Morning light bathes the room. Through an open window, pounding surf and barking sea lions tap me awake as memory rewinds on four days of bliss by the sea.
Day one: Morro Bay, a classic California beach town, is charming and welcoming with a small-town allure that can’t be ignored. Winding along Highway 41, the road bends and delivers views of iconic Morro Rock. I sip a breath of ocean air and smile. Over the next four days this landmark will never be out of sight.
Protected as Morro Rock State Preserve, the 581-foot monolith can’t be hiked or climbed. Disturbing the bird life is prohibited. The “Gibraltar of the Pacific,” Morro Rock is one of nine volcanic-plug “sisters” stretching inland to San Luis Obispo. The 2,300-acre Morro Bay National Estuary and protected bay is a marine and wildlife sanctuary. Two dozen threatened and endangered species live in the bay’s watershed, including the peregrine falcon, brown pelican, sea otter, Morro Bay kangaroo rat, black rail, snowy plover, steelhead trout and Morro Manzanita. Annually, outdoor devotees are drawn to this natural wonderland and the Morro Bay Winter Bird Festival, which offers numerous field trips and presentations.
As a general principle, do you want to travel toward a population center when looking for a place to fish? My opinion had been that we should be heading away from an urban area trying to find good fishing. Based on this idea I have not fished Folsom Lake in the decades I have been living in the Foothills. Recently I had my opinion changed.
In May, I attended an Outdoor Writers Association of California convention in Placer County. I was invited to fish Folsom Lake with bass fishing guide Don Paganelli. I was excited to go and find out what I had been missing. I have had reports from bass tournament anglers that there were some good fish in the lake.
The drought hit Folsom Lake especially hard. The water level had dropped to 116 feet below full. The dam at Folsom is much lower that Oroville and the water stored had dropped well below 25 percent of capacity. It seemed logical to me that the fish population would have suffered with the small remaining volume of water. We were going to be fishing the lake at close to full condition. Would there be enough fish to provide good sport?
What does a city girl know about fun fishing and farm ponds? You might be surprised. Country folks just walk behind their house or to the neighbors to fish a pond. To get to a river, stream or bigger pond, they can take a horse and get there and back in a short time. Okay, I know they have trucks and can get to a nearby lake but it takes a little more effort for us city dwellers to engage in such activities. In my territory we have wheels on everything. In my Ford 150 on an 8 lane freeway I can be at a lake in less than an hour, okay, two hours with traffic. City kids have bicycles and skateboards and can zip a few miles and get to their fishing spots. I remember in the old days when my boys jumped on their two wheelers and rode to a nearby private lake, jumped the fence and fished. When I tried to do it, jumping the fence wasn’t a good thing.
Out west we have aqueducts. We have lots of them if you can get to one and fishing is allowed. In years past, our family would sit on the bank of an aqueduct and fish for hours because there are huge catfish and stripers lurking about and we caught us some. It would be important for you to know that most aqueducts have slippery, mossy sides that I found out about the hard way. One nice afternoon while we were fishing my hat flew into the water. I stepped just an inch into the water to get it and quickly slid all the way in. Did I mention there is usually a fast current as well? My family burst into laughter until they realized mom was in a panic and quickly heading down stream and reached out with a net to save me!
“I was here last Saturday, and this place was packed.” Chris Reeves, our river pilot from Tributary Whitewater Tours, was amazed how quiet the Oxbow put-in location was by the edge of the Middle Fork of the American River. Chris is used to guiding busy weekend trips, but it was a beautiful Monday morning, and we practically had the river to ourselves.
I rummaged through a pile of wetsuits, lifejackets and helmets to properly suit up for the adventure ahead. My friends and I were attending an Outdoor Writers Association of California conference and had chosen this sixteen mile river adventure from among several conference activities. It had been years since I had been on a white water trip, and I was excited for the adventure ahead.
In search of solutions to the extreme threat to California’s forests and watersheds, correspondent Tom Wilmer met with Bob Kingman, the Sierra Nevada Conservancy’s Assistant Executive Officer in Auburn, California. He then visits with Sean O’Brien in San Luis Obispo about urban forested Monterey Pines in conjunction with Cal Fire in Cambria.
More than 60 percent of California’s water supply comes from the Sierras. High-intensity fires such as The 2013 Rim Fire generated greenhouse gas emissions equal to what 2.3 million vehicles produce annually. During the rainy season, the subsequent massive run off and erosion created in-filled reservoirs, and severely degraded water quality.
Sean and Dana O’Brien in San Luis Obispo are sequestering carbon, and helping to minimize the threat of forest fires through their urban-forested Pacific Coast Lumber mill operation, and A Place to Grow Recycled Greenhouses. The O’Briens work in concert with Cal Fire’s efforts to remove dead and dying Monterey Pines in and around the coastal village of Cambria, California.
Read the full story and listen to the podcast here.