Category Archives: Editor’s Blog

Sonoma Sheriff’s Bass Tournament

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The following story is available in the May issue of California Sportsman: 

By Chris Cocoles

Ken Konopa remembers those days spent on his dad’s boat, casting endless hours for Southern California bass.

Now all the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office deputy wants to do is get his colleagues hooked on largemouth fishing. It’s why Konopa is still tirelessly working to put on his department’s 11th annual bass tournament, which is scheduled for May 7 and 8 at Clear Lake. It’s become a labor of love for Konopa to organize this event that’s open to police and fire department employees, plus public safety workers and the military.

“Of course I have helpers who do a lot to help me, but ultimately it’s kind of my baby,” Konopa says of the event, officially known as the Sonoma County Deputy Sheriff’s Association Bass Tournament (

“It kind of started small and it’s gotten large – well, pretty large.”

And given his background in fishing, that’s just the way Konopa wants it.

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Konopa is originally from San Diego and had the genes to be an outdoorsman. His father, Don, spent 45 years in the boat-repair business.

“There wasn’t a lot of hunting (in San Diego) between all the buildings,” Konopa says with a laugh, “but my dad was always a fisherman. We went out and fished in the ocean a million times. We’d go to Mexico all the time, and my dad also owned a lake boat, so I grew up fishing.”

The deep sea excursions were full of excitement with friends who also tagged along. But the more intimate experiences were when father and son hitched the lake boat and caught bass together.

“When we were out on the ocean there would be four or five of us on the boat. It wasn’t quite the same experience,” says Konopa, who has a bass fishing theme as his home email address. “But when we were bass fishing, you were always doing stuff – you’re always changing lures, always trying to figure out the fish. And you’re always moving around. Ocean fishing is pretty much putting the food on the table. Trolling all day for eight hours gets a little boring to me.”

Such a demeanor was also beneficial to how Konopa chose his profession. Many law enforcement careers are based on genealogy, with sons and daughters of cops following in their family’s footsteps. Not in this case; no previous generations of Konopas  served in the field.

“When I went to the academy on my very first day and we talked about our backgrounds, there were 50 people in the class and I was one of two who didn’t have family backgrounds in law enforcement,” he says. “It was just one of those things where it was something I always wanted to do.”

Essentially, if his passion for a certain genre of fishing was going to parallel his career choice, Konopa didn’t want to pursue a job equivalent to simply dunking a nightcrawler and waiting for something below the surface to bite it as he sat back in a lawn chair. He wanted something more.

Wanting to go north for college, Konopa chose Sonoma State and earned a degree in criminal justice. His first job was with the nearby San Rafael Police Department before eventually settling in with the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department, which he’s been with for almost 15 years now.

“The whole cop thing – I like to be challenged. Being a cop and bass fisherman is kind of the same thing, in a way,” he says with a laugh.

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After few years on the job in Sonoma (he works out of that city, while the department’s home base is in Santa Rosa), Konopa and three fishing buddies teamed up and split themselves into two boats for a friendly competition on a local lake.

“We said, ‘All right, we’ll all throw in $20.’ We did it and (my team) ended up winning. That following year, I started thinking about and wondered if we could put together a bass tournament,” Konopa says. “There were guys who bass fished at the sheriff’s office. Cops like to bass fish, and so do firemen and we’re all public safety. So we could probably get more people if we add firemen.”

That first tournament saw all of nine boats take to the waters of Clear Lake, just northeast of Sonoma County. Lakeport’s launching facilities and the tournament’s official hotel, Skylark Shores Resort (800-675-6151l; have made for convenient places to hold the event. The hotel essentially closes up for the two days and leaves blocks of rooms for the participants.

“The excellent bass fishing plus the amenities (is hard to pass up),” Konopa says. “They take care of us.”

At the height of the tournament’s participation, before the recession in the last 2000s, 59 boats were entered. Still, most years the boat totals remain impressively around the high 30s.

The tournament previously lasted just a day, but the consensus seemed to be to add a day and make it a getaway overnight trip, and that has been popular. Vacation time gets planned around this event, which takes place on a Thursday and Friday this year. But participants will have the flexibility of fishing both days or just for one day.

And the turnout now includes probation officers, local and state fire officers and prison guards. Military personnel are being officially invited as well this year. Mostly, the anglers hail from offices in the Bay Area and Northern California, but there is a diehard group that makes the trek down Interstate 80 from Reno every year.

