September 21, 2009

Moke River Cleanup '09

This past Saturday was the first annual Great Sierra River Clean Up sponsored by the Sierra Nevada Conservancy in conjunction with many local watershed conservation groups. The event was an amalgamation of several existing California-based volunteer rivershed clean up efforts with new efforts on many (previously) neglected watersheds. The state-wide conservation endeavor was (as many will agree) a smashing success with over 2,000 registered volunteers and a countless number of people who joined the cleanup on-site, impromptu. More than 63 tons of garbage, with nearly 1 ton of recyclables, was removed from 60 different watersheds. That's some easy math to figure that an average of just over 1 ton of garbage was removed from each watershed. Impressive numbers to say the least. Impressive both in that these rivers are now void of 1 ton a garbage each, and also the fact that more than 1 ton of garbage (and that's just a fraction of the total) had even found its way into some of these remote locations. Nearly 150 miles of river throughout the state was cleaned.

The turnout was truly a testament to the support and commitment from local communities to help preserve and protect some of the most beautiful and ecologically important rivers on the west coast. I'm sure that this annual event will only snowball as it continues to gain participation every year.

I found myself on the banks of the NF Mokelumne River at the Hwy 26 crossing bright and early on Saturday morning. I was joined by 19 other individuals from various walks of life including the Executive Director and President of the Foothill Conservancy, one member of the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, many local residents, and three representatives from the East Bay Municipal Utility District. 19 people at such a (seemingly) remote location was amazing to me. I was also amazed when Katherine Evatt (President, Foothill Conservancy) told me that over 70 people had registered to clean up the Electra reach of the same river.

Chris Wright (Executive Director, Foothill Conservancy) and Katherine provided doughnuts, coffee, and cold water to participants as they arrived. After a quick discussion about safety and intent from Katherine, we set off to clean up trash on both the north and south sides of the river above and below the bridge.

We were told that this section of the river was a popular place for both swimming and fishing, and we could tell that was true by the amounts of garbage that had been deposited amongst the rocks under the bridge.

The group quickly filled nearly every trash bag that Chris and Katherine had brought with pieces of trash such as water bottles, cans, broken glass (great for swimmers with bare feet), shoes, pieces of car doors, couch cushions, car tires, truck tailgates, an endless supply of spent cigarette butts, and lots of other random pieces of garbage. I need to give praise to Brandon for hauling that tailgate out of the canyon. I was watching him drag that thing around down by the water and just assumed that it was pretty light... I picked it up once it was on the pile of trash... not so light... good thing I waited until it was already out of the canyon... Props to Brandon for doing what it takes!

After a couple hours we had well over 400 lbs of trash piled behind Chris's Jeep, and this was just in the first 100-150 yards above and below the bridge! It was a great pile of trash that we were proud of (at least I was)! Thanks to Katherine and Chris for organizing a great event, and I hope it was just as good at the other sites on the Mokelumne.

September 16, 2009

The Pewter Fork

...Captain's log, stardate 090913... I ventured into the what was considered the unknown wilderness amidst the wild and unreached stretches of the El Dorado National Forest. I had been sent there on a mission to verify the self-sustaining growth of an invasive species planted in these woods nearly 20 years ago by wandering travelers. This unauthorized plant was first noted by government officials only months after discovering the first of this growing species; however, it was the choice of the government and state (against little opposition) to sustain and encourage the growth of this species in hopes to promote their special interests. "What is this unique species?" you might ask... "What foreign species of creature could possibly sustain itself through, or have the cunning to avoid, such harsh winter climate only to show itself in these woods for a few select months in the summer?..." I'm talking (of course) about the western wooly east bay resident...

For many years this creature laid dormant in its cool, sprawling, highly-populated urban environment until one faithful day it was discovered that there is in fact life outside the city... and it is grand!... It's now my duty to observe these creatures in their new environment to make certain that their population growth has been successful... Using several guideline observations, I was going to prove that this species is in fact thriving in the forest, with large concentrations surrounding some of the finest fisheries in the western sierras, more specifically, the Silver Fork of the American River.

Once on the river, I discovered multiple locations inundated with their modes of transportation. Immediately I found myself surrounded by multiple people walking amongst the rocks, but it wasn't until nearly 300 or so yards futher down the river that I found a true representative specimen. A stealthy approach allowed me to observe this creature in its new environment, displaying its natural behavior. While surveying this subject I immediately noted several of my guideline observations... Over-sized SUV carrying one passenger with vanity plates and a "Nissan of Martinez" plate rim.....check.... $700 waders on in the middle of a bone dry 90 degree day.....check..... Slashing fly-casting motion with a fly rod and reel that definitely cost more than my last betcha..... This was clearly what I had come down here to see.

