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Tom Stienstra

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The Mail Bag: June 28, 1999

Hi, Tom.
My name is Mike Nicholson and I was one of the people you bumped into by the falls in Big Basin. I was the tall, mustached guy with the red Dana Design Pack. I was wondering if you've ever listed your favorite backpacking trails in California in any of your columns or books? I'm always looking for great trails and I suspect you're one of the best resources around for consulting. By the way, I'm also a general aviation pilot and I was wondering what you fly? I seem to remember you piloting around Mt. Shasta in an episode of Bay Area Backroads.
Thanks, Mike

Dear Mike,
My new edition of California Hiking was published in April, just in time for the new hiking season. We not only reworked most of the book, and checked everything we could think of, but faxed every page to district rangers, fieldscouts and hiking buddies for their review. The idea is to put the best of California outdoors right in the palms of your hands. Since I rate every trail on a scale of 6 to 10, it is easy to poke through the book to find my favorites, the 8, 9s and 10s, of course, although quite a few 7s are also very beautiful. It's true I am a pilot, and that's one of my secrets for being able to cover such a broad range of area so quickly. Flying is fast, fun and not nearly as expensive as so many think. I fly a Mooney, bought it for far less than the cost of a Sport Utility Vehicle, added a few modifications, and it cruises at 180 mph at 10 gallons per hour, better mileage than my pick-up truck!

Dear Mr. Stienstra,
I have read your column for years and enjoy it.
You are right about Felt Lake. We have snuck in there and bagged bass up to 21 inches and 4 pounds in an evening. We used to go there and have our own bass tournaments, not leaving until you have caught 5 fish.

Recently however they have improved the fish ladder there and are trying to restore the steelhead run in San Fransisquito Creek. I know you can spell this name as you are a Palo Alto guy. So I guess at least closing this lake is OK. Crystal Springs however is another matter. I agree with you that this should be open and not the private playground of the SF Water Department.
--John Yarborough

Dear John,
I also have snuck into Felt Lake, although I did this 25 years ago, before getting my job at the San Francisco Examiner. The shoreline was quite weedy, so I brought in an innertube, and floated around to catch some beautiful bass during the bite on a spring evening. I was promptly caught and kicked out. Nowadays, arrest and jail would be certain.

Dear Mr. Stienstra,
I would first like to thank you for the informative article on Los Trancos Creek. I read your column religiously and have seen one of your presentations (San Mateo County Fair 1996, I think). Your books are very insightful and I have used them in the past to find fishing spots.
The article on Los Trancos hit a nerve with me. Like other anglers, I do not like being told that I cannot fish somewhere that has tons of fish. I can understand not going onto someone's personal property, but for a city to decree a whole area off-limits is absurd. I know you cannot condone illegal activity, but my inclination is to go to Felt Lake and fish. I almost wish you hadn't written that article because now I feel that it is my mission to go into Felt Lake and make a cast (despite the fact that I would probably be arrested). I am not a nutty person, Mr. Stienstra. I study hard at school and I work even harder at my job. I just want what's right, and I'm sure you can understand that. Thanks again and keep fishing!
--Julian Jones

Dear Julian,
There are many excellent lakes that are offlimits to fishing. The best is not Felt Lake, but rather Upper San Leandro Reservoir in the East Bay, Upper Crystal Spring on the Peninsula and Pilarcitos Lake on the slopes of Montara Mountain, all which have remarkable numbers of big trout. Do not go! Get caught and you'll face jail time plus a big fine, typically two or three days in jail and $1,000 fine. 500 people a year are arrested at Crystal Springs alone. What do we do then? The answer is to force the water departments and the Public Utility Commission to allow restricted public access, say a lottery program for boat-in fishing with electric motors, all catch-and-release. Such a program has already been started at Barrett Lake near San Diego, which is featured on Page 707 of my book, California Fishing -- the lake was closed to the public for 25 years, but now open on a lottery program. The results are incredible. For information on how to get access to fish private farm ponds, see Page 94 of my book, California Fishing.

