Posted on

Smith River now has a Fishery Monitoring Program

by Dr. Mark Rockwell, D.C. - President Northern Cal Fly Fishing Council

It is with great pride I report to you that after 4 years of effort we have achieved what once seemed to be impossible – a continuously run fishery monitoring plan for the Smith River, with a focus on sonar counting both Chinook salmon & Steelhead. As most know, the Smith is the last remaining anadromous fish river in California that is free flowing from source to sea. It is also the crown jewel of steelhead, with the California State record for size. It measured 42” X 23”, which calculates to somewhere between 29 & 32 pounds. At record weighting it topped the scale at more than 27 pounds.

Here’s a shortened version of the story. Ben Taylor, Chuck Bucaria, Lowell Ashbaugh and I began working on the Smith more than 10 years ago. We achieved a change in leader length to stop the “flossing-type” snagging of Chinook, and we worked with the Fish & Game Commission to stop the take of wild Steelhead. Both of these changes were necessary to preserve both species. Then, more than 6 years ago we began a dialogue with CDFW on how they monitor the runs of anadromous fish. As it turned out, they had no credible data other than to say “we know the Smith has healthy runs of Chinook & Steelhead”. Well, we thought that simply was unacceptable.

After a year talking with the CDFW Fisheries Branch Chief, we secured a meeting with Chuck Bonham, CDFW Director, shortly after his appointment under Governor Brown. We made a plea to he and the Fishery Chief that we’d write a Fisheries Management Plan for the Smith as a draft and work with their fishery biologist on the North Coast to make it an acceptable document to implement on the river. We offered to write the draft plan, pay costs to get it into a reviewable draft ($35,000), and get it into implementation. That started a nearly 3 year process but finished in 2019 with an approved Fisheries Monitoring Plan, which is where we are today.

Following that effort we worked with CDFW to obtain 3 DIDSON sonar monitoring devices, which CDFW said they had, but weren’t sure if they could authorize them for the Smith. As it turned out, more than 18 months went by without CDFW making the devices available. They said the equipment was not available and they had no funding for personnel to manage the program. They had no idea when it could be started.

We then decided to work with NOAA fisheries and the Tolowa Dee ni’ (TDN) Tribe which lives on the estuary of the river, and runs a small hatchery there. TDN applied for and received a grant from the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) for staffing the project for 2 years, but was promised by CDFW that it would provide the DIDSON equipment. After nearly a year CDFW was not able to come up with the sonar equipment. TDN then applied to BIA again, this time for 2 sonar units, at a cost of $170,000. I also communicated to Director Bonham that CDFW was losing face and reputation with us and the Tribe. To his credit he pushed the state and regional Tribal Liaisons to work with the Tribe and the regional director to get the equipment to the Tribe. They then worked out a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to loan 2 DIDSON units to the Tribe.

Today, October 2021 we’ll have 2 DIDSON sonar counting units in the water for the migration seasons of both Chinook and Steelhead. The Tribe also has 2 additional units as spares in case of a failure. This program will be run totally by Tolowa Dee ni’ for both installation & maintenance of the sonar as well as staffing to do the monitoring and reporting to CDFW. This program will be run annually into the future. We need 2 life cycles of Chinook to have scientifically credible information that will be used to manage that fishery. This is a huge win for the fish and for those of us who love Chinook & Steelhead, and the Smith.

For those of you who have not fished the Smith, a most historic river in fly fishing lore, you should consider it. I’ve fished it only once, in February, and was able to land 2 bright Smith River Steelhead in the 12-15 pound range. I saw several others rolling that were larger. They are magnificent fish, and the Smith is one of our most beautiful rivers. Zack Larson, who I fished with, does guide, and Zack helped us write some of the fishery plan. Give him a call: 707-954-1085. BTW, the Smith receives significant rain in the winter, and flows can be very high. The day before I fished it was running at 16,000 cfs, but clarity as fishable. The next day the flows were down to 7,000 cfs, and the day I landed the 2 fish it was at 5,000 cfs. Hence, though it gets lots of water, it drops and clears quickly. If you love Steelhead or Chinook, this is California’s best place.

