Category Archives: environment

The Brass lining of what is likely be a journal of a drought year

snagged_lureWe had a brief taste in the Seventies where the drought became so all encompassing as to draw a halt to most outdoor pursuits, and 2014 is looking dire for California anglers.

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.

The lack of water allowing us to see clearly

Outside of amusement for me, the purpose of all these unloved and untrammelled canals is to move water away from its natural drainage and force it into the dry portions of the Central Valley floor. With California’s lust for water intensive crops like rice and tomatoes, nearly every rivulet draining the coast range has been rerouted and reused many times over.

… which explains its gray-brown opaqueness.

Yet with the past couple of posts and the research we’ve undertaken on fish behavior and senses, there is still a bit more we can learn from our adversary that may maximize our ability to fish this unloved taint.

There are two basic types of waterways on the valley floor, man-made and “man-enhanced.”

“Man-Made” is self explanatory, someone takes a backhoe through the rich loam and flushes water through the scratch that results. “Man-enhanced” being something that started naturally, like a drainage or depression, and was augmented by a back hoe to make a larger waterway capable of greater capacity.

Some are lined with plastic membrane and the rest are not. The plastic prevents absorption of the water as it travels, and assists in slowing the gradual collapse of the banks into the main channel. This being a land without rock, nothing holds its shape for long.

Both types require periodic dredging to remain useful, the difference being the duration between backhoe visitations.

Unlined_Ditch430

The above is an unlined trench. Note the flat and featureless bottom. The cement structure drains the canal back into the owning waterway, whereas the dry fork leads to the golf course further downstream.

Examining the bank in the above photo we can see that the water level never exceeds 18” – which is the distance up the sides the water has scrubbed the ground clean of foliage. If we were looking into the water from the bank above we’d be unable to tell how deep it was, and therefore might spend time fishing it thinking it deep enough to support fish.

I had reconnoitered this structure before thinking it might also serve as a natural Crayfish trap once the summer flows recede, but the few claws that I found suggested the surrounding shallow water is essentially lifeless.

Lined_Mud430

Another shot further upstream. A featureless flat mud bottom that is slowly filling in with bank erosion and the sediment burden the water carries.

SixInch_Ditch430

This small ditch is about 12 feet wide and at the moment is about 6 inches deep. It’s about half the size of our golf course trench above, is about the same depth when full, yet is home to fish in the 15” –16” inch range.

… that’s visually confirmed fish, including two corpses in the weed pile removed from the grating below. Naturally they’re fish that you’d as soon drive past enroute to someplace cleaner, but “cleaner” is closed until April, and this is free and will keep you false casts and wind knots year round.

I’m standing where the water is pulled into a wastewater treatment facility, so the source of why fish live here is obviously at the other end. The Sacramento river is the closest natural waterway, and about three miles distant, and if the two connect that would be the source of my fish.

In between waiting on the UPS driver for the odds and ends I’ve ordered to properly exploit the watershed, I’ll focus on what tidbits of knowledge I’ve gleaned …

The water is shallow and the bottom is muddy and flat.

Any cover that holds fish will be organic and likely visible from above, as constant dredging removes anything more substantial.

Flies should be lightly weighted and should vibrate or rattle when pulled through the water …

… and scent is a plus yet not a priority.

My quarry is likely anything wearing feelers, as well as the omnivores like Suckers and Pikeminnow, things that grow big on brown water food groups, decayed goat, Lawnmower and the occasional mayfly.

Why you’re a prick if you fish a Copper John

Considering that Science is a stale read, I livened up my research by poring over pages of BASS forum datum, searching for “cable guy” wisdom on the use of scent on baits.

BASS fiends are more fun than fly fishermen, but only because they have so many more hang-ups (and such thin skins) …

Mention to a fly fisherman that he “coaches soccer,” and you get that screwed up face suggesting the joke was lost on him, whereas the bass crowd is already climbing over the bar intent on your arse …

In short, science suggests scent in fish is somewhat synonymous with taste, and it makes perfect sense. In humans scent is particulate matter mixed with air, and taste is particulate matter dissolved in spittle. Each sense being chemically discrete and can be experienced without the data intruding from one to the other.

