The Reel Life: Clear Lake Hitch, a Critical Food Source for Birds and Fish, Is in Decline | Sports



Found only in Northern California’s Clear Lake and its tributaries, the Clear Lake Hitch is not your average sized minnow. It weighs almost a pound.

Hitch migrates each spring, when adults head upstream into Clear Lake tributaries to spawn before returning to the lake. Millions of hitches once clogged the lake’s tributaries during spectacular spawning grounds, and these biologically significant masses were a vital part of the lake’s ecosystem, an important food source for many birds, other fish, and wildlife. Hitch was once so plentiful that it was a staple food for the Pomo tribes of the Clear Lake area.

Clear Lake Hitch has seen its abundance decline precipitously as the ecology of its namesake lake has been altered and degraded. By the time regular spawning surveys began, Hitch’s abundance had dropped a hundredfold. Now only a few thousand Hitch make the annual run.

Fish once spawned in all tributaries of Clear Lake, but they can now spawn in large numbers in only two streams in the Big Valley watershed south of Clear Lake – Kelsey and Adobe Creeks. Clear Lake Hitch have declined due to loss of spawning habitat and nursery areas, migration barriers that block passage to spawning grounds, modification of stream habitat, exploitation mining in the canals, construction of temporary roads through the canals, water pumping, predation and competition from introduced invasive fish and the impacts of pollutants.

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Oceans and bays

When bottom fishing boats can reach the Farallon Islands, they find limit action for rockfish with the occasional lingcod in the mix. Most of the boats continue to chase the incredible bite of halibut in the bay. The ocean salmon season will reopen on June 23.

Lakes and rivers

The Department of Fish and Wildlife reports that Lake Tahoe’s native fish are making a comeback this summer.

The Lahontan National Fish Hatchery Complex in Gardnerville, Nevada began stocking the lake with 100,000 catchable Lahontan cutthroat trout on June 1 and will continue to stock throughout the summer if conditions permit.

The reintroduction of Lahontan cutthroat trout has biological and recreational significance as well as significant cultural value to the Washoe Tribe. As the original custodians of the Lahontan Cutthroat Trout, the Washoe Tribe have been an important player and partner since the reintroduction to the Tahoe Basin began. The tribe has always supported restoration projects on Washoe’s ancestral lands.

The fish will be stocked in various publicly accessible locations in the California and Nevada portions of the lake. Approximately 20% of the trout will be tagged to help biologists assess the success of the stocking effort as well as the growth, survival and distribution of the fish.

Lahontan cutthroat trout have been stocked intermittently in Lake Tahoe since 2011, although in smaller numbers. They are the only trout native to the Tahoe Basin and the largest cutthroat trout species in the world. The stocked fish are the Pilot Peak strain of the species, which is known for its rapid growth rate and exceptional size. The Pilot Peak strain is also found in Nevada’s Pyramid Lake, which attracts anglers from around the world hoping to catch one of Lahontan’s giant cutthroat trout.

The Lahontan cutthroat trout is listed as a threatened species under the Federal Endangered Species Act. Their initial listing in 1970 predates the modern law itself, which was passed in 1973. Native trout eventually disappeared from Lake Tahoe due to overfishing, pollution damage to spawning tributaries, the logging, water diversions and the introduction of non-native species. Federal and state efforts are underway throughout the fish’s natural range in California and Nevada to restore the species and its habitat.

While this summer’s stocking may enhance future restoration efforts, it is an initiative to expand recreational trout fishing opportunities for the public, enhance inshore fishing, and foster appreciation. of this iconic native species.

salmon fishing

In California, “salmon mooching” has become a lost art. This technique was a very effective way to catch salmon in the ocean. The advantages were bigger fish, peaceful fishing (no running motors) and lighter gear. The rig was a double hook rig, 4ft leader and two ounce banana sinker with frozen anchovy. In 1997, California Fish and Game mandated the use of circle hooks to aid in the mortality of undersized salmon. With the new hooks the success rate dropped and most of the fleet abandoned this method. Bite Me Charters of San Rafael will be running mooching trips later in the season when the fish are more concentrated. If you’re patient, it’s still a fun and successful way to catch salmon.

GSSA Fundraising

The Golden State Salmon Association is California’s leading voice for the protection and restoration of salmon, especially in the Bay-Delta ecosystem, which produces most of the salmon caught in the state. The association represents the entire California salmon community, including commercial and recreational anglers, charter boat skippers, inland river guides, restaurants, fish product manufacturers and retailers, and tribal members.

The fundraiser took place at the Friedman Event Center in Santa Rosa. Pam and Mark Smithers from Saint Helena bought a table to support the GSSA and I was invited to attend. The dinner drew nearly 400 guests who enjoyed an open bar with a chicken and rib dinner. A raffle and auction was held to benefit the salmon through the GSSA. I was lucky enough to win a bait ball from J&P Bait in San Francisco (

Brent Randol can be reached at [email protected] or 707-481-3319.


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