caltrout,    Environment,    pit river ferc relicensing,    pit river flows

What I'm Writing Now: The Pit River Hydropower Relicensing Issue

By Tom Chandler 4/17/2012

I just finished writing the first draft of an interview with Art Teter, a local fly fishing guide who has better than 25 years experience on the Pit River.

For those who don't fish around here, the Pit River recently underwent a FERC hydropower relicensing, which saw flows increased to benefit the fishery, but maybe not the fishermen. Last year was the first for the new flows, and fishermen -- who had heard some pretty hard stories about what was going to happen -- stayed away in droves.

For example, Art Teter usually books somewhere between 60-75 guide days a year on the Pit.

Last year he booked only 18.

No Easy Answers

It's a complicated issue -- one that defies easy answers. For example, last year's flows were condemned by many fly fishermen as being unfishable (even dangerous in the case of Pit #5), yet it turns out they were consistently 50 cfs - 150 cfs above the target flows.

In addition, campground construction made access to some reaches very difficult, further eroding angler satisfaction.

This is an issue that CalTrout and the California TU Chapter have taken a lot of heat over, and it's an excellent example of the bind conservation organizations sometimes find themselves in when the needs of fish and fishermen collide.

Expect to hear more about this one.


One bright spot is that CalTrout and TU insisted on an adaptive management process, so if the new flow regime's goals aren't being met, there's a chance things could change.

For example, fly fishermen apparently comprise better than 90% of the recreational use of the Pit River, and if the new flows significantly erode that number, than it's just possible they might be altered.

And the reason for increased flows in Pit #4 and Pit #5 was too-high water temperatures, which left Pit #4 supporting half the biomass of Pit #3, and Pit #5 another 50% less. If the increased flows don't result in lower temperatures, adjustments could be made.

If it only seems confusing to you, then rest assured it's actually worse than you think. Fortunately, Teter does a good job of stating his perspective in the interview, which I hope will go up relatively soon on the CalTrout site.

Anyone who knows Art Teter knows he's not one to pull punches, and his perspective as someone who fishes the Pit as much as anyone is sometimes surprising (and yes, I did manage to wheedle a couple of fly fishing tips out of him).

See you doing that whole keyboardy writerish thing, Tom Chandler.


Tom Chandler

As the author of the decade leading fly fishing blog Trout Underground, Tom believes that fishing is not about measuring the experience but instead of about having fun. As a staunch environmentalist, he brings to the Yobi Community thought leadership on environmental and access issues facing us today.

Sadly, the flows of pit 4 of the Pit River are now mostly un-fishable. My friends and I.have been fishing these sections around Big Bend for almost 30 years, but since the relicensing and increased river flows, the water level is too high to fish safely. The water level now reaches the thick willow overgrowth so it is difficult to find a path to the river's edge and there are few places to stand and ... more cast. Wading is mostly impossible because in most places the river is now too swift and deep. One of my buddies who has fished the Pit for 70 years - he started coming here with his father - regretfully finds it very difficult to fish now. There's only a few confluences left where he can stand and fish. Formerly, he could fish long sections along this stretch. Historically we visit the region twice a year - in spring and fall, usually arranging our trips for 4 days in May and 4 days in Oct. Up to now, the Pit has been my favorite river to flyfish, (I say this as a person who grew up in West Yellowstone), however, now my friends and I are rethinking the Pit as a fishing destination. With flows of 400-500 cfs, if you try to wade along the bank, you're over your waders and swimming. (And I'm 6'5''!) Regrettably, the flyfishing community has basically lost a large part of this 10-15 miles of valuable river and my friends and I have lost a personal favorite fishing spot.
I don;t know which section of the Pit River is near the Orvis Lodge I stayed at during last October, but the river was wide, deep and fast. I expected that since I was going in October, flows would be somewhat diminished, but that seems not to have been the case. It was not wadable for a person my age, or for that matter, any age, and did not appear to have many spots for a drift boat pull-out. I ... more was told that there are many large fish in the section I fished. I'm believe that is probably true, given the lack of any access to the water. I saw no other fishermen in the section where I was. I've just looked at some photos of it on other sites. It's a beautiful river, but I could not effectively fish the section I saw.

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