Fish “smell” particles dissolved in water and their “taste” is the same medium, so the two senses have overlap.

The physics of water and scent is reasonably obvious. The rush of water downstream carries scent and forms a plume from the source of the dissolved solid. Lake water has much less of a current and therefore the scent area is a slowly widening circle from the source of the particulate.

current_scent

Naturally my slow moving ditch water has neither appreciable current nor is it completely stagnant, so the chemical trail of any bait tossed within its banks will be slow in spreading.

That’s the good news.

Science drops the bombshell by suggesting polluted waters affect smell drastically, and even fish exposed in migration can suffer many weeks of scent impairment. Among the most drastic pollutants are metals, heavy or otherwise.

The worst of the worst being copper, which should send a cold chill up any fisherman’s spine …

Copper is most frequently deployed as an algaecide or fungicide. Significant amounts of copper in the water column result from farm field runoff from crops that are water intensive like rice or tomatoes.

As we’re discussing those drainage ditches that bisect California’s Central Valley, we know that copper is deployed wherever there is rice fields, which comprises about half the state.

Naturally its the Northern half – which means all that copper is in the Sacramento, and pushed down to Southern California via the aqueduct, and spat into San Francisco Bay after permeating the Delta.

Copper is apparently linked to the decline of California’s Coho salmon population given its ability to destroy taste and smell in salmonids, making them unable to detect waterborne predators like Pike minnow, Otters, and everything else the southern water districts conjure up as a Jihadist of salmon.

So while you’re buying all that antimony because you can no longer bear to throw lead into the creek, consider your use of copper wire ribbing and how many fish are bumping into things because of your errant back casts and the rusting Copper John’s left in your wake.

Even worse is how Copper is being used to mitigate Didymo … and in so doing, will play havoc on everything downstream.

The Bass crowd are adamant on the merits of Anise, Garlic, Eau D’ Earthworm, Shrimp, Shad, Herring, and Crawfish. Naturally, they don’t spend a lot of time offering science to back up their assertion that Bass adore Garlic, but they can claim it makes their own hammy hands smell less like human.

… and fish hate human … along with tobacco, urine, bubblegum and a smoking fry pan …

In short, scent is among the senses used to detect prey, as bugs and minnows, crayfish and frogs, all have a chemical plume downstream of them, assisting a fish in opaque water to located them by following that plume upstream to its source.

Polluted water means fish can smell less, but as murk water is a fly fisherman’s Achilles Heel, cannot be ignored as a source of attraction.

Bass anglers mention that both aerosol and liquid scents seem to wash off faster than the “sticky jelly” variant, so it sounds like we’ll be getting our hands dirty …

And the Angel on the left shoulder said …

I always wondered what the connection was between my “Gasoline Leech” and the brown water environment. I’ve not thumbed my nose at my quarry for exploiting their obvious weakness – rather I’ve just assumed it was a bit of good fortune that the plastic beads rolled off the table into the bag of Olive marabou.

Blink. Light bulb.

Naturally the fly fisherman in me suggested my creation the product of profound knowledge and artistic genius. My insight into the tainted watershed about me, the creatures that call it home, and the things found dripping into or oozing out of – rolled into a single creative whirlwind of fish death …

… but the scientist in me suggested there was not enough data to assume any connection between the gawky beaded mess and the fish that eat it, and a carrot stick trundled through the pool would have as much impact if twitched fetchingly …

All living things seek pleasure and avoid pain,” being the scientific rationale why the former is more palatable than the latter. Despite the absence of an impartial third party I was all set to fit that olive wreath to my brow …

Olive_Marabou_Works400

… when “Chumley” barfed lunch into my hand …

The fly fisherman in me exclaimed, “I’ve seen that before on the Upper Pit River, when the trout root in the vegetation for Ephemera SmallishKindaBrownia … Your Prescience has extended that cold-water treatise to the present odiferous watershed.”

