navarro by the sea center

Interviews on the Navarro River and Fishing

Francis (Frank) Ray
and Geneva Linn Ray

Interviewer: Hillary Adams

At their home Ranch on Navarro Ridge Road west of the Grange, May 29, 1995

[Comments in brackets by Hillary Adams, 1999]


My grandparents came from County Cork, Ireland. My mother was born there. They came in a sailing ship from England. They went to Manchester. My mother was born there. My father, John Francis Ray, was born here. I was born right up the road in 1904. [Age: 91]


This ranch belonged to my parents. I was born in this house in 1909. We had 200 acres originally. My dad was born in Glasgow, Scotland. My grandparents came out here. They went to Orr Springs first and opened a brick kiln in Ukiah.[Age: 86]

Fishing the Navarro:


We fished the Navarro since we were able to walk. Lots of trout, grills [small steelhead or salmon, one foot long]. There were thousands of fish. The holes were full of them. We fished the holes. From the banks, it was solid with fish. In the Fall we trolled from the mouth. There would be twenty-five boats. Everyone caught fish. We would row a bit and then had a fish on the line. Salmon come in the fall. We didn't use a net, we used a hook and line. Just tie a spinner on the line and a fish would grab it.


People would take crab nets to the bridge and drop them over the side and get the crab. Now you couldn't get a crab out of that river if you wanted to. Dad used beef bones for bait. He would throw them out and walk the crab in.

There were schools of herring there [Navarro River] and in the Albion River. We didn't like them, they were greasy. The Finnish people thought they were great. There were flounders in the Navarro River. Caught them by hook and line. And there were Surfish six inches long. We would dip an A-frame net into the waves and catch them as the wave came by. We would wade into the surf.

We made our own nets. We used branches from little trees for the A-frame. Then we would buy line and weave the net with a shuttle. You held onto the cross piece, and there was a hinge.

We took the River for granted. I hunted and fished a lot. I would leave the two children with Mother and walk down to the River, take the motor boat. Our property bordered the River so I could tie up everywhere. I caught some fish and came back.

About the sandbar and the River:


There was a breakwater when we were young. The river didn't close then.


I got my butt spanked more than once for going down to the bridge for crab. It was a big, dangerous river then, very deep with a fast current...Now it's nothing but a dirty lagoon... The bridge was further toward Navarro-by-the-Sea Hotel than it is now.


It was a roaring river. Much deeper. There were big freshets. The limbs of cut trees would be caught way up in the alders. Now its filling up with dirt.


It was a dangerous river when we were young. Now it's nothing but a dirty lagoon.

I think the vineyards are taking out all the water. The River used to be high in the winter. Now, even when we have had lots of rain, the River is still shallow. It was a very deep river then.

David Foster
Fishing Guide, Navarro River

Interviewed by Hillary Adams, telephone interview, July 29, 1995, with interviewer's comments.

David Foster has been fishing the Navarro since the early 1970's both for himself and as a guide. In that time he has seen very few salmon in the Navarro: “I have caught some in there. Coho, not king.”

David has fished for salmon off the Navarro beach in more recent years when the bar closed the river mouth for long periods, and caught salmon there in September and October. “There were Salmon out there in the ocean a few years ago. I remember I walked across the bar and fished just under those houses on the cliff and caught salmon there.”

In David's opinion:

What you need is enough water coming down the river to keep it open. There was a lot more water flowing through at all times of year in the 70's and early 80's.

David continues:

In my opinion, the most important thing that has affected the salmon and steelhead in the Navarro is water diversions upstream. I have actually seen the River go down since then. I mean suddenly down and then back up again.

When asked about the effect of draught he said:

Draught is a factor but the most important is the proliferation of the water diversions.

In David's opinion, the next most important factor is massive siltation.

There is gravel under all that muck that is in the estuary now. You just have to take a steel rod and push it down to hit the gravel.

About the River mouth and its action (open or closed) he said:

The river mouth was usually open until about ten or twelve years ago. It was open in the 70's and the early 8O's.

On artificial opening of the bar:

I can remember being on the beach one time when some people cut through the bar. I watched the water rush out. Almost immediately there were salmon pulling in. They were just waiting out there.

Generally, David fishes for steelhead. He says the Navarro River was never the best known river for Coho, there were others that were better, but it was “the best steelhead river anywhere around.”

He also says that there was a period when the California Department of Fish and Game stocked the Navarro:

That river was stocked at one time with steelhead. They got the stock out of the Talmadge ponds. Fish and Game stocked the river in 1985, I think, and for about three years after that. They dumped 90,000 smolt into the river one year. That was our best year. Before that they stocked about 10,000 a year. I just threw out the stocking numbers for the later 70's and 80's, but Fish and Game should have them. The numbers fluctuated wildly.

He thinks the year they put in "90,000" smelt was the last year they stocked the river.

According to David:

The bulk of the steelhead come just about the December solstice. Some come earlier, some as early as November. That's the first wave. Even in recent years, usually the bar has been open and ready for them. The young run out throughout the winter in the high water and end about in January. There is a mix of young and old going down and upstream in February. I've occasionally seen them in the estuary, but mostly it is the pools further upstream.

The pools he guides people to retain their old names even though the objects that identify them are now often gone: Trestle Hole, The Guard Hole, Berry Patch Hole, Jungle Hole.

Asked about the tidal influence of the estuary he said:

It goes about four miles up, just beyond the Swimming Hole. [3.66 mile marker on Hwy 128] There is a riffle up there, just opposite the hollow log. That is the edge of it. Once in awhile it goes higher up when the tides are very high, but otherwise there is no tidal influence above that riffle.