Category Archives: Editor’s Blog

Kelseyville HS Duo Takes Bassmaster Title At Clear Lake

Sheldon Reese (left) and Cooper Goff of the Kelseyville Knights bass club won the 2018 Mossy Oak Fishing Bassmaster High School Series Western Open presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods on Clear Lake out of Lakeport, Calif., with 19 pounds, 12 ounces.
Photo by Craig Lamb/B.A.S.S.

The following press release is courtesy of B.A.S.S.:

LAKEPORT, Calif. — A common baitfish, not a secret lure, was a key to winning for Cooper Goff and Sheldon Reese on Clear Lake at the Mossy Oak Bassmaster High School Western Open presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods.

The local Kelseyville Knights team tapped into a school of Clear Lake hitch to load their livewell with a limit of largemouth weighing 19 pounds, 12 ounces. Jonathon Milburn and Niko Romero of Arizona B.A.S.S. Nation High School were second with 17-11. Taj White and Derek Richards, also from Arizona, took third with 16-13. Quinn Hawkinson and Conner Urling were fourth with 16-1. Fifth place went to JC Lintner and Austin Bricker of Arroyo Grande High School with 15-4.

Found only in northern California’s Clear Lake and its tributaries, the native baitfish is important forage in the upper food chain, and particularly for largemouth bass. The postspawn bass were hungry and seeking food after the spawning cycle on the lake. The team discovered the winning area during a surface feeding frenzy.

“The bass had the hitch all herded up on the deep side of a shallow ledge,” said Reese, 17, a junior at Clear Lake High School.

The winning area featured a high spot of 3 feet and then dropped to a depth of 6 feet on the bottom, which also was covered in submerged aquatic grass. The anglers believed the bass used the grass as ambush cover until the baitfish approached from above.

The action began immediately and stayed hot until the required halftime break at 9:45 a.m. (PDT). By then, 17 pounds of largemouth were already in the team’s livewell. Following the break, the action picked right back up, with the team slowly culling their weight up to nearly 20 pounds.

The team used a variety of lures capable of covering the water column from top to bottom. Cooper and Reese alternated lures to prevent the bass from growing accustomed to seeing the same bait.

A 1/2-ounce G Money bladed jig did the trick early. The team switched to a Heddon Zara Spook and topwater frog later that morning.  A Texas-rigged, weightless Yamamoto Senko was added to the lure arsenal later in the day.

“We just started hammering them early on the bladed jig,” said Goff, 16, a sophomore at Kelseyville High School. “It didn’t slow down until we had to stop for the halftime break.”

Reese, whose father Jimmy was boat captain, said the anglers pinpointed the deep side of the ledge as most productive.

“The bass were coming up from the deep end to get after the hitch on the shallow side,” he explained.

The teams competed under clearing skies and cool temperatures during a postspawn scenario at Clear Lake. The largemouth were beginning to migrate from shallow water spawning areas to deeper water for the summer.

First- and second-place teams, Kelseyville High School and Arizona B.A.S.S. Nation High School, received $500 and $200, respectively, along with rods and reels from Abu Garcia. A second team from the Arizona B.A.S.S. Nation High School and Yuba Sutter Fishing Club received $200 and $100, respectively, for third and fourth place.

Romero and Milburn also won the Abu Garcia Big Bass award with a largemouth weighing 6-6.

Teams from Arizona, California and even Alabama competed with the same goal in mind. That was qualifying for the 2018 Mossy Oak Fishing Bassmaster High School Series Championship presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods. The championship will be held on Kentucky Lake, at Paris, Tenn., Aug. 2-4.

Advancing to the championship are Reese and Goff of the Kelseyville Knights and Romero and Milburn of Arizona B.A.S.S. Nation High School.

At Clear Lake, the high school tournament wrapped up a tripleheader of events. Those also included the Academy Sports + Outdoors B.A.S.S. Nation Western Regional presented by Magellan Outdoors and the Carhartt College Western Tour presented by Bass Pro Shops.

2018 Mossy Oak Fishing Bassmaster High School Series Title Sponsor: Mossy Oak Fishing

2018 Mossy Oak Fishing Bassmaster High School Series Presenting Sponsor: DICK’S Sporting Goods

2018 Mossy Oak Fishing Bassmaster High School Series Platinum Sponsor: Toyota

2018 Mossy Oak Fishing Bassmaster High School Series Premier Sponsors: Mercury, Minn Kota, Nitro Boats, Power-Pole, Skeeter Boats, Triton Boats, Yamaha, ABU Garcia, Berkley, Huk, Humminbird

2018 Mossy Oak Fishing Bassmaster High School Series Supporting Sponsors: Academy Sports + Outdoors, Carhartt, Lowrance, Phoenix Boats

Fremont Weir Fish Passage Groundbreaking On Wednesday

Fremont Weir photo by user Brthomas/Wikimedia

The Fremont Weir fish passage project, which is being designed to help Sacramento River-area native species like salmon get through the Yolo Bypass along the Sacramento River, will be holding a groundbreaking ceremony on Wednesday on the border of Sutter and Yolo Counties. Here’s more from the Marysville Daily Democrat:

The Fremont Weir Adult Fish Passage Modification Project restores an important migration corridor for native fish species and fulfills requirements set forth in the 2009 National Marine Fisheries Service’s Biological Opinion, according to Niki woodard, of the Department of Water Resources.

