Lake Merced is looking up
Sunday, February 29, 2004
©2004 San Francisco Chronicle
A drive to restore San Francisco's recreation mess, Lake Merced, is projected to get the troubled facility afloat for the opening day of trout season.
A private organization, California Trout, will sponsor "Trout Day" on April 24, highlighted by a special youth program, a new fishing pier and multiple stocks of rainbow trout.
"This is a fight that we felt we had to be involved in," said Mondy Lariz of Cal Trout. "It is a public resource that was not getting taken care of. Nobody was making it happen."
Lake Merced is the only public lake with trout fishing from San Francisco to Cupertino (at Stevens Creek Reservoir). That's within close reach of 3.5 million residents. Its location on the coast near the Great Highway makes for mild temperatures -- ideal for rainbow trout -- and easy access.
To make the program work, Cal Trout has taken a lead role over the city departments that have fuddled and muddled for 10 years while Merced's water levels, facilities, recreation and fishing programs went to hell.
Cal Trout has already accepted donations of $53,000 from the Bella Vista Foundation of San Francisco and $25,000 from the Olympic Club to buy special plants of trout and launch a new youth program at the lake.
In the next month, Cal Trout and the San Francisco PUC will buy a new fishing pier designed for kids. Volunteers will then assemble and install it in the South Lake just before Trout Day.
After legal pressure and negotiations by Cal Trout, lake levels are rising more quickly than anticipated. The lake was measured at 23 feet this past week, which approaches the target level of 26 to 28 feet and the topped- off level of 30 feet. This is up from 16.8 feet (about half-full) two years ago and a low of 14 feet in 1994.
The rising lake levels are directly linked to an action filed by Cal Trout with the State Water Resources Control Board that contended that over- pumping groundwater from beneath the lake was draining it.
Since then, pumping has been reduced by 75 percent, an experimental plan is under way to direct storm water into the lake, and the San Francisco PUC pulled the switch three times in the past two years to add several feet of water from Crystal Springs.
Cal Trout has also taken over as Lake Merced's lead partner with the Department of Fish and Game. The DFG has agreed to allocate 50,000 10-to-12- inch trout to Lake Merced this year and co-sponsor Trout Day, set for the traditional opening of trout season.
According to Lariz, it will feature:
-- Large trout stocks by the DFG and a special stock of 1-to-3-pound trout by Cal Trout.
-- A youth-only fishing area, where trout will be corralled by a large net (to be removed after the event).
-- Free fishing equipment rentals for youngsters accompanied by a parent (with a valid driving license).
-- Free tackle boxes with start-up equipment for 300 kids, along with clinics on rigging, knots, casting and safety.
-- Fly-fishing and fly-tying demonstrations.
On a personal note, I am so encouraged about this latest news that I convinced my book publisher, Avalon Travel Publishing, to donate 300 copies of my 670-page book, "California Fishing," for youngsters taking part in the Lake Merced program.
The past 10 years have been frustrating for me as I watched the place erode like a shipwreck left forgotten at the bottom of the sea.
At one time, it was a place of unmatched beauty and peace for a metropolitan city, yet with outstanding fishing, boating and recreation. The facility actually consists of three lakes linked by underground pipes and a shared aquifer: the North Lake (105 acres), the South Lake (203 acres) and the Impoundment (17 acres). As a whole, Lake Merced is larger and prettier than many newcomers expect.
Twenty years ago, Field & Stream identified Lake Merced as the No. 1 urban fishing program in the United States and hired me to write a story about it. The first thing I noticed at Merced is that everybody was relaxed, friendly and helpful to anybody who showed up. It was then that I met Dave Lyons, a kind, retired gent, who caught his trout limit 50 straight days and saw rainbow trout that ranged to nearly 18 pounds.
On summer days and spring weekends, the North Lake was lined with kids and retired folks fishing from shore. You could rent a boat, launch a canoe or pull up with a small dinghy or inflatable and use the hoist. The rest rooms were clean, the restaurant and bar full of life.
So was the lake. Fish and Game once identified Merced as the richest lake ecosystem in the state, documenting swarms of freshwater shrimp.
Those days are long gone. The deterioration in the past 10 years has been detailed many times. But now, for the first time in years, there's a chance that Lake Merced could be restored to the good old days.
Contact California Trout at (415) 392-8887; www.caltroutday.org; [email protected].
To return Lake Merced as the Bay Area's crown jewel of urban recreation and fishing programs, here are the top 10 priorities for the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department and the San Francisco PUC:
1. Raise lake to historic full level.
2. Remove tules, bulrush and other invasive plants that have been allowed to grow unchecked for 25 years and choke off shoreline access.
3. Approve new concessionaire with tackle shop to rent boats, sell fishing permits and supplies, and run trout stocking program.
4. Increase trout plants.
5. Renovate boathouse and rest rooms.
6. Replace inoperable boat hoist.
7. Empty trash and pick up litter on regular basis.
8. Address cormorant predation.
9. Re-establish opening and closing of trout season.
10. Establish ground water management plan.
E-mail Tom Stienstra at [email protected].