Clear Lake, a prime year-round destination for anglers and economic engine for Lake County businesses, reopened to motorboats Tuesday, bringing relief to many of those interests after a two-week closure tied to recent flooding.
The ban on motorized vessels, an unprecedented measure put in place last month by county supervisors, was meant to limit damage to shoreline homes on the overflowing lake, which had risen nearly two feet over flood stage, inundating houses, businesses and lakefront roads.
The ban sought to eliminate boat-generated waves and prevent watercraft from colliding with the debris washed into the lake during this winter’s massive rains, county officials said.
But the county relented after hearing from fishing enthusiasts who contended boat wakes were not a significant problem compared with the waves generated by recent high winds.
The ban has been replaced with a 5 mph speed limit — the equivalent of idling speed — within a quarter mile of shore until the lake drops a foot below flood stage, according to Lake County Director of Water Resources Philip Moy. A similar measure adopted prior to the ban reportedly was ignored by some boaters, but officials are hoping enhanced enforcement and peer pressure will control the problem.
County officials also were concerned that the motorboat ban could harm the local economy. UC Extension Advisor Greg Giusti has estimated fishing generates $1 million in revenue for Lake County annually.
Dave Brabec, who owns Clearlake Outdoors in Lakeport, said on Tuesday that he was losing $1,000 a day in business while the lake was closed to motorized boats.
“This is our busiest time of year,” he said in an interview. “From February through May is the best fishing,” especially for bass and crappie.
Bob Myskey, a fishing guide, said he had to reschedule or cancel outings with seven clients.
At 73, he’s semi-retired, but he still takes about 400 people fishing every year. Almost all of them are from outside the area and they’ve included residents of Australia, France, Scotland and South Africa, he said.
Fishermen are a boon to the economy, spending on average $250 a day on lodging, gas and food, said Terry Knight, an outdoor writer and fisherman. Competitive bass fishermen can pay $100,000 for a fancy boat; $900 each on a dozen or more rods; and hundreds of dollars for each premium lure, he said.
One small bass tournament scheduled during the two-week closure was canceled, and several larger contests scheduled this month were threatened if the lake did not reopen. One of them attracts up to 200 boats, Knight said.
Clear Lake is known worldwide for fishing, he said.
“It’s rated the No. 3 bass lake in the world,” Knight said. It also hosts the country’s largest catfish derby.
The lake level on Tuesday was on the decline but remained high, 10 feet on the Rumsey gauge, a measurement based on a shoreline watermark. Nine feet is flood stage.
Depending on rainfall, it’s unlikely the lake will drop to 8 feet on the Rumsey gauge for several weeks, Moy said.
Meanwhile, many boat ramps are closed by flooding.
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