It also is the first of six California EcoRestore projects that will break ground this year. EcoRestore is a multi-agency effort to restore 30,000 acres of habitat in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

The event will be held at 9:30 a.m. The Weir is located on the west side of the Sacramento River and can be reached by taking County Road 117 north. There will be directional signs along the road.

Event speakers include California Natural Resources Secretary John Laird, California Department of Water Resources Director Karla Nemeth, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Regional Director for the Mid-Pacific Region David Murillo, NOAA Regional Administrator, West Coast Region, Barry Thom; Yolo County Supervisor Jim Provenza and American Rivers Director of Conservation for California Flood Management John Cain

Partial demolition of the current fish ladder has already begun and continued construction will be put on hold during the ceremony.

The Yolo Bypass is a critical part of the state’s flood control system that conveys flood waters from major valley rivers including the American, Sacramento, and Feather. The Bypass also is a migration corridor for special status fish species such as adult Chinook salmon, steelhead, and green sturgeon.

Here’s the official release from conservation group American Rivers:

American Rivers and partners will celebrate a critical flood protection and habitat improvement project in the Yolo Bypass on Wednesday, May 30.

 

The groundbreaking of the Fremont Weir Adult Fish Passage Modification Project is an opportunity to highlight multi-benefit solutions that provide flood protection, improve water quality, water supply reliability, create recreational opportunities, and restore habitat for fish and wildlife.

 

“When we invest in natural infrastructure that can be sustained by natural processes, people and wildlife reap the benefits,” said John Cain, Director of Conservation for California Flood Management at American Rivers.

 

“The Fremont Weir project is the first in a series of multi-benefit projects across the Central Valley and Delta that are designed to reduce flood risk and improve fish and wildlife habitat,” said Cain.

 

“These are exactly the kind of climate resiliency investments we need nationwide to better protect us from the impacts of drought, flood, and rising sea levels,” he said.

The Yolo Bypass is a critical part of California’s flood management system.  It was designed in the early twentieth century to route flood waters away from Sacramento. It plays a crucial role in keeping people and property safe during heavy rains and rapid snowmelt. The bypass is also a migration corridor for fish such as adult Chinook salmon, steelhead and green sturgeon. During dry periods, the bypass is used for farming, recreation, education and as a wildlife refuge. 

The 2017 Central Valley Flood Protection Plan calls for expanding the Yolo Bypass and creating a new bypass on the Lower San Joaquin River at Paradise Cut to safely accommodate the larger floods that we expect as the climate changes. The Department of Water Resources recently released a Draft EIR for the lower Elkhorn Basin Project to widen the Yolo Bypass immediately north of Sacramento. The project will lower flood stage and improve habitat for fish and birds.

The project at the Fremont Weir will allow adult salmon, steelhead and sturgeon to more easily move through the bypass to spawn in upstream rivers and allow juveniles to move downstream toward the ocean. The project is expected to be completed in late 2018.

EVENT DETAILS:

When: Wednesday, May 30, 2018 at 9:30 a.m.

Where: Fremont Weir, Yolo County. Directional signs along the road will guide you.

Who: Event speakers include:

* California Natural Resources Secretary John Laird

* California Department of Water Resources Director Karla Nemeth

* U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Regional Director for the Mid-Pacific Region David Murillo

* NOAA Regional Administrator, West Coast Region, Barry Thom

* Yolo County Supervisor Jim Provenza

* American Rivers Director of Conservation for California Flood Management, John Cain

 

 

Chico State Bass Team Looking Strong At Bassmaster College Tourney

Carson Leber and Tyler Bounds (right) of Chico State take the lead on the second day of the 2018 Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Western Tour presented by Bass Pro Shops on Clear Lake out of Lakeport, Calif., with a two-day total weight of 39 pounds, 2 ounces.
Photo by Craig Lamb/B.A.S.S

I’ll be the first to admit that I had fun during my college days at Fresno State – living across the street from Bulldog Stadium made our apartment a gathering spot before fall football games! But all along I was jealous of those fellow California State University brothers and sisters who had matriculated to Chico State – you know, the state’s infamous “best party school” label.

But Chico State’s bass fishing team is giving the Wildcats’ campus reason to celebrate during this holiday weekend. The tandem of Carson Leber and Tyler Bounds took the lead at the 2018 Bassmaster College Series Western Tour event that’s going on at Clear Lake.

Here’s the official release from B.A.S.S.:

LAKEPORT, Calif. — Carson Leber and Tyler Bounds continued a hot streak on Clear Lake today, moving from fifth place into the lead at the Carhartt College Western Tour presented by Bass Pro Shops.
 
The team from Chico State University added 22 pounds, 1 ounce to a Wednesday catch of 17-1 for a total weight of 39-2. The Californians hold a slim lead over second place anglers Caleb Gibson and Tyler Winn of Northeastern State University, who led after Wednesday’s opening day. Today, the Oklahomans caught 16-4 for a two-day total of 38-3. Nick Klein and Mike Klemm, also of Chico State, rank third with 36-10. Joey Price and Bobby Fralix of Clemson University are fourth with 35-14. Levi Wittrock and Gunnar Stanton of Northern Arizona University are fifth with 35-8. 
 
Sunny skies gave way to cloudy conditions for much of the competition day on Thursday. The cloud cover improved the fishing as the bass roamed between shallow spawning areas and deeper water in search of food.
 
“We definitely have it dialed in if the bass react how they should on Friday,” said Bounds, 20, a business management major.
 