“We’ve even had guys who’ve come all the way from Seattle (Police Department). So we have some coming from pretty good distances, and they were saying, ‘It’s great to come down for the tournament, and since we’re driving all this way, why don’t you make it two days?’” Konopa says.

Most years the fishing has been outstanding for the participants. Konopa remembers one tournament where wind and heavy rain slowed down the fishing, but there are high hopes for the norm, when plenty of fish in the 10-pound range have been part of the daily weigh-in. A 14-pounder-and-change is the largest fish caught in the 11-year run.

“I get a lot of people telling me it’s by far the most fun tournament they’ll do all year,” Konopa says.


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This idea wasn’t designed to create a police vs. fire department competition or its own version of fish wars. It’s always been meant for a fun, couple days for law enforcement types to catch some bass, enjoy some good food and take a break from their hectic and stressful occupations.

“So many of these tournaments are crazy-competitive and nobody’s having fun because you’re trying to win. Of course people want to win some money. But we’re all good guys; we’re all in public safety, so it’s all about having a good time,” Konopa says.

“We get a lot of bad press (in law enforcement). And doing the job has changed dramatically. We have a lot of Sacramento guys who come down who say they aren’t able to do anything else together. They work in the same department, and they’re friends. Yet this tournament brings them all together every year. Stuff like that is really cool.”

The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Association has partnered with a nonprofit organization, Casting For Recovery (see Editor’s Note on page 13) that receives proceeds from an annual raffle during the tournament.

Konopa knows that when the time comes to do the heavy lifting and planning for the event, it can be time-consuming to make phone calls, secure donations for the raffle and fill out the piles of paperwork – law enforcement officials are no stranger to that last chore.

He purchased a new bass boat 1½ years ago, but with a wife and two kids, plus a demanding work schedule, getting out on the lake for more than twice a month on his favorite fisheries like Lake Berryessa is unrealistic. So despite the grunt work required to put this tournament together, it’s well worth it for the end result of F-U-N.

“I get so many emails asking me,  ‘When’s the tournament?’ So there are plenty of days when I think, ‘Man, this is so much work.’ But again, it goes back to supporting Casting For Recovery, hanging out with my buddies and so many people that I know now. I’ve had people for 11 years coming here, so there’s no way I can stop now.” CS

Editor’s note: To see more photos from past tournaments and for more information, go to

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Banning Traditional Fishing Tackle: Bad For The Sport



From the American Sportfishing Association

Alexandria, VA – May 21, 2015 – A report released on Monday by the California Coastal Conservation Association and the American Sportfishing Association (ASA) demonstrates that banning traditional fishing tackle will have a negative impact on fishing participation, which generates millions of dollars for fisheries conservation in the state.

The report, “Effects on the Ban on Traditional-Based Tackle for Fishing in California on Angler Participation and Associated Economic Measures,” was produced for ASA by Southwick Associates. By surveying anglers and manufactures, the report outlines the economic issues associated with requiring California anglers to switch to non-lead tackle, such as tungsten and tin. Lead is by far the most prevalent, economical and arguably the best performing option for terminal tackle.

Bill Shedd, chairman of the California Chapter of the Coastal Conservation Association and President of AFTCO, said, “While California ranks fifth in the nation in number of anglers, we are dead last in terms of per capita participation. However, sportfishing is an important economic generator for our state, and banning lead tackle, as currently being considered by the State of California, is another burden that would increase the cost of fishing, hurt anglers and cost our economy millions of dollars in lost revenue and almost 2,600 jobs.”

Some of the key findings include:

A ban on lead fishing tackle would likely reduce angler activity in California, which would in turn negatively impact the recreational fishing industry and those whose livelihoods depend on it.
A survey of tackle manufacturers indicated that the price impact of producing lures, flies and terminal tackle with lead substitutes would double costs on average.
Only 25 percent of manufacturers surveyed indicated that it was even technically feasible to currently switch to non-lead substitutes.
If a lead ban were to cause prices to double for lures, flies and terminal tackle, the report says that approximately 5 percent of anglers would leave the sport or nearly 80,000 anglers.
The surveys used in the report also suggest that anglers who continue to fish, 18 percent would fish fewer days, each fishing 21 percent fewer days on average.
Combined with anglers leaving the sport, this would reduce total California angler days and expenditures in recreational fishing by two million fewer angler days, and $173 million in lost revenues.
The $173 million in recreational fishing revenues currently supports:
2,582 jobs
$113.6 million in salaries and wages
$24.2 million in state and local tax revenue
$26.4 million in federal tax revenues
Scott Gudes, ASA’s vice president for Government Affairs stated, “This report shows that, in addition to the direct economic losses to recreational fishing-dependent businesses, fish and wildlife conservation programs in California would suffer as prices for tackle increase and overall fishing expenditures suffer. Not many people realize that it is anglers who pay for California’s fishery conservation programs through fishing tackle excise taxes and license fees. A ban on lead tackle is not based on science. Anglers and conservation programs would be the losers.”