The internal scientist suggested I was an egoist and hadn’t had an original thought in months. After being pickled in agricultural chemicals and estrogen, bugs taste about as “buglike” as a McNugget resembles chicken, and any fish with brains goes Vegan …

Blink. Light bulb. Fillet this one … it may be the final indignity.

If you peed enough Bacon would trout want a pork chop?

wastwater3It started with the discovery that hot flashes and night sweats lead to wastewater rich in estrogen and other hormones, making everything downstream of our treatment facilities female and completely irrational near a shoe sale.

Now our worst fears are becoming scientific certainty, anything we eat, drink, and pizzle, dips our watersheds and its many residents in a chemical cocktail of human excesses.

That which is excreted by us is swallowed by them. “Them” being fish both common and noble, insects, tadpoles, frogs, newts, and anything else that buries a muzzle in the creek to drink.

As anglers we’ve limited our outdoor competencies to the lifecycles of fish and insects. Entomology is used as the only device to explain both angling phenomena and our good fortune. Everything else, the lack of fish, the presence of Didymo, the absence of trash, the color of the water, its opacity, are all Mysteries of Nature – marginally understood and endured as part of the outdoor discipline.

Bugs and fish alone can’t explain much of what we witness, yet we use them as the “Lee Harvey Oswald” of angling; the guy they caught and hung, and chemically charged sewage ripples through our watershed undetected like a sniper cloaked by the shrubbery of the grassy knoll.

If the essence of everything we eat and drink are marinating fish, the difference is our visual recognition of them as food and conscious choice. We knew what the chili-cheese fries will do to our colon and eat them despite the pleas of the medical profession. Fish are not so lucky, they enjoy the same clogged artery endorphins we’ve released upon completing our sodden meal, but lack any knowledge of the source of this obscene pleasure.

If our excreted chemicals are part of the watershed then its residents are filled with unexplained cravings, unfulfilled deep-seated needs, and both fish and insects hunt for oddities they’ve inhaled but never seen, hoping it’s a Caramel Macchiato, cheese burger, or nicotine-rich cigar butt.

While afield we’ve seen countless fish dart from cover to inhale some current-borne morsel and being dependent on bugs science have assumed it to be a tumbling mayfly or caddis that caused this feeding behavior. Not surprisingly fish behavior has always been attributed to bug theory, and the reality may be our incessant pizzle of hormones have given them all seven cardinal sins; wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony, and the real motivations are akin to our own.

Flick, Schweibert, Swisher & Richards, all join a Human history full of ardent prophets whose outlandish theories were proven wrong after they were burnt at the stake.

Now that our sport struggles to free itself from its classical roots, and real scientists struggle with the role of human diseases, sexual aids, and dietary shortcomings as they pour into our watersheds – it may be time to rethink our dependence on bug-minnow imitations and upgrade our selection to include flavored and scented patterns that imitate the chemical essence of an Egg McMuffin.

Now that artificial sweeteners coat our stream bottoms and antibacterial soaps are denuding our watersheds of life-giving algae, it’s becoming obvious that the next century of anglers will be mastering sewage-sitology, the predation of innocent hosts using effluent based triggers.

It’s not really that far fetched, as it’s possible all of the great fly fishing mysteries remain so because insect science has never been able to explain them fully …

Why do fish prefer one fly pattern over another?

Entomologist: The #12 Royal Wulff more closely resembles the Ephemera Guttulata, and the trout mistakes the artificial for the real insect.

Sitiologist: The trout cannot recognize a cheeseburger by sight, yet it has inhaled beef byproducts in its water supply since it was an alevin. The Calf Tail emits a faint odor of cow flesh and the trout inhales it, knowing it to be a natural.

Why do bead headed flies work?

Entomologist: We’re not sure, but it sinks like a Son of a Bitch so it must be tasty!

Sitiologist: Normal insect imitations look like real bugs that live in the creek. Real bugs hide under rocks, burrow in the bottom, or simply fall in the water by accident. Despite their origin fish know they taste like shit compared to a Twinkie.