How they should react, according to the game plan, is move farther away from the shoreline. With the largemouth population in all spawning phases the team is choosing the more reliable option of targeting postspawn fish. Under ideal conditions, that requires intercepting bass moving in the same direction — out into deeper water, where they are vulnerable to moving lures.
 
With even more cloudy conditions and rain in the forecast, that could make the game plan even better.
 
“If the reaction bite holds up, then we should be in good shape again,” added Leber, 21, a concrete industry management major.  
 
Wittrock and Stanton were among four teams catching limits weighing at least 20 pounds. The 22-5 caught by the pair was vital, because it moved them from 12th place into fifth.
 
“We caught about 14 pounds each day during practice, so we weren’t expecting to catch over 20 pounds,” said Wittrock.
 
After the team boated a 5-pound largemouth and lost another, Stanton suggested a change would make the day even better, and it did.
 
“It was really neat to see a gut feeling pay off,” explained Wittrock. “During the afternoon we upgraded four times.”
 
Like the leaders, the Northern Arizona team is targeting postspawn bass.
 
“Our bass are chasing shad, so it’s most definitely a reaction bite,” said Stanton.
 
Collegiate teams representing 24 colleges with anglers from 13 states are competing on Clear Lake, the largest natural lake in California.
 
The big day for the event is Friday when the overall team winner is declared and the bonus awards are handed out. The Nitro Big Bag of the tournament goes to the team weighing the heaviest single-day catch. The team earns a Bass Pro Shops gift card valued at $250. The limit weighing 24-9 caught today by Klein and Klemm rank as the heaviest catch.
 
The Carhartt Big Bass Award worth a $500 gift card goes to the angler catching the biggest bass of the tournament. Frontrunners for the award are teammates Chad Sweitzer and Matthew Featherston of Chico State, who weighed an 8-3 largemouth.
 
This is the fourth and final collegiate regional tournament of the season. Toledo Bend Reservoir, Louisiana; Cherokee Lake, Tennessee; and Pickwick Lake in Alabama were the previous tournament sites. Those events advanced top finishers to the 2018 Carhartt Bassmaster College Series National Championship presented by Bass Pro Shops. The tournament is July 19-21, on Lake Tenkiller near Tahlequah, Okla. Top teams from the Western Tour also advance to the championship.
 
Teams depart Konocti Vista Resort Marina at 6 a.m. (PDT) and return to the same location for the weigh-in at 2 p.m. 

 

Wildlife Board Approves Multiple California Conservation Projects

A project to eradicate invasive nutria – a South American rodent – was approved by the Wildlife Conservation Board. CDFW photo

The following press release is courtesy of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife: 

At its May 24 quarterly meeting, the Wildlife Conservation Board (WCB) approved approximately $13 million in grants to help restore and protect fish and wildlife habitat throughout California. Some of the 12 approved projects will benefit fish and wildlife—including some endangered species—while others will provide public access to important natural resources. Several projects will also demonstrate the importance of protecting working landscapes that integrate economic, social and environmental stewardship practices beneficial to the environment, landowners and the local community.

Funding for these projects comes from a combination of sources including the Habitat Conservation Fund and bond measures approved by voters to help preserve and protect California’s natural resources.

Funded projects include:

  • $186,250 in two grants to the Mojave Desert Land Trust to acquire approximately 367 acres of land from two separate owners for the protection of desert habitat corridors in the Morongo Basin, near the community of Joshua Tree in San Bernardino County.
  • A $600,000 grant to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) for a cooperative project with the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Department of Food and Agriculture to implement a large scale Nutria eradication project in riparian corridors and associated wetland habitats located in various Central Valley counties of the San Joaquin Valley and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
  • A $610,000 grant to the Pacific Forest Trust for a cooperative project with the California Department of Transportation and CDFW to acquire a forest conservation easement over approximately 1,346 acres of land for protection of working forest lands, forest reserve areas, watersheds, fisheries and habitat linkages near the town of McCloud in Siskiyou County.
  • A $2,440,000 in-fee acquisition of approximately 5,849 acres of land by CDFW for the protection of critical cold water aquatic habitat for a variety of anadromous fish species, including the state and federally listed coho salmon, the protection of migration corridors vital to many plant, bird and mammal species, and to provide ongoing dryland grazing and future wildlife-oriented public use opportunities near Montague in Siskiyou County.
  • A $4.4 million grant to The Nature Conservancy for a cooperative project with CalFire, the State Coastal Conservancy and the California Natural Resources Agency to acquire a conservation easement on approximately 23,681 acres of native forest habitats, including redwood, Douglas fir and Grand fir in the upland zones, and mature red alder forests within the riparian zone along the Ten Mile River. The easement is needed to preserve wildlife area linkages, provide habitat to numerous wildlife species, and reduce soil erosion and sustain water quality near Fort Bragg in Mendocino County.
  • A $950,000 grant to the National Forest Foundation for a cooperative project with U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management to thin approximately 230 acres of forest, five miles southwest of Tahoe City in Placer County.
  • A $511,000 grant to the California Waterfowl Association for a cooperative project with the City of Woodland and Explorit to enhance and restore approximately 20 acres of wetlands at the Woodland Regional Park, approximately five miles southeast of the City of Woodland.
  • A $1.6 million grant to the Trust for Public Land for a cooperative project with the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy to acquire approximately 51 acres of land for the protection of threatened and endangered species, riparian and floodplain habitat along the Santa Clara River and to provide the potential for wildlife-oriented public use opportunities near Acton in Los Angeles County.

For more information about the WCB please visit www.wcb.ca.gov.