Shedd concluded, “Fishing our Pacific coastal waters from San Diego to the Oregon border is part of what makes this state great. It is part of our heritage. We need to start adopting angler-friendly policies in California and not start regulating what’s in an angler’s tackle box.”

Update On Santa Barbara Oil Spill

CG overflight photo from Refugio State Beach oil spill

Courtesy of Twitter: @USCGLosAngeles

We’re in the middle of deadline, so apologies for not following up on the oil spill crisis in Santa Barbara. But here’s an update from CNN:

Of course, a big concern is the environment. There are shorebirds that live in the area — thesnowy plover and least tern nest on sandy beaches, and the cormorant can dive deep to find food. Officials want to make sure that none of the birds or other wildlife suffer damage from the spill.

“An aggressive and effective cleanup response to the spill is underway,” said Mark Crossland with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “It will go on as long as necessary.

“Every effort will be made to minimize the damage to the environment, including taking care of oiled wildlife,” said Crossland.

Fishing and shellfish harvesting have been closed in Santa Barbara County until further notice.

There’s also concern about the next park down the road, El Capitan State Beach, with sandy shores and rocky tide pools. Thousands of people are expected to flock to El Capitan over the Memorial Day weekend. It’s located on another unspoiled stretch of coast. Visitors go there to kayak, hike and picnic.

The response

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has three 65-foot vessels on the scene, collecting oil, and six boom vessels in operation, according to its Twitter feed. There are 73 people in the field collecting oil and protecting the shorebirds.


Pipeline Burst Off Santa Barbara Sends Oil Into Sea

Authorities were responding to an apparent oil slick in the ocean off Refugio State Beach in Santa Barbara County on May 19, 2015. (Credit: KTLA)

(Credit: KTLA)

A potential hazardous situation for sealife off the Pacific Ocean coast of Goleta in Santa Barbara is due to an oil spill today.

From Los Angeles TV station KTLA:

Multiple local news outlets reported a pungent smell from spilled oil, and county Fire Department officials told outlets the spill originated on land but said the flow had been stopped.

U.S. Coast Guard crews were responding to an “unknown sheen” at Refugio, the guard’s Los Angeles/Long Beach office Twitter account stated.

The sheen was from a ruptured pipeline on the shore side that had been “secured,” the Coast Guard office later confirmed in a tweet.

County fire and emergency officials were responding to the 4-mile-wide slick, the Coast Guard said.

This story is developing.

Nonlead Bullet Regulation Adoption Day Approaching

Illustration courtesy of the National Park Service

Illustration courtesy of the National Park Service


California’s lead bullet issue has been a hot topic with hunters and gun rights advocates, but the zero hour is approaching for the controversial regulations to go into effect.

Here’s the California Department of Fish and Wildlife with more:


Starting July 1, 2015, nonlead ammunition will be required when hunting on all California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) lands and for all Nelson bighorn sheep hunts anywhere in the state.

CDFW reminds hunters who plan to hunt bighorn sheep or at any CDFW wildlife areas or ecological reserves where hunting is allowed on or after July 1, 2015 to acquire nonlead ammunition well ahead of their hunt.  Hunters are also encouraged to practice shooting nonlead ammunition to make sure firearms are sighted-in properly and shoot accurately with nonlead ammunition. Please note nonlead ammunition for some firearm calibers may be in short supply and hunters should plan accordingly.

CDFW held 14 public meetings in 12 cities from Eureka to San Diego to gain comments from hunters on how best to implement AB 711, the legislation that requires nonlead ammunition for all hunting statewide by July 1, 2019. The department listened to feedback from hunters and proposed an implementation plan that would be least disruptive to the hunting community while adhering to the requirements of the law. The California Fish and Game Commission recently adopted the implementation plan.