The addition of a big shiny copper bead makes the insect imitation something novel and new, therefore they eat the beaded fly to satisfy their craving for Twinkies (which they’ve never seen, and hope this is). Fish are optimists and something new may be that human thing they crave, yet cannot attain.

fivehourWhy do large fish feed at night?

Entomologist: Large fish are wary of predation and feed on smaller fish which are wary of big fish, and therefore unavailable until black dark.

Sitiologist: Large fish have been in the river far longer than smaller fish and therefore have inhaled a great deal more Five Hour Energy, Starbucks, and Rock Star effluent and have considerable trouble sleeping.

Without much else to do they prowl around for smaller fish that are quietly sleeping so they can bully and eat them.

 

Insect theory suddenly showing itself as quite porous in light of the above …

Unfortunately for the wader industry it appears  front zippers are doomed based on the Fish & Wildlife’s concern about chumming …

Why my conservation dollar is no longer available, and why conservation must change with the rest of the industry

I have a tendency for melancholy when my beloved creek’s bones are exposed.

drycreek

Dewatering is now a yearly ritual and simply means the upper stretches of the creek won’t be worth fishing for at least another three years. While more fish will move down from the dam this Winter, it will take many more years to make them of catchable size.

What surprised me was how this year’s killing made me rethink the sport, its past emphasis on conservation and the environment, and how the tired old conservation rallying cry is no longer of any consequence to me.

Since 2008, both the US and world economy has dominated the headlines. Federal, state, and local municipalities have little money for conservation or wildlife stewardship and their focus has been avoiding fiscal insolvency. They’ve backed any project deemed “shovel ready” to stimulate jobs, keep tax revenues stable, and ensure some small fraction of us retain our homes and keep making those all important house payments.

At the same time, “fracking” has brought about a renaissance in our indigenous oil and gas industries, and the last couple of administrations have been quite happy to open new federal lands and accommodate new leases to ensure the boom absorbs as many out-of-work citizens as is possible.

State governments are concerned about solvency first, stimulating those areas hardest hit by the Recession of 2008 and falling home prices, and ensuring they make a business-friendly environment for whichever flavor of entrepreneur makes eye contact.

That means less money for all state programs, not simply our beloved parks, game, and wildlife oversight agencies.

As the days of the hundred dollar fly rod are long gone, as is the fifty dollar chicken neck, and anglers are being steered into a brand-conscious urbane fishing experience where tackle is the new professionalism, how come conservation still comes in its sorry old wrapper?

Sure, there’s a few mean old guys like myself that think fly rod technology has become Microsoft Office, a bunch of stuff added that no one asked for and so esoteric as to not even be announced on the box. But change has always been good, and if I’m to embrace this new fishing mantra, why am I still enduring the same tired “Salmonid Uber Alles” on the conservation front?

Give us your money so we can spend it on the headwaters of some creek, shoring up its banks and ensuring the fragile little salmonid we hold above all else, is able to thrive for six months more …”

Salmonids are yesterday’s news, and creeks cannot be restored with grant funds as they’re available once and watershed restoration is a yearly cost, as the need is forever. In the face of climate change, why are we perpetuating salmonids, which are fragile like European aristocracy, inbred hemophiliacs and incestuous to the point of instability?

What conservation needs is a cockroach, something hearty with thick scales that can handle being squeezed, gut-hooked, run over, and peed on, as that’s what the new ecology warrants.

I only fish for salmonids occasionally, yet I ‘m supposed to care more for someone else’s creek than I do for mine, knowing that my money won’t sustain life, it will only postpone the inevitable.

In my state the environment is a foregone conclusion. Huge tunnels drilled through the Delta will divert all the remaining Northern water South and the real issue is whether we can pass the bond measure, not whether it’s a good idea or no. More billions for high speed rail relegates eminent domain or environmental press to the rear of the metro section as the Governor backs it, the legislature wants it, and the Resources Secretary remains silent.

