It’s been over a decade since the Klamath River’s mouth has run south, opening up a heyday for recreational fishermen.
Colin Patrick of Trinidad lands his catch on the beach near the mouth of the Klamath River, where the action is fast and furious. Del Norte Triplicate / Bryant Anderson
They have been catching as many as 450 salmon per day since the start of the recreational season Aug. 15.
As of Friday: 10,950 fish.
“This is the first time the mouth has run south in 15 years, which offers more real estate for fish to stand in the long narrow channel,” said Sara Borok, an environmental scientist for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “With a south mouth like this, it’s always a zoo.”
Each day, dozens of anglers line the banks of the estuary leading into the main stem of the river from the mouth, usually catching their daily limit.
“I didn’t get here until 1:30 p.m.,” said Greg Pfister recently as he eyed his catch — three adult Chinooks and a jack. He reached his daily limit by 4:30 p.m.
Pfister is a Benicia, Calif., resident who hadn’t been to Klamath in more than 30 years, since he and his grandfather had come to fish when he was a child.
“It was good, but it wasn’t like this,” said Pfister, comparing the fishing trips. “For me it meant so much to be up here.”
On a sunny afternoon this week, more than 100 fishermen were pulling salmon from the river. One noted that there’d likely be two to three times as many this weekend. Every five minutes or so it seemed someone was yelling “fish on” while running down the bank, following a fish until it tired.
Fellow fishermen would remove their lines from the water and make a path for whoever caught a snag as they ran.
“It’s nice to see people doing that,” said Pfister.
Some fishermen got help from friends or others who’d jump down from the raised bank and scoop the catch with a fishing net. Others struggled to reel the salmon onto the beach. One man helped a friend by bare-handing a Chinook.
“I just love these sea lions,” said Fred Flatley, a Monterey resident. “They just lie in the sand bar waiting for the fish. They’re too lazy to even swim.”
Last week, there was even a shark checking out the action at the mouth, likely hoping to catch a sea lion off guard.
It’s quite a spectacle down in Klamath. Much of it filled with camaraderie as fellow fishermen give compliments to those who catch salmon.
Still, there are confrontations, sometimes resulting from frustration over crossing lines. There was a boat chase down the estuary until the pursuers caught up, exchanged several choice words and rode back up the river. And the anglers didn’t appreciate the occasional men zipping up the estuary on jet skies.
Still the fishing is good and will likely stay that way for the next couple of weeks.
“Usually in past years our peak number of fish harvest is the next week or two,” said Borok. “It should stay fairly good, but maybe not as crazy good as it has been.”
The daily limit for anglers with a permit is four Chinooks (three over 22 inches and a jack) and two hatchery steelheads. A hatchery steelhead has had its adipose fin clipped. The resulting healed-over part is important as fishermen have been caught and cited after trying to get past the limit by doing their own surgery on the adipose fin.
“If it’s not healed over, we know you just cut it,” said Borok.
Borok advises fishermen who have caught their daily limit of adult fish not to catch and release until they get their jack, because the fish will just get eaten by the sea lions.
While this year’s numbers are impressive for sports anglers, it’s unlikely they will reach the all-time record for the Klamath — 22,203 in 1998.