Further phase-out of lead ammunition for hunting in California will occur on July 1, 2016, when hunters must use nonlead ammunition when hunting with shotguns for upland game birds (except for dove, quail and snipe), small game mammals, fur-bearing mammals, and nongame birds except for when hunting at licensed game bird clubs. Nonlead ammunition will also be required when taking wildlife for depredation purposes anywhere in the state.Starting on July 1, 2019 hunters must use nonlead ammunition when taking any animal anywhere in the state for any purpose.

Lead ammunition may still be used for all non-hunting purposes including target shooting. The implementation of AB 711 does not affect the laws regarding the existing nonlead “Condor Zone” where it remains illegal to hunt using lead ammunition.

Hunting is not allowed at all CDFW wildlife areas and ecological reserves. For those areas where hunting is allowed, nonlead ammunition will be required starting July 1, 2015. Hunters are reminded to be familiar with all hunting regulations before going into the field.

A list of CDFW wildlife areas and ecological reserves along with specific regulations for each can be found in the booklet, Hunting Regulations for Waterfowl, Upland Game and Department Lands Public Use at

Information on certified nonlead ammunition can be found

More information on the phase-out of lead ammunition for hunting in California can be found at

Drought’s Homicidal Ways Killing Trees

All Californians should be leery about conserving water as much as possible during the drought, but even the most conscious residents who hold off on watering lawns, washing cars or excessively long showers can’t stop carnage like this report:

But in California’s 33 million acres of forest, the starkest evidence of the drought’s toll is a brick-colored pine tree, its needles brittle and broken.

Each red tree is a dead tree. And drought-stricken California now has 12.5 million of them.

That’s according to a recent survey from the U.S. Forest Service, which examined more than 8.2 million acres of Californian forest last month and found dead trees on nearly 1 million of them as a result of the recent extreme weather — a swath of devastation about the size of Rhode Island.

“The national forest is stressed out,” William Patzert, a climatologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told the Los Angeles Times.

[Wild animals in drought-stricken Western states are dying for a drink]

The aerial survey used a digital mapping system to track the devastation in California’s many state and national forests, as well as some private land. The vast majority of dead trees were in the Sierra Nevada (home to Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks, among others), though about 15 percent of the trees were in forests in southern California.

“When you start thinking about what it takes for a tree, which is usually a fairly hearty type of plant to die off, it’s telling you a pretty clear signal of just how intense the drought has been,” Brian Fuchs, a climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center, told San Diego’s KPBS.

Lots of victims in this mess.






Pressure’s On Delta Smelt?

(USFWS/Peter Johnsen

(USFWS/Peter Johnsen


Everyone in California is trying to figure out how to solve the state’s water issues.

Perhaps the key is a tiny fish, the Delta smelt, which has been in the news lately.

Here’s Fox News weighing in:

Endangered since 1993, the plankton-eating silver minnow is blamed by farmers, lawmakers and water officials up and down the Golden State for locking down billions of gallons of water that otherwise would go to them. That’s because, since the smelt’s listing as a protected species, biologists have tried saving the fish, in part, by withholding fresh river runoff annually to maintain smelt-friendly temperature and salinity levels. 

Farmers and downstate cities — already suffering the effects of the drought — claim that water was allocated to them, and withholding it for a fish with no commercial purpose is bad policy.

“California fruits and vegetables are sent all over the world,” said Republican state Assemblyman Travis Allen. “When we are diverting our water to save a few pinky-size fish and leaving hundreds of thousands of acres fallow – there is something wrong with our priorities.”

But major farm organizations are exploring a new option in the increasingly contentious fight, as the fish population continues to plummet despite conservation efforts: Declare the species extinct, and delist it as an endangered species, thus allowing regulators to turn on the pumps that appear lethal to the tiny minnows.

The numbers suggest the delta smelt, indeed, could be wiped out soon anyway. 

 In a March 2012 trawl survey, wildlife officials found 296 fish. An identical sampling a month later found 143. But in April 2015, officials found a single fish, not enough to propagate the species. 

