California DFW Points Steerage for Fishing Throughout Drought

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The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is encouraging recreational anglers to voluntarily change how, when, and where they fish to minimize stress and mortality in fish populations suffering from drought conditions.

CDFW advises anglers not to fish after noon in certain inland waters, as even catch-and-release fishing during the hottest times of the day can greatly increase fishing stress and mortality.

“Many of our inland fisheries that rely on cold water habitats are likely to suffer significant short and long-term impacts,” said CDFW Inland Fisheries Manager Roger Bloom. “California’s drought cycles have forced us to learn to manage fisheries with extreme fluctuations in water currents. The last drought had a significant impact on fisheries, which took years to recover. We hope that the Hoot Owl restrictions imposed by anglers will help mitigate these effects. “

Cold water species such as trout, salmon and steelhead are most likely to be hit by the drought this year, but low water levels and high water temperatures can potentially affect all water species inland.

CDFW has implemented a set of voluntary fishing recommendations – called “Hoot Owl” restrictions – that instruct anglers to focus their fishing on the cooler “Hoot Owl” times of the day, when water temperatures are at their lowest. A watchlist of specific waters to avoid fishing after noon is included and will be updated as conditions change. Persistent afternoon water temperatures in excess of 67 degrees Fahrenheit for trout fishing could trigger a listing.

Currently the list of waters includes:

  • Lower Owens River (Pleasant Valley Dam downstream to Five Bridges) in Mono County
  • Hot Creek in Mono County
  • Mill Creek (Walker Basin) in Mono County
  • Lower Rush Creek (Grant Lake to Mono Lake) in Mono County
  • Bridgeport Reservoir in Mono County
  • Deep Creek, San Bernardino County
  • Crowley Lake, Mono County
  • Truckee River (Lake Tahoe to the Nevada state line) in Nevada, Placer, and Sierra counties

If conditions change, CDFW will post the updated list on the Hoot Owl Restrictions page.

Elevated water temperatures, lower oxygen levels, disease, low runoffs, and low water levels are among the drought-related impacts affecting many California coastal waters and inland fisheries.

CDFW offers a number of other fishing tips to help reduce fish stress during drought:

  • Minimize the time spent “fighting” the fish and any practical handling.
  • Use rubber or coated nylon nets to protect a fish’s slime layer and fins.
  • Quickly remove the hook with tweezers or needle-nose pliers.
  • Minimize the amount of time the fish is exposed to air, especially in warm weather.
  • Keep your hands wet when handling the fish.
  • When the fish is hooked deeply, do not pull the line. Instead, cut the string as close as possible to where it is hooked and leave the hook so it can unravel.
  • Let the fish relax in the net before you let go of it.
  • If the fish does not stay upright when you let go, gently move it back and forth.
  • Avoid fighting fish from deeper, cooler waters and moving them to the surface in warmer waters if you intend to release them.
  • Target fisheries with stable water levels and species that are more resistant to elevated temperatures.

While these best practices may not apply to all anglers looking to harvest their fish for consumption, mortality can be caused by non-target species caught and released, or fish outside the legal size limits that must be returned to the water.

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