San Mateo Fisherman Missing Off Sonoma County Coast

Photo by Mike Fuller/Salt Point State Park, location of Gerstle Cove, near where the man was reported missing.

A San Mateo man was reported missing after he last seen in a rocky area along the Sonoma County coast.

Here’s a little more on the incident from the San Mateo Patch.com news site: 

A San Mateo fisherman remained missing Thursday after falling off a rock and into the waters off the Sonoma County coast, sheriff’s officials said Thursday. It was reported at 4:45 p.m. Wednesday that Li Shen Su, 65, fell into the surf at Gerstle Cove State Marine Reserve, Sonoma County sheriff’s Sgt. Spencer Crum said.

According to Crum, Su and four friends arrived at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday for a fishing excursion at the coastal reserve north of Timber Cove. As they were traversing rocks south of Gerstle Cove, Su slipped and fell into the surf.

“Su’s friends tried to locate Su with no success,” Crum said.

They had no cell service in the area so they drove south to Fort Ross State Park and contacted park rangers about Su’s disappearance into the water.

The sheriff’s Henry One helicopter crew was first on scene and began searching the area for Su but were not immediately able to locate him, Crum said.

Additional personnel from the sheriff’s office as well as California State Parks and the U.S. Coast Guard also responded to help search for the fisherman.

 

CDFW Schedules Meeting To Discuss Delta-Area Wildlife Areas

Photo by CDFW

 

The following press release is courtesy of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife: 

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) will hold an outreach meeting on Wednesday, June 6 in Davis regarding Bay Delta Region Type A wildlife areas. CDFW will take comments and recommendations and provide updates on habitat conditions, availability of water for wetlands and possible impacts to hunter access on these public lands.

The meeting will take place from 4 to 6 p.m. in the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area’s conference room, which is located at 45211 County Road 32B in Davis. State wildlife areas to be discussed are the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area and the Grizzly Island Wildlife Area Complex.

CDFW’s Bay Delta Region includes 12 counties in northern California and is one of seven CDFW regions in the state.

CDFW annually provides an opportunity for licensed hunters to comment and make recommendations on public hunting programs, including anticipated habitat conditions in the hunting areas on wildlife areas through public meetings and other outreach.

SURVEY FINDS GOOD KRILL NUMBERS AGAIN OFF OREGON, BUT EVEN MORE PYROSOMES

From our Northwest Sportsman executive editor Andy Walgamott:
—————————————————-
An annual spring survey off the Northwest Coast came up with some good and bad news for key stocks.

 

Krill — hugely important near the base of the ocean food web — and young Dungeness crab numbers were as high as they’ve been in some time, but there are even more pyrosomes off Oregon’s Central Coast and to the south than last year.

RESEARCHERS CALLED THE RETURN OF KRILL TO THEIR SAMPLING NETS “A WELCOME SIGHT SINCE THESE IMPORTANT FORAGE HAVE LARGELY BEEN ABSENT OVER THE PAST COUPLE YEARS SINCE THE ANOMALOUS WARMING” FROM THE BLOB. (NWFSC)

Jennifer Fisher, fresh off a 10-day survey between San Francisco Bay and Newport, reported the findings on the Northwest Fisheries Science Center blog.

“These are the most Dungeness larvae and juveniles we’ve collected in a long time, and we have not seen krill numbers like this since before 2015,” Fisher followed up via email.

That year, 2015, was the height of The Blob — the huge pool of warmer than usual water in the Northeast Pacific that messed things up at sea and on land — and it was also a year after pyrosomes first began to be found in our coastal waters.

By last year, the tropical gelatinous, sea-pickle thingies that are actually colonies of organisms were clogging fishing gear off our coast and even turned up as far north as the rim of the Gulf of Alaska, also a first.

While rockfish were observed feeding on pyrosomes, it’s not clear how their numbers will affect the food web. Another NOAA blog from last October states, “At this point, there are more questions than answers.”

But the May survey answered the question whether they’re still out there.

“The pyrosome catches appear slightly larger and the colonies are larger compared to last year,” reports Fisher.

They can be found starting about 10 miles off the coast, living on the bottom during the day and rising to the surface at night.

PYROSOMES FILL A COOLER ABOARD THE NATIONAL OCEANIC AND ATMOSPHERIC ADMINISTRATION’S VESSEL, THE BELL M. SHIMADA. (NWFSC)

The Science Center will soon conduct another closely watched spring survey, collecting information on young Chinook and coho off Oregon.

Last year’s produced very low catches while one a couple years ago found very small fish. But the resurgence of krill is a hopeful sign that the food web could be rebuilding coming out of the hangover from the Blob.

Fisher also reported on Science Center’s blog that copepods are in a state of flux between winter warm-water communities and summer, cold-water ones that come with the upwelling.

So what does it all mean?

“The krill is a good sign, but the pyrosomes are not, since they are indicative of warm water,” she says. “And the transitional copepod community is also not a great sign for salmon. But it’s still early in the summer upwelling season, so things can certainly change.”

Angler Dies In Tragic, Freak American River Accident

Sacramento’s Fox 40 TV affiliate – see video above – shared an absolute tragedy of a story on an angler – and a husband/father of two who died in a tragic accident on the American River. 

Here’s reporter Sonseeahray Tonsall with more:

Shaun Orchid posted a picture of his afternoon fishing trip to Instagram just 10 minutes before it’s believed he lost his footing near Sailor Bar on the American River.

He drowned as the waders he used when bank fishing for shad filled with water.