I decided to cautiously approach the creature in hopes of a friendly encounter...
"How's the fishin'?" I asked from the top of the hill above the river.
.....5 seconds of uncomfortable silence.....
"It's good." He said quietly.
"What flies are you using?" I asked.
.....5 more seconds of uncomfortable silence.....
"Dry flies..." He said shortly.
"What dries are you using?"
.....10 or 15 seconds of silence before I just turned around and walked back into the woods quietly..... It was clear that this subject was threatened by my presence, and so I abandoned all of the common courtesies that I'm used to and decided to give him a wide berth in hopes that my actions hadn't affected his natural behavior.

My encounter was a complete success! It was clear that this species had been successfully planted and was thriving in these woods. Clearly the natural behavior of these creatures has not been affected by their new environment nor the behavior of the natives in the area. This discovery was clearly a testament to the resiliency of this species and the undying devotion to bringing that elitist attitude with them wherever they may roam. I just can't wait to see how the species evolves in these woods in the coming years!


All joking aside, that guy was brutal. I though he was going to start yelling at me... and for what?... being nice?... Just when I think things might be different, the same a-hole shows his face again on another stretch of water... Can't they just leave the attitude at home? And without a doubt, it was another guy with a fly rod in his hand... The gear guys at the bridge were at least human enough to wish myself and others good luck... No worries though. It takes a lot more than that to get me fired-up, especially when I'm fishing. What person in their right mind has any reason to be an ass while they're fishing... You could be at work...

If you're wondering how the fishing really was on the Silver Fork, it was pretty good. No big fish, but tons of smaller 8 to 10 inch rainbows rising to dries all day, with a larger brown trout every now and then. Beautiful scenery down in that canyon... no attitude needed...

I started off above the Caples creek confluence using a nymph rig that was turning fish here and there, but wasn't really doing as well as I though it would. The only fly that was catching fish was (once again) my not-so-famous trout slayer. It's not that the other flies wouldn't have caught fish, it's just that trout slayer is so tasty to fish that the choice is simple... at least that's what I tell people.

I was trying to dredge the bottoms of some of the larger pools hoping to find some monsters that I though were lurking, but the only fish that came up out of the bottoms of those pools were still 8 to 10 inches. I saw a couple of larger fish but they were maybe pushing 14 inches. WHERE ARE ALL THE HOGS!? I know they're in there...

The real heat didn't turn on until I got down below the Girrard creek confluence. I found a large pool with what looked like a good flow and some seriously fishy water. Slapped on a BWO emerger dry, and low-and-behold... 20 fish in an hour... out of the same pool... Who needs to move when the fish come to you!?

...I have become the fish whisperer...

Just kidding. I think maybe I had luckily hit some water that hadn't been flogged yet that day, and happened to catch it in the right light when the bugs were coming off. It was a pretty nice layout though: the head of the pool was tight and deep and then spread out to a width of about 20+ feet with soft flows. The water was about three inches deep spanning the tailout, so it was easy to stand in the back of the pool undetected and cast, drag free, up into the gurgle at the head of the pool.

Again, mostly lots of these guys:

But every now and then one of these would come up for a hook and feather sandwich:

Great day (except for that tool I ran into) and lots of fish. I think I might be coming back before the season closes. This next time though... I'm waiting for the other person to initiate the conversation...

September 10, 2009

Mokelumne River Beauty

This last week, the Sac-Sierra chapter of Trout Unlimited was extremely fortunate to have two of the state's finest conservationists from the Foothill Conservancy team, Katherine Evatt and Pete Bell, come and speak to the group about the state of the Mokelumne River and some of the proposed actions that threaten its ecological system, pristine beauty, and cultural heritage:

Currently the East Bay Municipal Utility District has proposed an expansion of the Pardee Reservoir dam by nearly 60 vertical feet to help supply more water to the increasing number of East Bay residents. The expansion would drown the entire Middle Bar section of the river including nearly a mile of river above the Hwy 49 bridge. Among the MANY THINGS that would soon be found underwater as a result of the expansion would be the historic Middle Bar bridge, recently restored at a cost of nearly $650,000, a brand new $750,000 BLM whitewater takeout/river access point, and most importantly (to a fisheries conservationist like myself) several river miles of important native fish spawning habitat. Not only would the local spawning habitat be inundated, but much of the spawning habitat upstream will be affected by the ecological changes resulting from the higher water levels.

Mokelumne River - Wild and Scenic from Mikey Wier on Vimeo.

One of many proposed actions to help prevent this expansion is to fight for Wild and Scenic designation for the 37 river miles below Salt Spring Reservoir. This designation would help to prevent the dam expansion as well as protect the river from threats like these in the future. If you are interested in endorsing this river designation please complete this easy online form provided by the Foothill Conservancy.

If you would like to further support the opposition to the proposed Pardee Reservoir dam expansion, please complete this pre-configured letter of opposition addressed to the East Bay Municipal Utility District (also provided by the Foothill Conservancy), and contact your local government or congressman regarding the same topics outlined in the EBMUD opposition letter.

Whether conservationist, fisherman, kayaker, rafter, or general outdoors person, the future of this watershed requires the support of individuals! Please help take action!