Fly Fishing: Our Trout Rivers and Streams Need More Wood

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Louis Cahill Photography

In-stream wood is critical for supporting wild trout. Photo by Louis Cahill

Several years back, one of my favorite wild trout streams, only a few miles from my house, got slammed with tornados and high winds (from back to back hurricanes that had moved up from Florida). The aftermath from the strong storms, downed dozens, upon dozens of trees along the stream. I was heartbroken at first when I witnessed all the downed wood. The first thing I thought about, was how much critical shade the stream had lost from the destruction of the large stretches of tree canopy along its banks. And that made me nervous water temperatures would thereby increase significantly during the summer months, posing a real threat to year round survival of the wild trout that lived there. I wasn’t alone in my worries, as I quickly found out when I talked with my local fly fisherman in the area. The large majority were in total agreement. We thought the best thing we could do, was go in and strategically remove as much wood as we could to avoid massive silt build ups, which we thought at the time, was causing the stream flow to slow down, and not only contribute to warming the water, but also choking out the natural aquatic bug life. Looking back now, as a much more educated angler, I know see the massive influx of in-stream wood cover that was gifted to us by the hurricanes, was not an environmental catastrophe, but actually a blessing in disguise for our beloved trout stream.

log-jams2

An example of a manmade logjam.

The truth is, a key element that many of our trout streams lack, is enough in-stream lay downs and log jams provided by fallen trees during storms. They’re critical for maintaining and supporting a healthy ecosystem, because they provide cover for all sizes of fish, both mature and juvenile, and they also hold back gravel critical for spawning grounds, and leaf litter from being washed out during high flows. The natural obstructions that they provide, also help to create new riffles and pools, thereby decreasing the chances of long stretches of trout streams ending up running straight as an arrow, widening over time, and becoming too shallow and barren of sufficient trout habitat.

I recently ran across a video on The Caddis Fly: Oregon Fly Fishing Blog, that showcased the local DNR going in and creating manmade logjams. They did this by strategically pulling down trees with heavy equipment on a trout and salmon stream, that overtime had been almost completely flushed out down to bare bedrock over the years. The goal for the project was to improve habitat, stabilize and increase the amount of gravel to improve spawning habitat, and also increase the number of riffles and pools. The video hit home with me and made me ask the question, “Why aren’t we doing more of this across the United States on all of our cold-water watersheds?”

Please watch the short video, support their efforts if your financial resources permit, and at the very least, take the time to spread the word with your local anglers and TU groups, about the importance of in-stream wood in our fisheries. Yeah, the added wood in our streams and rivers will cause us to lose quite a few more flies in snags. However, the long-term health advantages of the ecosystems on our salmonid watersheds, by the increase in available wood cover, will end up paying back our fly fishing endeavors ten fold over time.

Keep it Reel,

Come fish with us in the Bahamas!

Kent Klewein
Gink & Gasoline
www.ginkandgasoline.com
hookups@ginkandgasoline.com
 
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17 thoughts on “Fly Fishing: Our Trout Rivers and Streams Need More Wood

  1. The problem is as the narrator said it looks messy to the human eye. One of the most important limiting factors to our trout and smallmouth streams in Michigan is the lack of coarse woody debris. Drain Commissioners, landowners, municipal government, even our own Department of Environmental Quality don’t understand the importance. Landowners can remove fallen trees at will, as they see fit, I get that call all the time. But we need permits to add wood to our streams. Then we are often restricted to half logs, because they look neat. In my opinion whole trees are far better than half logs. We have stretches that we have added dozens of half logs to over the years that hold few fish. When a tree falls into that same stream fish move in within in hours. It should be a requirement not a crime that an angler add a couple limbs to the brush bundles at the end of a days fishing, You got it right again.

  2. Your right Kent. Wood is good! Woody debris is also an important food source for macroinvertebrates, especially stoneflies in North Georgia.

    Georgia Trout Unlimited, GA DNR and USFS are evaluating ‘chop and drop’ stream structures which are similar to the process described in the Oregon video. We believe the process could be effective in the Southern Appalachian mountains but want to put local testing and science behind any widespread application. Some places that would benefit from enhancement are inaccessible to heavy equipment and stabilization of the felled trees, without a root ball, is a concern. Other local variables – such as gradient, normal streamflow, types of trees, geologic composition…, all need to be taken into account to make a site specific project successful.

    Anyone wanting to actively improve our coldwater fisheries is invited to join Trout Unlimited. In Georgia you can find a local chapter at www,georgiatu.org or, in other states, at http://www.tu.org.

    TU… We Make Your Fishing Better!

    Kevin F. McGrath
    Advocacy Chairman, Georgia Trout Unlimited
    Advocacy@GeorgiaTU.org

    • A word of caution, Kent. In North Georgia, (unlike the northwest) our temps are marginal in all but the highest elevation streams. Altering the area by taking down shade could be counterproductive. I am sure Kevin McGrath, TU, and the USFS, would carefully plan dropping trees, just like we do with our brook trout and small trout stream structures (which are anchored by rebar instead of a root ball). My word of caution is “don’t try this at home.” A lot of study and planning by experts is needed to do the job right.