“In high school he held the butterfly record for years. He was a great swimmer. So to think that he would die of drowning is nothing that anyone could ever imagine,” Orchid said.

“I was just so shocked and devastated,” said Shaun’s father-in-law, Daniel Ash.

Ash shared Shaun Orchid’s love of fishing, doing catch and release at Sailor Bar and other spots across the state for years. The thought of his own waders betraying him was top of mind Thursday.

“When we were in areas like that a lot of times we would take a belt around the top of the waders and cinch it up tight, so if we fell in it would take a little while for the water to get inside so you could stand back up,” Ask said. “I don’t see people doing that.”

Now in their grief, they just want other fishermen to be safe. That means taking a friend when they go out and possibly wearing a life jacket. They don’t want any more little ones like the couple’s children, Jase and Kallie, to be left behind.

Condolences and thoughts are with Shaun’s wife Janelle, their kids Jase and Kallie and loved ones.

Restoring Southern California Steelhead A Team Effort

A 24-inch steelhead from Maria Ygnacio Creek in Santa Barbara County. A rare sight this far south in California. Back in the day, anglers were catching steelhead in the heart of Los Angeles, including near the modern-day site of Dodger Stadium around the turn of the 20th century and in places like the Ventura River. (MARK CAPELLI)

The following appears in the May issue of California Sportsman:

By Joanna Gilkeson 

Similar to the famous steelhead runs of the Pacific Northwest, tens of thousands of these silvery fish once graced the streams and rivers of Southern California.

Historic records reveal abundant numbers of steelhead once migrated from the Pacific to Southern California’s coastal waterways in search of spawning grounds. Their presence is memorialized in places like Steelhead Park, which sits along the Los Angeles River near Dodger Stadium. In the early 1900s, anglers came here in hopes of filling their creel with the formidable fish. 

Images from the early 20th century also portray successful steelhead fishing in Orange County at San Juan Creek, and in San Diego County in lower San Mateo Creek and lower Santa Margarita River. 

Today, steelhead are nearly nonexistent in Southern California – a strikingly different picture than the one painted by historic accounts. 

“Southern California steelhead are the most endangered of all steelhead in California,” says Mark Capelli, Southern California Steelhead Recovery Coordinator for the National Marine Fisheries Service, the primary agency responsible for management of this endangered species, and the resident expert. 

But he also believes that bringing them back is possible. 

Steelhead were once a big part of the Southern California fishing scene as they remain today along the northern coastal areas of the state. And while these days steelies are hard to find along the Southland’s rivers, creeks and streams, several agencies and conservationists continue to fight to bring back some semblance of the past. (USFWS/MARK CAPELLI)

A CHANGING LANDSCAPE 

The Southern California steelhead population began to decline in the late-1940s due mainly to man-made landscape modifications. Migration routes to spawning grounds were increasingly blocked by dams and channelized for flood control. Rivers were modified for recreation and more and more water was diverted to satisfy an exploding human population.

The romantic stories of steelhead fishing here faded as quietly as the fish disappeared from coastal streams. California steelhead populations from the Santa Maria River in Santa Barbara County to Malibu Creek in Los Angeles County were listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act in 1997, mainly due to widespread habitat loss and fragmentation.

Steelhead populations south of Malibu Creek were not included in the listing at that time due to a lack of recent observations of steelhead in the area. But forthcoming surveys and observations made clear that small numbers of steelhead continued to occupy Southern California’s coastal streams in an attempt to migrate. 

In 2002, the endangered Southern California’s steelhead range was extended from Malibu Creek to the U.S./Mexico border. Today, fewer than 500 steelhead return to Southern California coastal watersheds to spawn, yet Capelli is optimistic about the species’ future.

“Recovery of a species in such a densely populated area is one of the most ambitious recovery efforts ever undertaken, but the fish’s natural resilience provides reason for hope. This fish has evolved under the diverse, sometimes hostile, conditions of Southern California, and has continued to occupy these watersheds for millennium; they are an integral part of the ecology, and an important part the region’s natural heritage,” Capelli said.

The construction of fish passages to allow steelhead to get around barriers like this area of San Juan Creek in the city of San Juan Capistrano is among many projects to help restore runs of sea-run trout. (JOANNA GILKESON/USFWS)

STARTING SOMEWHERE 

Clark Winchell, conservation partnerships program division chief and steelhead recovery lead biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Southern California, knows recovery is a long game and operates under the motto, “If you don’t start somewhere, you’ll never get there.”

In Winchell’s view, “Restoring steelhead to Southern California will be a long-term effort, probably 50 to 60 years before coastal watersheds are ready to support the steelhead again. This is just the beginning.” 

The longevity and scope of this project is due in part to the mere geographic expanse of habitat needed to support migrating steelhead, and the complex waterworld of California. Steelhead rely on connected waters for migration; the route from coast to spawning grounds can be anywhere from 3 to 90 miles, depending on the watershed.

Recovery of this magnitude requires patience, diligence, and optimism. Luckily for the steelhead, Capelli and Winchell, and a host of scientists, anglers, tribes and agencies, have united under the banner of the South Coast Steelhead Coalition to recover the species.

But years before the coalition came to fruition, a man named George Sutherland was championing the cause.

AN EARLY STEELHEAD ADVOCATE 

Sutherland, a trout enthusiast and angler from Idaho, moved to California in the mid-1980s. Sutherland proceeded to found the South Coast Chapter of Trout Unlimited near his home in Orange County.

