The Klamath river is in Northern California is among the most renowned fishing destinations in the state offering up excellent salmon and steelhead fishing opportunities.
The most popular species to fish are Klamath river Chinook salmon. The Klamath gets two runs of Chinook every year. Once in the spring and the other in the fall. Spring Chinook known as “Springers” enter the river around the end of April, working their way up the river to spawn in August and September.
“Fall Chinook” enter the Klamath river in September and spawn through October and November in the main stem rivers and large tributaries.
The Iron Gate Hatchery releases an average of 7 million juvenile fall Chinook each spring, while Trinity River Hatchery releases an average of 2.8 million fall Chinook and 1.6 million spring Chinook (Myers et al 1998). Fall Chinook numbers have declined, but are still sufficient to allow harvest.
Coho Salmon – Oncorynchus kisutch
Coho salmon have a three-year life history pattern. Adults spawn in late fall and early winter, lower in the watershed. Juveniles spend their first year in fresh water, preferring cool, slow habitats such as side channels and pools. They then make their way to the ocean and spend about 18 months there. Unlike Chinook and steelhead, nearly all coho spawn as 3-year-olds, so each coho stream has essentially three populations, each returning every three years.
Steelhead trout – Onchorynchus mykiss
Steelhead are rainbow trout that follow an anadromous life history pattern. The Klamath river has two both summer and winter steelhead runs.
“Summer steelhead” return from the ocean in late spring, spend the summer and fall in deep pools, and spawn in winter.
“Winter steelhead” return from the ocean when streams reach winter flow levels and spawn in tributaries from January through April. “Steelhead can spawn more than once, returning to the ocean between runs. Steelhead in the Klamath river are highly sought after due to their size and quality of the meat.
The rainbow trout season, starts around the end of May until the water grows too warm to fish by the middle of July. During this time the Klamath offers one of the most exciting rainbow fisheries in the area. Klamath’s resident rainbows in the upper section of river pod up in the riffles and near the willow-lined banks. These are good sized, aggressive trout averaging around 10-14 inches, with fish over 20 inches hooked every day.
Cutthroat trout have a similar life history to winter steelhead, but are restricted to smaller coastal streams. In the Klamath Basin, they are found in the tributaries of the Klamath River within about 22 miles of the estuary. The population status of coastal cutthroat in the Klamath Basin is not known, but they are still present.
Sturgeon – Acipenser species
Sturgeon are large fish that can live more than 50 years. White sturgeon are occasionally caught in the Klamath River, and historically may have spawned in the basin in low numbers. Green sturgeon still spawn in the lower Klamath and Trinity Rivers. Juveniles spend 1-3 years in the river.
They then spend up to 13 years ranging widely in the ocean and other rivers, before reaching sexual maturity and returning to spawn (National Research Council 2004). Unlike salmon, sturgeon do not die after spawning, but can spawn repeatedly. The Klamath and Trinity Rivers are the principle spawning areas for the green sturgeon.
Green sturgeon are found in the lower 70 miles of the Klamath River. There is a tribal fishery in the Klamath for green sturgeon, and they are caught elsewhere along the Pacific Northwest.