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Drought a drag on fishing
Rafting on Stanislaus looks more promising
A rafter last summer on the Stanislaus River. - photo by DENNIS WYATT

In nearly three decades Shiloh Foust has never had to worry about missing a season. 

The owner of the Knights Ferry-based Sunshine Rafting, Foust has seen nearly every California water condition possible along the Stanislaus River. He has learned how to keep a keen eye on the Sacramento politics and regional engineering decisions that will determine when, and how long, he can expect his customers to trickle in. 

And even with the expansive drought continuing to hammer the American West, Foust is more concerned with the decisions that determine the amount of water to flow to Southern California than what’s being stored immediately above him.

“Right now the projections are mixed, and we’ll find out in two weeks a little bit more about the summertime flows,” he said. “Our main concern right now about the water on these sections hinges on the water quality downstream at Vernalis. 

“There was legislation passed that dealt with the salinity levels, and however that turns out will determine how much water they end up releasing. We’re a pretty mellow trip so we should be okay – in 25 or 30 years we’ve never had flows low enough to where we couldn’t make it down.” 

The Bureau of Reclamation on Monday cranked up releases from Goodwin Dam from 600 cubic feet per second to 2,500 cubic feet per second. They will remain at that level until April 30 when flows will be reduced to a level yet to be determined.

The increased flows for the next 15 days are designed to benefit Stanislaus River steelhead and San Joaquin River Chinook salmon.

Whether the drought impacts business is another matter entirely. 

At Fisherman’s Warehouse, Manager Kirk Freisen said that they’re already starting to see the impact from the lack of lake-bound anglers that are looking at other avenues when it comes to their sport fishing. Places like Lake Don Pedro and New Melones Reservoir are at levels unlike anything that Freisen has ever seen before – making it next to impossible to get a boat in the water – and the summertime releases, he said, are likely only going to make things worse. 

Right now is typically when the Kokanee salmon – land-locked sockeye salmon – start to bite for trollers and anglers finding schools below the surface in cooler water. The lower the lake level dips, the warmer the water will become and that could be disastrous both ecologically and economically. 

“We hear from guys that come in here and say that they’ve seen it like this before,” Freisen said. “I’ve never seen anything like it. Right now those lakes are so low, and if there isn’t anything to flow into them, there isn’t going to be much flowing out of them either. 

“That really could end up affecting us when it comes to people stopping in and picking up bait and supplies on their way up to go fishing. That’s when we get a lot of our customers.”