The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is evaluating whether and how to grant Pacific Gas & Electric a new license for hydropower operations on the McCloud. This license will determine streamflows on the Lower McCloud River for the next several decades. TOMORROW NIGHT is the deadline!! READ MORE!!!
CalTrout (along with Trout Unlimited and Northern California Council of the Federation of Fly Fishers) is supporting a flow regime that will preserve the river, its fish and an unmatched angling experience. TAKE 5 minutes to ensure a lifetime of fishing on the McCLoud River.
Here is what you need to do.
- Go to.
- click on EComment and follow instructions.
- (Please file under the McCloud project number which is P-2106-047)
- Its easy. Tell them that you support Cal Trout’s recommendations.
After guiding this precious river for a decade, I have learned the intricacies of its cycle and how nature’s events create a world-class fishing destination. The McCloud River is one of the last bastions of truly healthy trout systems in California and is our pride and joy despite the fact that this wild and scenic river comes out of a pipe. I have seen the fishing stay at a prolific level my entire career. Since trout are highly sensitive and have very small parameters of survival, they are great indicators of a healthy eco system. Through many conservation efforts and reasonable management of the dam, the McCloud River has been able to develop into one of California’s finest trout habitats. In my opinion, all it needs is status quo or to be left alone.
There are few dams in the world that improve trout habitat but this is one that has. Thus there is a very big difference between natural and historic flows. For generations trout have evolved for the current flows. The McCloud River is a completely different river then the pre-dam river of the past. Including different species of fish. The McCloud River that we all know and love is dependent upon controlled flows. Thus the high historic flows would no longer be natural.
During this dam relicensing period it is important to note some very sensitive times on the McCloud.
April and May is the spawning season for Rainbow Trout. The McCloud River rainbow is the most famous rainbow trout in the world, found everywhere from New Zealand to Chile. In their native habitat these fish find the perfectly sized pea gravel in the correct flows to make their nests (also known as redds). Redds are easily seen by the trained eye but often overlooked by the common eye. In fact, usually you can see the hen and buck tending and protecting their redds. March and April is noted as the typical time for this reproduction process, however every year I witness Redds and the fish protecting them throughout the month of May. I train my clients to identify and avoid them, as they are easily destroyed by a single footstep. Due to the drastic variable of any spring season, nature has extended the reproductive cycle of the McCloud River rainbow to be approximately three months long. Extending one month longer than what is commonly perceived. McCloud Rainbows have evolved to the ever changing and unpredictable events of spring in the mountains. Allowing for short periods of natural high snowmelt run off. Drastic dam releases however, are very disconcerting during these months. As the trout are unaware of any scheduled release they will spawn in inappropriate and unprotected areas, which could result in the demise of their nests.
If the river doubles in size overnight many if not most, redds will be washed away, the eggs and smolt along with them. Some smolt survive by seeking refuge in the shallows only to be stranded when waters quickly recede. During the flow studies of 2008, I came across numerous dried-up pools filled with dozens of dried-up fingerlings. They were strong enough and smart enough to seek the appropriate refuge but never could have predicted a hand on a valve opening and closing it at the will of needed power or even desired recreation.
If all goes well there will be thousands of hungry fingerlings during the month of June. Survival requires getting large fast and thus the McCloud provides two prolific hatches. The salmon fly and golden stonefly hatch in June is so essential that these fish can put on some serious weight in one month. The stoneflies are between 1 – 3 inches long, and are gobbled up by fish the same size and larger. The sight of this hatch is mind altering and is such a sought after vision that anglers travel from all over the country and a few from over-seas to witness it and take advantage of the feeding frenzy that ensues. The fishing is the best of the year by leaps and bounds, as the crowds of happy anglers can testify. Fish can double or triple their weight in this month and without this smorgasbourge they would have to rely on standard mayflies and caddis to reach reasonable size. The McCloud River is a world-class fishery because of this hatch and one other to be discussed later. Stoneflies crawl along the bottom of the river and out onto rocks and vegetation to molt and turn into adult flying insects. Later they will mate in the trees and subsequently lay their eggs back in the water again offering themselves up as a meal for hungry, perceptive and agile trout. Since they are in the “crawlers” category they too can be easily washed down-stream during drastic flow changes. June is the month fish are nourished after a long winter and reproductive spring. Though there are many insects on the menu, stoneflies are always the main course in June. The river cannot be without these in vast numbers.
