Still A Few Large Steelhead Left In The Merced River… But For How Long?


Today’s guest blog about the #1 San Joaquin River and its tributaries (including the Merced River)— a part of our America’s Most Endangered Rivers® series— is from Michael Martin. Michael is a fly fisher currently serving as Director of the Merced River Conservation Committee. He has spent his career as a fisheries scientist working to protect California’s fish and wildlife resources, and is now an adjunct professor in China working on global pollution and fisheries problems. Michael lives near the Merced River and loves to fish.


Michael Martin fishing on the Lower Merced River, CA

Michael Martin fishing on the Lower Merced River, CA

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The biggest rainbow trout I ever caught was on a cold March morning on the Merced River.

She was a monster: an 11 lb, 30 ½ inch steelhead trout. I was alone on the river, and it took me a good 20 minutes to land her, but what an incredible 20 minutes! It was in a great long run and pool on the river, so she could run 150 yards downstream and 100 yards upstream, and she did that a couple times. One and one half football field full bore without a pause.

The reel sizzled. WOW.

She was so big that she could easily have broken my leader. That’s the real art in fly fishing: you can’t pull them in too hard; you have to find level balance between fish and human. When I finally pulled her into the shallows, I peered at her in amazement and then released her to do what she had to do. Thank you, Ms. Fish; you made my day!

I love the Zen that exists between the fisher and fish. One sees lots of other predators on the river— river otters, bald eagles, osprey, cormorants, mergansers— all of them fishing. The whole ecosystem is whirling around you in full swing, and you go out and get in the middle of it. Many days you don’t catch a fish. But whether you do or you don’t, being absorbed in the ecosystem is more than satisfying; it speaks to our foundations as a part of the natural world.

It takes a special enthusiasm (and some might say craziness) to go out again and again. This is what makes me tick as a fly fisher. Each day on a river is always a different experience. Whether I catch anything or not, I relish the outdoor experience of being in wild nature: looking at the bugs, identifying the insect hatches, seeing “wild” wildlife, enjoying the fresh air, the snowstorms, breaking surface ice to fish, the rain, and, yes, even sunny, warm days.

Historically, the Merced was a mighty river. Dubbed the “River of Our Lady of Mercy” by the Spanish in 1806, it has been reduced to a small percentage of its historic flows because of diversion, damming, and mining, and as a result it contains a pitifully small percentage of the historic population of fishes. But even now, one can still find a lot of fish.

As a professional fishery scientist, my interest and passion is in providing agencies, NGOs, and interested citizens well thought out and balanced fisheries and environmental plans and actions that can result in recovering and restoring damaged anadromous fish populations in the San Joaquin River watershed.

I would like to see reasonable changes in how the San Joaquin River and its tributaries, including the Merced River, are managed to benefit anadromous fish, including fall chinook salmon, steelhead trout, and Pacific lamprey. The Public Trust Doctrine of California says to protect streams first for “instream” uses, and then divert water for other beneficial uses of water, including domestic supply and agriculture, when there is available or excess water.

I’ve been a fly fisherman for 60 years, and have fished all over the world. At home, I return to my home river, the Merced, always keeping in mind that rivers and associated habitats are essential to what it means to be human. I hope that most Americans share my interests and will help to keep our rivers and waterways protected for ourselves, our children, and future generations.

Please help save the San Joaquin River and its tributaries by sending a letter to the Senate asking them to take a stand to support healthy flows in the San Joaquin River and maintain a sustainable future water supply for the benefit of local communities, farmers, and salmon.

2 Responses to “Still A Few Large Steelhead Left In The Merced River… But For How Long?”

Charles hooker

Please do all you can to restore and protect a healthy water flow in the San Joanquin river .

Charles hooker

Please do all you can to restore and protect a healthy water flow in the San Joanquin river .