Bly Tunnel valve at Eagle Lake is shut and locked

By: George deVilbiss/Special to Gold Country News Service
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For years, water has flowed from the Bly Tunnel at Eagle Lake, feeding Willow Creek. There is and has not been a fishery at Willow Creek. The water that flowed down primarily was used only by private farmers along the creek’s travels.

There is no natural outlet for water to flow out of Eagle Lake; no dam, manmade or otherwise.

The Bly Tunnel is a piping and valve system that was installed many years ago to remove water from the lake strictly for the private use of downstream ranchers, people who don’t much care what the short- or long-term effects to the lake would be, so long as they had water for their cattle and other farming purposes.

Nobody would doubt the fact that much of the eastern side of the Sierra has been greatly affected by drought conditions. Sure, the Eagle Lake region gets snow, but it has been mostly less snow than what natural evaporation, coupled with water flowing from the Bly Creek Tunnel, has been.

Bottom line, for years the lake has lost more water than it has taken in, which means the water level is continually dropping.

Each year, it seems like it’s a little further walk from the Spaulding Tract boat parking lot to your boat at one of the docks. One launching ramp quickly became unusable due to the dropping water level and two years ago, the one useable launch ramp area had to be dredged out.

There is a group of concerned citizens known as the Eagle Lake Guardians, and a primary mover is George Walker, co-owner with her husband at the Eagle Lake General Store at Spaulding Tract.

A petition was made to close the valve a few years ago. The surrounding territory, along with control of the Bly Tunnel, is controlled by the Bureau of Reclamation, which did a study and hearing process and determined Bly Tunnel was more needed than not and decided to do nothing.

The Eagle Lake Guardians didn’t lie down and accept that. They went to their legislative leader. The Water Resources Control Board studied the situation of water removal closely and, along with the support of the California Department of Fish and Game, determined the downstream requirements of ranchers was not a right and not, therefore, justified, and further water removal was a major detriment to the lake.

It seemed to take forever, but the WRCB finally prepared a letter to the Lassen County BLM directing it to permanently close the Bly Tunnel valve.

Everybody expected the BLM to fight the issue, but to everybody’s surprise, under direct observation of the CDFG, the valve at the Bly Tunnel recently was closed and padlocked.

Will this permanently ensure no more water flowing down Willow Creek? Quite honestly, no.

First of all, the water level is a number of feet below the mouth of the Bly Tunnel, where water flowed through the pipe. The BLM’s study determined water wasn’t flowing through the pipe to enter Willow Creek but rather was going through earthen cracks, enough water in ground seepage to keep water flowing in the creek.

So, closing the valve might only be one step. If there is that much ground seepage, as was determined by the BLM, to keep Willow Creek flowing, then the Eagle Lake Guardians must then take whatever action to stop that seepage.

Hopefully, sooner rather than later, the lake level will again start rising instead of being in a forever dropping mode. While Eagle Lake is a trophy trout fishing lake, a rising water level will help those trout and the overall health of the lake.

In the meantime, with the Bly Tunnel battle won, the Guardians next are going to tackle Pine Creek, which enters the lake at Spaulding Tract. Pine Creek is one of a few streams that enter Eagle Lake and the only stream where the lake’s rainbow trout population has to go to spawn. Thousands of trout are captured and artificially spawned each year because the conditions in Pine Creek aren’t conducive to good spawning.

Current fishing

American River: You fish the river and you’re not getting even a tap. Think there are no fish in the river? Think again. The hatchery is loaded with steelhead, and they had to pass your way to get there. The first and foremost problem is that we’ve not had much rain so the river is low and slow — and clear. Steelhead are wary. Even the sound of your feet grating along the rocks can spook them. Use a leader that looks like a rope to them and they’ll let it go by. Anybody who goes to the American River and finds their rod bent with a fresh-run steelie is going with light gear. Try it and you, too, might hook up.

Boca Reservoir: The lake isn’t in good condition. The level currently is under 20 percent. Coupled with the lack of deep snow, it doesn’t bode well for this summer. In the meantime, there is enough ice on the lake to provide anglers the opportunity to bore a hole at, near and around the deeper end — the dam — and catch rainbows. Boca has always been one of my favorite ice fishing lakes. Pack everything you need on a cheapie plastic sled and make one trip out. The best bite will be early. Lower your bait to the bottom and crank it up a couple of turns. Eggs, crawlers and even shrimp are getting bit, and limits are common if you hit the right spot.

Folsom Lake: OK, so it’s not heavily attended by boaters, but there’s a fairly decent King salmon bite along with a few rainbows for those trolling. I do a seminar now and then about trolling for trout, and one thing I can’t stress enough is that a counter reel is worth its weight in gold. If the trout are shallow, you need to let out perhaps 90-plus feet of line. As your boat passes over them, they become spooked. By the time your lure or bait gets to them, they’ve settled down. And sometimes, you’ll get regularly bit 90 feet behind the boat but not at any other spot. A counter reel means you can consistently hit the same spot over and over.

In the meantime, those trolling the main body, the old river channel, are scoring on salmon and rainbows. The salmon range from 15 feet to 40 feet down, and you’ll do best with a downrigger. A dodger trailed by a two-inch orange grub or threaded night crawler should get you bit. For the trout, top-line but let out a good 90-100 feet of line. A small dodger followed by a crawler should do it.

Contact George deVilbiss at