ContentsPutah and Cache: Lower Cache Creek

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Salmon in Cache Creek

Peter B. Moyle and Shaun Ayers

Chinook salmon, steelhead rainbow trout, and Pacific lampreys all historically spawned in Cache Creek. Early records indicate that steelhead may have entered Clear Lake and spawned in tributary streams. Small salmon runs were recorded in the creek in the 1940s by Leo Shapovalov but there are few records since then. In November, 2000, however, a crew of UC Davis scientists collecting fish for mercury analysis found evidence of salmon spawning in the creek. The following is a description of the event by Shaun Ayers.

On 11/29/00 we were collecting fish for mercury work just downstream of Highway 505 on Cache Creek when we came across a small salmon, moldy and very near death, swimming around in a pool. It looked like it had finished its work so I collected it as "evidence". In the next riffle we came across two others. I got a good look at one of them, a bright female with a well worn caudal fin. Within a few yards of where we found these two there was a freshly dug depression in the gravel measuring approximately 2.5 feet in diameter and 6-8 inches in depth. It was located at the tail end of a fast run between 2 riffles, the perfect type of place to get good water infiltration through the gravel. . . . A few days later we also saw a large hooked-jaw male dead on the bottom of a pool just upstream of Hwy 113 near Woodland.

After finding these fish I did some investigation into how they made it up there. As far as I can tell, the most likely way for a salmon to get into Cache Creek is by the following route: Up the Toe Drain to the I-80 bridge. Just north of the freeway/railroad bridge they must work their way west across the Yolo Bypass through a series of waterways and irrigation ditches. I'm pretty sure this route works, as a friend of mine saw salmon trapped below a check dam on Willow Slough last year. Near the mouth of Willow Slough they are probably then getting into the waterway that parallels the western levee of the Yolo Bypass. They would then swim north to the outlet of the Cache Creek Settling Basin. During most of this fall there has been 15-20 cfs of Cache Creek water exiting the Settling Basin and flowing down the above mentioned waterway. The outlet structure carrying water under the Settling Basin levee is badly clogged with debris but does not appear to be completely impassible. The only other obstacle to upstream migration that I know of is a temporary bridge put in by a gravel company downstream of road 94b. It requires a 1-2 foot jump up into a culvert to get through. During our fish collection efforts this fall I was amazed at the consistent flow, good water quality, and abundance of spawning gravel throughout the lower part of the stream. At least this year, conditions on Cache Creek seem much more conducive to successful salmon spawning than those on Putah Creek. It's a shame that it is so difficult for the fish to get up there.

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