FAIR OAKS - Low water levels along the American River created tough fishing conditions for fishermen to start the new year -- and maybe beyond.
"Today it was slim pickings. We definitely had to earn our fish today," said American River Charter fishing guide Cameron Beck.
On the opening day of steelhead season Wednesday, many fisherman came up shorthanded. The problem: low water levels.
Just 20-percent full, Folsom Lake's low levels have caused a "trickle down" effect on the region's rivers.
"We see these water levels once in a while late summer, but it's pretty much unheard of in January," said Beck.
Normally in January, the river would be flowing about 5,000 cubic feet per second. Wednesday, the river ran about 1,000 cubic feet per second.
Bookings for Beck, his livelihood, are nowhere near what they were last year.
"People are real leery about coming out and booking trips. Everyone wants to wait and see what happens," he said.
What's happening to the potential salmon population is already evident along the river at Sailor Bar. Man-made gravel beds constructed to help salmon spawn are above the water line. With no vital water, thousands of eggs rest atop the rocks un-hatched.
"It's a pretty scary situation," said Beck. "It's a huge chunk of our natural resource that's dying. There's just not going to be fish to come back. They're dying before they even get a chance to hatch."
A fish kill that Beck says will impact more than just local fishermen.
"We're talking salmon that are returning to the ocean that are providing thousands of people with commercial fishery jobs. The salmon you cook at your backyard barbeques. It all comes from rivers like this."
Beyond the much-needed snowpack, Beck believes there's a deeper issue.
"We are sharing our water with the rest of the state and there's just not enough to go around, and our fisheries are taking the hugest hit for it right now," said Beck.
Data provided by the California Department of Water Resources shows the reservoirs in Northern California are well below average. But in Southern California, Pyramid Lake reservoir was 98 percent full as of Dec. 31, and Castaic Lake was 89 percent full as of Dec. 31.
If snow and rain don't come soon, the fish population in the north state could be in trouble.
"It's heartbreaking, it really is," said Beck.
by Dina Kupfer, DKupfer@news10.net