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Sierra Snowpack Hits Historically New Low

Photo by Chris Cocoles

Photo by Chris Cocoles


Newsweek provided this rather depressing story about the historically low Sierra snowpack.

From the magazine:

In April this year, the annual measurement of the Sierra Nevada mountains’ snowpack in California brought startling results: There was no snow at all. For nearly three-quarters of a century, the average depth of snow in the measurement spot at Phillips Station, about 90 miles east of Sacramento, had been 66.5 inches. A new report published online Monday in Nature Climate Change finds that the snowpack level in 2015 was the lowest in five centuries.

“Our study really points to the extreme character of the 2014-15 winter. This is not just unprecedented over 80 years—it’s unprecedented over 500 years,” Valerie Trouet, an associate professor of dendrochronology at the University of Arizona’s Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research, says in the university’s press release.

The snowpack, which is usually at its peak at the start of April, is an accumulation of winter precipitation that slowly melts during warmer months to replenish streams, lakes, groundwater and reservoirs. According to the University of Arizona report, California gets 80 percent of its precipitation during the winter, and the snowpack accounts for 30 percent of its water supply.

“Snow is a natural storage system,” Trouet said. “In a summer-dry climate such as California, it’s important that you can store water and access it in the summer when there’s no precipitation.” This year’s low was the result of scant winter precipitation and high temperatures between January and March. The drought that began in California in 2012 has been called the worst in over a millennium, and researchers have predicted that the future holds even more severe “megadroughts.”

That’s a very sobering thought.

More Wildfires Terrorizing Northern California




Wildfire season is far from over, unfortunately. Drought-stricken California continues to take a beating, including devastating blazes in Napa County and the Sierras.

From the Asscociated Press:

A second massive blaze, less than 200 miles away, destroyed 135 homes as it spread through Amador and Calaveras counties in the Sierra Nevada. That fire was 30 percent contained.

Both fires have displaced 23,000 people, Mark Ghilarducci, director of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, said at a news conference Monday. He says one person died in the wildfire about 20 miles north of the famed Napa Valley, and others are unaccounted for, but didn’t have further details.

The fire exploded in size within hours as it chewed through brush and trees parched from four years of drought, destroying 400 homes, two apartment complexes and 10 businesses since igniting Saturday, Cal Fire spokeswoman Lynn Valentine said. By Monday morning, crews had gained 5 percent containment of the 95-square-mile blaze.

Residents fled from Middletown, a town of more than 1,000 residents, dodging smoldering telephone poles, downed power lines and fallen trees as they drove through billowing smoke. Several hundred people spent Sunday night at the Napa County Fairgrounds and awoke to a breakfast of eggs, bacon, and doughnuts.

Evacuees milled around eating, picking up donated clothing and walking their dogs. Nancy O’Byrne, 57, was evacuated from her home in Middletown, but it’s still standing.

“I am very, very, very lucky. I have my house,” she said, her dog Nellie at her side. …

East of Fresno, the largest wildfire in the state continued to march away from the Sierra Nevada’s Giant Sequoia trees, some of which are 3,000 years old, fire spokesman Dave Schmitt said. The fire, which was sparked by lightning on July 31, has charred 211 square miles and was 36 percent contained Sunday, the U.S. Forest Service said.






Klamath Spit Salmon Fishing Winding Down

Photo by Green Water Fishing Adventures

Photo by Green Water Fishing Adventures

Northern California’s Klamath Spit fishing will soon be shut down for salmon as the quota nears .

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

Anglers have only a few more days to fish for salmon in a popular Humboldt County spot before it closes for the season. Klamath River anglers will have caught their sub-quota of 2,120 adult fall-run Chinook below the Highway 101 bridge by sundown Tuesday, Sept. 15, closing the spit (within 100 yards of the channel through the sand spit formed at the Klamath River mouth) to fishing one hour after dark.

