plug or weighted bait, you troll off the back of the boat.  Since the current moves much faster than your boat, it takes your lure deep down in the current. Slowly work your boat back and forth across a promising hole or other choice spot.

Lure & Bait

For steelhead, use a size 10, 20 or 30 Hotshot or similar lure tied directly to your line.

For salmon, use an M-2 or T-50/T-55 Flatfish or similar lure. Tie bags of salmon roe to treble hooks and a sardine fillet to the underside of the lure.

Tackle & Equipment

Use a 6 foot medium-heavy action bait casting rod with a sensitive tip. The bait casting reel should hold about 200 yards of 10 lb monofilament line and have a good drag system. For larger salmon, you can use 20 lb line.

Other Equipment

  •     Big landing net (for boat fishing)
  •     File (for resharpening hooks)
  •     Needle-nose plier (for hook removal)
  •     Knife (for gutting and removing gills)
  •     Chest high waders (for wading anglers)
  •     Warm clothing and waterproof gear

Best Bets

For the North Coast area, Klamath, Eel and Trinity rivers are great for steelhead, especially during fall and winter. In the Central Valley, good steelhead and salmon fishing takes place in the Lower Sacramento, Lower Feather and Lower American Rivers. Consider getting a guide or checking with local bait and tackle shops for detailed location information (Check the ads in fishing newspapers or in the local Yellow Pages).

The Eel River South Fork by Highway 101 is most popular for King salmon and steelhead. Drift boat fishing is also common here, with launch sites available every 4 or 5 miles. Steelhead is good from November through March, while salmon runs go from September through December.

The lower 10 miles of the Klamath River on either side of Highway 101, the middle river along Highway 96 (Somes Bar, Happy Camp and Hamburg), and the upper river 20 miles on either side of I-5 are all good areas for King salmon and steelhead. Steelhead is best from November through February, while salmon runs go from July through September.

Most of the Trinity River along Highway 299 between Lewiston Lake and Willow Creek is good for steelhead, king and silver salmon. King salmon fishing is good from late September to early November, and then again from May through early August. Steelhead and silver salmon is good mid-October through December.

Most of the Lower Sacramento River is good for King salmon and steelhead fishing. King salmon runs are good from August to November. Steelhead is best from mid-December to February.

Most of the Lower Feather River is also good for King salmon and steelhead fishing. King salmon runs are good from August to October, while steelhead is best from October to February.

There is good bank and boat fishing on the Lower American River. King salmon runs are good from September to December, while steelhead is best from January through March.

 

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