"What most tourists term a plague of insects, the fly
fisher calls a great hatch.”
Patrick F. McManus
Battle Creek... Where the salmon come from
My first attempt at steelhead fishing was with my father on
Battle Creek 34 years ago. We took the Jelly's Ferry exit off I-5
past Red Bluff and drove about 14 miles to the old federal Coleman
Fish Hatchery. After walking downstream about a quarter of a mile,
we tied on Silver Hiltons, the hot fly that year, and waded into the
creek past our waists and began casting. After quarter-casting for
half an hour with no results, I was hit in my tush by something
powerful. Two other fly fishers swear I came out of the water three
feet straight up. As my father and the two convulsed in laughter, I
looked around to see what had "attacked" me. It was a 20-25 lb.
Chinook heading upstream to spawn. After my heart stopped pounding,
I looked around to see between 12-15 other Chinook moving up stream.
After getting bumped four or five more times, I learned to ignore
We had fished for over four hours with no results and it was
about one half hour before sunset. As I walked downstream, I came
across two makeshift planks into the creek surrounded on both sides
by wild blackberry plants. Anyone catching a fish could not possibly
land it in that location, but I didn't think about that. On my first
cast, I thought I was snagged and gave a frustrated yank on my rod.
The steelhead came out of the water and made its first run upstream.
After it took all of my fly line and half my backing, I started
thinking about how much backing I had on the reel. Somehow, I turned
the fish and as it shot downstream I thought, "Now I have it."
Again, it took out my fly line plus all my backing. As it snapped my
5x tippet, (another mistake) it didn't even slow down. I have great
memories of Battle Creek.
About six years
ago, I wrote a conservation article about restoring 42 miles of
prime Battle Creek spawning area and the plans to restore its
fisheries. The plan included increasing water flow, elimination of
mixing both the north and south forks of Battle Creek, and the
removal of five hydroelectric diversion dams along with other
important restoration projects. In 1999, Pacific Gas and Electric
(PGE), the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the National Marine
Fisheries Service (NMFS), and the California Department of Fish and
Game (DFG) came to an agreement and signed a Memorandum of
Understanding (MOU), and arranged for funding the project .
However, before the project started, a local rancher who owned
property on Battle Creek filed suit to prevent the restoration from
going forward. He had placed nets or screens both up and down
stream on the creek, had planted trophy trout in the enclosure and
was operating a pay-for-play operation. His suit brought the project
to a halt and threatened stop it completely. That was the situation
when my last article finished. However, when the case was presented
to a judge, he found the plaintiff's case without merit and
dismissed the suit. His judgment years of legal haggling and allowed
the project to move forward. A year and a half ago, at a NCCFFF
board meeting at Lake McCumber, a member of the Greater Battle Creek
Watershed Working Group and a representative PG&E made a
presentation showing the progress made on the Battle Creek
restoration by the coalition of groups involved.
The Importance of Battle Creek and the Battle Creek
Salmon and Steelhead Restoration Project (BCSSRP)
One of the main reasons Battle Creek is an excellent site for a
restoration project is its geomorphic location. It was formed by
volcanic rock erupting from the Cascades a few million years ago,
and the creek is formed by a large number of deep springs that
provide an excellent source of cold water year round. Despite its
relativity low elevation, the springs provide the cold water needed
for anadromous fish to complete their life cycle. Battle Creek has
three tributaries; they are Baldwin Creek and its North and South
Forks. Its drainage is about 370 square miles and it flows into the
Sacramento River. The Battle Creek watershed has about 250 miles of
fish-bearing streams and 87 miles of river suitable for both salmon
The major importance of Battle creek is its four historic and
still-existing runs of:
1) -Spring run Chinook (Endangered)
2) Valley Spring-run Chinook (Threatened)
3) Valley Fall and late Fall Chinook (Species of Concern)
4) Valley Steelhead (Threatened)
The BCSSRP is again moving ahead and will allow for the
restoration habitat of the four fish populations listed. On
completion, it will add 42 miles of prime spawning habitat for
anadromous fish and an additional six miles of tributary spawning
access. It is hoped this will enhance the growth and populations of
both the salmon and steelhead listed.
The project is made up of two parts with the first having been
completed. The BCSSRP has a variety of goals. Some of these are:
1) The removal of five PG&E dams
2) To stop the intermingling of flows between the north and south
3) Placing fish ladders and screens on several diversion dams
4) Increasing water flows
The first dam was built in the early 1900's and was followed by
four others, which eliminated 42 miles of prime-spawning habitat.
Wildcat Dam has been removed and will be followed by the others in
Part Two of the restoration. The other dams to be removed are the
Lower Ridge Creek, Soap Creek Feeder, Coleman, and South Dam. Signs
of improvement are already beginning to show. Ten years prior to the
removal of Wildcat Dam, an average 10% of the salmon redds were
found upstream from the dam. After Wildcat Dam's removal, 33% of the
redds are now found above the former dams site.
The federal Coleman Fish Hatchery is located on Battle Creek and
was built in 1942.This was attempt to maintain salmon and steelhead
for both commercial and sport fishing because of the loss of natural
habitat due to the building of Shasta and Keswick Dams. In
researching this report, I talked with one of Coleman Hatchery's
spokesman, Scott Hamelberg, who told me the hatchery produces over
12 million Chinook and 600,000 steelhead smolts annually. To date,
they have had over 1 million Chinook return to spawn, but will not
have a final steelhead count until after the run ends in March.
One "bone of contention" in re-establishing the 42 miles of
spawning ground is the source of the fish to be used. The Coleman
Hatchery people want use only hatchery fish. In speaking with Sharon
Paquin-Gilmore, Watershed Coordinator for the Battle Creek Watershed
Conservancy, they and others in the coalition, want to use native
fish to establish and biodiversity. This issue has yet to be
Both phases of Part 1 of the project have been finished and Part 2
has started. Hopefully, the second half will be completed in the
next several years. Given Battle Creek's abundant source of year
round cold water, the re-opening of 42 miles of prime spawning
ground, and the pre-existing salmonid fishery, all point to a
successful project. Fortunately, Battle Creek faces none of the huge
problems facing the San Joaquin River Restoration Project.
When the project is completed and the new section opens for
fishing, I'll volunteer to be the Fishmiester for Delta Fly Fishers
first steelhead outing on Battle Creek.
Hey, everyone should experience the "thrill" of unexpectedly hit
in the butt by a 20-25 lbs salmon!