Only the mouth of the river is affected by this closure. Fishing downstream of the Highway 101 Bridge in the estuary will be unaffected until the lower river quota of 7,067 adult fall-run Chinook over 22 inches is met. Once that number is met, anglers will still be able to fish but will have to release any Chinook over 22 inches. The lower Klamath River tally is currently at 2,687 salmon caught.

The Klamath River above the confluence with the Trinity River will remain open until 2,403 adult Chinook are caught.

The quota on the Trinity River is 2,332 adult Chinook from the confluence with the Klamath River up to Cedar Flat, and 2,332 adult Chinook from Cedar Flat up to the Old Lewiston Bridge.

Anglers may keep track of the status of open and closed sections of the Klamath and Trinity rivers by calling 1 (800) 564-6479.


Tragic American River Hatchery Trout Die-Off

American River Hatchery suffered a die-off about 155,000 trout. (CDFW)

American River Hatchery suffered a die-off about 155,000 trout. (CDFW)

Tragedy at the American River Hatchery: warm water temperatures caused by a failed cooling system killed more than 150,000 hatchery trout.

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

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is working to keep hundreds of thousands of trout alive at the American River Hatchery after warm water temperatures killed approximately 155,000 trout Tuesday.

A chiller that cools water at the hatchery about 18 miles east of Sacramento unexpectedly failed Tuesday, and warm temperatures killed most of the Eagle Lake species of trout being raised at the hatchery. Failure of the hatchery equipment may be related to work by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which owns the hatchery, but the exact cause is not clear and is under investigation. Hatchery staff is working to get a least one chiller working again, which could drop the water temperature – now approximately 70 degrees Fahrenheit – by five degrees, enough to help sustain the remaining trout in the hatchery.

Additional losses are expected because of stress to the fish and continuing elevated water temperatures.

Loss estimates as of Sept. 9, by species:

  • 155,000 of the 199,313 (78%) of Eagle Lake trout
  • 300 of the 61,839 (0.5%) of Shasta trout
  • Five of the 230,000 Lahontan cutthroat trout

Though this fish kill means that CDFW likely will not be able to stock streams and lakes at an ideal level in the Sacramento region next year, all trout at the American River Hatchery were not lost. CDFW will seek ways to supplement the trout produced at its hatcheries to increase angling opportunities next year.

Rough Fire Burns Sierra, Creates Unhealthy Air Quality

Image courtesy of NASA

Rough Fire location; Image courtesy of NASA

California is undergoing a pretty wicked heat wave this week (I just got back from the Bay Area, when even normally mild San Francisco was pushing 90 degrees), and the Rough Fire that’s burning around Kings Canyon National Park is creating quite unhealthy air in the already blazing hot San Joaquin Valley.  The fire had been threatening to reach 100,000 burned acres, so smoke that’s headed to the valley floor will affect some people around Fresno/Clovis and Visalia.

From the Fresno Bee:

Air quality authorities advised people to stay inside if they smelled smoke – a scent Clovis residents awakened to this past weekend holiday and at the start of the work week.

Soot levels from the Rough fire increased to dangerous levels in Clovis, where the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District has a monitor to track pollution levels.

The pollution, known as PM-2.5, is particularly harmful to children, the elderly and people with lung or heart problems. The spike in Clovis was considered to be harmful even for healthy people.

“We were lucky most of the summer because wind conditions prevented this kind of spike,” said Seyed Sadredin, executive director of the air pollution control district. “But that has changed. People need to take protective measures.”

Clovis Unified School District said that recesses at all schools were canceled, as well as physical education classes and outdoor activities.

“We will continue to monitor the situation and adjust activities accordingly throughout the week,” said district spokeswoman Kelly Avants.

Clovis Unified athletic directors were monitoring air quality and giving students water breaks every 10 minutes, athletic directors said.

Sierra Unified School District, based in Auberry, took similar protective action.

Janelle Mehling, assistant superintendent of business services, said the smoke “looks like fog.”



