Colonial era dams in Yaphank are causing higher water temperatures in parts of the Carmans River and should be removed or opened, environmental advocates say.
The groups Defend H2O and SeaRun Brook Trout Coalition say the dams create thermal pollution by artificially spreading out the water and slowing it down, allowing it to collect heat. Restoring the flow would reduce temperatures, halt the spread of invasive species and return natural fish passage routes to the river, reducing the need for costly dredging and other treatments, they say.
These dams have been there since the 1700s, and seems like the only appeal they have now is related to the lakes they hold back. People there like the lakes.
It’s always a question of values. Brook trout are on the verge of being extirpated in so many places. On Long Island, the Carmans is one of a just a few rivers that still have populations of brook trout, which used to be everywhere in the greater New York City area. Now, it’s just another remnant population barely hanging on.
Where to find some brook trout today? And can I make it easy? In other words, can I drive somewhere within an hour, not have to hike very far, catch some good fish, and not get shot by a hunter while doing it? And can I catch every fish on dry flies, in full spawning colors, and preferably in size medium at least?
Sometimes those are the questions I ask. Living here in the northern Shenandoah Valley, there are spots I can get to and be fully geared-up and fishing in under an hour. Not epic fishing, and not completely safe during hunting season, but it’s possible. For reasons known only to us fly fisherman, however, convenient and familiar waters that are just fine do little to draw us. What we all crave is a little adventure, even if the emphasis is on the “little” part — in distance, place, and fish size. It’s a craving satisfied by finding someplace new, even if it’s not “new” to everyone else, and even if it holds the promise of being only slightly better and maybe not that different from our regular haunts. That, I suppose, is the definition of fishing porn, as opposed to “fish porn,” which is the endless buffet of photos and videos of fish caught, and it’s different than, well, just porn.
Anyway… Last week I spent two days fishing Little Stony Creek. If you’re looking for a place that is a short drive and has easy access, Little Stony Creek near Edinburg, Virginia may not be that place, depending on where you live and your ideas about convenience. Turns out it’s a nice little stream, but hiking and bushwhacking is, as usual, required. I had fished Big Stony Creek before, of which Little Stony is a notable tributary, but I had never gotten up to the Little Stony until now.
On both days, I parked at the small lot where the National Forest road crosses the creek. The first day was reconnaissance. I hiked a bit and headed downstream to the Woodstock Reservoir and checked out just three pools. I tried three different flies — foam beetle, greenish Elk Hair Caddis, and in the last pool that was the biggest, flattest, and had the slowest water, a size 16 Adams. Got a fish in each before moving on. All of them were the normal, five to seven inch small freestone stream fish you would find in any of our mountain trout streams. And all on dry flies… no surprise.
On day two, I hiked upstream and spent a lot more time fishing. It was pushing 68 degrees, and the bigger and bushier the dry fly I tried, the larger the fish were that I hooked. I had a lot of action, but it could have been even better. One of the things to keep in mind about Little Stony Creek is that it runs north-south. With the sun low in the sky this time of year, it was hard to maneuver and consistently keep my shadow off the water. Actually, the real problem was the shadow of the rod when I cast. So there was a lot of pre-planning at every single pool, positioning myself off to the side, making sidearm casts, and stuff like that. On a cloudy day like the first day I fished here, that’s obviously not a concern.
Despite all that, the fishing was good. It’s not the complete wilderness experience of Shenandoah National Park, and depending on where you live, it might be a lot farther away than SNP for what amounts to very similar fishing and the potential for slightly lower fish sizes compared to a few of the better SNP streams. There are almost five miles of water to fish, though, and it empties into the Woodstock Reservoir. I want to believe there are bigger brookies in that impoundment, but despite prowling the banks a bit and making some casts, I didn’t see them and haven’t heard much about what’s swimming in there.
You do have to contend with some trash and campsite detritus here. This is the price you pay for fairly straightforward access and less strenuous hiking. It’s also hunting season, and though I saw only a single vehicle parked at a turnout on Monday as well as Friday, it’s something to be aware of. Much less a concern than some of the streams around Massanutten, though.
Now the bushwhacking part. This place is thick with vegetation. In December, it’s not too bad to push through some brush to get on and off the stream. However, come spring or summer, getting around much of this place would be misery. Even the trail itself is not always well defined. So be warned. It’s not a matter of getting lost, since you’re in a narrow, deep valley, but it can get frustrating. My wife was with me on the first day, and heading back to the car from the reservoir we somehow lost the trail because we wanted to check out one more pool we had seen on the way down. We ended up bulldozing our way up some steep slopes and a dry creek bed, knowing that simply heading due west we’d hit the trail eventually. And we did. But again, in late spring or summer, that would be a different experience.
I’ll surely head back here since it’s not too far from home. However, it’s just as easy for me to get to some other streams, and those are up next.
