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The Eel River, Then & Now

The very first day I saw this River I made myself a promise that I would buy myself a site on the bank of it. 

We got up early that day — myself, Eddie Downing, and Everett Branscomb — and jumped into Eddie’s old military jeep, open top and all. It was New Year’s Day. We drove up Highway 101 to the Spy Rock Road, then up Spy Rock down into the Garrison. Margie had a hog ranch there. Keith, her man, drug out the brandy. We spiked the coffee and visited. 

After the sun got up and took the chill off, we went on down to the river. Ed and Everett had the roe in a jar, treated with borax powder to toughen it, they said. We walked up river about a mile, past a long hole to the upper end at the beginning of a big riffle. Eddie rigged my line. He then said, “Watch me fish.” He flipped his line out into the moving water. It drifted down river a little ways and BAM! something hit Eddie’s bait. Eddie jerked the hell out of the line. The water parted and a beautiful steelhead came up out of the water, twisting, landing on its side with a whomp on the still water, and the race was on. 

Eddie took off down over the rocks, the pole above his head, down into the bigger hole of water. I clambered over the rocks behind him, watching his moves. He played the fish for what seemed like a long time. Finally, the steelhead surfaced, acting like it was all over, only to go battling to get away again. Eddie finally got it up near the bank and held it while I ran over and grabbed it with my hands, slinging it onto the bank. The fish was a big female steelhead. 

Eddie said, “Good, we got us some fresh roe bait.” By the time we got the fish, Everett had had his own fight with a fish. We went back to where we started and Ed hooked another one. He told me to fish just like he did and went down to land his. I fished all the while as they caught fish after fish. I spent the rest of the time there and never did hook one at all. They let about six more go that they didn’t want. They each got their limit, and a couple of charity fish for me. There had to have been 100 fish in that hole that day.

I didn’t catch my first steelhead until a few years later. I just couldn’t detect the fish picking up the roe while bouncing down over the rocks. When I caught my first fish it was at Dos Rios. I got it on a spin-glow. The fish struck the artificial bait. I landed it down under the bridge. When I got the first fish on roe, it was about 4 one afternoon at Dos Rios. It is hard to tell a person what the bait feels like when the fish picks it up. It just takes a lot of trying and patience. I loved to fish at the Dos Rios segment of the Eel, but fish don’t stay there very long. They move on through. You’ve got to catch them at about daylight. There’s a rock where the runs come by and you can get a couple fish from there every morning.

I said to my friends, “Man, if I lived closer I could beat Clyde and Richard Williams to the spot.” Well, about ten years later I purchased the property. A job was about to go out to bid in Willits for fixing Main Street, Highway 101, from Remco to the Bank. I needed more rock and a better source of gravel, and I knew the value of the gravel at Dos Rios. But I couldn’t bid at the time because I didn’t have a bonding capacity to bid the Willits job myself.

At the time I was talking with Earl Maize and Frank Crawford about helping me with my ideas and how to get in on the bidding for the Willits job. The Dos Rios material had been a source of concrete aggregates for the proposed Point Arena nuclear power plant. Not many knew this besides myself and the PG&E officials. 

I can tell the world that the most honest, intelligent men I have ever known were Mr. Frank Crawford and Earl Maize. We lost some beautiful human beings when they perished. The face of Mendoland would be nothing like it looks today had they not been on the scene. There probably would be no LP or GP in Mendocino County. Boise Cascade would never have gotten Union Lumber either. But if the rabbit didn’t stop to shit..... Wow! If there be anyone that could think and shake like them today, this county would have zero unemployment today.

I bought the Dos Rios river site in about 1969. The first Thanksgiving Day there I counted 40 fish caught that one day. This continued throughout the 70s and into the 80s. But in the past ten years I have not seen a single fish taken at Dos Rios. There are no fish there anymore. 

When Jim Eddie ran for re-election to the Supervisors I ran against him. One of the reasons was the destruction of the Eel River. No one knows more about this river than me — period. The bastards we have running our county have all but destroyed it.

With the public epithet “We have to take a stand” the power plants and dams at Lake Pillsbury need to come out. The Eel can never return at all without water. The problem is the Farm Bureau. They’re a bunch of so-called farmers who beg all day for government subsidies. I ain’t met a farmer in Mendoland that has made a dime farming — unless they’re growing pot or grapes. Yet the so-called agriculture runs Mendocino County. If the farmers had to pay for what they use they’d all leave. Even up here in Idaho, a real agribusiness area, the government has dammed up 1,000 miles of the Snake River for power and agriculture. But Clinton has a billion-dollar bailout on the table today. The little farmer don’t get none of this money though. The corporation-farmers get it. The salmon and steelhead are no longer in the rivers in Idaho either. Just like the Eel system. Dams and fish don’t mix. Fish need the water when they come to spawn, not when the dam man turns the dam water loose. Way back when life began, we knew better, but we continue to do wrong.

I hope one day the fish will run in the Eel at Dos Rios. We can do the right thing. It wouldn’t hurt anything either. PG&E wants to shut down the power plant at Lake Pillsbury. It’s not economical anymore. Jim Eddie said at a public hearing that a fish ain’t worth the cost of the fish ladder. He was right. Besides there are no more fish. But he didn’t know what he was talking about either. He’s a good-ol-boy farmer who slept through everything but an earthquake at most of the meetings he attended. 

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