“Fight the battle you can win”, and this is not about the environment as it is lowering the unemployment rate. Smiling workers growing crops, and ensures agribusiness has everything it desires to grow ever bigger and employ more. High speed rail permits those workers to live ever further from where they toil, allowing Southern California cities to sprawl unchecked, to annex large portions of Mexico or even Arizona …

Our governmental agencies are rooted in the propagation of dead fish over the living, which is why so much of their dwindling finances are spent raising so many. It knows the majority of its citizens ignore their doctor’s advice and don’t eat fish, but like all outdoorsmen, are thrilled to kill them at every opportunity.

Our angling conservation organizations serve up the same tired sales pitch that starts with an appeal to our sensibilities, how we’re duty-bound to steward the environment for our kids, yet our kids show no sign of stirring themselves from the embrace of their X-box, and both anglers and hunters dwindle further. “Conservationists” are seen in the major media venues as a radical cadre of eggheads and Vegans determined to impede the majority in their right to terraform the environment to their liking … and conservationists … conservationists are but a single threat level away from a drone strike.

As I regard all the vast expanse of sun-blasted rock that was my creek I realize my generation and those before me had our chance …

The Sixties were all about Mother Earth and Birkenstocks, whole grains, whole foods, and living in an uneasy peace with the planet. All those macrobiotic peace-loving citizens grew up and decided that while bean sprouts were cool, cheese burgers were better, and now cries for “Saving the Whale” means an exposed arse cheek and an insulin shot, as Earth shoes faded in favor of Cheetos, and Mother Earth was reduced to the Couch.

Swooping in for the kill is Madison Avenue, who picked up on the last half dozen presidential elections and elevated “what scares us” to the new Sex. Fear selling even better than a shapely ankle, and anything outside of our control like sleeping on the ground, bears, bees, or bats, should make way for gleaming hotels and more cell towers.

… after all, animals have had the run of the woods for tens of millions of years and all they do is crap in it.

In short, after many years of living that dream – of portaging out discarded leader bags and cast-off indicator foam, of spooling loose monofilament and tucking it into a vest pocket, of policing empty beer bottles and broken Styrofoam from dropped coolers, it has become time to turn this over to the next guys … to do with as they will.

As I’ve not fished for a salmonid in some time, I’ll ask of those conservation organizations what I’ve asked of my cable vendor, my Internet provider, and all other luxury items I purchase … how it’s time to tighten my belt, and “trout” is no longer enough of a message for me to continue my existing service.

As no one is interested in my stressed little brown rivulet, I’m no longer interested in footing the bill for the last two miles of some creek I’ll never fish.

… furthermore, the fact that you stabilized its banks and planted willows does not mean you can contact me next year for more money.

Global warming is likely going to treat your thin skinned, disease prone, clean-water-requiring salmonid and stress its watersheds and eradicate it from much of its historical and introduced turf. Just as its doing with all forms of amphibians. Global warming is change and while currently seen as bad, may just be the way of things when you consider the last 35 million years.

Remember it’s not the climate change that you need to fear, it’s the competing predator that climate change brings with it that will ensure no trace remains. That unloved cockroach fish that eats human waste, reproduces asexually, and doesn’t need the banks stabilized or willows planted to lower water temperatures, it only need pets and small children frolicking in the lukewarm brown water to feed …

It might be the Smallmouth Bass or the Asian Carp, but something will surely skull-fuck your fragile little salmonid and claim the prime feeding lie. If that’s not enough, then your remaining little enclaves of salmonids will be dispatched by well meaning humans, who delight in stomping life out of ecosystems as a byproduct of “stewardship” and unclean felt soles.

The future fly fisherman is not likely to be a poster child for a chilled Chardonnay, rather he’ll be chugging a tepid energy drink over something dirty and lukewarm…

… yet friendly. There’ll be no stiff necks and stiffer lips when a dead cat drifts through the riffle. It’ll be the Brotherhood of Suffering and Antibiotics, instead of ascots and clean linen.

