The Current Magazine Spring 2015 - Page 54

Nigiri Project continued from page 27

Over a hundred years ago, before the Central Valley was leveed and drained, food made on inundated floodplains supported huge fish and wildlife populations both in the Central Valley and downstream in the Delta. Today, rivers are cut off from floodplains by steep banks and only 5% of floodplains remain. Our levees are starving our salmon and smelt populations. Fortunately, over the past three years, we’ve seen that it’s possible to mimic natural floodplain productivity to feed fish by inundating farm fields on Yolo Bypass in winter when they are not in use by farmers.

As California’s ongoing drought continues, the stress placed on the state’s limited water supplies is intensifying. Experiments like the Nigiri Project are likely to play an important role in shaping water policy in the years to come, particularly as state agencies turn toward a multi-benefit approach to water management and flood protection, that must take the health of fish and wildlife populations into account.

“Every year, rice farmers flood their fallowed fields in winter to provide habitat for waterfowl and shorebirds,” explained John Brennan of Robbins Rice Company, owner of Knaggs Ranch. “The Nigiri Project is showing that farms can also support threatened salmon if we manage our fields and flows in the right ways.”

“The Nigiri Project experiment takes precisely the type of multi-benefit approach that is a key component of the California Water Action Plan,” said Louise Conrad of the California Department of Water Resources. “State legislators have directed us to take a new approach to improving flood safety in the Central Valley, one that takes advantage of natural processes and helps to support imperiled species while also supporting ongoing agriculture.”

Just like the rest of us, fish need to eat. In order for California’s water system to work effectively threatened fish populations must have access to the abundant food created on floodplains. This experiment shows that we have a realistic chance at recovering salmon and smelt populations, even during times of drought, if we can get the most pop per drop out of the water we use by putting it to multiple benefits for both fish and people.

For more on the project, read some of the recent press:

Smithsonian Magazine

The California Aggie

ABC News 10 Sacramento

Capital Public Radio

Spot Check continued from page 41

the severity of the winter but I’ve seen ice off as late as July and as early as March. I like to work the patches of water between the shoreline and the edge of the ice just as it begins to melt off. It seems to fish best when there’s just a casting distance worth of water exposed.

It’s hard to image but, thousands of insects are air born trying to migrate over the Sierras in the winter. Many of these bugs get knocked down in the wind or by storms and end up frozen in the snow pack. As the ice melts it releases a plethora of food for foraging trout. Because the fish haven’t seen much fishing pressure over the winter they are less weary of anglers and more apt to venture closer to shore. This is a great time to target fish on a fly rod with small streamers or nymphs. Try the banks along the road side of the lake and also the inlet at woods creek on the east side of the lake. Ice out is also your best chance of getting a lake trout on a fly rod!

During the summer, anglers employ most standard fishing techniques. There’s a boat launch on the eastern end of the lake just past the dam that is owned and operated by the El Dorado Irrigation District. For a small fee you can park there and launch a boat, canoe or kayak. Float tube fishing is also popular amongst fly anglers who typically congregate near the dam or spill way. If float tubing, canoeing, or stand-up paddleboarding, I typically fish a sinking line with a streamer like a wooly bugger or small minnow patterns. Casting and stripping or kick trolling will both produce fish here.

As summer progresses the surface temperature of the lake begins to warm and there can be some great hatches of large callibetis mayflies. There are also many terrestrial insects near the lake such as hoppers, ants, beetles, lady bugs and termites that become a staple of the trout’s diet. One of my favorite techniques mid to late summer is to walk the shorelines and stalk cruising fish with a floating line and dry fly. There are plenty of big boulders you can get up on for a better vantage point to see into the water. Many of the feeding fish will cruise close to the surface looking for an easy meal. Not always, but typically, the farther from the road you get the better the surface fishing will be.

If I spot a cruising fish I will try to anticipate his direction and gently lay a cast about 10 to 15 feet in front of him. This can provide some very visual and explosive strikes! Sight fishing still waters with a dry fly is one of my all-time favorite aspects of fly-fishing. If you are going to try this technique you’ll need a good pair of polarized glasses, a hat to cut the glare and a good pair of boots or shoes for jumping around on the granite. The wind will always be blowing one direction or the other so choose the leeward side of the lake and you will always have some pockets of glassy water.

Happy hunting!