I kept receiving the emails, which grew more apocalyptic as time passed.

If you believed them, the McCloud Hydropower relicensing process was about to deal the McCloud River a death blow: “eliminate up to two and half months (April to July) of our licensed fishing season in order to create an amusement park for whitewater kayakers.”

Worse yet, the relicensing process was going to “damage the 24 miles of near-perfect aquatic habitat throughout the McCloud below the reservoir and will destroy what is a unique, world-renowned and historic fishery.

Then – to my growing astonishment – I “learned” that the CalTrout and the state TU reps were “closet” whitewater activists working in the service of a shadowy whitewater lobby with more juice than the Trilateral commission.

Fearsome stuff.

Which happened to be almost wholly false.

[sigh]

Don’t Make Me Pull This Blog Over To The Side Of The Road…

Major dams undergo a relicensing every 50 years, and flow regimes are a part of that process.

It’s an impossibly complex process whereby every stakeholder on the planet has a say (including utilities, irrigators, state water board, forest service, user groups [like anglers & whitewater types], extraterrestrials, etc), and a cynic might suggest that nobody will ever really get what they want.

Where the McCloud’s concerned, the stakes for fly fishermen are high; the McCloud remains one of the most scenic – and popular – rivers in the “real” west, and things can get a little heated.

In this case, somebody went way, way over the top.

In a nutshell, CalTrout, California’s Trout Unlimited chapter and FFF have been deeply involved in the relicensing process for almost four years.

More recently, another group of anglers have become involved, and while I’m all for participation in conservation issues, I’m unwilling to sanction the fearmongering, misinformation and personal attacks offered up by the McCloud Riverkeepers (MRK). In fact, I’m even unwilling to give them a link to their site.

On their website and in a series of increasingly apocalyptic emails, the group – led by Dennis Amato – have sounded increasingly shrill alarms about the McCloud’s imminent demise, and continue to tar and feather the state’s conservation groups with some absurd charges.

Finally, I investigated for myself, and discovered a reality was far from the one painted by MRK’s emails.

In simple terms, McCloud definitely needs the help of every fly fishermen who fishes it (or wants to).

But the dire predictions, alarming emails and character assassination have almost no grounding in fact.

In fact, I’d suggest a lot of California’s anglers were the targets of an over-the-top fearmongering campaign.

So what’s really happening?

What’s Going On With The McCloud?

Several flow proposals have been tendered during the McCloud relicensing process, including one from American Whitewater, which in fact would have rendered the McCloud unfishable for big chunks of spring.

Fortunately, that proposal was Dead on Arrival, and it now appears that American Whitewater – the seemingly omnipotent Bad Guys according to MRK – have abandoned it, throwing their support behind the more reasonable US Forest Service proposal.

That hasn’t stopped the MRK from using that original proposal, raising the specter of scouring flows, a dead fishery and scores of happy kayakers paddling past frustrated fly fishermen.

In truth, the group’s dire predictions are beyond the scope of even the most harmful whitewater proposal. And just to be clear, pulse flows and the like simply aren’t on the table at this time.

Meanwhile, CalTrout/TU/FFF have submitted a flow proposal that recognizes the “90% users” of the McCloud (that’s you and me – fishermen), and tries to rectify the more glaring problems with the existing flow regime.

What’s astonishing in all this is that MRK’s stated goal is to maintain flows at the status quo – a fairly reasonable stance, though given what I’ve learned about the relicensing process, a largely impractical one.

Which truly makes me wonder why it’s being propped up by so many lies.

I’m willing to debate the merits of the CT/TU/FFF proposal vs status quo flows vs the Forest Service proposal (and we’ll do that someday soon).

But I won’t debate anything in a toxic environment charged with invective and misinformation.

And though I’m unwilling to dignify the personal attacks with a lengthy rebuttal, I will suggest MRK’s charges are absurd, serving only to sink the credibility of MRK into the realm of negative numbers.

So Why The Fly Shops?

Almost as painful as the emails has been the willingness of several of California’s biggest fly shops to hitch their drift boat to this particular anchor.