.. and it’s about damn time.

For those conservation organizations that survive, your mission will evolve accordingly. Your issues no longer resonate with me or the environment. The headwaters of some salmon creek that hosts 30,000 fish held in higher regard than a hundred ignored creeks that once held  100,000 fish each, is “grant money” math that doesn’t add up.

When your mission statement and your desired outcome embraces more than salmon and trout, feel free to send me another request to reestablish my membership, as I can always use another swell hat.

Never as compelling as Broccoli Dip

That casual dinner conversation where you were introduced as … “likes to fish”,  which you hastily amended to “likes to fly fish”, given how you felt it necessary to separate yourself from the lawn chair crowd …

You knew how odd your pastime was going to sound to the uninitiated, as you’d explained the attraction many times, and as the passion rose in your voice and the crowd began to edge away, you realized how weird and unfathomable standing in cold water willingly must sound.

Especially when you added the mating rituals of bugs and how you have to scrub your prophylactic breathable condom so you can contain its contagion to the current watershed and none other  …

Sure they looked at you funny, mostly because you lost them at “eighty dollar chicken hackle” … and they started to backpedal when you sprayed spit discussing the Southern California water lobby, and when they heard you spend a thousand dollars on a fishing rod, realized the hostess’s Broccoli Dip was exceptional – and how they’d better get more before it simply vanished …

Now the Worm turns, and I put you in their shoes, offering three simple pictures to you, the uninitiated, to illustrate their plight …

Green_tomato

Behold the grandeur that is California’s Central Valley, the eleventh largest economy in the World, producer of a third of all produce served in the United States. I call it home (of a sort) fish every unloved brown rivulet it contains, and is a world completely foreign to the rest of you “fly fishermen.”

Above, behold tomatoes …

sunflower

Sunflowers …

alfalfa

… and alfalfa …

Imagine yourself whizzing by enroute to some high dollar, high elevation venue featuring noble salmonids, greasy roadside breakfast fare, Spartan camping, and containing real dirt and frequented by real wild animals. This is the rich adventure worthy of holding the office crowd spellbound at Monday’s coffeepot recital …

Assume there’s more to those pictures than meets the eye, and as you shuffle your Chardonnay from one hand to the other, consider they might contain a world of information known only to us sweaty fat guys whose footprints soil these sordid watersheds …

The question: From the above, What can you tell me of the local fishing, and should you suit up (assuming your car broke down) and go fishing ?

Like your audience struggled when you mentioned denuding rare songbirds, and letting all your catch go – now you can take a few strides in their shoes.

Assuming it’s going to 103 by afternoon, and we’re showing you pictures of aquatic insects and discussing mating habits of their winged variant, what can you tell me of the below snapshots?

sunflower_mow

Sunflowers again, no beehives and the rows of males mown to remove them from the harvestable females …

rust_tomato

More tomatoes, whose leafy greens are turning to rust …

almonds

… and almonds.

Question: With this new three, and armed with a brief treatise on Latin, and still smarting from the mating habits of bugs and the thousand dollar “buggy whip”, (doesn’t our hostess’s Broccoli dip looks so much more inviting?)  what about the fishing now – and why now versus earlier?

Simple. Water.

In the first three, the diversion ditches are lipping full due to the pumps drawing from either groundwater or the river, most everything else is being siphoned into canals to feed distant and dry land, and the river is a memory as its gone due to irrigation. If it’s 103 out the river is lifeless as it doesn’t contain enough water, is hellish warm and the fish are alternating lethargic or panting.

In the second three, the water has been turned off to allow crops to ripen for market. The female sunflowers will dry completely in place, the tomato fields are turning rust-colored due to the shrinking foliage and exposure of ripening red tomatoes, and the irrigation sprinklers have been pulled from the almond orchards, with no trace of their passing.

The diversion ditches are bone dry, the pumps are silent, and the river is full of lukewarm water and fish with roman noses possessing great appetites for flies. The 103 degree temperatures are shrugged off as there’s ample depth of water to absorb the heat without it removing the oxygen.

