BoatUS ANGLER: RecycledFish Stewardship Tips

Where to Fish in a Drought

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Even when the water is low, anglers, such as Steve Masters, like to fish.  Masters notes “exploring your favorite lake during low water periods will eliminate a lot of unproductive water and will show you promising fishing areas that you never knew existed.”

With California experiencing the “worst drought since record-keeping began in the mid 19th century,” it certainly begs the question, “where does one fish in a drought?”

According to noted Northern California guide, Dave Neal, "the Eastern Sierra fisheries will be seriously impacted later this summer by drought conditions. Even if the High Sierra gets pounded with snow [in] February and March, it's just too late in the year to develop any meaningful snowpack density to contribute to a sustained water supply for later this summer.”

He says to plan your fishing early and that “rivers like the Lower Owens (tailwater) and the Upper Owens (spring fed) might be OK. But the East Walker, the San Joaquin, and even Hot Creek will be very low and compromised by summertime.”

Neal adds northern California, "with our larger rivers and extensive tailwater fisheries," may fare better than the other parts of the West.  "It will be an interesting summer to be sure, but we have the benefit of large reservoirs and extensive spring creek networks to feed many of the premiere local fisheries. Despite all CA reservoirs being far below 'normal' things are not as bad in Northern CA as they are in the Eastern Sierra, with regards to Bridgeport and Crowley. For example, the lowest mandated flow on the Lower Sac is 3,000 CFS."

Generalizing Neal’s observations, it would make sense that tailwaters would be a good bet for fishing this summer.  It will be important, though, to pay attention to local conditions and mandated flows.  If a reservoir's level is low, releases may be cut back which would reduce flows in the tailwater.  In addition, as the water requirements of the rights' holders, irrigators or municipalities, increase, the amount of water for the tail plummets.

Spring creeks may also be a good bet for fishing during a drought.  But, as with tailwaters, pay attention to water usage within the spring creek's watershed.  Heavy water withdrawals can lower the water table leading to low flows in spring fed creeks.

As you head out to fish this summer, look for your local tailwater or spring creek as a good alternative for a place to fish.  But mind the local conditions, make sure that there will be sufficient flows to revive that fish when you release it.

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