Summer along the banks of the McCloud is fortified with huge elephant ear, grasses, trees, berry bushes and wild azalea. This makes that classic 50-foot dry-fly cast a bit impossible and requires force to penetrate through for access. Yet this protection is its health. The thick forest around the McCloud especially on its banks offer essential needs to a healthy trout stream. The most obvious is biomass, shade and shelter. But, this flora also is an essential rookery for everything trout eat. Every bush, stem and leaf on the McCloud’s banks has dozens of mayflies, caddis, stoneflies and midges creating their own circle of life. Without such rookeries there would be less trout food. I need not spell out what that means. Though I believe the fish could survive temporary high flows, the bugs could not year after year after year and once the bugs diminish the wild trout will be stories of the good ole days.
Summer goes by with fantastic fishing including scheduled mayfly hatches and the welcoming of the migratory brown trout up from the lake to spawn later in the fall. It’s the fall when things once again become delicate. With the browns making their redds in the fall, we have the same issues as in spring with the delicate redds, eggs, smolt and fingerlings. Unlike the spring, however, the fish don’t have a nice summer filled with prolific sun/warmth driven mayfly hatches. Winter will soon follow fall, and in the animal kingdom that means it’s time to put on some weight. Thus the McCloud provides the meatiest hatch of all. The October caddis hatch is absurd with a huge 2 inch moth like insects clumsily flying around and getting gobbled up. In their nymph or aquatic form they make their homes portable out of small rocks mortared around them like the shell of a hermit crab. They carry around these heavy cases all during the late summer and can easily lose their grip with a sudden flow change, an angler’s footstep or even the swoop of a paddle. Come fall they free themselves from their cases, swim to the surface and fly away by the millions. Its amazing to see and the trout, birds, weasels, bats and just about everything else stuffs themselves in anticipation of a long cold winter. No food source of this multitude will be provided until the stonefly hatch of the following June, and the cycle continues.
To my observation and data gathering, which I call fishing, it seems that everything is at its best at an average flow of 220 to 250 at the Ah Di Na gage. There are three gages on the McCloud River. Ah Di Na is the middle gauge and located between the two largest tributaries, Hawkins Creek and Squaw Valley Creek. In past springs, when the runoff is high, the tributaries can easily help the McCloud reach the 220 – 250 at Ah Di Na. The highest gauge is just below the dam with no significant natural additional inflow. When the tributaries are flowing high this stretch of the river has a minimum dam release outflow of approximately 80 cfs. This needs to be higher, at about 120-150 cfs regardless of the run-off happening downstream. There are several miles between the dam and Hawkins Creek. These miles are rich with spawning habitat and filled with Redds in the spring and fall. In the spring, I’ve seen redds in dangerously shallow water because the dam release was cut back as the tributaries rose down stream. We must think of this stretch as a trout nursery and maintain its integrity with a minimum release of 120-150 cfs. As the spring run off subsides the release should increase to hit the 220-250 minimum at Ah Di Na gage downstream. Natural blowouts from Hawkins Creek and Squaw Valley Creek seem to recover with little notice. Simply because they must be designed better then a valve. It must be noted that one major difference between a tributary naturally contributing to high flows versus a dam release is the replenishment of highly sought after pea gravel which trout use to create their redds. While the tributaries flush this precious pea gravel down to the river each spring the dams high releases flushes it out. Spawning habitat is essential for the survival of any species.
I spend more time along the banks and in this river than anyone I know and have keen observational skills, which contribute to my success as a river guide. Learning the river and how nature’s cycles relate to fishing is key to the success of my career. Thus I hope my observations will be taken into consideration.
Something I always like to tell my client is fly fishing is about adjusting to nature not about adjusting nature to you.