I read your latest comments regarding the watershed. I wanted to repeat our plea for your help. The Bay Area Ridge Trail Council has been, and continues to be, the only organization that works continually to achieve recreational access to this beautiful property.
I took another tour into the area yesterday. Members of the county Fish and Wildlife committee had negotiated entry, led by Joe Naras of the Water Department, to look into the issue of steelhead on Pilarcitos Creek. (Of course they did not get the answers they were looking for.) I was lucky enough to be asked if I would like to ride along. I thought again of my feelings before my first entry, a couple of years ago. I had deliberately not gone on the hikes, intending to save the experience until we could achieve public access. Yesterday reinforced that early feeling.
To see the beauty and to feel the injustice of the current restrictions is infuriating. I believe that this summer will bring to a head the access situation in a way that has never happened before. The EIR will be out in a few months and the PUC will have to choose one of the Ridge Trail alternatives spelled out in the Management Plan. They will choose the alternative with the least access that they can get away with, based on public and political pressure that is brought to bear. We have been, for several months, trying to generate as much of that pressure as possible. We are, however, one small non-profit with volunteers led by a small staff. Our resources are very limited. The best weapon at our disposal is public awareness. We are focusing our effort on a hike, starting on May 15, by two of our members, Dinesh Desai and Bob Cowell, around the complete 400-mile Ridge Trail, completed and uncompleted segments.
I believe the timing is the best we have ever had. The hike, scheduled to be completed June 20, can increase awareness of the trail and we will focus lots of attention on the watershed. When the EIR is completed, the public will know more about the trail than at any time in its history. The outcome of the battle at the PUC is impossible to predict. All we can do is the best job possible with the resources we possess. Your help, as always, could add a great deal to those resources. Doug Kerseg
Bay Ridge Trail Council

Dear Doug,
I will do everything I can to help your program to allow hiking access, and at the least, an easement for the Bay Ridge Trail across S.F. Water Department Land. I too have gained permission at one time to explore the land here. For details, see my story, "Around the Bay in Seven Days" on Page 37 of Epic Trips of the West.

Just wanted to thank you for bringing to the public's attention the lack of access to many useful and beautiful lands in the Bay Area. Keep up the good reporting.
Rik Jones

Dear Rick,
Spread the word. The water departments' jobs are to provide service and access, not to sock it to us and keep many great areas for their own private use. For information on how to get access to fish private farm ponds, see Page 94 of my book, California Fishing.

Dear Mr. Stienstra,
Examiner readers would be interested to know about the alarming disappearance of steelhead trout from our state's rivers and lakes in recent years, and what they and others can do about it. As you know 9 out of 10 steelhead trout are no longer in California due to declining populations since the 1950s. It's more than trout however. Trout are like the canaries which coal miners used to take with them down the shaft. If the canaries started to sicken, then equally everyone was in danger. Likewise the disappearance of the trout shows that something is terribly wrong. Freshwater habitat loss and degradation is one way to put it.
There was an Endangered Species ruling last month which may help. Now a conservation group is due to announce a Conservation Plan with a dozen action points to get concrete results.
Jonathan Villet
San Francisco

Dear Jonathan,
I don't put much faith in the Endangered Species Act. In 25 years, there have been more than 500 aquatic species listed as endangered, and not a single one has ever been delisted.
What I would like to see is a Steelhead Recovery Plan by the National Marine Fisheries Service and Department of Fish and Game which would require restoration of the species, and the funding and experts to make it reality. The proof is in the numbers: While steelhead fishing is still viable in some places, the Smith River being the best example, the declines are shocking -- and a drastic change of approach is required by the guardians of our public resources. I'll tell you this: It doesn't make sense to expect a different result -- a lot more fish -- without a different approach to begin with. On the other hand, if they keep doing what they've always done, they'll keep getting what they've always got.

I enjoyed your talk at the outdoor show in San Mateo. You mentioned a lake in the central valley with good bass...Mississippi? Where is it? Who runs it? Can I take a trailer or tent? I used to be able to get into some nice farm ponds in the Pope Valley. I want to take a friend to a good bass pond like the one you described. Always enjoy your writing.

Dear Larry,
Mississippi Lake is located in the interior of the Henry Coe State Park Wilderness. To reach it is a tough, 11-mile hike in from headquarters. It is shorter from the access near Bell Springs on Highway 152. There are lots of bass in this large pond, same with Mustang Pond in the Orestimba drainage of the park, Coit Lake, Kelly Lake, are OK. For information, see Page 452 in my book, California Fishing, or the long feature on Page 139 in Tom Stienstra's Outdoor Getaway Guide.

Dear Tom,
Just wanted to let you know I had a lucky day at Del Valle Reservoir Thursday. While my wife and I were out in our boat I happened to catch an 11 1/2 lb. rainbow trout. My wife could hardly get it into the boat!!!! I guess I must have been in the right place at the right time because the rest of the day we caught two 2-pound fish and that was it for the day. We thoroughly enjoyed our day and I certainly hope that they don't drain the reservoir as I am planning to go back and catch one even bigger!
Paul Givens

Dear Paul,
Sounds like a great trip. For more information about Del Valle, see page 449 in my book, California Fishing.