Feather River Hatchery Fish Ladder Set To Open

The Feather River Hatchery's fish ladder will open on Monday with salmon heading upstream to spawn. (CDFW)

The Feather River Hatchery’s fish ladder will open on Monday with salmon heading upstream to spawn. (CDFW)


From the California Department of Fish and Wildlife:

The fish ladder at Feather River Hatchery in Oroville will open Monday, Sept. 14, signaling the start of the spawning season on the Feather River. California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) hatchery workers will open the gates in the ladder about 8 a.m. and will take more than 3 million spring-run eggs and 12 million fall-run eggs over the next two months in order to produce Chinook salmon for release next spring.

Visitors can observe the salmon through the viewing windows and from the observation deck located at the base of the fish barrier dam. At the main side of the hatchery, visitors can observe CDFW technicians performing the spawning process. Thousands of school children tour the Feather River Hatchery each year. For more information about spawning schedules and educational opportunities at the Feather River Hatchery, please call (530) 538-2222.  For information about hatchery tours, please call (530) 534-2306.

There are eight state-run salmon and steelhead hatcheries, all of which will participate in the salmon spawning effort. Those hatcheries, along with federally run hatcheries, will be responsible for the release of 40 million juvenile salmon into California waters. These massive spawning efforts were put in place over the last 50 years to offset fish losses caused by dams that block salmon from historic spawning habitat.

Once the young salmon reach 2 to 4 inches in length, 100 percent of the spring-run stock and 25 percent of the fall-run stock will be adipose fin clipped and implanted with coded wire tags prior to release. CDFW biologists use the information from the tags to chart the survival, catch and return rates of the fish.

For more information about California’s fish hatcheries, please visitwww.wildlife.ca.gov/fishing/hatcheries.



Huge Caples Lake ‘Bow Landed

Leonard Martin with a huge rainbow caught on Labor Day weekend. (CAPLES LAKE RESORT)

Leonard Martin with a huge rainbow caught on Labor Day weekend. (CAPLES LAKE RESORT)


Our friends at Caples Lake Resort sent us this photo and update:

Wow…this 7-pound, 25-inch trophy rainbow trout was caught in a kayak on September 6, 2015. Leonard Martin from Caldwell Banker in Sonora used a water bobber and threaded night crawler with a marshmallow near the Caples Lake Dam.

Fishing is definitely picking up here at Caples Lake Resort. Lots of nice rainbows were caught last week, and a 2,000-pound trophy and catchable rainbow Trout fish plant on Friday, August 28, courtesy of the Kirkwood Meadows PUD (KMPUD) and El Dorado Irrigation District (EID).

We still have good availability in our cabins and lodge rooms into November and our store/marina is open daily 8 a.m.5 p.m. Come on up and enjoy the great fall weather and good fishing at Caples Lake Resort.





Have Spear Will Travel





The following story currently appears in the September issue of California Sportsman:

CS Cover (1)

By Chris Cocoles

She’s so comfortable – if not at home – in the water now, it’s hard to believe Valentine Thomas once almost drowned in it.

Of course, that was a half a lifetime ago, when this spearfishing maven from London via Canada was vacationing seaside with her family in the south of France. Just 14, Thomas got caught in an undertow – not far from the shore, but far enough for a harrowing few seconds.

“I was caught by the underwater currents. The current had suddenly changed and I remember sticking my head up and there was nobody in the water,” says Thomas, now 28. “I just thought, ‘What the hell is happening?’ I was trying to swim and I could not swim anywhere. I was about 2 meters (about 6½ feet) away from the shore and somehow I got dragged to the bottom. I remember at one point saying to myself, ‘I can’t fight this anymore.’ Finally, a lifeguard managed to fish me out of the water. It was pretty intense.”

The irony is that you can now mostly find this former London hedge fund capital businesswoman underwater with speargun in hand. She not only learned how to freedive, but her top passion is spearfishing whenever she has the time to get out of London and hit exotic locales like Corsica, Greece, South Africa and Zanzibar. In 2013, she established a spearfishing world record for a 25.4-pound Atlantic jack caught off far-flung Ascension Island in the south Atlantic Ocean.

