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March 9th Outing: Drifting the American

February 12, 2013 -- The American River, from its confluence with the Sacramento River at Discovery Park to Folsom Dam, is one of California's unique waterways. It is edged with 32 miles of parkway, the lower section managed by the County of Sacramento and the upper section by the State of California. Both agencies operate numerous access points along the river on both the north and south sides and a walking/cycling path runs from Old Sacramento all the way to Folsom Lake.

The river offers numerous recreational activities including bird and wildlife watching, cycling, roller blading, walking, jogging, picnicking, swimming, rafting and best of all for us, fishing. Three major fish species migrate up the river to spawn, chinook salmon, steelhead trout and American Shad. While the American Shad population is on its own to maintain its numbers, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife operates a chinook/steelhead hatchery at the base of Nimbus Dam. With the current emphasis on restoring our salmonid stocks, the populations of both species has drastically improved in the last three years.

Fishing pressure can be heavy on the river, especially in the late winter after January 1st when winter steelhead sometimes approaching 15 pounds are present, all the way to the end of April when smaller 2-6 pound football sized steelhead are in the system. Most of the fishing pressure occurs within a mile of Nimbus dam since the fish have a tendency to stack up below that obstacle but fish can be found all the way down river to Paradise Beach, below Sacramento State College. The river has a 5 mile per hour speed limit in the upper sections so guides use drift boats to give their customers access to some of the more remote sections, where they can fish without the competition of bait and gear anglers.

The most popular drift at this time of the year is from Sailor Bar to Rossmoor Bar, a drift of 5 miles. (See map below) The water along this section is basically flat with the exception of San Juan Rapids. The rapids are negotiated thousands of times each year by drift boats, rafters and tubers with the instructions, "Stay left, and ride through the standing waves".

Although this outing has no fishmeister, the general plan is for club members to drift the river from Sailor Bar to Rossmoor Bar. To do so, members will have to team up and leave vehicles at Rossmoor Bar, on the south side, down river and then continue on upstream to meet at Sailor Bar, upstream on the Fair Oaks side of the river.  Since steelhead are notorious early feeders, those looking for success should plan arriving at Sailor Bar about 6:45, a few minutes before sunrise, assemble their pontoon boats or pontubes and once set up, drift down the river to various gravel bars where they can either indicator fish or swing flies to eager fish. An alternative to dropping a vehicle at Rossmoor Bar is to call a cab once at the take out and a number of members pile in for the ride back to Sailor Bar with one member left to guard the gear.

If members would rather wade than drift, a free handout showing access points is available from American Fly Fishing, Fair Oaks and Watt Avenue. The shop opens at 7:30 on Saturdays. The shop can also recommend specific patterns for both swinging and indicator fishing. American Fly Fishing Co.
3523 Fair Oaks Blvd, Sacramento, CA 95864, 916-483-1222 and 800-410-1222.

Just the facts:

Date and time: March 9, 6:45am

Location: American River at Sailor Bar

Fishmeister: None

Fish species: Spring steelhead

5-7 weight rods
Lines: Floating or type II - III lines for swinging
2x, 3x tippet
Large indicators
shot or other type lead
Flies: egg patterns, San Juan worms, prinz nymphs, brassies, copper johns, caddis larva, pheasant tail, rubber legs, egg sucking leaches, woollybuggers.
Sun block
Eye protection/polarized sun glasses

If drifting the river:
Drift boat, canoe, kayak, pontoon boat, pontube
Paddles or oars
River anchor

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