Ocean Restrictions Could Help Sac River Chinook Run

All the drought-related signs have pointed towards what could be a difficult spawning run for Northern California’s king salmon as they will begin their migration later this summer into the fall.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has created a contingency plan to help the winter run of Chinook from the Pacific into rivers like the Sacramento. Here’s the CDFW report:

Commercial salmon fisheries off most of California will open May 1, though seasons for both commercial and sport fisheries will be shorter in several areas this year.

The California Department of Wildlife (CDFW) and state fishing industry representatives of the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) worked together to recommend additional actions to protect endangered Sacramento River winter-run Chinook, which have been impacted by California’s severe drought.

“We needed to do more than what the bare minimum of the law required,” said Marci Yaremko, CDFW’s representative to the PFMC. “Methods used to forecast salmon stock abundance or run sizes don’t yet incorporate many of the environmental variables or other data streams we believe are indicative of poor salmon survival.”

The sport and commercial fishing seasons approved by the PFMC are expected to reduce impacts to winter-run Chinook to 17.5 percent, less than the maximum allowable impact rate of 19 percent prescribed by the National Marine Fisheries Service, pursuant to the Endangered Species Act. In recent years, federal guidance aimed at protecting winter-run Chinook from ocean fisheries has come largely in the form of this allowable rate cap. The rate limits the incidental harvest of winter-run Chinook, which co-occur in the ocean with other healthy salmon runs that fishermen are looking to target.

“Looking at the rate cap alone did not seem to be enough,” Yaremko said.

Earlier this year, CDFW scientists and managers examined data from dockside and at-sea fishery sampling programs to look for trends, with the goal of designing fishing seasons to avoid times and areas where contact with winter-run Chinook is most likely. During their time in the ocean, winter-run Chinook appear to be concentrated south of Pigeon Point, especially south of Point Sur, during the late summer and early fall. These analyses prompted CDFW to recommend shortened fishing seasons and size limit restrictions in some high-risk times and areas to the PFMC, in order to minimize  the chance of harvesting adult winter-run Chinook. The measures also are expected to reduce catch-and-release mortality of sub-adult fish, which become susceptible to fisheries in the fall.

“Throughout this process we have been concerned about the impacts of the drought, and in particular the effects the drought is having on our salmon stocks,” said Dan Wolford, President of the Coastside Fishing Club and the PFMC member representing California recreational fishing interests. “With the loss of the 2014 winter-run brood year it was apparent that we had to take extraordinary measures to help recover these fish.”

Commercial salmon trollers were also in support of reducing fishery impacts and were “prepared to follow CDFW’s recommendation of a maximum 17.9 percent impact rate for this year,” as stated by Dave Bitts, California commercial representative on the PFMC’s Salmon Advisory Subpanel and President of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations.

From Pigeon Point to Point Sur, the commercial season opens May 1 and runs through Aug. 15, which reduces fishing opportunity by approximately six weeks in August and September. From Point Sur to the U.S.-Mexico Border, the season is open May 1 through July 31, a reduction of almost nine weeks in August and September.

In the sport fishery from Pigeon Point to Point Sur, the season runs through Sept. 7, reducing fishing opportunity by approximately four weeks in September and October, while from Point Sur to the U.S.-Mexico Border, the sport fishery runs through July 19, reducing the season by approximately 11 weeks between July and October. The San Francisco (Point Arena to Pigeon Point) sport fishery closes at the end of October, reducing fishing opportunity by eight days in November in that area.

For complete ocean salmon regulations, please visit CDFW’s ocean salmon webpage at or call the Ocean Salmon Regulations Hotline at (707) 576-3429.


Commercial Sardine Fishing Shut Down


From the California Department of Fish and Wildlife:

All large-volume commercial sardine fishing in state and federal waters off California has been prohibited as of Tuesday, April 28, 2015. The closing will remain in effect until at least July 2016.

seine vessels

“This may be an end of an era, but fortunately, the tough management decisions were made several years ago,” noted Marci Yaremko, CDFW’s representative to the Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council), and fishery manager for coastal pelagic species, including sardines.

At its April 12 meeting, the Council recommended regulations that prohibit directed commercial fishing for Pacific sardine (Sardinops sagax) in California, Oregon and Washington for the upcoming fishing season, which would have begun July 1, 2015, and run through June 30, 2016. In light of revised stock biomass information and landings data for the current season, the Council also requested the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) close the fishery in the current season as quickly as possible. This closure takes effect today.

