Sunday, March 19, 2017
Lower Yuba River Drift Report ~ Major Changes!
Brian Clemens from Nor Cal Fly Guides invited me to float the Lower Yuba River today with him to see the changes from the past high water events, and to wet a line. We put in at the usual spot below the Hwy. 20 bridge, and it seems to be easier, just needs more traffic to pack down the cobblestones. Water was big today flowing at 4,265 cubes. The rapids below the bridge are pretty big right now, and really fun.
We anchored the boat in the first straight away below the rapids, and the first characteristic change we noticed is how much wider the river was. Areas that had a flat, or gradual slope to the river, are now a vertical face that often was over head high. Also there is so much new sand everywhere, especially among the cobblestones on dry land. We swung it up with no grabs, and promptly drifted on.
As we approached what I call "Hogan's Hole", the bend is not as sharp, and has been stretched out, In fact it seems many of the sharper corners in the river have been stretched out. On the left bank upstream of Hogan's, the bank has exposed bedrock with new boulders that I've never seen before. Big changes, all over the place.
As Brian piloted the boat into the entry of the Aquarium, there is now a major island with the main current to river right, and the left channel has a good steady flow with some depth, this new channel should keep flowing as the water levels drop.
Wherever we put the boat ashore that was inaccessible by foot we had the first human made tracks, there was only prints from wildlife scattered about. We were surprised to see coyote tracks because that meant somebody had to take a swim to get to these areas. We opted to take the main channel past Long Island, and again stopped the boat to really get a clear understanding of the changes. The right hand bank has significantly changed with missing trees and the tailing piles from the gravel/gold plant has diminished in size with openings into the settling ponds.
So far the changes we saw were significant, and seemed to appear to be better habitat for the future. We hooked into a few fish in slower bank water using indo rigs, but did not get them into the net. Brian got his fish close to the boat and we got a very good look, it was a fat and healthy 14" bow. An Osprey was chirping in a nearby tree, and as it took flight, in its talons was a fat 15" rainbow. The fish seem to be eating, and they appear to be in good shape.
There is a new gravel bar that is quite long that splits the main flow from the side channel downstream of Long Island. We noticed increased depth in this area as well, and so much more willows and woody debris in the river.
Here is the same gravel bar as in the previous picture, but looking upstream of the side channel. Vehicle access is now limited in this area as lower Rattlesnake is now gone! The river now meets with the steep tailings to the south side.
The little willow island that gave us drifters fits below Rattlesnake, and the large outcropping of willows and trees on the right bank are now gone, and much safer. You'll notice the property upstream of Clay Banks has been damaged beyond belief, the owners lost quite a bit of land to the high water. Amazing.
From Clay Banks down through Hammon Grove is a straight shot and seemed featureless at the current flows. The river still splits above Sycamore Ranch, and does not look the same at all. Quite desolate, and the large willows that provided shade on a hot day are now gone. The main flow on river right is moving extremely fast as it enters Dry Creek, and the "Corner Pocket". The picture above is of the small passageway to get into Dry Creek, and to the take out ramp. I would advise only expert oarsman to attempt the maneuver to drift into here. For those with less skill I would carefully walk your craft down the gravel bar, move it into Dry Creek, then board your boat.
Before we brought the boat into Sycamore, we anchored on river left to survey the landscape downstream. The picture above is where the two branches of the current meet below, and join hands to become one. You cannot see it in the picture but it appears the river has a new course over to river left in the distance and possibly another island.
Overall, Brian and I were impressed with the changes, instead of thinking the river was nuked, in reality it has been rejuvenated. Deeper slots, islands, braided areas, holding water, and other noted unique areas. When the river comes back into its own, and the flows clear, there will be more habitat, for the salmon, steelhead, and native rainbows. It's an entirely new river, and we all get to start on page one for another chapter of history for the Lower Yuba River. Welcome to the "Newba River".