URGENT! PCT would like your opinion regarding potential fishing regulation changes to protect spawning trout.
Putah Creek is a designated Wild Trout Water, well known for its trophy rainbow trout population. Traditionally, Putah Creek had been governed by general trout regulations, including harvest, during the regular trout season (April-November), with catch-and-release with artificial lure angling allowed for the remainder of the year. However, with the cessation of supplemental stocking of the fishery in 2008, concern over the impact of angling pressure on the wild trout population became critical. In 2009, Putah Creek Trout petitioned the California Fish and Game Commission to change the regulations for year-round zero harvest, artificial lure angling to reduce the impact of harvest on the wild trout fishery. The regulation change was granted and instituted beginning with the 2010 fishing season.
Putah Creek harbors a unique winter-spawning strain of native coastal rainbow trout, with spawning activity documented from early-November through early-February coincident with the reduction of summer to winter flows. While the 2010 regulation change eliminated legal harvest, it did not reduce the impact of angling during spawning season. With reduced flows and limited spawning habitat, large spawning trout are highly visible and concentrated in a few select locations within the Creek. Angling over redds risks physiological stress to spawning trout during a critical portion of their lifecycle, as well as damage to eggs in redds by wading anglers for several weeks after redd construction. Anglers and advocates have long been aware of the significant angling pressure in the winter, which has also been documented by CDFW. This has resulted in many members of the fishing community observing a voluntary ”closure” in not fishing Putah Creek from December 1 to March 1. While the goals of this voluntary closure are laudable, it has also resulted in uncertainty among some users of the Creek regarding the ethics of any angling during this time and has led to “shaming” and confrontations both on the Creek and in online venues.
Angler survey data and CDFW electrofishing surveys since 2016 have indicated a dramatic decline in young-of-the-year (YOY) rainbow trout, indicating very poor recruitment of the wild trout population. While an abundance of large size fish and older age classes are outstanding from an angling perspective, the relative lack of smaller and younger age classes is indicative of an unhealthy population and poses a real, immediate concern for the future of the fishery. While actions toward the improvement of spawning habitat are being actively pursued, a reduction of angling impacts during the spawning period should also be considered by the angling community.
Over many years, Putah Creek Trout has had numerous conversations with CDFW and stakeholders regarding the possibility of a seasonal or partial closure to angling during the winter. A partial
angling closure, by geography (e.g. Monticello Dam to FA #3), is not a feasible option within the CDFW regulatory framework for trout waters. Further, with the simplification of CDFW regulations for trout waters in 2019, only a limited set of options are available for seasonal closure. A seasonal closure outside of the listed options is not impossible, but would require the initiation of a lengthy review process and has a low probability to be ultimately successful without intervening changes to the fishery classification of the IDR. The option for seasonal closure that bestmatches the December 1 – March 1 voluntary closure would be to close Putah Creek to all angling from November 15 to the last Saturday in April.
While a winter closure of Putah Creek would protect spawning trout, a seasonal closure would bring some negative outcomes for the angling community. First, a closure from November 15 to late-April would result in an overall loss of angling opportunity, particularly when flows are more moderate (March 1 – late-April). Second, the lack of law enforcement and community policing of seasonally closed waters may pose an increased opportunity for poachers. Additionally, there will be some measurable economic impacts for the local community, including fishing guides.
Putah Creek Trout is soliciting advice on (1) whether to pursue a seasonal closure of angling on Putah Creek and, if so, (2) under what conditions. We highly value your input and will appreciate your responses a short survey…
The spawning closure survey has been closed to allow for time to analyze the responses. We have received 235 completed surveys. Thank you all who have taken time to provide feedback, We will post the results after the data has been analyzed.