Weather conditions: mostly sunny, winds SSW 3 to 10 mph
Their goal: to maintain that 38-square mile area, in northern Carroll and Baltimore counties, with its 60 miles of streams that are home to one-fourth of Maryland’s brook trout. Only the Savage River Watershed, in Garrett County, boasts more fish. “This cluster of streams [in the Gunpowder] is one of the last Eastern outposts of brook trout that isn’t in the Appalachian Mountains,” said Mark Staley, central region manager for Inland Fisheries.
The challenge is that most of it is private property and much of it is farmland. On the other hand, the fact that so much brook trout water exists here is proof that something has been done right. Scott Scarfone, coordinator of the Upper Gunpowder Watershed Brook Trout Conservation Partnership, is trying to convince landowners to continue to be good stewards of this area:
“This fish is the canary in the coal mine,” Scarfone said. “Knowing you have a piece of land pristine enough to sustain brook trout tells you that the environment is fairly pure and intact. People see value in that.”
If you’re out there catching native trout then you may be interested in contributing photos and data to TroutBlitz, Trout Unlimited’s initiative to catalog North America’s salmonids. It’s based on the concept of a BioBlitz, but instead of just 24 hours this is an ongoing effort. Use this guide to help you do it correctly. They have apps for iOS and Android, too (see the main TroutBlitz page, links at the bottom). And if you’re looking for new places to find fish, this is another good resource.
Co-author Ben Letcher, fisheries biologist at the U.S. Geological Survey and adjunct faculty in environmental conservation at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, says, “It took years of sampling four streams and tracking more than 15,000 individual fish, but we feel we can account for about 90 percent of the yearly variation in abundance. The bottom line is that high summer temperatures are bad. That is unfortunate because summer air temperature is expected to increase with climate change and extreme rain is also expected to increase, especially in the spring when vulnerable eggs are hatching and fry are emerging.”
Brook trout may evolve, if given enough time, to adapt to these changing conditions. Unfortunately, these changes may outpace this kind of evolution.
Fall and winter are great seasons to scout streams that may hold brook trout. In fact, it’s what I spent this past weekend doing. I explored two streams, one in the George Washington National Forest, and one in Shenandoah National Park. I had long suspected that each of these held brook trout but had never heard of anyone fishing either of them.
I left the fly rod in the car for each hike to the water. My goal was to sight at least one fish in each stream, to either confirm or possibly write-off any presence of brook trout.
The first stream runs along a dirt road in the national forest. It veers away from the road a short distance upstream from the only parking spot, and just downstream it is posted as private property. Normally, I would have hiked upstream along the public access to check it out, but it’s hunting season now and hunters were at turnouts all along the forest service road. I had left my blaze orange hat at home and was dressed in tans and other colors a little too deer-like, so I stayed put at the pool next to my truck. Luckily, after staring at the water for quite a while, I saw a lone brook trout, about eight inches long. It darted and weaved upstream in a flash and buried itself under a shelf of rocks. Success!
The second stream is one of the forty-sixninety or so in Shenandoah National Park (depending on how you count them) that have populations of brook trout. I wasn’t able to find much info about this particular stream, so I drove down there and made an afternoon hike out of it. This is not one of the larger streams, but it has always looked promising. Most of the good-looking trout water seems to be quite a ways downstream. It wasn’t until a few hundred yards from one of the gates at the lower park boundary that I saw fish bolting at the sight of me in a few different pools. Again… success. Have to return with the rod to check out some promising spots further upstream.
I was hoping to see some fish guarding their spawning beds, but I saw none. A few years ago my wife and I had hiked down the trail along Jeremy’s Run the day after Thanksgiving. We saw brook trout guarding redds in one pool. I was hoping it was not too late, but Thanksgiving had been almost a week earlier than it was this year. They are probably done now.
By the way, interesting bit from the East Coast Fly Guy about fishing for brook trout during the fall. Last year, he emailed a few fisheries biologists and fly shop owners. Opinions will differ, but the biologists did not feel that there would be much impact on brook trout populations from fishing or wading during these times of year. I still think being a little careful when wading is a good idea, but it sounds like brook trout populations are resilient and much more affected by stream flows and persistent trends in weather.
This is not a review of any of the latest fly rods. Rather, it’s a look at the collection of rods that I’ve spent a lot of time fishing on small streams. I still own each of them. They are all discontinued or superseded by something fancier, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worthy.
The cast of characters:
LL Bean Streamlight 6’11” 4 weight
Sage FLi 9′ 5 weight
Winston WT 7′ 3 weight
Scott G 8’4″ 5 weight
All of them excel at various things. From least to most desirable…
LL Bean Streamlight 6’11” (4 weight – 2 piece)
The little Streamlight is an inexpensive and surprisingly good small stream fly rod. With a four weight line it leans toward the faster end of moderate action, but it still throws small dry flies well enough, especially when the wind kicks up a little. It’s only a two-piece rod, but that’s kind of nice when you’re gearing up, just twist it together and go. For durability and carefree bashing-through-the-woods kind of fishing, it’s been great and still gets some use. Props to LL Bean for making some good, affordable fly rods and having an outstanding warranty on everything they sell.
