Tag Archives: california

Hopefully it tastes like Chicken

I suppose it’s a study on trade imbalances and deficits, but California may lead the nation in Sushi consumption –  yet is dead last in angler participation.

According to the U.S. Census, 10% of California’s population fished in 2001, tied for the 46th place in participation. Ten years later, California’s fishing participation rate plummeted to just 6% and ranks dead last in the nationCalifornia Sportfishing League

The California Sportfishing League points to the high cost of fishing licenses coupled with our license’s validity being based on the calendar year versus 12 months from the date of purchase like other states.


But I’m not so sure.

My casual contact with non-sportsmen suggest blood sports are on the way out. The evening news points to every gun owner shooting up his workplace, and fishermen killing what they can, and the uninitiated lack balance and counterpoint to this steady barrage of mis-information.

Television and the Internet don’t seem to be aiding us much. Most of the angling available to general broadcast channels feature commercial tuna and Alaskan King Crab boats – and everything coming aboard is stuffed below decks immediately.

Angling organizations and clubs have lamented for at least a decade on our inability to appeal to youth, and us longtime practitioners dwindle as age and frailty catches up with us.

Waters are polluted and wild fish don’t come snuggled in antiseptic Saran Wrap, and despite doctors urging us to consume anything with fins, non-anglers are wary and unlikely to replace a hamburger and fries with farm-raised Tilapia.

Now that we’re fixated on Invasive species and fish farming, from the public’s perspective it may reinforce the notion that GMO, tanker bilges, and salmon lice merely prove we’re as inept at breeding as we are at long term conservation.

Fly fishing hasn’t helped with our dogged insistence that the buy-in of gear, outer wear, and titanium vest fodder requires us to dump $5000 before we can learn to cast.

… and don’t forget the “end game” for all that capital investment is a 10” trout that was fed dog kibble prior to being shat into the creek for your pleasure. Five Grand for a wriggling fish you’d as soon toe into the underbrush in not a compelling proposition.

Add into this mix a half dozen agribusiness-friendly Governors and their attendant legislatures, a Fish and Wildlife organization reeling from declining anglers and dwindling license revenue, and the systematic extinction of every species worth catching. Add four years of drought, the high cost of lodging and gasoline, and a 50% reduction in home prices, and you’ve a better reason why the recent economic swoon has rid us of 40% of our numbers.

Since 1980, when annual licenses were sold for as little as $5.00, California’s annual fishing license sales have dropped by more than 55% (1980: 2.26 million; 2014: 990k), while our state’s population has increased by nearly 60%. In 2014, 40,000 fewer annual fishing licenses were sold compared to 2013.

If the 35-year trend remains constant, annual fishing license sales could fall below 500,000 by 2027, or another 49% over the next 12 years. Should this occur, between 1980 and 2027, annual license sales will have dropped 78%. This downward trend could accelerate if fees are increased substantially, or new regulations are imposed that increase costs or barriers to fishing.

The 2014  population of California was 38 million, which is a net increase of about 50% over the self same period wherein we lost or disenfranchised 40% of our fellow anglers. That is damning evidence that the high cost of licenses is only part of something much worse.

By 2027 I’ll be telling fish stories instead of fishing, so my being inconsequential will sting less then folks recently introduced to the sport. Our lack of voting clout will mean dark days for our conservation ideals and organizations.

Figure 1-2 percent of anglers are fly fishermen, and if the overall numbers drop to 500,000 as above – that suggests we’ll be in rarified company …

… and fishing for Pikeminnow.

That’s a Gnarly Viognier, Bro

It’s part of the Californio “Coming of Age” ritual, wherein you chat with Poppa over your responsibilities as a Man, and unbeknownst to you the miracle of your birthright requires you be tanned and blonde, love raw fish, and speak like Jeff Spiccoli. The lecture concludes with the understanding that as I live in one of the Great Wine Regions of the Northern Hemisphere, I would be required to jettison the Childish Toys of my Youth (Schlitz Malt Liquor) for the love of a piquant Chardonnay.

… Duuude.

It wasn’t as bad as all that however, white wine excels at washing down a Twinkie ..

I did have to learn when to use “fruity” versus “oaken,” however. Misuse of one meant some self styled “Marlboro Man” took instant offence, and was also high on the list of instant fistfight if you lived in my corner of San Francisco. I eventually did develop a taste for aged grape juice and have always marveled at how the palate recoils at one age and is pleased at another.

Of late we’ve endured many weekends of unfishable weather, and have traded the “wide open spaces” for a wide open air conditioner. Indoors and cool being foremost given my brief attempt at fishing in 109 degree weather had me lightheaded shortly after leaving the parking area.

Much of the triangle of brown grass bordered by Hwy 505 and Interstate 5 is becoming a hotbed of wineries and olive orchards. Most can’t be seen from the road, but as you whizz by enroute to Hat Creek, Fall River, or the Upper Sac, you’re in proximity to neatly ordered rows of expensive grapes.

Route 3 Vineyards is a couple miles from my house, and as I prefer supporting local products over the rarified Napa vintners, I bought a Wine Club membership so I can perch on their verandah and make all the appropriate learned lip smacking noises …

At one of their gatherings I wandered over to watch a fellow ladle grilled meat into a soft taco, and noticed the pond serving as the vintner’s water supply. “How many cases do I have to buy to get pond privileges,” says I, in between pursing my lips while sipping “fruity” and “oaken”  …


“None,” was their reply. Although whether fish existed was somewhat in doubt. Vintners being more interested in yeast and tannin in liquids, fish being better served as accompaniment to a beverage, versus swimming within its depths.


The above quick foray was done when it was 105. Little Meat is fresh from the water and had the good sense to pant in the shade, the rest of us simply threw enough flies to satisfy our honor, then beat a hasty retreat for free liquor.

One friendly field hand spoke a mixture of Spanish and English, mentioning, “Tortuga”, “Carpe” and “Catfish” living in the pond (turtles, carp and catfish), and while I found plenty of minnow evidence, we didn’t have much chance to explore, the lure of chill glassware and the oppressive heat making us opt for “Orvis” versus “Death Valley.”

I suppose I could attempt “Brownwater Merlot Guided Flyfishing” but the damn ascots will just get in the way.

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 …


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 …


Sunflowers …


… 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?


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


More tomatoes, whose leafy greens are turning to rust …


… 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 …

Science to put the "gamey" in Fish and Game’s mail

The logistics sound really poor It’s a novel approach, the California Department of Fish and Game drove this year’s salmon smolts to San Pablo Bay bypassing their normal migration. It’s fitting, we take party boats and get seasick, it’s fair they get a little motion sickness compliments of stop and go traffic.

Research has shown that trucking hatchery salmon doubles or triples their odds of reaching the ocean by avoiding threats along the way, said Alice Low, an environmental scientist at the state Department of Fish and Game..

Some 8 million will have a microscopic tag imbedded in their nose. The tags are laser etched to determine where the fish was bred, and they’ll assist in determining how well hatchery fish survive and where they were eventually caught.

If and when salmon season is reopened they’ll ask anglers to remove the head and send it to a DFG laboratory for analysis.

I sure hope someone warns the guys in the mailroom…

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