Winnemem Wintu Tribe Run4Salmon Boats From Pittsburg to Sacramento

Winnemem Wintu Chief Caleen Sisk and Captain James Netzel of Tight Lines Guide Service. Photo by Dan Bacher. | 


By Dan Bacher | October 14, 2017 |


The Winnemem Wintu Run4Salmon, a “participatory, prayerful journey” to build public support to help protect and restore declining salmon populations, California river systems and indigenous lifeways, took place this year from September 9 to 22. 

James Netzel of Tight Lines Guide Service and Robert Reimers of Rustic Rob’s Guide Service donated their services to take leaders of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe and their allies in their boats from Sacramento to Colusa on the Run4Salmon.

Netzel drove the Pittsburg to Sacramento stretch of the river in his boat on September 12, while Reimers boated the section from Sacramento to Colusa section on September 15. Last year was the first year of the Run4Salmon, when retired captain James Cox drove tribal leaders on the Pittsburg to Sacramento stretch and retired captain Rene Villanueva covered the Discovery Park to Colusa stretch.

The run was preceded by a press conference featuring Ohlone leader Corrina Gould of the Confederated Villages of Lisjan and Chief Caleen Sisk of the Winnemem Wintu at the West Berkeley Shellmound site in Berkeley on Friday, September 8. The two highly respected women leaders announced their mutual alliance to protect California’s indigenous sacred sites and the state’s endangered salmon runs from development.

Different sections of the run featured running, walking, boating and bicycling and ended with a paddle in dugout canoes up Shasta Lake and the McCloud River arm, as well as a horseback ride to a village site where the tribe conducted a ceremony.

The run for salmon traces the route of winter run Chinook salmon from the estuary at Vallejo all of the way to the McCloud River where it enters Lake Shasta. The tribe is trying to reintroduce the original run of McCloud winter run Chinooks. now thriving on the Rakaira River in New Zealand, where they were introduced over a hundred of years ago, back to their ancestral home on the McCloud. The tribe has set up a Go Fund Me site to raise money to conduct DNA Testing of the Rakaira River salmon  

Native California peoples relied on salmon for their sustenance, culture, religion and livelihoods for thousands of years. Today the salmon, including the winter run, are threatened with extinction due to extreme water diversions, dams, pollution, climate change and Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed Delta Tunnels, a project that environmentalists and tribal leaders say would nearly guarantee the destruction of California’s salmon runs. The fight to save the salmon and preserve sacred sites brought these two leaders together. 

“The salmon that came up our rivers and took care of my ancestors are the same salmon that spawn in Chief Sisk’s river and took care of her ancestors,” said Gould. 

“Our tribe has an ancient prophecy,” said Chief Sisk. ‘When there are no more salmon, there will be no more Winnemem Wintu people." For this reason, we believe that we must do everything we can to bring back our salmon. This is our Dakota Access Pipeline: we have to wake the people up before we are standing in front of bulldozers, and we will.” 

“We can’t restore the salmon without the help of hundreds of thousands of people who need to wake up to what’s happening with the salmon,” Sisk added.  

The first day of our boat journey began at the Pittsburg launch ramp. Going on the boat were Chief Sisk, her son, Michael,  Pua Case, a native Hawaiian singer and activist, Gary Thomas, a Pomo Roundhouse leader from Lake County, and documentary filmmaker Will Doolittle. After Netzel launched his boat, we made good time up the Sacramento River from Pittsburg to Rio Vista, going through the windy stretch around the west side of the Sacramento. 

Pittsburg is regarded as the true mouth of the Sacramento River where the river hits Suisun Bay below where the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers merge. Although I had fished many of the areas included on our trip many times, I had never boated the entire stretch at the same time. 

As we drove along the river, Chief Sisk pointed out to us all of the grapevines and other vegetation that were choking the growth of the alders. She noted that alders play a significant role in the ecosystem, since their leaves and branches provide food and habitat for the insects that young salmon and other fish need to survive.

Gary also noted the presence of pipelines carrying natural gas and other materials across the river. One sign on the left side of the river warning boaters from hitting the pipe was completely hidden by trees – and the sign was new, so the sign had been put up before the trees had overgrown it. 

After we passed Vieira’s Resort, the river became narrower as the “Old Sacramento” split off from the Sacramento Deep Water Shipping Channel. Along the way, we saw an occasional angler in a boat or shore fishing for salmon or stripers, but we didn’t see any salmon caught. The first place we saw a concentration of anglers was in Walnut Grove, where anglers had caught a couple of salmon. 

After we picked up some ice cream in Locke, we drove by where the Delta Cross Channel enters the Sacramento. That’s where Captain Netzel decided to try an experiment. He stopped the boat at the entrance to the channel gates, where the Sacramento River water is diverted to the Mokelumne, then to the San Joaquin River up into the South Delta to the state and federal water project pumping facilities.

He clocked a speed of 1.0 mph, like a slow trolling speed, as we drifted up the channel with the water going to corporate agribusiness interests and Southern California water agencies.

”‘I’ve always wanted to try going up the channel so today,” Netzel said. “We had to start up the motor to get back into the Sacramento. Imagine what happens into all of the salmon and other fish that are sucked up into the channel.”

“We have a lot of work to do,” said Sisk. “Most people don’t know about what it means for the flows to go against the fish. There are miles of water pushing the fish into the wrong direction. During the drought, there were major profits made off exporting this water south.”

We drove up the river as we passed through the Delta Communities of Hood, Clarkburg and Freeport until we arrived in Sacramento city limits.  There were more boaters on the river, but most were recreational boats. 

As we passed Clarksburg I jokingly pointed out how where I caught the “second best tasting’ salmon I had ever eaten, an 18-inch jack salmon taken from shore.

We all arrived at Discovery Park, just in time for a big feast provided by the Shingle Springs Rancheria before a ceremony by the local Miwok Tribe.

For more information about Tight Lines Guide Service, call (888) 975-0990.

In the following edition of this publication, we will cover the journey down the Sacramento from Discovery Park to Colusa with Captain Rob Reimers of Rustic Rob’s Guide Service. 





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