No More Eggs for Breakfast on the Lower Sac?

What would happen if the king salmon stopped spawning on the Sacramento River in Redding? Unfortunately, it's not that far fetched to ask. In the past four years, the famous egg bite on the Lower Sac has gone from epic to somewhat limp. It seems to start later and fizzle out a lot quicker. Like an old guy running the high-school track.

Posse Grounds is home of the Redding Rodeo next to  the Sacramento River

The reason for the declne is not a mystery. The number of chinook spawning on this river has been in steady decline. With 2009/2010 marking the year of the lowest returns. This is sad news by itself and has ignited a huge fish vs. farmers feud over water exports from the Sac Delta. However, that's not where I'm going with this story.

Freight train of a rainbow caught on the Sacramento River

John Muir said it best: "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe." I am sure J. Muir wouldn't argue that it applies to aquatic food webs on the lower Sac. You disturb one predator-prey relation, and a shockware moves through. Ultimately changing the predator and secondary what it has to eat.

The Lower Sacramento River is best fished from a drift boat

Let me quickly re-cap the current situation on the Lower Sac:

  • fewer and fewer salmon are returning
  • fewer redds exit
  • fewer salmon eggs slip into the drift
  • rainbows go hungry, OR
  • rainbows look for other sources of food

Given the choice between a glowing, fat chunk of roe, and a size 20 mayfly nymph a hungry trout will move to eat the roe. Now, let's say the roe no longer appears in the drift. A little harder to predict here if you consider how conditioned the fish is to seeing the roe in the drift. That said, the roe has pretty much dried up on the section around Redding. It's my theory that the egg-bite on the Lower Sac is morphing into a small-nymph bite (i.e., more consistent bite over a far longer period in the fall).

As a tail-water, the Sacramento produces small bugs pretty much year round. But the large adult rainbows who remember the roe in the fall are tuned to eat. That's been the draw for the angling during the years when the egg-bite was hot - large rainbows like you see caught up in Alaska. Now, without the roe, those pigs still need to eat, but it's just not eggs for breakfast anymore.