Dear Tom Stienstra,
Just a comment:
I spent the first 25 years of my life living in the Bay Area and enjoying much of California's outdoors, from Mt. Baldy to the Lost Coast to Mt. Reba to Honey Lake. Never once did I even know that there were bighorn residents. However, I did have the privilege of seeing a mountain lion up on the Chewaukan river near Paisley, Oregon. That animal was magnificent and I'm grateful for that opportunity.
From your article I could not tell if you are advocating controlled kills of mountain lions, and the passage of AB 560, or if you are simply reporting the different facets of the debate. It seems to me that if the resident bighorn were initially decimated by blight caused by domestic sheep, then we shouldn't really 'blame' mountain lions for doing what they do, especially when mountain lion habitat is being destroyed by development. Nor should we 'control' the mountain lion population. Instead we should do as Bill Karr suggests, and that is to promote the health and population of the Bighorn, without resorting to the 'management' mentality that often seems to hide a 'let's just kill the mountain lions' mentality.
Though not a hunter myself, I will contribute to the Sierra Bighorn Fund, and at the same time urge my California voter friends to fight AB560.
Dan Driscoll
Washington, DC

Dear Dan,
Thanks so much. If more people would contribute, the bighorn sheep would be protected. If protecting the last few bighorn mean that a few mountain lions will have to be sacrificed, it will likely be part of the bargain. While I have a background in natural science, I acquiesce to what the scientists recommend. They are experts, the best in the business, and their guidelines should be heeded.

I'm taking this moment out of my busy morning to thank you for your fishing report. Your Best Bets section declaring Trout at Lake Chabot was the main motivator for us, my son Jamel and fishing buddy Brian Abbott, to go fishing at our favorite backyard pond, Lake Chabot.
With a dismal morning of bait fishing and casting lures at our favorite fishing sole state trout [DFG planter] on a Roostertail. We decided before we ride out of the park skunked, we would bike it over to Bass Cove to survey the action over there. Talking with some anglers and viewing their catch we decided to give it one more try.
Within the next hour we watched 3 trout, 4 pounds plus being landed, with my 10-year-old son Jamel taking the stink off the skunk with the best of all of them with a 7-pound, 24-incher. He even baits up again and catches a 2.4-pound rainbow as well. I was the proudest dad of all Saturday with him earning his Whopper Club Hat and button. Thanks again for the Best Bet. Tight lines!
Best Regards,
Don Moffett

Dear Don,
I'm glad you didn't give up, Don, and that you and your son ended up having a great trip. For more information about Lake Chabot, see page 452 in my book, California Fishing.

Hi Tom.
I'm looking forward to buying and reading (and hiking with) the new edition of your book California Hiking. My wife and I are planning a hike up Mt. Dana and I understand that you have an excellent section on this trail.
As you know, access into Yosemite is limited by construction on the El Portal Road. We won't be able to enter the park until 6:30 am after Labor Day. This will put us at the trailhead around 7:00 am. I was hoping to get a pre-dawn start. We are both strong climbers. Assuming the weather holds, do you see any problems with starting this at 7:00? Thank you very much. Again, I am looking forward to your new edition. Vince Resor

Dear Vince,
In my book California Hiking, we have reviewed over 70 hikes in Yosemite and its immediate sphere of influence, and I have really enjoyed the distant wilderness here, Matterhorn Canyon, Donohue Pass, Chilnualna Falls, the PCT and JMT routes . . . The Mount Dana climb is one on my list of a must-do trip as soon as the snowmelt allows it. Will be in touch.

Dear Tom,
You can not believe what the Bicycle Trails Council of Marin is doing to Camp Tamarancho (Fairfax). They are building trails right now all over the eastern face of the hill between Iron Springs Road and Bay Road. Hiking in a nature preserve is not supposed to make you cry. Please visit the area and make your own evaluation. If you agree that this destruction of wildlife habitat must be stopped immediately, please contact the Boy Scouts of America, Marin Council and the Fairfax Town Council, since everything that happens at Tamarancho affects us Fairfax residents. Remember that BSA requires a Friends of Tamarancho pass; however, if you call Phil the ranger he may let you look around if you won't be going there on a regular basis.
I wrote a letter to the Ross Valley Reporter about one new trail which was published last week but the damage I saw today was even worse. If anyone has a contact with the Native Plant Society, they should know about this. Can it be that anyone at the County level could do anything other than the Board of Supervisors who have demonstrated their unwavering support of the BTC?
Please look at what's happening to the Fairfax planning area. Evidently State law provides that Use Permits granted for activities in jurisdictions outside a city limit but inside their planning area (in which Tamarancho lies), can influence whether or not the use permit can remain valid. Although the BTC has never obtained permits for any of their trail construction, they claim it is not necessary.
Best regards,
Terri Alvillar

Dear Terri,
Anytime an activity causes damage, alarm signals go off, regardless if that activity is simply a picnic, taking pictures or anything else, such as biking. In this case, the alarm has sounded. I enjoy biking, as all recreation activities, and bike about 50 times a year; which I admit, is far less than I hike, boat, fish or tour. I hate to see damage to natural resources, regardless of the activity.

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