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View Full Version : On the history of fishig in Lake BerryessaBar



OldGuy
07-16-2005, 09:05 PM
I recently posted an item on the Kokanee Board dealing with the evolution of kokanee fishing methods. Some people liked it so I decided to draw on my 40+ years of fishing in Lake Berryessa to describe some of the changes that have occurred over that period. I would guess that the number of people who have fished the lake continuously since it first filled is small. I tried to get the DFG to do something like this for Outdoor California, but was not successful. What follows is from my own personal experience and may not be precisely accurate as to dates and timing of events, but should be close.

Monticello dam was completed in 1957 and the lake filled in 1963. Putah Creek contained several varities of fish that were trapped in the lake when it was formed. Included were bluegills, smallmouth bass, catfish, squawfish, and a few steelhead. Probably others as well. During the first few years some skilled or lucky anglers landed occasional 5-6 pound steelhead. Unfortunately, I was not one of them. As the lake filled, the DFG added threadfin shad and started what was called a trophy trout program. More on trout later.

I moved to Davis with my family in 1959. In the early 1960s I occasionally rented a boat in Wragg Canyon at what is now called Pleasure Cove. Used my 2.5 hp Elgin (Sears) outboard to propell the boat. Being inexperienced with bass fishing at that time, and with two young boys, I initially focussed on the abundant population of good size bluegills. Bluegills are hard to find in Berryessa today.

We bought our first boat in 1965, an early 16 foot fiber glass model called Wizard. It was equipped with a 45 hp motor, later replaced with a 70 hp Merc. In the late 1980s that boat was replaced with a 17 foot Glastron with a 115 Merc. The original 115 was replaced with a newer model in 1998. Both boats were (are) equipped with electric trolling motors and sonar units. It may be time for a new boat, but that is another matter. Most of our fishing has been in the Delta, Oroville Lake, Bullards Bar and Berryessa. Being close, Berryessa has received the most attention over the past 40 years. Major changes affecting fishing in Berryessa during that period are discussed under three categories: Lake level, Trout-salmon-kokanee and Bass.

Lake level

Variations in annual rainfall have led to substantial fluctuations in the level of Lake Berryessa. While not necessarily bad for fish, these changes had major impacts on fishermen and marinas. The first problem year was 1977 when the water dropped below the Markley Cove launching ramp. We first travelled a bit farther to South Shore in Wragg Canyon, but as the water continued to drop, South Shore was also out of business. We were forced to travel an extra 20-25 miles to Spanish Flat, where we were barely able to launch for the rest of the season.

Conditions became much worse during the drought period from about 1987-1994. The lake level remained very low, dropping to 78 feet below the Glory Hole in 1992. Parts of the old town of Monticello were exposed and launching ramps were out of the water all over the lake. In Markely Cove a road was extended from the end of the regular launching ramp to a point about a quarter mile down the cove where it was deep enough to install a temporary ramp, with difficult and limited parking. Similar kinds of temporary facilities installed around the lake allowed boats to get on the water, but fishing was difficult and the marinas were under considerable financial pressure. Fishing efforts and other boating activities were greatly reduced.

A benefit of the low water years was the emergence of new plant growth which added nutrients to the lake when covered again by rising water. I will leave it to biologists to evaluate the overall effects of the water fluctuations on the fish.

Trout-salmon-kokanee

By 1970, trout began to show more frequently in our catch, mostly in October and November, reflecting the success of the "trophy trout" program. This was before downriggers were widely used. Trout planted in the spring would go deep as the water warmed and feed mostly unmolested during the summer. By mid October they would often be seen rising all over the lake as they chased shad. Some nice size coho salmon became part of the catch by about 1973, lasting until about 1977. Brown trout were caught occasionally until 1982. The trout limit was three per person for a while, then restored to five.

As noted in my post on kokanee fishing (Kokanee Board), we acquired our first downrigger in 1974. About the same time a guy named Claude Davis, fishing out of Markely Cove, began selling downriggers and giving lessons on their use. Claude could be seen frequently in his small boat, often with a passenger, trolling in Markeley Cove and on out to the dam area. He put a small light bell on his rod (the likes of which I have never been able to find) to alert him when a fish hit. He also devised a clever method of avoiding repeatedly raising and lowering the downrigger weight. He used a snap-like ring with an ounce or two weight and line release attached. He attached the line from his rod to the release, put the ring on the DR cable and let it drop down to the DR ball where a hook kept it down. Several rigs could be dropped before the DR had to be raised. Claude was a Lake Berryessa icon for many years until his death, well into his 80s.

The widespread adoption of downriggers, first developed in the Great Lakes area, substantially changed trout fishing in the lake. Instead of being mostly unmolested in the summer, trout planted in the spring were attacked almost as soon as they hit the water. While this spread the opportunity to catch trout, it seemed to me that the quality of fall fishing declined, and perhaps the overall size of trout caught. However, I have not fished Berryess in the fall for 10 years (focussing instead on king salmon in the Sacramento river and striped bass in the delta) so I do not have a good sense of what may have been happening during the more recent period.