And she hopes to make spearfishing a career and someday host her own TV show to educate audiences about dismissing gender bias and the importance of sustainable eating of harvested fish.

“I would show that if I can do it, anyone can,” she says.

We chatted with Thomas from her home base in London about conquering her fear of water and falling in love with the sea.

Editor's note

Chris Cocoles How did you get involved in spearfishing?

Valentine Thomas It started about five years ago. I had a friend who was doing a freediving course (that Thomas also completed), and after that he and his friend were planning a fishing trip (to Ascension Island, a 34-square-mile piece of volcanic rock with 880 inhabitants between South America and Africa) and asked me if I wanted to tag along. It was quite a unique trip. And I fell in love completely with the sport. My first fish (a black jack) weighed 12 kilos (about 26 pounds), and I thought, “OK – I think I’m going to enjoy this trip.”

CC You also had a mishap in the water that trip, right? Did you have fear going in for the first time?

VT To be honest, I was petrified. I was looking in the water and thinking, “There’s no way I’m jumping in that water.” We’re like 5 miles from the (shore) and it’s raining. The sea was looking pitch black and there was no way I could do this. My friend said, “No, it’s fine.” They went in the water first and they were showing me that everything was going to be OK. And they were right, in a way, in that as soon as I hit the water, everything lit up. You can see everything underwater so clearly. And I thought it was so incredible. But I (got caught in the current) and was completely freaking out. The current was picking up and a guy was really struggling to swim back to the boat. He said he was going to fix the boat and he’d be back. So I was like, “OK; I’ll wait here, I guess.” And he ended up leaving me for like 40 minutes and he was still not back. So I was freaking out a little bit. And my buddy – I couldn’t find him, either. So I was in a complete panic.

CC After your traumatic experience as a teenager in France, were you terrified when you first went in the water after that first spearfishing trip and being left alone for a long time? Was that a psychological barrier?

VT It was a really big step for me to get back in the water and to be comfortable with it. It took me a long time to get over that (near drowning in France). I didn’t want to go swimming other than in Caribbean-type, flat, boring water. Anything else I was like, “No, thank you.”

Spearfishing 8

CC So when you made it back to the boat at Ascension Island, were you thinking, “I’m never going to do this again,” or was it “This is exciting?”

VT I was still really excited, but at the time, I was a little bit nervous. For about two years, whenever I’d go out I’d have a line in the water and the other end on the boat to make sure nothing went wrong. I always had to make sure the boat was close to me; otherwise, at that time, I just couldn’t really do it.

CC I know your dad was a sailor and influenced you, but were you an outdoorsy person growing up in Montreal?

VT My dad used to build boats himself when he was in his early 20s, so I took a lot from him. My parents had a place in the countryside near Montreal, so we’d spend our weekends in the outdoors and have fun in the woods, basically. So I’ve been quite used to being outside and obviously I liked it.

CC Did you do any ice fishing in Quebec in the winter?

VT I never tried ice fishing. I’m a very, very cold person who is always freezing [laughs]. So I tend to stay away from the cold.

Spearfishing 3

CC When did you finally get comfortable in the water?

VT (It was) My biggest obstacle. That’s what took me the longest time. After that, the more you’re in the water, the more you can get close to the fish easier; how to act and how to behave next to them. Then you can learn the best way to hunt them.

It took me a long time –probably two or three years – to be able to finally not have to glance back at the boat every two minutes. I no longer had to check to see if the shore was too far away. But when you do something like blue water hunting (diving for fish in the open ocean), you’re 5 or 6 miles away from the shore. There’s no one else around you. Sometimes the water can be 200 meters (about 650 feet) deep under you. So you need to be calm and get used to it. I think the instinct is you’re going to feel like the prey because you think about sharks. So I learned that you have to transform your mind and make yourself into the hunter.



CC You’ve met some great people along the way. Did they also help you evolve in the sport?

