The Flatiron Herring or Sardina

Much has changed about fishing down in Baja California since we began fishing in the Sea of Cortez 10 years ago. The absence of the once primary, forage fish, the flatiron herring (Harengula thrissina), known as sardina in Spanish, has affected our fishing during the last five years.


Fishing for sardina in Baja California. | Bruce Ajari

Each year, the bait situation seems to get worse. Last year, there were no live sardina available. We were able to get frozen sardina for conventional fishing for tuna. This year it appears that there will be no sardina at all. Why is this happening?

It would be easy to draw a parallel to the crash of the Pacific sardine industry in the late 1950s and 1960s in the Monterey area. Overfishing was the obvious culprit in this case. A once-thriving fish was almost driven into extinction.

How this happened was easy to understand. The Pacific sardine takes about seven years to reach sexual maturity. When the industry started out, fish that were about 9 years old were being fished. As fishing increased, this harvest began to include younger and younger fish. Toward the end, they were harvesting fish that were younger than 7 years old.

The result is that they were fishing to a population that was not able to increase its numbers. The result was the near extinction of the Pacific sardine.


“Overfishing was the obvious culprit in this case.
A once-thriving fish was almost driven into extinction.”


However, there is considerable speculation on why sardina populations are decreasing. Many believe it is as simple as overfishing.

This certainly could be the case when you consider that when trying to research this fish, we could not find the age at which this fish reaches sexual maturity. Knowing this and that we have seen smaller and smaller fish being harvested for bait leads me to believe overfishing is the cause.

Consider the fact that the Mexican government has allowed the increased commercial take of this species in recent times. Also, tuna pens that raise tuna in the Sea of Cortez have increased and it takes fish to feed them. Add the take by sport fishing operations and you have a significant impact.

While this makes a compelling case, some feel that warming ocean temperatures due to climate change are to blame.

There are scientists who say the sardina are not finding the right conditions for spawning due to increasing temperatures and that when waters cool, the fish will rebound.

We do know that this can happen. The Pacific sardine has made a remarkable comeback since the commercial industry in Monterey collapsed. However, for the sardina to rebound will take some action by the Mexican government.

Call me pessimistic, but it seems there is little interest for reducing commercial take or protections for this important forage fish. Personal appeals have gotten no response.





Boca Reservoir | Inflow is at 29 cfs and the outflow is 55 cfs. Powerbait, nightcrawlers and lures are all working. Fly-fishers have been catching some fish near the inlet with nymphs, streamers and dries.

Donner Lake | Fishing has been fair to good. Kokanee fishing has been good. Nightcrawlers and Powerbait seem to be the main bait for trout. Mackinaw fishing has been good. Fly-fishers are catching fish with streamers.

Lake Tahoe | Fishing has been fair to good for mackinaw. A guide is highly recommended if you are fishing for mackinaw for the first time. Toplining and shore fishing is fair. Most shore anglers use inflated nightcrawlers.

Little Truckee River | The flow is at 29 cfs. This is really too low to fish in my opinion. With the water at this level, it is best to avoid this water.

Martis Lake | Zero kill. Catch and release only with barbless artificial lures or flies. Smallmouth bass are part of the fishery. Given this, it is fall and the weeds will be dying back with cooler weather. You might just want to give this a try.

Prosser Reservoir | Fishing has been fair. The lake level is rapidly dropping. Anglers using bait, lures and flies have all caught fish. Fly-fishers have done well near the inlet areas. Bass fishing has been fair.

Stampede Reservoir | Fishing has been pretty slow. There are still not many reports from this water. Nightcrawlers, Powerbait and lures have all produced from shore. Fly-fishers have been doing well near the inlets with nymphs and streamers. The Kokanee should be getting ready to spawn. Smallmouth bass fishing has been fair to good.

Truckee River | It is not flowing out of the lake at Tahoe City. The flows through Truckee are at 22 cfs. While the water is cooling, I do not recommend fishing at this water level from Tahoe City to Truckee or to Boca. Fish are stressed at low water levels. It is just not a temperature issue. Below Boca, it is running at 112 cfs; so this stretch to state line is where to fish. Crayfish and small mayflies along with streamers are your best bet now. Hoppers are also an option with a dropper. This water is special regulation, artificial only with barbless hook water. Catch-and-release fishing is encouraged, but an angler may keep two fish with a minimum size of 14 inches.

Davis and Frenchman lakes | Both are beginning to pick up. Boat, shore and fly anglers are catching a few more fish now. Cooler nights have perked things up.

Bruce Ajari

Bruce Ajari is a long-time area fly-fisherman and past president of Tahoe Truckee Fly Fishers.