Posted on

Nor Calif. Council, Fly Fishers International Report – Aug 18, 2021

by Mark Rockwell

  1. As I write this I am listening to the State Water Resources Control Board August meeting. They are discussing the extreme drought we’re in, as well as planning for another year of dry conditions in 2022. The discussion is serious and covers many streams were emergency drought stream flows are either in place or are about to start.
  2. Two of the most impacted streams are the Scott & Shasta Rivers, tributaries to the Klamath River. These streams are main spawning & rearing habitat for Chinook, Coho & steelhead. We have sent 2 letters to the State Board supporting emergency flow recommendations supported by CDFW. The letters can be read here: See Item #12 on the list.
  3. Joining us on our advocacy for the Scott & Shasta is the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA). They have been very active and made technical recommendations with the State Water Board and support the implementation of emergency curtailment of diversions of water.
  4. Over many years CSPA and NCCFFI have worked on many issues that negatively impact our fisheries and work together on FERC power dam relicensing to improve flows and habitat, as well as to work for improved flows in the S.F. Bay-Delta and its tributaries. It takes a team effort to be successful in keeping our fisheries healthy and available for sport fishers.
  • CSPA and NCCFFI have decided to join together more closely in the future, and to work together and share information with members. Bill Jennings of CSAP and Mark Rockwell of NCCFFI have discussed the relationship and agreed to due several actions: 1) Share information each organization is working on, and report to members; 2) Do monthly reports for our members and place these reports on our websites; 3) work together to create a conservation presentation to use of fly club visits to inform our members about conservation needs and work being done.
  • Current Joint Efforts – Yuba River: Both CSPA and NCCFFI are working on relicensing on the Yuba system, and focused on Water Quality Certification. Both organizations are working with the South Yuba River Citizens League (SYRCL), and focused on funding by Yuba County Water Agency forhabitat improvement on the Lower Yuba & a pilot program to re-introduce salmon to the Upper Yuba. Stanislaus River – CSPA is working to block a proposed water transfer of up to 100,000 acre-feet to Westlands Water District. This transfer would greatly reduce water carry-over in New Melones Reservoir which is needed to protect Delta fish if the 2022 water year is dry.
  • Santa Clara Valley Watershed – NCCFFI is working with Cal Trout, TU, PCFFA and Flycasters of San Jose to improve salmon & steelhead streams in the Valley. Coyote Creek, Guadalupe River & Stevens Creek are the streams of focus. We are now working on a MOU with Valley Water to ensure future cooperative efforts to complete the Fish & Aquatic Habitat Cooperative Effort (FAHCE) for these streams, signed in 2003. We are also now reviewing the draft EIR for the Guadalupe & Stevens Creek. Work to be done includes: barrier removal, stream enhancements for rearing, improved spawning habitat & improved water flows. This will be a 10 year effort to recover and stabilize salmon & steelhead populations.
  • Smith River Fishery Monitoring Plan – We have been notified that monitoring will start for both Steelhead and Chinook Salmon in California’s last great anadromous river in the Fall of 2021. The Tribal partner – Tolowa Dee-Ni Nation – will be doing the monitoring and running DIDSON sonar monitoring equipment. This will be the first time we will have an annual monitoring program on this river, and it is hoped that it will take place over at least 3 generations of Chinook (9-12years) and Steelhead. This information will be useful for managing the river fishing regulations to ensure they are consistent with run size and population health.

Summary on Conservation & Fly Fishing

After several discussions with various club Presidents and members, it is clear that fishery conservation is an important benefit NCCFFI brings to clubs & members. It is also noted that conservation is not always a primary focus for some club members. The sport of fly fishing is focused on casting, tying and getting together to fish, and is focused on the social process that clubs provide. However, if we don’t have healthy fisheries and watersheds we have no real way to put our casting and tying skills into action. I think we all recognize that no fish means no sport.

So, my plea to everyone is to continue to support our Council’s conservation efforts, and our ability to join with other partners, like CSPA, Cal Trout & TU to keep our state’s valuable natural resources healthy and available. That takes work, effort and time. In our Council the conservation work never ends because the demands made on our natural resources is great, and all natural resources are in limited supply.

Fishery Conservation is important to all fly fishers. NCCFFI needs our clubs & members to recognize that conservation is one of our primary purposes and we do it to keep our sport alive and fly fishers able to catch fish.

Your support can come by: 1) joining us on our conservation network, 2) financial contributions by clubs to NCCFFI to allow us to do this work, 3) Taking an active part in local watershed conservation efforts and working to include NCCFFI in that effort. Grants are available through this Council.

Contacts for questions or to contribute:
Mark Rockwell, 530-559-5759,
Send contributions to: NCCFFI c/o Tom Smith, Treasurer, P.O. Box 7231, Reno, NV 89510-7231 (all contributions are tax deductible)

Posted on

38th Annual Salmonid Restoration Conference

We are pleased to announce that the final conference agenda packet is posted for the 38th Annual Salmonid Restora-tion Conference taking place in Santa Cruz, CA from March 31 – April 3, 2020. The theme of the upcoming conference is 2020 Vision for California’s Salmonscape. Please see the SRF website for information on workshops,field tours, and concurrent sessions. Information regarding the Plenary Session and other special events is now posted as well.

Conference Registration

You may register for the 2020 Salmonid Restoration Con-ference via any of the following methods:

  • Register online and make a secure payment with PayPal.
  • Fill out the registration form and fax it with your payment infor-mation to (707) 923-3135
  • Mail your registration form and payment to the SRF office: 425 Snug Alley, Unit D, Eureka, CA 95501; make checks payable to SRF
  • E-mail your registration form and payment information to

SRF Membership Soiree

SRF’s annual membership dinner will be a strolling soiree at NOAA’s Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Exploration Center. Tis event will coincide with the launch of the Sanctuary’s interactive California Salmonscape exhibit and will feature a short presentation by the legendary artist Ray Troll, whose art is highlighted in the exhibit, and Sarah Mesnick who leads the science, art, and seafood campaign at NOAA Fisheries.

2020 SRF Conference Poster Session

The Poster Session will be 7-10 pm on Thursday, April 2 at the Cocoanut Grove. This annual event is open to all confer-ence attendees and is a great venue to network with your peers. There is no additional cost to attend or present a poster. We encourage posters, pamphlet distribution, software exhibits, and multimedia (video) presentations.Please visit the conference FAQ page for more informa-tion about the conference venues, hotel options, and more. Thank you and please contact us with any questions, Dana StolzmanExecutive Director – Salmonid Restoration Federation