… and in pausing for breath I note the queue at the dip bowl and the nervous glances of those just out of earshot …

Brook Trout victimized by Heat and Performance anxiety

With all the hormones in the water column you’d think us old guys and our yen for little blue pills would be able to pee a little stability into native Brook Trout populations, at least enough to overcome the ill effects of global warming …

New research suggests an increase of as little as a single degree in median summertime temperatures can delay Brook Trout spawning by as much as a week – worse is there’s less fish with the urge …

"These trout can’t build gonads in the summer," Kraft said. "They’re burning more energy to survive, so they don’t have energy to produce eggs. The warmer it gets, the fewer fish are spawning; some just give up."

Makes you wonder whether those female hormones that are rumored to be in the drinking water and the root cause of gender-bending fish populations, aren’t part of some sinister Amazonian world domination gambit, where they’re sprinkling extra into the water supply just so’s we’ll sit still when they talk window treatments.

Guys never pay attention to warnings on labels, and would gladly swallow handfuls of turgidity simply to brag about what deeds were accomplished during the all-important “… if this condition persists for more than four hours …” medical miracle session.

Now that we’re killing off all those planted cockroaches, the Rainbow Trout, in favor of native Brookies, it’s nice to know we’re haven’t lost our sense of timing nor humor, knowing we’re hoping for a sustainable trout population by adding more eunuchs.

In Spring a young man’s thoughts turn to Invasives?

death_rayOnly recently recovered from the attempt to make Striped Bass the killer of all salmonids, and now on the eve of my Spring Shad orgy, West Coast scientists are suddenly spraying my favorite quarry with the invasive label.

… and while they readily admit that most of the science on American Shad has been done on the East Coast, and very little is known of our Western invasive cousin, now that we’ve extincted the Pacific Salmon, we’re sure to find the American Shad had a hand in it.

All of which causes me to burst into tears, given that Science can never bring themselves to admit we paved, screwed, and ate, anything that was tasty – and are even now grinding up and coloring everything that isn’t  ..

So the last big anadromous fishery left on the Pacific Coast, needs to be kilt off because they weren’t invited? How about you restore some urban stream to a healthy population of salmon and then we’ll talk – and not before.

This month Fisheries Magazine features a couple of articles on the American Shad, the first relating the efforts to get them here, and the second relating to how their spread along the Pacific Coast might have altered the environment for our Pacific Salmon, how they may have had a hand in both helping and extincting same.

Young shad dine on similar freshwater foods as young salmon, young shad may provide more food for known salmon predators like my beloved Northern Pikeminnow, allowing them to survive in greater numbers to prey upon young salmon, and Shad may have been host to saltwater parasites that spread to both salmon and humans in freshwater.

But they’re not really all that sure of any of it …

In fact, it is out of concern specifically for salmon that biologists now seriously contemplate the ecological role of shad in the Columbia River. For some, the “scientific” response has been “guilty until proven innocent” (Simberloff 2007), with calls to eliminate shad above Bonneville Dam (Snake River Salmon Recovery Team [SRSRT] 1994; National Marine Fisheries Service [NMFS] 1995). Though some hypotheses have been advanced to suggest that shad may negatively affect Pacific coastal ecosystems (e.g., Haskell et al. 2001; Harvey and Kareiva 2005; Hershberger et al. 2010), the specific interactions with salmon remain largely untested hypotheses, and the a priori vilification of shad in the absence of supporting data constitutes speculation and opinion, not established fact (J. H.Brown and Sax 2007). The presence of shad in the Columbia River may actually be a mixed blessing.

… and on the converse, because young shad are numerically superior to any other life form in these rivers at certain times of the year, science suggests they may have a beneficial role – serving as a food source for young salmon.