Of course, the thing that has most affected Berryessa rainbow trout is the development of widespread infestations of copepods, beginning in 2001. I don't know what brought this on, but wonder if some of the planters may have been infested. Apparently, there is no known cure, so resistant replacements are needed.

The DFG has planted king salmon (which are resitant to some parasites) in Berryessa as they have become available. We caught our first Berryessa salmon in 1983 and have caught a a few more in recent years. A problem with the kings is that they are usually found deeper and seem harder to catch than trout. However, we did have considerable success catching king salmon in Oroville Lake until they were wiped out by disease. Kokanee have been a great addition to Lake Berrryessa, but they do not provide fall or early spring action. The ideal cold water fish for Berryessa would appear to be the coho salmon, assuming parasite resistance. Unfortunately, the California DFG has been unable to continue the highly successful program in Oroville Lake, so it seems unlikely that coho would be available for Berryessa in the near future. Is this something that CIFFI could get into?

Bass

My favorite Berryessa fish. Fishing for these great fish appears to have been affected in some way by loss of habitat, the explosion of tournament fishing and health concerns.

My fishing partners are probably tired of hearing me call attention to places where trees and brush that once provided good bass cover (and some nice bass) have rotted away. Some years ago, in a misguided effort to improve habitat, willows were planted in coves all over the lake during a period of low water. Screens were placed around the new plants to keep the deer from eating them, but someone forgot that new plants need water and a bit of nurturing. To the best of my knowledge, none of those plants survived.

In the early years, amature fishermen (like me) could fish for bass on the weekends in relative peace, with modest crowds. Now, during the late winter and spring there is a professional tournament nearly every weekend. If you are retired (like me) and can fish during the week, there is no problem. But it is tough on the working guys. Tournament-caught bass are all released so there should be little impact on the bass population, if they all survive. Since encouraging conservation is in bass clubs' best interest, it seems unlikely that tounament fishing has had a significant negative impact on the fish populatioin.

With warnings about elevated levels of mercury in bass it appears that some people may refrain from keeping and eating them, thus helping to maintain or even enhance the population. It is my personal opinion that if one follows the OEHHA recomendations (oehha.org/fish.html) there is no danger in eating these excellent fish. On the other hand, some of my friends might say that I have already eaten too many.

Overall, it appears that fishing in Lake Berryesa has held up remarkably well over the years, considering how heavily the lake is used and all the things that could have had bad effects, but mostly have not.

panfish_popper
07-16-2005, 09:33 PM
Wow, i know alot more about Lake Berryessa now. Everyone on the Sniffer knows the Lake Berryessa is my favorite lake and that i fish it frequently(i try not to go on weekends). Its cool that you posted this, Is it true that this year the lake has been fuller then ever? I remember last year at this time it was way lower then it is now. My uncle recently caught his biggest bass out of Berryessa.(In May)It was 8 pounds, i noticed that these huge bass are common in Berryessa. He has also caught 4-5 pounders too. My biggest bass out of Berryessa was 4 pounds from Capel Cove. You said that Bluegill are hard to find in the lake. I think Bluegill are the most common fish in the lake. Everytime i use nightcrawlers i happen to catch a big bluegill, there all over the place! ;D Well, its nice to see a fellow Berryessa fisherman post :) See you on the Berryessa waters...

Panfish Popper

OldGuy
07-16-2005, 10:05 PM
Lake Berryessa was reported to have gone six feet over the Glory Hole in 1983. I believe that would be higher than this year.

I guess I just have not looked hard enough for bluegills. A couple of years ago one of my fishing partners caught one over 10 inches on a bass plug.

panfish_popper
07-16-2005, 10:40 PM
Yea there are alot of bluegill in Capel Cove. I caught one that was 1 pound and a half. It was huge! I was watching the news today and a old man drowned at Spanish Flat today :'( He went to save a boy who was drowning and the boy survived but the man died :'(

iwishtobe
07-17-2005, 03:39 PM
i had to save that as a text file.

thank you for the information.

ed.

fence_man
07-17-2005, 03:50 PM
the boat launch was the old rd by the dam that we used for years.

Rusty_Hooks
07-18-2005, 08:47 PM
I was in explorer scouts when they started filling the lake. *We made our first skin diving excursion to Spanish Flats and camped on the flat section which is now under considerable water. *The bass fishing was good even then...you could sneak up on a thin section on your knees and flip a hula popper out and be guaranteed a splash and a fight.

They flooded a small town to fill the damn , Monticello was it's name I believe....

Thanks for the info...Old Guy...

panfish_popper
01-27-2006, 03:22 PM
Is this year going to be extremely high waters? The lake is already maxed out!

Blue_R70
01-27-2006, 09:06 PM
I enjoyed reading your informative post, OldGuy!

AllFishNoWork
01-28-2006, 06:57 AM
Thank you for your report O.G. It was well written and interesting to read. I have never been to Berryessa and hope to make it there this year.