Over the years, he helped kickstart a slew of local Trout Unlimited chapters in California and elsewhere, including San Diego, Sacramento, the Feather River, the Smith River, and two in Idaho. 

He’s investigated Southern California steelhead by reading historic accounts, initiating conversations with locals about the historic presence of this fish, and searching for evidence of steelhead in coastal tributaries. His passion and knowledge would be key to the coalition, but he didn’t know it yet. 

“I wanted to learn more about trout and steelhead, so I ran an ad in a San Clemente newspaper. It read, ‘Help Needed: Looking for Information on History of Steelhead in San Mateo Creek,’” Sutherland said.

“A man named John Waters called me. He was a steelhead fisherman and showed me old photos of steelhead in San Mateo. It was really unbelievable and I knew I was right about steelhead in Southern California.” 

This isn’t the only anecdote Sutherland has collected about steelhead in the Southland. Many people have approached him, eager to share memories of early relatives fishing for the stock. This was the beginning of an unlikely conservation movement in an unlikely setting.

Biologist Clark Winchell of the USFWS Pacific Southwest Region and Dr. Sandi Jacobson, a geneticist, survey the Santa Margarita River, one of four watersheds being prioritized by the Fisheries Service’s Recovery Plan for Southern California steelhead. “Each watershed has high potential for restoration, and comes with its own set of logistical challenges,” Jacobson says. (CAROLYN LIEBERMAN/USFWS)

THE STEELHEAD COALITION 

Building on a foundation of knowledge collected by Sutherland and others, CalTrout founded the South Coast Steelhead Coalition in the early 2000s, with support from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The coalition was off to a good start but after a loss of funding, its future looked uncertain. 

In 2012, the coalition found its second wind when CalTrout received another grant from the state wildlife agency and eventually hired a new coordinator for the coalition, Dr. Sandi Jacobson, a geneticist and an avid fly fisher of 35 years.

The culmination of these moments and individuals led to a defining moment for steelhead recovery; it was a reenergized, community-centered coalition aiming to help steelhead reclaim historic migratory routes in Southern California.

Jacobson’s drive for success is contagious, and she is as positive as she is clear about the coalition’s goals. 

“We are implementing the Fisheries Service’s Recovery Plan, and their steelhead expert, Mark Capelli, provides insight as an active member of the coalition. We are committed to improving habitat and stream connectivity for steelhead. An effort of this scale takes time and people, and this group is filled with great people who are working to make a difference,” she said.

The National Marine Fisheries Service’s 2012 Southern California Steelhead Recovery Plan is foundational to the coalition’s strategy. It provides a description of the species’ biology, a watershed-by-watershed habitat assessment of threats to the species and a set of recovery actions to address threats. 

Capelli, the main author, says it also sets forth a strategy for monitoring the status of steelhead and recovery actions, as well as a research program to increase the understanding of the species’ ecology in the region

“The coalition is focused on the four watersheds prioritized by the Fisheries Service’s Recovery Plan for Southern California steelhead: San Juan Creek, San Mateo Creek, Santa Margarita and the San Luis Rey. Each watershed has high potential for restoration, and comes with its own set of logistical challenges,” Jacobson said. 

Trabuco Creek, despite flowing a lot of urban Orange County, also has a lot of flow in protected Angeles National Forest before it converges with San Juan Creek. “San Juan and Trabuco have high potential to once again becoming habitable for migratory fish,” Winchell says. (JOANNA GILKESON/USFWS)

A PLAN FOR RECOVERY 

“Steelhead require multiple migration routes to reach spawning grounds,” Winchell said. “In Southern California there’s always the uncertainty of drought, and that’s one of the reasons we need to restore several watersheds simultaneously.”

“In the past, if one watershed didn’t have enough rainfall, the steelhead had other options along the coast. If we want them to recover, they will need access to at least a couple spawning areas.”

The coalition has made progress in each of the four watersheds, with San Juan Creek leading the pack – from the coast to the divergence of San Juan and Trabuco Creeks, the lower reaches of this watershed meander through concrete and flow adjacent to busy roads and prime real estate in coastal Orange County. Beyond the divergence, Trabuco Creek is constrained by channelization and is home to two large fish barriers. Yet the upper portion of the watershed remains relatively pristine, even in the midst of the second most populous county in California.

“San Juan and Trabuco have high potential to once again becoming habitable for migratory fish. This is mainly because the headwaters of these creeks are within the boundaries of the Cleveland National Forest and have remained somewhat protected and untouched, which is unusual as most watersheds in California are highly modified,” Winchell said. “We have a head start here, so reconnecting this watershed is one of our top focuses.”

“Another reason for the priority of this watershed is due to what Sutherland calls the highlight of his career. In 2007, we found an expired male steelhead at the mouth of San Juan Creek, a mile or so up from the coast. It confirmed everything I had heard about steelhead in the area, and that this watershed can support steelhead. They want to use it, and we need to help them reach the headwaters.”

However, there are a few small barriers to entry before the upper watershed is fully connected once again. From the 1940s to the mid-1970s, Orange County constructed a series of small dams in the San Juan Creek watershed, within the Cleveland National Forest. Designed to retain water in summer for recreational swimming and fish stocking, they have not been maintained for years and impede fish from swimming upstream.

Kirsten Winter is a Forest Service biologist. Over the years, she’s thought a lot about these dams and their impact on the complex forest ecosystem.

