CHEER’s Steelhead Rescue from Dave’s Creek
By Chuck Hammerstad
On May 25, I was invited by Herman Garcia to join Bob Brem and Herman along with Michelle Leicester, CA DFG Fisheries Biologist and Joel Casagrande, NMFS Fisheries Biologist, to do a fish rescue from a large pool in Dave’s Creek which is a very small tributary to Uvas Creek. As the small creeks dry back in the spring, late arriving spring-run adults can get trapped in pools as the shallower parts of the creek dry up. And that is what happened on Dave’s Creek. Weeks earlier, CHEER “scouts” discovered 6 adult Steelhead and several smaller smolt in a pool just below a culvert under Uvas Road below Uvas reservoir dam. Herman wanted to do the rescue to prevent the hungry adults from eating the juveniles (fry) as they come out from the gravel in the spawning redd. Yes, they will consume their own offspring.
When I arrived at McDonald’s, the meeting place in Gilroy, Herman, Bob and Joel were already there with CHEER’s well equipped rescue truck with a large tank for the adult fish and a smaller cooler for the juveniles. CHEER has an assortment of seine nets and dip nets as well as aerators for the large tank and the cooler. When Michelle arrived, we left for the drive to upper Uvas and Dave’s Creek with a short stop at Miller Road crossing (Silva’s crossing) near Christmas Hill Park. The biologists noted there were some very small fish in the creek which they determined to be Split tail (Suckers) which are beneficial food for the Steelhead smolt.
You are invited to view Chuck Hammerstad's photo album: CHEER fish rescue, May 25, 2011
When we arrived at Dave’s Creek, Bob and Herman began to prepare the equipment by filling the large tank and smaller cooler with water pumped from the creek, which was a good 54 degrees. As we waited for the large tank to fill, we walked about 50 yards from the truck to view the Steelhead from above near a steep bank down to the pool. In order to get the nets and other equipment to the pool, we walked up the creek with waders on to avoid having to negotiate up the steep bank. Herman had been feeding the fish to discourage them from eating the fry; and we did feed the fish a few salmon eggs before starting the rescue.
The pool was large enough to use the 50 foot long seine net. Bob preceded Herman with a long “poke” pole while Herman followed pulling the net around the perimeter of the pool. As they slowly moved forward, Bob used the pole to scare fish away from the perimeter recesses until the net was around the full perimeter. As the net was pulled toward the bank, Bob used a large dip net to retrieve fish one at a time. The adults were place in a cooler filled with water. Five adult fish, 20 to 23 inches and 3 to 4 pounds, were taken in the first pass. The cooler with the fish was then taken back to the truck for sexing, measuring, weighing and scale sampling before being placed in the large tank. Since Herman knew we hadn’t gotten all of the fish in the first pass, two more passes through the pool with the seine was made before we recovered all but one large adult. That fish found a very good place to hide. About a dozen two inch fry were recovered and taken to the main Uvas Creek channel. The adult fish were ready to be trucked about 15 miles south to Murphy’s crossing over the Pajaro River about 5 miles from the confluence with the ocean.
An unseasonable rain began to fall as we drove to the release site in the Pajaro River. One by one, Herman netted the adult fish to be released into the flowing water of the main river. The smolts were carried to the river in a bucket. As Bob photographed Micelle and Joel’s release of the fish, we said our “goodbyes” as the fish swam away where they now have free access to out-migrate to the ocean. Those fish will now have the opportunity to grow bigger in the ocean and return to again reproduce in Dave’s Creek.You are invited to view Chuck Hammerstad's photo album: CHEER fish rescue, May 25, 2011
This was a very successful fish rescue and the biologist have high praise for the work CHEER is doing to restore the Steelhead runs in the Uvas/Pajaro watershed. Jon Ambrose, NMFS Fisheries Biologist, has said that more progress has been made in the last five years than the ten years prior to CHEER getting heavily involved with the watershed. As well as doing fish rescues, CHEER “scouts” monitor the creek for any problems such as woody debris blockages to fish migration, pollution, trash, siltation, poaching, adherence to fishing regulations, debris in the fish ladders, and any other impediments to fish emigration and out-migration. CHEER conducts trash clean-up, engaging the homeless in trash clean-up, removal of non-native plants, and planting of native plants along the riparian corridor. CHEER is also involved with youth and adult educational programs related to restoration and preservation of the Steelhead habitat. The Flycasters Conservation Committee would like to develop a partnership to help CHEER in their work in any way that is possible considering our distance from the watershed. Visit the CHEER web site: www.cheercentral.org for more information on CHEER and their activities.