        • I agree Kent. We need more wood. All I am saying is we at TU put the wood in under supervision of the US Forest Service based on plans and diagrams created by USFS expert Jim Wentworth. Wood is good. No doubt.

  3. In my day job I am an erosion and sedimentation control officer in Macon County, NC. I know, I know, the dirt police ha ha. I wanted to comment on the silt build up fear because of the down trees in this article. Most of the sedimentation in the Appalachian Mountains is caused by run off from roads and livestock degradation of stream banks in lower flood plains. Mainly the well traveled unmaintained roads( un-graveled, dirt). Roads act as a channel for water to run down and concentrate. When water runs down hill and concentrates, picking up speed and volume, you get more wash and erosion which in turn causes more sedimentation. If you notice in the forest where it is all natural and not a lot of roads, if any, when it rain the water gets a little off color and clears back up in a half day or the next day. Now look at a creek with house pads, driveways, roads, manmade alterations to the creek, that are surrounding it and take note of the water quality and the color and how long it takes to clear. Also take note of the bug life in the two. This also goes in hand with yesterday story about the value and role our forest land and parks lands play in the quality of water, especially in the head waters of these streams and rivers. All that being said, I would have thought the same thing with the wood. That it would have clogged up the stream and backed up sediment. In a healthy forest system with minimal natural sedimentation and all the natural filters nature provides, this all makes a lot of since. In an area with heavier unnatural sedimentation, I would be interested to see if the added trees would hurt more than help by trapping excess sediment. I think the closer we stick to God’s natural perfect design the better off we are. How can an imperfect human enhance what God made perfect already? I think this article and video demonstrates that greatly by man mimicking what God already naturally did first with the blow downs. Instead of trying to alter what is perfect, we should try to mimic what is perfect. Great thread guys and God bless!

    • JSA

      Thanks for chiming in. Good points in the differences in types of locations and where or where not this practice would benefit a stream. Very cool job by the way. Your a protector and that’s awesome. We need you by us.

      Kent

  4. This post is actually very important. For some reason, and bless their souls, people think its a good idea to interfere with natural processes. Macroinvertebrates, which are mostly bugs but also include other organisms, eat the wood as well as live in it. You can’t have a functional ecosystem without the base of the food chain. Wood offers food and habitat, two crucial elements to a functioning ecosystem. And here’s a fishing tip for some folks, fish almost always relate to structure. I say “almost” because there are certainly always a few exceptions within nature. No structure, no fish. Thank you Kent, for a non-threatening blog.

  5. That’s some really valuable piece of info. Many people (including me untill today ) consider fallen trees, especially those canopy parts in the water, to be bad for water and fish. Rottening, lower oxygen levels and so on. But this post changes the approach. Thanks Kewin! need to spread the word.

  6. Not just in creeks, but in lakes and ponds, too. A lake a fished in college got slammed by a storm, dropping dozens of trees into the oversized farmpond. After a year or two, we noticed a dramatic change in the fishery: the bass and panfish population exploded, and with it, catfish. The lake managers finally got around to clearing the downed trees out (A hiking path went around the large pond, and they were deemed as ugly), and within months, fishing was back to where it started.

    Now, part of this may have been that the trees were easy structure to target for fishing, but the fish weren’t always holding on the wood when it was there (there was other structure like small piers and lily pads). But the fishing was definitely better for all species when wood was in the water.

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  8. This is very true. When I first moved to Kingston and started fishing the Esopus Creek there were hundreds of blowdowns; some small in diameter and some were massive. They created plenty of cover and pools for larger trout habitat. And the smaller fish had somewhere to hide from predation. The Esopus was considered one of the best fisheries in the Northeast. There were no less than eight tackle shops in the Kingston area alone. And brown and rainbow trout topping five pounds was commonplace.

    Now the tubers (people who ride down the creek on tire tubes) have taken over the stream. All of the blowdowns are removed every year for fear that a tuber will drown. The habitat is reduced to a few areas that speckle the stream.

    During the conversion of the Esopus from a fly fishing destination to one for tubing, I talked to a few old timers that had traveled from New Jersey, Massachusetts and even Pennsylvania to fish here. They were so disappointed in what was being done to the creek they said they would never come back here. For the few additional years I attempted to fish it, I saw fewer and fewer accomplished fisherman come back.

    Now there are no mom & pop tackle shops in the area. Gander Mountain replaced the one or two that tried to survive and now has a fly fishing section that is less than six feet wide; mostly gadgets and some leader material.

    To add insult to injury, the Ashokan Reservoir (that feeds the water needs of NYC) feeds into the lower Esopus which is being coated with clay from massive water releases. There is virtually no massive hatches anymore. Some people I talk to say the creek is dead.

    So Yes, do everything you can do to conserve your natural resources for fishing and hunting. Ours was destroyed before we even knew what happened.

    We have gotten one of our Representatives to fight for us on this issue and we do win on paper but the massive water releases keep on going. It seems the issue keeps getting put on the lower priority list. I think the politicians don’t care how revenue is raised as long as it is. To some of them, taxes are taxes whether they come from habitat destroying activities or habitat building ones, they both spend the same..

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