Only about sixty days remain of our Winter, and this weekend is the first moisture we’ve seen since August of last year. We’ve had a few light sprinkles of a couple hours duration but nothing that hints of our historic norms.
The Sacramento River shows about 15 foot of bank, meaning both Shasta Lake and Oroville were deeply drawn down last summer to ship the water to Southern California and the Kern Water Bank, and “The Big Gamble”, hoping Winter would be wet enough to hide last year’s massive transfers has failed, with accusations of water-philandering making headlines and leaving Northern California cities parched and dry.
The Russian and American will be closed shortly, along with a dozen other coastal rivers. Folsom Lake has a mile of exposed bank you must traverse to get to the water’s edge, and sunken towns have emerged from the depths, and what few salmon spawned earlier in the year have had their redds trodden underfoot.
Remembering the drought of the Seventies has me scouting the odd water, staying away from natural watercourses and hiking along canals that move water south. I’m betting what little fishing is offered in my area will be in waters that convey liquid elsewhere, figuring tomatoes will get theirs before fish get more than a droplet.
It’s a dim view to be sure, but these are about to become exceptional times.
My memories are the season will be abbreviated and our options quite small. Those that backpack or camp will be reminded that drought is both the absence of water and the threat of fire. The Park Service and US Forest Service will likely implement restrictions of fires in the back country; no open fire pits, exposed flames, and gas stoves only, followed by a full prohibition and closure if the fire danger becomes extreme.
Boat launching will be nearly impossible given the many hundreds of yards the ramps will be from the water’s edge, and anyone with more than fifty pounds of boat or gear will be changing their plans if they forget to call in advance for conditions.
All the Big Bugs that fly fishermen lust over will have hatched before Opening Day, and anything past May will fish like August – a bit of morning and evening activity with stressed and lethargic fish for the balance of the day.
But it’s not all bad. You’ll have a once in a lifetime opportunity to map the contours of your favorite lakes, and armed with a good camera and a GPS unit you can mark brush piles, old streambeds, rocky points, sunken cars, and everything else that offers cover and shade.
More importantly is the Pirate’s Treasure of Kastmasters, Mepps Black Furies, Anglia Minnows, Super-Dupers, and the acres of rapidly oxidizing purple worms available, punctuated by weights and jig heads beyond counting.
While some out of the way timber may resemble Christmas trees with their dangling monofilament and gaily colored Rat-L-Traps, the truly big scores come from a source not so obvious to the opportunistic angler. Wander the high traffic shoreline alert for tree stumps within casting range or parking lots and fishing piers.
Anglers will reel their rig back towards the shore snagging the far side of the stump. The lure remains firmly attached until the hook rusts and the lure body falls to the base of the stump. Years of sediment and algae will hide the trove under now-dry dirt, when disturbed, will yield dozens of lures from the same mound.
Armed with a box of small kirbed single hooks, snap rings and silver polish and you’ll be able to refurbish everything you find back to original factory gleam. Once refurbished they can be used lessen the pain of a family outing, as sharp hooks in unfamiliar (small) hands can place considerable strain on Poppa’s wallet.