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Stories from the valley

Casting a fly into our drinking water

Contributed by Tim Johnson

Several weeks ago I was tossing flies in the state’s drinking water. In truth the fly was an Elk Hair Caddis I had tied myself, designed to match the insects the native trout feed on in Caples Creek. I cast it, along with several other patterns, many times over the afternoon standing in the very water that would be running out of my tap and irrigating El Dorado County vineyards and orchards in a few week’s time.

Fly fishing has been called the gentle sport. For me it certainly is and so much more.

Fishing PhotoIn addition to the solitude and beauty the sport offers, I enjoy most the contact with the small streams and tributaries of the Sierras.

While most fishermen pull on waders to keep dry, I pass them up them for a good pair of wading boots and fast drying pants in all but the coldest parts of the season. Dry is certainly convenient, but wading wet puts me immediately in touch with the water from the first step in the stream.

So what did I see? Well the water was higher than I would have thought in the drought. It was also warmer.

The higher water was a result of the above average rain and early thunderstorms we have had this year. This has been a huge boon to the small rainbow trout that struggled with low water for much of last year.

The water was also warmer than I’d thought. No doubt a result of the lack of snowmelt.

Most Sierra fly fishermen I know will be knocking off early again this year. In the coming weeks, the water levels will drop and the temperatures will rise.  Making a living as a fish will be hard enough without having to endure the sting of a hook and a gentle release back into the creek.

I often hear my fellow fly fishermen openly complain about the farmers taking the water especially in a drought year. As someone in agriculture, both as a career and as part of our family vineyard, I have the chance to see it from both sides.

Yes agriculture can impact fish. There are plenty of examples of poor and selfish decisions.

Fish a can also impact agriculture. There are plenty of examples of extreme measures being taken for hopeful benefits to fish.

Standing there with the creek eddying around my legs I can tell you one thing for sure – the biggest impact on both fish and agriculture is not the other guy. It is the drought. There’s far less water than what we need – plain and simple.

No amount of rock chucking can undo the fact that everyone suffers during a prolonged drought like the one we are living through now. Those above the dams and those below are equal.

Where we should be focusing our efforts are on projects that will help store more water likely to be come in the form of rain than snow. Projects like Sites Reservoir will help fish, waterfowl and farmers.

We can also continue the significant efforts by fishermen and agriculture alike to improve key habitat and provide the best reasonable chance for their survival once a more normal weather prevails. Daily I see great projects championed and funded by both sides, all designed to help fish and other species in the drought. Kudos to all!

Fly fishing is a gentle sport, if for no other reason than it’s hard to truly hate the other guy when you know he also respects the resource as much as you do. From there, all manner of things are possible.