“The life expectancy of these small dams is 50 years, and most of the dams in Trabuco Creek are well beyond their life expectancy. They may fail during times of high water, and cause unplanned releases of sediment or other damage to the forest. We have determined that these structures must be removed to allow for fish passage and to restore stream health.” 

In 2009, Cleveland NF embarked on a major fish passage project, with two major objectives: The first is replacement of concrete ford crossings with bridges to allow for unimpeded fish passage. The second is removal of 80 rock and mortar dams from Silverado, Holy Jim, Trabuco and San Juan Creeks. The long-term goal of these fish passage projects is restoration of connectivity in Trabuco and San Juan Creeks for steelhead. This fish passage project is also a priority by the coalition and the recovery plan. “Removing the barriers will allow the creek to reestablish its natural flow, benefiting the overall ecological integrity of the forest and creating the right conditions for steelhead migration in the future,” Winter said. 

“In addition coalition members, the Federal Highways Administration, Orange County Parks, Caltrans, and the U.S. Marine Corps made this project possible.” 

Winter emphasizes, “Large-scale ecosystem restoration is made possible by quality collaboration.”

Since 2014, 18 mortar dams in San Juan Creek watershed tributaries have been removed, restoring 2 miles of steelhead habitat.

Relics of the past like these happy Ventura River estuary steelhead anglers from 1909 is enough motivation for the government agencies, conservationists and steelhead lovers. “If we keep at this, we’ll get it done,” George Sutherland (below) says, “and it will make Southern California an even better and more beautiful place to live.” (MARK CAPELLI/GEORGE SUTHERLAND)

A WIN-WIN SOLUTION 

Winter said the removal has already made a difference. “Since the removal of these dams, we’ve noticed substantial improvements in the health of Trabuco and Holy Jim Creeks,” she said. “About 60 dams still need to be removed, and these are targeted for removal over the next two to three years.”

Reconnecting the steelhead migration route within the national forest is the first step in fish recovery, but in order to reconnect 20 miles of stream from coast to headwaters, two significant barriers near Interstate 5, in the urban epicenter of Orange County, stand in the way.

According to Jacobson, habitat restoration in this heavily trafficked area is crucial to complete watershed connectivity, and it’s a complicated and costly effort that members of the coalition are currently working towards.. 

“There are two large bridges supported by concrete foundations where Interstate 5 and a railroad line cross the Trabuco Creek, about 5 miles up the coast,” Jacobson said, “and the bridges’ concrete foundations create completely impassable conditions for migrating fish. We’re working with partners, including Orange County, City of San Juan Capistrano and Caltrans to design a steelhead passage structure under both bridges. Once this project is complete, steelhead will have access to 15 miles of upstream habitat. This is about promoting resiliency in coastal areas through an ecosystem-level approach.”

The coalition believes that bringing steelhead back to Southern California is about more than the steelhead themselves. “These projects chart a path to integrate natural processes into managed landscapes,” said Jacobson, who adds that, “They create resource management solutions that support wildlife, secure water supply and enhance flood protection. This approach demonstrates that endangered species are not an inevitable consequence of development but that ecology and urban infrastructure can coexist.” 

In the same vein, Sutherland offered one final thought: “Recovery actions for steelhead will bring positive impacts to coastal towns and residents. If we keep at this, we’ll get it done, and it will make Southern California an even better and more beautiful place to live.” CS

Editor’s note: Joanna Gilkeson is a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service public affairs specialist for the Carlsbad Fish and Wildlife Office, which gave permission to run this report. For more, go to fws.gov 

Sidebar: Q&A With A Steelhead Restoration Biologist

Biologist Clark Winchell (left, with conservationist George Sutherland) says it’s important to be realistic but also optimistic that steelhead can successfully migrate to Southern California watersheds. “We’re not idealistic and trying to get things back to where they were,” he says. “But we’re hopeful that we can do some restoration to enhance the entire area.” (JOANNA GILKESON/USFWS)

By Chris Cocoles

Restoring steelhead in a region made famous by Disneyland and Hollywood will take more and longer than a Screen Writers Guild miracle ending. 

“We’re not trying to get back to where it was. It would be virtually impossible to restore our estuaries and watersheds to that stage,” says biologist Clark Winchell, conservation partnerships program division chief for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the point man for the steelhead project. “It’s how we can adapt them in their current state to hopefully get to the ultimate goal of recovering steelhead.”

“I’ll be dead before they’re flowing up here (again),” he adds.

But that hasn’t stopped Winchell from working tirelessly on this project. We caught up with him recently for more background on this arduous task. 

Chris Cocoles Can you provide a little perspective on how steelhead used to be common running through Southern California rivers and streams?

Clark Winchell Going back to World War II and prior, steelheading down here was fairly common. People relied on them both for food and recreational purposes. Most likely they were never as abundant or robust as in Northern California. Our populations had always been smaller, just because our watersheds are smaller. Less water means less area for fish.

CC I grew up in the Bay Area and Northern California but also lived in Southern California, so I’ve always figured the southern part of the state wasn’t an ideal habitat for steelhead. But I would be wrong about that. Was it a great habitat back then?

CW Absolutely. When the coastal railroad systems were placed in here along with Highway 1 – prior to (Interstate 5’s construction) – we had a lot of filling in our lagoons and estuaries, which constricted the mouths, and that caused the estuaries to close off. And you couple that with development inland, which increased sedimentation into our watersheds, now you’ve totally altered the hydrology in the system. And these mouths began to close off and the spawning areas became more and more limited. But 100 years ago, these were very open, different areas. 