One thing’s for sure, something is eating something else – and we’re eating that …

What science there is on the Pacific contingent of the American Shad is focused on the west coast’s greatest rivers, the Columbia and the Sacramento. While much of these articles dealt with impoundments of the Columbia, some insights into local fish were new (to us anglers) …

Specifically, Smith (1895) reported the tendency
of Sacramento River shad to remain in the San Francisco Bay
region throughout the year, with some proportion of the population foregoing the typical marine migration altogether. Smith (1895) also reported San Francisco Bay shad to be in spawning condition from December to August. This is considerably longer than the source stock used for introduction.

Outside of being enormously fun to catch, ask any two anglers about Shad behavior and you’re liable to get mostly rumor and innuendo, exposing the dearth of information that exists on our favorite saltwater racehorse.

/end Science.

/begin Opinion.

I can’t help note how restoring fisheries always starts with us killing something else. Actual restoration is bestial hard, nor can I point to a single river or pond and say, “ … this was once terrible and has been completely restored.”

There’s a reason for that.

If we are ever to be successful restoring anything, then we have to manage it for eternity, not for some well meaning conservation organization to cut a ribbon, dust its hands and pronounce, “we’re done.”

Restoration is never done, and as soon as you lose resolve or run out of money, all your hard work slips into the Abyss.

… which is why when I hear the Rotenone call, “Nuke it from orbit, it’s the only way to be sure” – I get all squirrely, as killing has always been the easiest part.

It’s my belief that all of our conservation organizations added together, combined with all the awesome might of the federal wildlife agencies, have restored  … nothing.

Not a single lake, stream, or rivulet.

Surely, they are busy restoring all kinds of things, but they will never be done – and so long as they allow us fishermen to fish, or developers to build, we’ll being spilling something new into the water that’ll prove bad for fish, and trigger some new species collapse that’ll need yet another task force, and even more money.

… yet every so often we get an evolutionary “lucky.” Some unloved, unwanted cockroach that repopulates water too poor to sustain what used to live there, and we gash ourselves and claim, “ … how goddamn dare they.”

Science busies itself uncorking Death Rays and Rotenone to rid itself of the interloper, knowing all the time that it’s easier to nuke some bland filet than muster the political clout to cite the BP refinery upstream that kilt all the old stuff …

Scientists in aggregate are smart as hell. Unfortunately within the gleaming walls of their laboratory they practice Hollywood Science, pure, pristine, and untrammeled. Reality-based science is called “politics”, and those fellows aren’t so smart, and are often careless and greedy.

Sure you can handle the pain, but what about the fish?

pissing The Good News is what we’re pissing into the creek isn’t killing fish outright, rather all that runoff from wastewater treatment containing our prescribed anti-anxiety, lowered cholesterol, blood- thinning stimulants, merely make them giggle watching Mom struggle with a faceful of your artificial …

In the current study, the shelter-seeking behavior of fathead minnows was monitored under laboratory conditions for 28 days using digital tracking software to diagnose abnormal behavior while they were exposed to sertraline, which is used to treat depression, panic attacks and other disorders. Sertraline concentrations and lighting conditions significantly affected the time that the minnows spent in a sheltered area.

During dark conditions, sertraline-exposed fish spent approximately 67 to 78 percent of the time that control fish spent in the shelter. During light intervals, fish exposed to sertraline spent between 18 and 42 percent less time in the shelters.

"The shelter was the only dark area during light conditions in the observation tanks; therefore, control fish apparently retreated to the shelter to reduce anxiety, whereas fish exposed to sertraline appeared to display reduced anxiety and did not exhibit this behavior," Brooks said.

– via PhysOrg.com

… which is a big relief for us anglers, given how much we care about our quarry and the fight triggered by us forcing steel through a lower jaw. They can feel good so long as they continue to struggle and peel line …

Now that science has shown that drugs act on fish similar to their effect on humans, we might as well make them eat longer and remain exposed to predation.

It used to be a can opener and tuna fish or creamed corn we chummed with – now it’ll be left over Lithium, or expired pain pills. Some enterprising fellow at TU is probably already negotiating with the DEA to flush a freighter-load of Coca powder down the Illinois River, solving the Asian Carp issue in process.