When I looked at the list of outdoor activities for this year’s Outdoor Writers Association of California (OWAC) spring conference, a rafting trip down the American River practically jumped off the page. “Let’s do this!” I said to Kathy. “I haven’t rafted the American River since 1973, when I was a graduate student at Sacramento State.” I had also worked as a paid intern for the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors during that time and learned firsthand about a fledgling organization called Friends of the River. Friends of the River was mounting a campaign to stop the proposed Auburn Dam project. It seemed that certain political heavyweights were pushing to bury the breathtakingly pristine north and middle forks of the American River under several hundred feet of water. Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed and the project was eventually abandoned. Natural treasures like the American River Canyon are never completely safe, however. Like a bad cold that just won’t go away, the plan to build Auburn Dam still rears its ugly head from time to time.
California Ambition, Luck and Savagery: Old Town Auburn
The transformation of the Mexican territory of Alta California began on January 24, 1848, when James W. Marshall discovered a gold nugget in the American River while constructing a sawmill for John Sutter, a Sacramento land baron and unscrupulous agriculturalist. News of Marshall’s discovery inspired the Gold Rush of 1849, where thousands of haggard dreamers, scheming industrialists, and their hangers-on, from all over the US and beyond, risked it all to make their fortune in what would become the “Golden State” of California.
In the spring of 1848, a group of French gold miners arrived in the Sierra Nevada mountains and camped in what would later be known as the Auburn Ravine. Human presence of the Martis People in the Auburn area dates back to 1400 B.C., yet the Nisenan, an offshoot of the Maidu Tribe, inhabited the area more recently.
Point Loma—The annual 2.5-day Western Outdoor News charter aboard the 80-foot sportfisher Sea Adventure 80 ran long and hard to explore the waters around San Clemente Island. Known for its great yellowtail and calico bass action, SCI had recently shown signs of schoolie-sized yellowfin offshore and bigger model YFT close-in.
The 30-anglers, all guys, scheduled for this trip loaded up early and began stowing gear and getting settled. As of the 8:00 p.m. departure fall weather had yet to come to Southern California with tuna and warm water still coming across the border from Mexico in a never ending flood.
The usual deck-talk began with concerns as to where night driver and second Captain, Paul Panello, might run overnight. A call from Captain Harbour over the p.a. outlined the plan.
“We’ll go out and get bait and while we are there at the receiver I’ll fill you guys in on where we are headed,” came the announcement as SA80 pulled away from the H&M docks. While the grey light of morning was still hours away anglers considered where the charter was headed when reports of limit-style tuna bites south of the border had been all the news in recent weeks.
The answer came shortly as everyone gathered into the roomy galley salon for the briefing by the skipper and deckhand, Roman Rodriquez.