If you go up into Holy Jim (Creek), which is one of the areas that were important for steelhead up until World War II, that area had all been taken over by fig trees that were planted up there.  And they’re actually choking out the watershed there. So our watersheds have drastically changed.  

CC So do you think there’s a hope for a resurgence and rebirth for these fish?

CW I think there’s hope; if there wasn’t hope, then why would we be doing this? We’re not idealistic and trying to get things back to where they were. But we’re hopeful that we can do some restoration to enhance the entire area. And by doing that we say that also has benefits to us in Southern California’s urbanized areas. Those benefits could be for better watershed management, recharging of our aquifers, less erosion, opening up our estuary and lagoon mouths for more circulation. 

CC Are there any specific creeks or rivers that are showing signs of hope of being restored with fish coming back?

CW I’m going to preface this with, depending on who you ask you might get a different answer. Mine would be the San Juan (Orange County) and San Mateo (border of Orange and San Diego Counties) Creeks. The San Mateo has very high potential because most of the San Mateo watershed resides within federal property in the Cleveland National Forest and Camp Pendleton (U.S. Marine Corps base). And Camp Pendleton does a tremendous job of managing their groundwater and its water resources, and in working with their federal partners, primarily USGS, to eliminate and eradicate invasive species such as bass and catfish and crayfish and bullfrogs. They’ve been doing stellar work for protection. 

San Juan is an altered watershed, no question about it; you go through the city of San Clemente and the development that’s been there. You do have issues of urban runoff and sheet erosion. But you also get into the Cleveland National Forest, which has been doing a lot of good work there, primarily in replacing stream crossings and removing fish barriers. And in the upper watershed what they are starting to do is restore the proper hydrological flow. And what that’s going to do is stabilize the stream bank and recreate your ponding and pooling situations that these fish look for. 

CC You were quoted in the story as saying this project will be 50- or 60-year time frame before these watersheds will be able to fully support steelhead. How important is the next generation to be involved once your work is done? 

CW And I think that’s where the (South Coast Steelhead Coalition) and partnerships and getting the word out for some common goals (are critical). In essence, it’s institutionalizing this. CalTrout and Trout Unlimited have placed a tremendous amount of effort in the last three years down here, and (Dr.) Sandi Jacobson’s led that. Those are the types of efforts we need. And I think the coalition really represents positive partnerships among fly casting clubs, NGOs, the Audobon Society and some of the preserve landholdings down here like Star Ranch (in Orange County’s Trabuco County). Water in Southern California is controversial, so I think you need to approach the situation more as a collaborative effort. 

CC What’s a dream scenario for you over say the next 25 years in terms of where we’re at by then?

CW In 25 years it would be nice to see one or two of these watersheds in a position where we’re having healthy water flow through it; where we have high public involvement and we’ve created a few areas upstream where the fish can spawn and mature until they go out into the ocean. And I think that’s feasible. CS

SoCal Congressman Wants Delta Tunnel Project Exempt From Lawsuits

The Delta Tunnels mess is only going to get more volatile. Here’s the Sacramento Bee on a Southern California congressman who wants the tunnels project to go through so much he’s trying to sneak in a provision that prohibit legal action against the plan.

Here’s more from the Bee:

On Tuesday, veteran Rep. Ken Calvert of Riverside County released a 142-page draft spending bill for fiscal year 2019 for the Interior Department and related agencies.

Tucked into the bill, on page 141, is a brief provision that would prohibit state or federal lawsuits against “the Final Environmental Impact Report/Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Bay Delta Conservation Plan/California Water Fix … and any resulting agency decision, record of decision, or similar determination.” Calvert is the chair of the House Appropriations subcommittee on the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies.

“After more than a decade of studies and more than 50,000 pages of environmental documents, all of the project’s stakeholders have had a plethora of opportunities to express their thoughts and concerns,” Calvert said in a statement. “The tough decisions about the California Water Fix have been made by Gov. Brown, Democrat and Republican legislators, and a host of water officials, and now we must move forward with the project. It’s long past time to give Californians the reliable water system they deserve.”

California environmental groups immediately cried foul. Eric Wesselman, executive director of Friends of the River, said the Republican-controlled Congress is attempting to silence opposition to the Delta tunnels. He and other local leaders warned this could become a pattern.

“Regardless of how anyone feels about the Delta tunnels, this piece of legislation sets a dangerous precedent for California,” said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta, a tunnels opponent. “It’s an end run around due process and really upends states’ rights.”

Here’s some reaction from the Golden Gate Salmon Association’s president John McManus, whose organization is one of the most vocal opponents of a project conservationists believe will further wipe out an already struggling king salmon run:

“The Delta water tunnels project, formerly known as the Peripheral Canal, was defeated by voters in 1982.  This time around the project is being shoved down the throats of all Californians without allowing a vote of the people. Today we learn that Congressman Ken Calvert is proposing a law exempting the salmon killing tunnels from legal review by groups like GGSA, local governments and others.  Construction of the current version of the tunnels would break numerous laws protecting salmon and other natural resources from destruction.  Since the tunnels would wreck the environment in violation of current law, Congressman Calvert is proposing to change the law instead of changing the tunnels. “

“Salmon and other species will be wiped out if the current version of the tunnels is built, which is why GGSA and allies are already in court calling for a fair legal review.  Those in favor of the tunnels and moving more northern California water to southern California know we’re likely to win in court since the environmental damage is easy to prove.  That’s why they’re using their money and political connections to simply get the laws changed rather than comply with the law and modify the tunnels to make them less damaging.”