VT By traveling to different locations all the time and meeting so many people, these are people who have been doing this as part of their lifestyle. That’s why when people ask me if I have a mentor, I don’t have one mentor because the fishing is so different in different locations. Everybody (I’ve encountered) has different expertise. So I’ve tried to pick a little bit of knowledge of people from around the world.

CC It must have been a cultural experience for you as well.

VT Exactly. I’ve had a chance to travel a lot and in various locations, and I’ve had a chance to have quite a global experience enjoying the sport. I think that’s part of what I love about it, too, is you go fishing somewhere or you get invited – sometimes by people I’ve never met before. They take me fishing on their boat and I live with their families and in their house; I eat dinner with their kids and I get to meet their friends. I get to be a part of their culture as well. So you really immerse yourself into a different world when you’re traveling. That’s what makes it absolutely beautiful.

Spearfishing 6

CC Can you share a couple of memorable experiences in the water? You swam with sharks (off Durban, South Africa), which had to be a major adrenaline rush.

VT That was one of the most exciting and fearful moments of my life. First off, we were in the boat and you could see them on top of the water – the dorsal fins would break the surface. The (divers) told me I had to jump in and I said, “Do I? OK, fine.” I waited for my friend to get in the water first, but I did it. When I jumped in, there were sharks everywhere; there had to have been 20 or 30 sharks surrounding us. It was quite interesting. And I couldn’t stop staring. Maybe after about two minutes a shark came really close – almost nose to nose with me. I backed up, which is something you never do because you’re acting like the prey. So they told me to go toward them, which is easy to say but a little bit harder to do. Later, I was going back down and wasn’t sure where I was looking. I did a head-to-head with a shark, and he went one way and I went the other. We both looked at each other and were scared to death. But I don’t think he was as scared as I was. But when I got out of the water, I told my friend this was probably the best day of my life.

CC How have you handled the derogatory responses you’ve received through your Instagram and Facebook pages, and from the media coverage that jumped on the train this year? Is it just the reality of where we are that you’re treated so much differently than men in your sport?

VT It’s a double-edged sword. In some ways it’s a big advantage to be a woman. Most of the people would have not talked about me and what I was doing if I’d been a man. So I get the attention, even though sometimes it’s been negative and others positive. This has given me publicity and some attention from TV producers to maybe achieve my dream sometime. It really works in my favor. And I would say that 90 percent of the feedback I’ve received has been positive, which is quite surprising. I think a woman who hunts on land, she’s going to get trashed at 95 percent. People seem to have different eyes when it comes to fish.


CC Earlier this summer you posted a passionate Instagram message about the killing of “Cecil” the lion in Africa, citing so many other instances of animal cruelty that generally go undetected. Was it important to stand by your principles, knowing you were going to be criticized?

VT I know my post was a little bit too emotional. But for me, it was just so frustrating knowing that the entire world is eating burgers and steaks and they’re crying for one lion. It’s so absurd.

CC Are there places you are eager to visit and fish?

VT Madagascar for sure I want to try. Australia I’m undecided about because there are so many great whites. And I really want to go to Mexico.

CC Have you been to California?

VT I went to Southern California with my sister once, but I didn’t get to do any fishing. I think the water is pretty cold and not too clear. Murky water means there’s a bigger chance to run into sharks. But I’ve heard it’s a little warmer and clearer around San Diego. But I definitely (wouldn’t mind living there), as I’m ready to start thinking about moving away from London. I can’t take this rainy, horrible weather for too much longer. CS

Editor’s note: For more on Valentine Thomas, follow her on Instagram (@valentinethomas) and Facebook (facebook.com/valentine.tb).


Spearfishing sidebar



“Do it all, eat it all.” So says one of Valentine Thomas’ Instagram (@valentinethomas) captions as she fillets a fish on a tropical beach.

Some of her noteworthy hashtags include #catchyourownfood; #doitall and #useitall; #sustainableeating; and #eatwhatyoukill.