HookedForLife
01-28-2006, 10:40 AM
I still love bass fishing at Berreyessa in the spring, but miss the great fishing for large rainbows chasing threadfin shad on the surface in September-October, after the surface waters cooled off. In the 1970s and 80s, I enjoyed casting threadfin shad imitations using my fly rod and small Kastmasters with my spinning rod over boiling schools of trout. I never made the connection that downriggers might have something to do with depleting the numbers of trout over the summer months. Thanks for pointing it out, Old Guy!

OldGuy
01-28-2006, 10:09 PM
Panfish Popper

OldGuy
01-28-2006, 10:16 PM
Panfish Popper,

Hit the wrong key above. Latest report shows that Berryessa has dropped from about three feet above the Glory Hole to right at the top. Should be a very good water year.

OldGuy
01-29-2006, 12:10 PM
Don't know where the Bar attached to the end of Berryessa came from.

panfish_popper
01-29-2006, 07:50 PM
WELL, I CANT WAIT UNTIL MID-MARCH WHEN THE BIG FEMALE BASS COME TO THE SHALLOWS. I LOVE NAILING THEM IN CAPPEL COVE OF THE SHORE AND BOAT.

OldGuy
01-29-2006, 08:56 PM
Berryessa bass fishing should be good in February, weather and water permitting.

panfish_popper
01-29-2006, 11:41 PM
Ive never really tried it in February before, maybe this year....

CenCoast_Angler
01-30-2006, 03:32 PM
Thank you for the informative post, Old Guy!
It helped me relive some good times at Berryessa as a kid. I pretty much grew up there in the summers. My grandparents had a great place at Spanish Flat, right on the water off Sunrise Point and I spent many, many days fishing there. Unfortunately, my family had to sell their place due to mis-management at Spanish Flat by BLM personnel. >:(
However, I will always have a special place in my heart for Berryessa. So many memories. Mostly fishing memories!
Yes, the drought years had a lot to do with the dwindling trout population. For a few years, we had to walk about 300 yards downhill to get to the lake, instead of 10 yards past the bulkhead! I hear the trout are making a comeback though. I really believe that pen-raising trout in Berryessa will work. Thats great news!
I remember Monticello very well. I think it was 1993 or so when the old town became exposed. Quite a site to see. I still have some Killarny bricks that were used to construct the buildings. As I reflect, I am struck by one spot in particular....an old swimming pool. You would think that a pool would fill with silt or debris after 40 years underwater but no---it was still there, about 20X30 and 10 feet deep. The water had receded a couple feet below the pool but there was still water and seaweed in the pool....so I thought "maybe there are fish too?" I was right! We caught 3 or 4 bass and one fat catfish out of that swimming pool!!! Amazing. We released the fish in the main lake, except the cat---it was probably breakfast!
I have some pictures of the old town remains and I'll try to find them so I could scan them and post them.

Hopefully, in the not-too-distant future, I will have a great place to take my kids (and their friends...thanks Grandpa!) so they can make their own memories. I will NEVER forget that beautiful place. Unfortunately, I haven't been up there since my family sold ... but I still dream about that lake every night.


Thanks,
PK

panfish_popper
01-30-2006, 07:16 PM
Thank you for the informative post, Old Guy!
It helped me relive some good times at Berryessa as a kid. I pretty much grew up there in the summers. My grandparents had a great place at Spanish Flat, right on the water off Sunrise Point and I spent many, many days fishing there. Unfortunately, my family had to sell their place due to mis-management at Spanish Flat by BLM personnel. >:(
However, I will always have a special place in my heart for Berryessa. So many memories. Mostly fishing memories!
Yes, the drought years had a lot to do with the dwindling trout population. For a few years, we had to walk about 300 yards downhill to get to the lake, instead of 10 yards past the bulkhead! I hear the trout are making a comeback though. I really believe that pen-raising trout in Berryessa will work. Thats great news!
I remember Monticello very well. I think it was 1993 or so when the old town became exposed. Quite a site to see. I still have some Killarny bricks that were used to construct the buildings. As I reflect, I am struck by one spot in particular....an old swimming pool. You would think that a pool would fill with silt or debris after 40 years underwater but no---it was still there, about 20X30 and 10 feet deep. The water had receded a couple feet below the pool but there was still water and seaweed in the pool....so I thought "maybe there are fish too?" I was right! We caught 3 or 4 bass and one fat catfish out of that swimming pool!!! Amazing. We released the fish in the main lake, except the cat---it was probably breakfast!
I have some pictures of the old town remains and I'll try to find them so I could scan them and post them.

Hopefully, in the not-too-distant future, I will have a great place to take my kids (and their friends...thanks Grandpa!) so they can make their own memories. I will NEVER forget that beautiful place. Unfortunately, I haven't been up there since my family sold ... but I still dream about that lake every night.


Thanks,
PK

Yeah, ive been fishing the lake for about 5-6 years now and already have GREAT memories. Fishing is still excellent in Spring. My uncle pulled up a monster 8 pound bass in May. You should go up in spring and expierence the great Catfishing/Panfishing/ and Bass fishing. And that is crazy about the pool. That must have been cool!!! Try and scan those pics for us...Id love to see them!!!