Monday, August 27, 2007

Coho Confab and Steelhead Pilgrimage: Part 2

Fishing the Klamath

It was fitting that as part of my introduction to the salmon rivers of northern California, I was destined to visit the Klamath River. The Klamath is notorious for the devastating fish kill of 2002, when over 30,000 adult Chinook salmon fell victim to upstream water diversions.

At first light we took a small drift boat to the mouth of what was once the third most productive salmon river in the nation.

Here, native Americans have permits to fish the estuary using gillnets. The scene reminded me of the local fishermen I have observed in Baja California. It's good to see there was still some commercial catch available to the local tribes.

After a couple of hours trolling, it was clear the fish were not interested in our shiny metal lures, so we took the boat upstream. Here we rowed upriver for an hour, walking and casting along the bank for the final half mile or so. Bear tracks on the riverbank served as a reminder of the relatively wild ecosystem, and there was "Large Woody Debris" of a scale not found in Southern California.

"Pop!" The sound echoing up the river had us running for the boat. Lunch was served, with a nice bottle of wine. Top notch guide service!

Algae has been a topic of interest since we started monitoring on the Ventura River. Here on the Klamath algae is largely the result of the upstream dams. In a complex reaction that highlights a delicate cause and effect balance, the dams heat the water and accumulate nutrients from farming. The release of this toxic soup downstream dramatically alters the ecosystem.

This photo shows typical algae growth in the lower Klamath River. As the sun came out in the afternoon, we measured water temperatures over 71F and levels of dissolved oxygen over 9 mg/l, a recipe for stress later in the evening when the plants cease photosynthesis.

As luck would have it, the fish were not biting upstream either. Whether this was due to warm water, or the earliness of the season does not matter. We had a good laugh, and drove back to the boat ramp where the locals were unloading the day's catch. As it was my duty to bring home some fresh fish, I happily bought a "seal bit" chinook, fresh from the nets, for a more than reasonable discount. (should have bought two!)

... continued (Part 3 "Steelhead Pilgrimage")