“It’s very important to me,” Thomas says of and not wasting what she harvests with her speargun. “Cooking is one of my passions and one reason why I fell in love with fishing. There’s something about cooking food that’s as fresh as it could be. Cooking is as big a part of the sport as (catching). I gut it, I fillet it and I do everything myself. It’s by far one of my favorite things in the world to do.”

Thomas’ passion for using a speargun underwater to catch her dinner was bound to create a stir on social media, where she endures online salvoes that accuse her of being a “killer.” Sometimes, though, Thomas will receive an actual poignant query from a follower who may disagree or, at worst, doesn’t understand what she does.

“Someone on Facebook – a complete stranger – sent me a message. And he asked me a question that made me sit down and think,” Thomas says. “He asked me, ‘Do you enjoy the killing part?’ That’s a really good question, and I was thinking, ‘No, I actually don’t like the killing; I feel quite sad about it. You feel compassion. I love this sport because spearfishing is about everything that’s surrounding you; you’re surrounded by unusual things. It makes you feel so vulnerable. It’s not something that should delight you. It’s actually very haunting.”

The bottom line for Thomas is this: “I’m trying to catch my dinner.”

And other people’s dinners. On a trip to South Africa, Thomas and her party made sure to get some extra fish to distribute to needy families in impoverished areas. In July, she did something similar when she fished on Zanzibar, a tropical island off the coast of Tanzania. Thomas understands that Instagram and Facebook commenting is less about common sense and genuine opposition and more a forum for knee-jerk reactions and hot takes. Some of the hate was so misdirected it was bordering on lunacy, such as accusations that Thomas’ boyfriend was doing the shooting (spoiler alert: he’s never gone spearfishing with her).

“If you want to talk the good about or the bad about it – I don’t care; just talk about it,” she says. “At least they’re having the discussion and making themselves think about where our food comes from.”

For Thomas, that food comes from the sea and she is comfortable doing the ocean-to-kitchen-to-table process.

“My favorite dish that I cook with fish is very basic, but it’s heavenly: a fish burger!” she says. “I love to use healthy bread, ‘rocket’ bread (a European-style loaf), and a homemade tartar sauce, especially since I cut off meat (nonfish),” Thomas says. “It’s my kind of ‘My life can be awesome too without meat’ dish.’”

Water Temps Cooling Down At Lake Del Valle

Jesse and Gabriel Lujan caught a nice catfish and striper at Lake Del Valle.

Jesse and Gabriel Lujan caught a nice catfish and striper at Lake Del Valle.

Ray Benavidez and Mark Gutierrez with a big stringer of catfish.

Ray Benavidez and Mark Gutierrez with a big stringer of catfish.

Young Sophia shows off a Lake Del Valle catfish.

Young Sophia shows off a Lake Del Valle catfish.

From Dan Hollis at Lake Del Valle in Livermore:
 A nice cooldown the last couple days has been enjoyable.  Yesterday’s high was 77 degrees then it dropped to 43 degrees last night.  Water temperatures are still in the high 70s which is allowing the stripers and the catfish to stay aggressive.  They are still eating cut baits like anchovies, sardines and mackerel and some really active cats are hunting down lures.  Last night at 7:45 p.m. I had a 10-pound cat slam my chatter bait that I was jigging with.  Another fishermen caught a nice cat on a trout spinner this week. 
Striped Bass are starting to slow down on the boils and we are seeing more isolated blow ups all around the lake.  The stripes are still chasing shad, jerk baits are becoming more effective than top water baits. 
     Don’t forget that Saturday is free fishing day and adults do not need a fishing license or a daily permit.  We only get a few of these days a year so don’t miss out!  The winds are back since the cool down and the evenings are a windy war zone for fishermen.  Not only has the wind been blowing fishermen around and out of their fishing holes, it has also been a very cold wind so if you don’t have a sweater or jacket you probably wont be out in it that long. 
Good luck everyone now go rip some lips and have a great Labor Day weekend!
For more Lake Del Valle, call (925) 449-5201 or go to rockymountainrec.com/lakes/lake-delvalle.htm.