“The stock is in a state of decline, and now is too low to support large-scale fishing,” Yaremko explained. “Industry, government agencies and those looking out for non-consumptive interests have all worked together over the years to develop the harvest control rule we are using today, which defines when enough is enough.”

The Pacific sardine fishery in California was actively managed by the CDFW until 2000, when it was incorporated into the Council’s Coastal Pelagic Species Fishery Management Plan. Since then, the fishery has been actively co-managed by the Council, NMFS, CDFW and Oregon and Washington’s Fish and Wildlife agencies.

California’s historic sardine fishery began in the early 1900s, peaked in the late 1930s and then declined rapidly in the 1940s. A 20-year moratorium on the directed fishery was implemented in the late 1960s. In the 1990s, increased landings signaled the population’s recovery. Numbers have since dropped again, significantly.

The Pacific sardine fishery continues to be a significant part of California’s economy at times. At the recent fishery’s peak in 2007, 80,000 metric tons (mt) of Pacific sardine was landed resulting in an export value of more than $40 million. The majority of California commercial sardine landings occur in the ports of San Pedro/Terminal Island and Monterey/Moss Landing.

The Pacific sardine resource is assessed annually, and the status information is used by the Council during its annual management and quota setting process. The Council adopted the 2015 stock assessment, including the biomass projection of 96,688 mt, as the best available science. Current harvest control rules prohibit large-volume sardine fishing when the biomass falls below 150,000 mt. The Council recommended a seasonal catch limit that allows for only incidental commercial landings and fish caught as live bait or recreationally during the 2015-16 season.

The decrease in biomass has been attributed, in part, to changes in ocean temperatures, which has been negatively impacting the species’ production. While the estimated population size is relatively low, the stock is not considered to be overfished. The early closure of the 2014-15 fishing season and the prohibition of directed fishing during the 2015-16 season are intended to help prevent the stock from entering an overfished state.

“Hard-working fishermen take pride in the precautionary fishery management that’s been in place for more than a decade,” said Diane Pleschner-Steele, Executive Director of the California Wetfish Producers Association. “Thankfully the Pacific Fishery Management Council recognized the need to maintain a small harvest of sardines caught incidentally in other coastal pelagic fisheries. A total prohibition on sardine fishing would curtail California’s wetfish industry and seriously harm numerous harbors as well as the state’s fishing economy.”

Pacific sardine is considered to be an important forage fish in the Pacific Ocean ecosystem and is also utilized recreationally and for live bait in small volumes. CDFW protects this resource by being an active participant in this co-management process. CDFW has representatives on the Council’s advisory bodies, works closely with the industry to track Pacific sardine landings in California and runs a sampling program that collects biological information, such as size, sex and age of Pacific sardine and other coastal pelagic species that are landed in California’s ports. These landings and biological data are used by CDFW in monitoring efforts and are also used by NMFS in annual stock assessments.

For more information about Pacific sardine history, research and management in California, please visit CDFW’s Pacific sardine webpage at



CDFW Valor Awards For Officers


CDFW wildlife officer Kyle Kroll/CDFW

From the California Department of Fish and Wildlife:

Six wildlife officers from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) were awarded the California Medal of Valor, the state’s highest honor, at a ceremony today. The six are among 52 state employees receiving the medal for demonstrating extraordinary acts of bravery and heroism in order to save the life of another.

Governor Brown’s Executive Secretary Nancy McFadden presented the awards.

“All of our officers are trained and ready to take on any challenge while working in a remote county, on a river or the ocean or patrolling in an aircraft,” said CDFW Chief of Law Enforcement David Bess. “The officers whose actions are being recognized represent the integrity of the entire CDFW force and we are very proud of them.”

There are more than 400 wildlife officers responsible for protecting California’s natural resources, often working alone on nights, weekends and holidays. They face many challenges as they enforce the laws relating to fish, wildlife and habitat within the state and its offshore waters.

The following officers are being recognized:

Crew of the Patrol Boat Bluefin
On Feb. 10, 1996, while patrolling waters off the Santa Cruz coastline aboard the department’s 65-foot patrol boat Bluefin, Lt. Doug Huckins (now retired), Wildlife Officers Gary Combes and John Ewald and U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer First Class Richard King, overheard a radio call about a capsized boat in the area.

After a 15-minute dash to the scene, they found the white hull of an overturned boat in the surf line and several people in 50 degree water, including two surfers who had paddled out to assist the victims. The crew could see the surfers taking turns holding up four of the five victims. Both surfers and victims were nearing exhaustion and waving frantically for help in the 12-foot waves.

