Don’t Just Love Your Cold Water Fisheries, Be Good Stewards Also

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Rehabilitating tree planting site. Notice the cottonwoods behind the white pines. Photo By: Louis Cahill

Most fly fisherman are passionate about the protection of their trout and salmon streams.

Promoting catch and release, special regulations and protecting various wild salmonid populations, are among the most common conservation topics being fought for today in the sport of fly fishing. But even as important as all of these topics are, there’s another area of conservation that I feel like is equally important, and is being put on the back burner. Why is it, that we aren’t’ also hearing people talking passionately about the importance of protecting our trout waters tree canopies, stream banks and 50 foot buffers (native shrubs and foliage)? After all, they’re essential elements in the conservation pie, and without them, it’s very difficult for any trout water, regardless of its size, to maintain the proper water quality and habitat that cold-water fish species demand for their suvival.

For example, the past five years, chronic drought conditions, poorly managed river/stream buffer zones and the occasional high wind thunderstorm have uprooted and destroyed an alarming amount of trees and foliage along my trout streams in the Southeastern United States. It hasn’t helped that during this depressing period there’s also been a large amount of our native hemlock forests decimated by the “hemlock woolly adelgid”, a beetle brought over from China and Japan, that sucks the life out of the trees by feeding on their sap. Put all of these negative forces together and they’ve really dealt a punishing blow to the health of the trout water in my area, and their ability to sustain year-round trout fisheries. Stream shade and foliage have been reduced greatly in areas, long stretches of stream banks have become un-stabilized and week, and silt introduction by erosion and runoff have become a serious problem. Water temperatures are reaching levels higher than we’ve ever seen in the past, and natural reproduction of our cold-water species are at an all-time low. The fish haven’t been the only species effected by these environmental cotastrophies. The aquatic insect, amphibian, and crustacean populations have been effected as well, with some species being wiped out almost completely.

Be Good Stewards of your trout water by giving back

Last year, to help combat these issues, I volunteered a day of my time to plant 150 eastern cottonwood trees on a private section of property along a trout stream I regularly guide on. The landowners purchased 8-14″ cottonwood tree cuttings from a Louisiana tree nursery at .25 cents a piece, and we used a one inch metal bar to quickly punch a hole in the ground and stick the tree cuttings in. It was relatively painless and we had a 75 percent survival rate with the tree cuttings we planted. In a year and a half, these tree cuttings grew an average of ten feet. We plan on doing it again this year, but this time around, we’re going to try to double the number we plant. I can’t tell you how rewarding this tree rehabilitation project has been for me, and how proud I am when I walk by one of those thriving cottonwood trees. By replanting trees in areas that need it, we’re bringing back the shade, strengthening the bank and increasing foliage that offers sanctuary for hatched insects prior to mating. I think you could call that, killing three birds with one stone. That’s why I felt so obligated to share this success story with all of you. Think how much positive impact we could make across the nation on our trout waters if more of us would volunteer one or two days a year to do this kind of rehabilitation work together. If we love fly fishing and the beautiful fish we catch, then I strongly think it’s also our duty to be good stewards of our outdoor resources by giving back.

So how do you do it. We purchased our cottonwood cuttings from Big River Cottonwood Nursery, but if you have established cottonwoods in your area, “you just need to cut 8-12″ sections from stems that grew during the previous growing season. When those cottonwood stems are put in the ground, the buds on the stems will facilitate the process of transforming them into new trees. Harvest them in late winter and then plant them in early spring for best results, says Tyler Janke, a conservationist”. We chose cottonwood trees because they grow extremely fast, grow in a very wide range of soil medium, and are suitable for both drought and flood conditions.

Talk to your local Trout Unlimited group and your fellow fly fisherman. A few dollars can pay for planting a dozen or more trees. And by getting involved you’ll be doing your part to protect the opportunity for our future generations of anglers to enjoy these cold water fisheries that we have grown to love so deeply. Depending on location, it takes anywhere from five to ten years for a cottonwood tree cutting to mature and start producing seeds. Upon maturing, they will drop their seeds each year. The wind and water can transport the seeds long distances. How cool is it to know, that a single tree you plant, could end up spreading new tree saplings all over the region to fight the issues at hand? I’m all for it, will continue to volunteer and I’d be willing to join a club that was dedicated to raising the awareness and pushing the cause.

Please share this post on your social media pages to educate and help fight the cause. 

Keep it Reel,


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12 thoughts on “Don’t Just Love Your Cold Water Fisheries, Be Good Stewards Also

  1. Great post. Here in NY, we have a terrific program called Trees for Tribs that’s run by the DEC. They even provide the trees for free along with some supplies and assistance.

    It’s also a good thing to buy native trees and shrubs from local (or as local as possible) sources. A lot of Soil & Water Conservation districts in the state host seedling sales once a year.

    Maintaining healthy buffers = investing in the future of our cold water fisheries. It’s as simple as that.

    • Rider,

      I agree you should always try to plant native trees and shrubs. I’ve looked into some evergreens but they are really pricey unless you do seedlings.

      The eastern cootonwood range is extends from Ga all the way to MT so I guess you could call it sort of native. Populars are the closest that we have and are in the same family I believe.

      Thanks for the comment. I may contact you to get more information about your tree program up there. I am hoping if we don’t have something like that already we can get one started. Like the idea.


  2. This is a great point Kent. We get so focused on where the fish actually live….water…. that we forget about the environement around the water. We preach about keeping the waters clean and free of invasive species. But on the other hand you can have the cleanest water on earth running through a watershed, but if you don’t have a healthy popluation of vegetation surrounding it, it’s not going to hold trout. Glad to hear about your project on NCF. Excited to see how that works out. If you need a hand just let me know. Later Dude.

  3. So Interesting! Here in KZN province of South Africa, our natural state is that of wide open grasslands, and given our inherently dry conditions, alien invasive trees are the enemy. We are starting work on eradiacting Australian wattles that clog our banks, and suck up water.

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  5. I have heard others talk about tree planting to protect banks before but our experiance here in the Driftless area of Wisconsin is that trees shade out grass and grass is what holds a bank in place. Perhaps our spring creeks are different.

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