MRK’s emails tout the support of Bob Marriot’s (Southern California), Leland Fly Fishing Outfitters (San Francisco), and The Fly Shop in Redding (which manages the old – and still seriously private – Bollibokka club for Westlands Irrigation District, who bought it to remove another obstacle to raising Shasta Dam).

You only have to read the Background/Positions section of the MRK website to get a sense for the bombast and personal attacks involved, and why the shops didn’t perform that due diligence – when even a local (and tiny) fly shop managed to do so – reflects poorly on somebody.

So Who Am I Backing?

So after wasting time writing this post (the kind of post I’d happily avoid), I’m supporting the CT/TU/FFF proposal over the “status quo” flows (the gist of the CT/TU/FFF support request is placed at the end of this post).

The CT/TU/FFF flows appear to fix many of the problems that plague the McCloud, including the springtime dewatering of the first mile below the dam, and the too-rapid fluctuations (hard on insects and fry).

Local Shasta Trout guide/outfitter Craig Nielsen actually fished the McCloud during the flow regime testing, and also supports the new CT/TU/FFF flow proposal on his website.

We spoke on our way to and from our alpine lake fishing trip, where Nielsen asserted said that higher flows (up to a point) will actually open up more water to anglers, increasing the “carrying capacity” of the river and improving the habitat for trout.

In simple terms, he thought fly fishermen would “lose access to a few spots, but gain many more new spots in the process.”

That’s not a bad start.

Summary, and More Information

These issues are rare easy or clear cut, but nobody’s served when the facts are obscured under a heaping mound of fear, exaggeration and character assassination.

You can advocate for a status quo on the flows without any of the above, which is how I wish this was playing out.

It’s clearly not. Still, perhaps it can, if we stick to the facts at hand.

Excerpt From the CalTrout/TU/FFF Letter

We have proposed an alternative flow regime with the intent of protecting, if not enhancing, the McCloud River fishery and improving its world class angling. Our recommendation calls for increased flows in the late-winter and early-spring during the critical time that rainbow trout are spawning and fry are rearing. Our proposal provides a more gradual down ramping of flows compared to how the river is managed now and will decrease the risk of rainbow trout fry stranding and reduce fish mortality.

We also believe that by releasing more water in the winter and early spring months we can minimize the amount of uncontrolled spills from the dam that create unexpected blow out conditions. These rapid increases and decreases in flow are detrimental to both fish and anglers.

While today some think the McCloud is as good as it can be, we believe that by addressing some detrimental flow issues we will both protect and improve the health of the famous McCloud River for years to come, and maintain wading access and fishability of the McCloud that anglers have come to expect. And, ultimately protecting the fish will enhance the overall fishing experience.

To understand the impact on anglers we reviewed over 30 years of McCloud River flow data. Our proposal would have impacted wadability in only the early weeks of the season in only five of those years. We believe that is a reasonable compromise in providing an even healthier fishery. We have consulted with dozens of anglers and guides who agree our proposal is the best for the fish and anglers.

Bottom line:
1. Our flow proposal will maintain world class angling conditions in the Lower McCloud River.
2. Our flow proposal will improve rainbow trout spawning conditions during early winter and
spring.
3. Our flow proposal will minimize flow fluctuations that can strand fry.
4. Anglers that know the McCloud best agree with our proposed flows.

Yes, we need your support. It’s easy to make your voice heard directly to Federal Energy Regulatory
Commission. Click here to comment and make sure you file under the McCloud project number which is P-2106-047.

Tell them how important the McCloud River’s angling heritage is. Tell them you support the CalTrout, Trout Unlimited, and Northern California Federation of Fly Fishers proposal to improve the way the river is managed and protect McCloud River’s fishery.

Your voice can be heard (and yes, FERC is listening (sorta)).

Like many things in government, the process is easy, but convoluted.

  1. Go here.
  2. Click on the “eComment” button.
  3. FERC will ask for an email address, then send an email with instructions to that address.
  4. Click the link in the email.
  5. Paste this project number in the space (it’s there): P-2106-047
  6. Write, or copy & paste your comments in the text box.
  7. (I told them I supported the CalTrout/TU/FFF proposal because it protects fisheries and supports the biggest recreational use of the river.)

See you on the McCloud, Tom Chandler.