Winter Run - December 28th

My wife and I were headed back home along the Pacific Coast Highway after a post Christmas trip down to Big Sur. Being a cool and clear Sunday afternoon, the parking lot was nearly full. I happened to spot a newly minted Chevy pickup with the color and logo of California's Department of Fish and Game. The game warden sat in the truck - texting on his cell phone.

Marsh floods foot bridge leading out to creek

"Any guess when the sandbar will breach?" I asked through the open window. He looked up from his cell phone and offered "Don't really know but another big storm soon might do it." His name was Raine which seemed appropriate for this time and place. A couple more questions didn't take him long to ask "Do you fish?" With his profile of me complete, he went into full-game-warden mode mentioning the reg's for the creek and pulled copies of California's Fishing Regulation handbooks out of the backseat for me to take.

Raine's youth hadn't yet soured him on public contact and although this watershed didn't fall into his patrol, he seemed willing to share what knowledge he had. I made a mental note of a spot where he and another warden found steelhead in the prior season. Raine might have suspected I would go with rod-in-hand, so if he was "playing dumb", then he seemed convincing. So, I aborted any more questions as to the whereabouts of steelhead and came back to the sandbar and factors for it to breach.

Sign warning against breaching sandbar at mouth of lagoon

Destruction of the sandbar which builds up along the beach is dependent on a complex dance of earth and water including: wave dynamics, sand abundance, shape of the shoreline, the in-stream flow and channel width of the creek. And in recent times, the willingness of local farmers to breach it with a back-hoe.

The state of California purchased large pieces of the creek's delta including the adjacent beach in the 1980's. With the goal of promoting marshland habitat for shorebirds, the State Parks decided to breach the sandbar to accelerate creek flow and expand bird habitat. In 1995, however, two of the most powerful words known to resource managers and anglers were declared - Fish Kill. The state sponsored breach now halted, it's unclear the affect. More recently, records from State Parks show 300 fish were found dead in 2003, 63 in 2004, 170 in 2006 and 14 in 2007. (See the video for an update on what's being done to prevent future fish kills in the marsh.)

Thinking back on my exchange with Raine, he ever mentioned these recent fish kills. The State's legacy in these matters might lead someone like Raine to play dumb for sure.

Winter 2016 Brings Yet Another Fish Die Off