From shore, it seemed like little more than a steep curb that made the water drop and swirl.

But Shanghai falls had been a prized fishing spot along the Feather River near Shanghai Bend.

The clay berm that once kept stripers, shad, steelhead trout and salmon in a holding pattern beneath the water's surface is no more.

"It just wore out and gave way," Sutter County Supervisor Stan Cleveland says of the natural landmark's quiet death in mid-January.

The erosion had been a slow underwater process, according to Joe Johnson, senior environmental scientist for California Fish and Game.

"We're kind of familiar with that section of the river, and it's always been deteriorating," he says.

The next year will tell just how much of an effect the loss will have on fish counts.

"It did congregate fish," Johnson says of the traffic jam created by a lack of egress upstream. "I doubt that spot is gonna slow them down now."

The start of striper season is only a month away, and with so little rain this winter, Bob Boucke, owner of Johnson's Bait & Tackle on Garden Highway, says he was not optimistic even before the falls collapsed.

He says he stands to lose some of his regular shore fishing business because of the underwater terrain change. Shore fishermen make up roughly a third of his shop's income.

"It's gonna make it a lot harder. The fishing's just going to be different now in that area," he says. "Now the fish can just shoot right through that spot."

On just about any day of the year — even during the off-season — solo fishermen traipse down the trails and across the expanse of sand known as Shanghai Bend, bearing fishing poles and tackle boxes.

Most aren't serious sportsmen, but rather just folks looking to relax.

"It's a sentimental thing," says Boucke. "There's a lot of people just like to sit out there and watch the falls."

Area kids often have their first fishing experience on the bank nearby.

"I don't know of any living person that doesn't remember the falls," says Marysville Councilman Dale Whitmore, who is also a California Fish and Game biologist.

On weekends during good runs, "it was probably the best spot on the Feather River besides the outlet up in Oroville," says Boucke.

Cleveland has been part of a multi-agency committee that had been studying the plausibility of shoring up the badly eroded falls.

The Lower Feather River Corridor Management Planning Group includes representatives from the Department of Water Resources, state and federal conservation agencies and local governments.

Among items on the group's most recent meeting agenda was the Shanghai falls issue.

"They just finished a study four or five weeks ago," says Cleveland. "They said it would be a couple more years before the water would break through."

But one week later, there were no longer falls left to discuss.

A ripple of tiny rapids still marks the area near the once-sharp river bend.

Flood years stressed and eventually broke through the Yuba City levee there in 1955, and the subsequent remediation efforts created what, for fishermen, amounted to a wide expanse of beach.

Boucke says the falls, like the levee breach, could be fixed.

"It wouldn't be a hard thing to do," he says. "Build a barrier of rocks — the silt would eventually fill it in."

But he realizes investment in a remedy for a broken fishing hole would no doubt be a tough sell.

Cleveland is even more skeptical.

"It's a wonderful spot. But if it's a natural process of the river, should we interfere?" he says.

Johnson says a potential silver lining in the loss of the falls might be represented by a large fish that has, until now, made only infrequent appearances in the area.

"Sturgeon can't pass barriers like that," he says of the falls. "This does open up a chance for them to get up a little farther."

It's all speculation, however.

Boucke says that right now, he is banking on predictions for a great salmon season this summer.

And he's keeping his fingers crossed for late winter rains.

"Lack of rain is a disastrous thing," he says. "And it looks like a desert out there now."

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