With no real training on how to affect a rescue of that nature within the surf zone, the entire crew risked themselves to save lives.

Huckins backed the Bluefin just off the surf line, while Combes and Ewald launched a rigid-hull-inflatable skiff. They maneuvered into the surf zone riding the backs of the swells, and managed to pluck three of the victims from the water. They rushed them back to the Bluefin before returning to locate the other victims, but none were found. Huckins and King recognized that all three victims were in advanced stages of hypothermia after having struggled in the frigid waters for almost 45 minutes, and got the men into the crew’s survival suits for added warmth. The men were then airlifted by helicopter to a nearby hospital.

The two surfers had managed to get one victim to shore, but sadly a fifth victim drowned.

The rescued victims later visited Huckins. One of them told of becoming so exhausted he could no longer stay afloat – he sank once, then fought his way to the surface for what he knew would be his last breath, and as he began to sink for the last time, a wildlife officer’s hand came “out of nowhere” and pulled him to safety.

Wildlife Officer Kyle Kroll
On June 17, 2011, Wildlife Officer Kyle Kroll was patrolling the North Fork of the Feather River when he heard a 911 call over the county fire department radio. A vehicle had gone over a ledge and into the Feather River. Kroll was only five miles away and the nearest other rescue personnel were 45 minutes away.

Kroll arrived on scene and saw the vehicle was off a steep embankment and resting precariously on a rock in a section of the river with dangerous rapids. A severely injured husband and wife occupied the vehicle. Kroll determined he could not risk moving either passenger as the weight shift would have caused the vehicle to slip into the river. Kroll provided first aid and relayed pertinent information to emergency responders who were still many critical minutes away.

Kroll then secured the damaged vehicle with a tow strap and chain from his truck. He carefully waded into the swiftly moving river and attached them to the front and rear axles of the car. Assisted by a PG&E worker, Kroll tied the strap and chain to a tree and a rock in order to stabilize the vehicle and prevent it from falling into the river.

Rescue personnel and California Highway Patrol officers then arrived on scene. Because of the continued risk of the vehicle falling into the river, they provided Kroll with another chain, and he again went under the car and attached it to the axle, then to a tree. Only after securing additional straps and cables could the team work to extract the victims from the car and get them to safety.

Lt. Tony Spada
On July 24, 2013, Lt. Tony Spada was off-duty, riding his mountain bike on the south side of Ash Slough in Madera County. A woman ran from the bushes alongside the slough shouting, “My baby was swept away, help me!” Despite the fact he had no rescue equipment available, not even a life jacket, Spada dropped his bike, surveyed the scene and dove into the slough. He swam with the current approximately 50 to 70 yards downstream where he found two small girls hanging onto a branch to keep from being swept under a section of the slough with dense vegetation. Spada swam to their location and found it too difficult to rescue both children at the same time.

He located a safe exit point on the opposite side of the slough. Taking the smallest girl first, he placed her arms around his neck and proceeded to swim her across the slough to safety. He exited the waters, ran up stream and dove back into the water to rescue the second child in the same way.

Spada escorted the children over to officers of the Chowchilla Police Department who were waiting nearby. Both girls were treated for a mild case of hypothermia and shock.

Without Spada’s heroic actions, there is no doubt these two young girls would have lost their lives.

Wildlife Officer Arthur Golden
On Oct. 12, 2012, Wildlife Officer Arthur Golden was driving home from training when he came upon a vehicle accident near Corcoran. A small pickup truck had gone off the road and down a steep embankment.

A bystander reported that the victim was pinned in the vehicle and not breathing. Golden quickly checked on the driver, then radioed for help at his vehicle and went back down the hill to the heavily damaged vehicle. Inside, the driver was unconscious and bleeding. The truck was perched precariously on a slope and ready to slide down, potentially rolling over.

Putting himself in great jeopardy, Golden reached through the smashed driver’s side window to assess the victim’s injuries and provide immediate medical care. While Golden was half-inside the truck, it slid several inches down the hillside. Golden pulled the driver toward him to relieve the pressure on the downside truck door and stabilize the vehicle from rolling over onto both of them.

Shortly after, local fire and rescue arrived and fully extracted the man from the vehicle and got him to safety.