Sage FLi 594 (5 weight – 4 piece)
This is one of those rods that you don’t hear much about anymore. It is the rod I grab when fishing medium to large streams and rivers for trout, and I use it a lot for nymphing. But it is also fine for fishing dry flies. Very good, in fact. For brook trout on small streams and casting short lengths of line or just the leader, it’s not a awful. Using this rod opened my eyes to the benefits of using a longer stick and keeping line off the water more easily on little creeks. It’s probably considered a faster action design, but not like some of Sage’s truly fast action offerings, like the old TCX, and others currently in Sage’s enormous catalog. The FLi is a sweet casting rod. It is an interesting stick to go back to now that there is renewed attention to fast action designs that are a little toned-down, a little more moderate, while still being able to throw long casts. I think the FLi is a rod in that spirit. Even if its fast-action cred is not quite the same, it’s still an easy rod for rocketing long casts (at least as five weight rods go) and covers a wide range of fishing situations.
Winston WT 7′ (3 weight – 3 piece)
Winston makes great fly rods, and this is one of the sweetest lightweight dry fly rods I’ve ever tried. It’s telepathic in helping you put a small fly into a pocket the size of a dessert plate consistently. The only things that cause it some trouble are wind and “larger” fish. The latter is probably due to my ham-fisted landing technique, but I have lost a couple brook trout over twelve inches using this rod. Both times, it was a rodeo, the rod bucking and bouncing while I tried to scoop the fish without a net, and both times the debacle ended with the fish bouncing off the hook and into the drink. And after each of those incidents, it would be a while before I found another brook trout that size… and I was not happy. Again, probably more my fault than the rod’s, though.
Scott G 845/5 (5 weight – 5 piece)
Then… there is the sublime Scott G 845/5. When I first got this rod, I wasn’t sure what to think of it. It has a wispy, moderate action that no one would describe as anywhere near fast. Not exactly like a glass rod, but it’s in that realm. I put my father-in-law’s old Lamson LP reel with a four weight line on it right away. I haven’t even tried a five weight line on it, though I’m sure it would handle it well. It is every bit the sweet dry fly caster the Winston WT is. The 8’4″ length is nice to have on tiny streams, and it’s not so unwieldy when bushwhacking as I originally feared. And unlike my Winston, the Scott has power when you need it. I can send out fifty foot casts effortlessly, and longer casts with some attention. I routinely use it for ten footers to soft pockets on brook trout streams, and it does that in the most casual and certain way. It has become my go-to fly rod for all kinds of trout fishing. In Yellowstone this summer, I fished nothing else and landed several cutthroats up to nineteen inches and felt completely confident with it. Yeah, I’ll use the word — this rod is magic, or pretty close. It’s earned its place as my favorite. For some interesting historical info, you can read what Larry Kenney, former owner and/or head designer of Scott Fly Rods (can never find good info about that…), says about this rod.
And Then… There Were Three
So now, it’s time to clear out some gear, and I think the Winston WT is the rod that has to go. What it does overlaps with the Scott too much. I really don’t want to part with it, but it’s just been sitting in its tube for a year now while the other rods get fished. Someone else should enjoy it. Ping me if you’re interested. Otherwise, it’ll be on eBay soon. Maybe… or it just may stay. Hard to get rid of a good fly rod, no matter how much sense it seems to make some days.
If you’ve fished for brook trout in and around Shenandoah National Park, you’re no doubt familiar with the Rose River and the town of Syria, Virginia. And you’ve probably driven by Graves Mountain Lodge. The Piedmont Virginian recently published an interesting article about the history of Graves Mountain Lodge (summary only, the rest is behind a paywall), which is worth checking out.
If you’re in the area fishing the Rose, or the Robinson, Hughes, Rapidan, Conway, or any of the other great brook trout streams in the area, lodging at Graves Mountain is an option, which I’ve never tried and never considered until reading this article. They have motel rooms and several cabins. You can also camp there year-round. And they have a restaurant. It’s an option to roughing it in a tent in Shenandoah National Park or the Rapidan Wildlife Management Area (by the way, recently found another site with good info about the Rapidan WMA, despite it not having been updated in a few years).
To be fair, I should note that we only fished Xcalak (it’s pronounced (“Shka-lak”) for four days, and that we pointedly ignored suggestions to hire a guide; on a Gartside expedition, one survives on one’s own skills, going fishless if necessary. Hiring a guide is considered both decadent and an admission of failure — akin to having a pizza delivered while scaling Mount Everest.
Exactly my philosophy, with occasional exceptions.
Every year, when the weather gets cooler and gray, I go through the Jack Gartside fly tying books I’ve bought and try some new patterns. The guy was a fly tying genius. Very sad that I never had a chance to meet him.