Monday, August 10, 2015

Truckee River - 2015 Drought

It's been the worst water year I've seen on the Truckee in my 15 years in NV, far worse than 2014 which was the record holder up until that point.  Last year water flows got cranked down in late July so the fish only had to weather August, plus we had modest reservoir capacity and lots of thunder heads that brought bursts of oxygenated water.  This years the thunder heads have persisted but the reservoirs are tapped out so water levels are even lower and the spigot began closing two month earlier. Below is a water flow chart for the summer showing intermittent thunder head activity; note the orange triangles denoting the median river flow.
 The river flows have even ceased altogether at times this year.   It hurts to see it but it's mother nature's call and I have to remind myself that the Truckee has seen this before.  Odd to say, but we're lucky we have a reservoir system in years like this, otherwise it would be even worse for the river.
Since NDOW's trout management policy on the Truckee has been Laissez-fair, I thought the "Rest Your River" signs were a great idea, though this year I'd have modified them to ready "rest your river from June through September".  I'm not in a position to make decisions for others and my policy is not to preach, so I'll just speak for myself.  I know it's legal to angle all year, but for me the legality alone of the act is a pretty low standard.
I been conducting informal fish surveys (often weekly) at approximately 10 locations on the NV side for years now.  Though visual and unscientific, I've built up a mental archive over time to know what I should be seeing in various sections of water under varying conditions and times of year.  Again, it's not a scientific survey, so take it with a grain of salt:  Notwithstanding isolated pockets of potential survivors I intend to keep a secret, below Verdi my personal observations point to a massive reduction in populations, as much as 70-80% through parts of Mogul and Reno.  Recruitment last year was weaker than normal and predation by larger trout trapped in confined pools with juveniles for two consecutive years has taken its toll.  Below is a picture of trout congregating in the shade near near Reno High.  From early June to late July there were about 150 by my estimates.  As of August they were gone...all of them but 3 lone survivors.  
Could they be elsewhere, anything is possible, but there is a pod of Cormorants that's been preying ruthlessly on them for weeks, so I suspect they've either been culled or died from the low oxygen/high temps.  The monster brown in the bunch was so sick and fungus ridden even back in June I think he may have died back in July.
 Most of the fish I've observed are just clinging to life, deprived of food, oxygen and habitat.  Sitting ducks for the mergansers, cormorants and minks.  I feel that's enough, even if they're going to die, my personal choice is to let them die unmolested.

Below is one of the cold mountain stream confluence were some fish actually stand a chance of survival.  This was taken in June.This was taken in August.  This is the coldest and most oxygen rich stretch of water for miles around, so there is little chance the fish moved.  From personal observation, many of these fish ended up on stringers.
Its hard to watch all of this when there is nothing you can do about it. Unfortunately, NDOW won't (and can't for legitimate reasons) step in with a viable solution and there isn't anything we can do for them right now but leave them be and pray for El Nino (which by many accounts appears to be not only likely, but a large one).  Not to despair, while it may take a little while to rebound in and around Reno, my sense is that fish are faring much better from Verdi up through the CA side.  Deeper water, a shaded canyon, less pressure and multiple cold water sources should bring that part of the river through the drought in good shape.  I know the river will be back to her former glory in no time.

Other Waters: Ranging from 40 to 400 miles from Reno you can find great alternative trout fisheries in healthy condition in Northern CA, Eastern NV and Southern OR.  This has challenged me to test out new water, new techniques and new gear.

When they get this thick, don't even bother...
I never got the mouse craze, now I get it!  I'm not the expert but from what I've read and experienced, one thing I'd pass on to others is, let it grab the mouse and turn, then give it hell.  No quick hook sets, its the hardest thing for someone condition for years to not immediately set the hook.  Also be prepared for a probing smack or two which can look like someone dropped a hand grenade in the water.  When this happens, keep a consistent "twitch-strip" going and don't pull you line out for a recast as trout often try and stun/kill the mouse before actually eating it.
 Go for the 20/20: Using a #20 fly to land a 20"+ fish.  Prior record for me was 20/23, now its 20/25.  Slurped a #20 pop-top midge during a frenzied mid-morning midge hatch.
 Get the kids in on the action.  Learning to properly revive a spent fish.
 Learning proper grip and grin technique - still working on perfecting it, but little hands don't mate up well to hefty bows. 
 Tried to end it on a positive note, I'm really bummed about the drought and the river but I also know there's always tomorrow, and the river is resilient and has seen tough times before.


Post a Comment