Survey shows waterfowl population down considerably in California

By: George deVilbiss/Special to Gold Country News Service
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Some waterfowl, in large flocks, wing their way to the far north. They head for the pothole prairie regions of Canada and some even further north to Alaska.

But many of these same birds have found the pickings just too good in California. They migrate south when their foodstuffs are covered by snow and ice in the far north. More and more, it seems, larger numbers decide to take up permanent residency in the Golden State.

Visit Camp Far West lake in the spring, when it’s nesting time. You’ll find what looks like hundreds of Canadian geese nests jammed into a small area, mere inches apart. Many local parks are becoming overrun by geese, and even the lowly coots are seen among the throngs of birds.

While the Fish and Wildlife Service does a tremendous job counting waterfowl, the Canadian government, in cooperation with others, counts birds within its realm, and the California DFW counts birds in the state that have taken up residence and won’t leave.

Once all the data is in, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife determines waterfowl season hunting dates and bag limits. California recently checked in with the completion of the state’s waterfowl population survey.

Besides looking for birds, the department also evaluates habitat. In northeastern California and the Central Valley regions, habitat conditions are poor and, sadly, waterfowl populations are down. A valid reason is the lack of rainfall last winter.

Mallards accounted for the most abundant duck specie. However, their numbers decreased by nearly 25 percent, from 387,100 last year to 298,600 this year. The total duck population decreased from 529,700 last year to 451,300 this year.

Survey areas are extensive and include the majority of the state’s suitable nesting habitat, wetland and agricultural areas in the northeastern part of the state and the Central Valley regions from Red Bluff south to Bakersfield, along with the Suisun Marsh areas.

One-day outdoor expo in Stockton

Stockton is just a hop, skip and jump down the freeway. That’s where the DFW’s hunter education program and the California Waterfowl Association are sponsoring an outdoor exposition from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 3, at the Waterloo and Bocci Club at 4343 Ashley Lane.

Scheduled events will include the Grasslands Regional Duck Calling Contest, goose calling, two-man live duck calling and youth calling. There also will be a youth trapshooting competition with prizes, food and vendor booths and a swap meet.

The first 100 participants to register online will receive a free round of trapshooting, including targets and ammo. To register and for additional information, visit

Current fishing

Feather River: The river opened July 16 to salmon fishing and will remain open until Oct. 15, and that includes the stretch of water from the Thermolito Afterbay Outlet to 200 yards above the Live Oak boat ramp. From 200 yards above the above boat ramp all the way downriver to the mouth of the Feather, the salmon season will be open until Dec. 16. The daily possession and bag limit remains two, and there are additional restrictions that haven't been in place before. Any salmon or steelhead must be kept in a condition that species and size can be determined until you’ve transported the fish home. That means don’t remove the head or fillet the fish. Simply gut the fish and take it home that way.

New Hogan Reservoir: This lake has a large population of striped bass, and one of its primary food sources is a large natural shad population. Fish something resembling shad, and there’s a good chance you’ll get bit. We’ve trolled large Rat-L-Traps and done well. When stripers are chasing and attempting to corral a school of shad, you’ll see the shad jumping out of the water and the water appearing to boil with the heavy activity of the stripers just below the surface. Fish the boils when you seem them. Top-water lures such as a Zara Spook will fool a lineside into thinking it’s a wounded shad, and drifting a chunk of anchovy tail works well. Once the sun sets, you can troll for stripers or anchor off the boat-in campground or around the numerous coves and hammer catfish. You’ll get a good mix of the brown bullhead and the more preferred and larger channel cats.

Eagle Lake: It’s that time of year when the fish aren’t always cooperating. However, the deeper water around Eagle’s Nest is one of the better spots to hit, as there’s an underwater spring in the area that attracts the fish. The trick is being in the fishing spot as the sun rises. Anchor in 50 feet of water and drop a threaded night crawler about halfway down.

Bay Area: You can beat the heat by heading to the Bay Area. You can go striper fishing or go after halibut, rock cod or salmon. The water conditions are ideal, and the saltwater catches have been tremendous. There also has been a red-hot salmon bite at Bodega Bay.

Suisun Bay: Launch at Martinez, and it’s only a short run under the freeway to the Moth Ball fleet and other nearby points inside the bay. Striped bass and sturgeon have been active. Get the anchor down, get your bait on the bottom, and you’ll see your rod double over. Shrimp bait and live bullheads are working.

Donner Lake: There’s a public campground on the west side of the lake, and with a recent planting of trout, rods were bending over for trollers and those fishing from shore. You can still get into the action.

French Meadows Reservoir: The good news is you can pretty much have the lake to yourself. The downside is the lake is down and the fishing can be tough. If you troll, stay at the upper end, where cooler water enters the lake. If you bank fish, hike to the same area, and that’s where you’re going to find the largest concentration of trout. Early mornings and late afternoons will produce the best bite.

Contact George deVilbiss at