Opening Day

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Photo by Louis Cahill

Photo by Louis Cahill

Is the end of the beginning the beginning of the end?

For years, maybe decades, my buddy Dan and I have kept a tradition. To be on Dan’s home water together on opening day of trout season. This is a high point on the calendar for me. Special in a lot of ways. The fishing is always epic, as the trout have had the cooler months to rest and forget what flies look like, but there’s much more to it.

For me it’s a chance to get on the water with a dear friend who has done more for me than I can list, and also a chance to remember where I come from. I am so fortunate to make my living in fly fishing. I get to fish some amazing places with some amazing anglers, and that was kind of the plan, but the fly fishing world I live in now is nothing like what I pictured when I started carrying my camera on the river.

I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining. Far from it. I’ve kind of won the lottery. It’s just that a lot of the things that drew me to fly fishing are very hard to come by now that it’s a job. When I fish with Dan there is no agenda, no expectations, no shot list. We just fish.

From the looks of it however, this will be our last opening day and there’s a whole lot more at stake than my and Dan’s tradition.

The Georgia trout season is a little complicated. There are streams which are designated as seasonal and some which are year-round. Seasonal streams are open to fishing from the last weekend in March thru the end of October and may only be fished sun-up to sun-down. Year-round streams are always open and may be fished at night.

These are old regulations and good ones. The seasonal streams were clearly chosen as important waters where wild trout reproduction is at its best. The closure protects these streams during the spawning seasons of all three trout species which live here. It’s a good regulation in a state known for bad management. A relic put in place by men who understood the importance of these wild fish. Something our current officials have forgotten.

In two weeks all of that is about to change. The Georgia DNR is poised to change the regulations, doing away with trout season. When this happens all trout streams in Georgia will be under the regulations previously used for year-round streams. It’s a ill conceived plan, which makes no allowances for the increased fishing pressure and will likely have dramatic consequences. A management style we have become too familiar with in recent years.

When asked, by a concerned angler, if Georgia could implement some regulation to protect the Southern Appalachian Brook Trout, our only native trout, a DNR regional supervisor gave this mind numbing answer.

“What’s the point? Those fish only live four or five years.”

What does the future look like for wild trout in Georgia when the supervisor overseeing the region containing all of the state’s trout water doesn’t understand the difference between the lifespan of an individual and the perpetuation of a species?

Here’s the problem with the change in the trout season.

Dan With A Brookie

Dan With A Brookie

Wild fish will face a double threat. Trout will lose the protection of their habitat during spawning season, which keeps fish from being targeted while on their redds and protects the redds themselves from being trampled by anglers. They will also face increased pressure from fishermen who keep their catch. Here’s why.

The Georgia DNR sees the state as a put-and-take fishery. Trout streams are hatchery supported, even when wild trout are present. The DNR operates under a budget which is too tight to allow for any additional stocking. Therefore, they have no plan to change the current stocking schedule. Seasonal streams will be stocked in the spring and summer, when meat fishermen are free to haul trout out of the stream and into the freezer. Those same fishermen will now be lining up to kill wild fish during the cooler months when they have historically been protected. There will be no dumb stockers to absorb the impact.

The current administration sees no value in wild trout, and that is really our fault as anglers. We have stood by as the mission of the DNR has changed from the management of fish to the production of fish. Where earlier generations had the foresight to put regulations in place to protect fish, this generation sees only a mandate to stock fish.

We have dismantled a culture of conservation and replaced it with a culture of production. Our DNR now sees it as their job to stock fish for public consumption and they see wild fish as a threat to that mission. If wild fish thrive, the need for stocking is reduced and the need for a DNR which only understands stocking is reduced with it.

When pressed on the issue, the Georgia DNR will cherry pick junk science to fit its agenda and move forward as it pleases. The supervisor was not available for comment but a representative at his office told me,

“Really, regulation has an insignificant impact on wild trout populations.”

A statement that certainly flies in the face of reason if not science. It seems there is no longer room for the “N” in GA DNR.

So I’m looking forward to this year’s opening day with a sadness in my heart, knowing that it will likely be the last. Knowing that these wild fish I love will be fewer and fewer in years to come. I have no expectation that my writing this will change anything in Georgia but those of you reading this, from around the globe, take it as a cautionary tale. Don’t let your government kill your fishery like we have in Georgia.

There are still two weeks before this rule is made law. If you’d like to express your concerns to the GA DNR you can find a link to email them or call them, HERE.

Please share this article.

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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23 thoughts on “Opening Day

  1. Sounds as if someone is teaching this style of management in school, we have about the same kind of actions here in PA they only care about the agency not the resource!

  2. Georgia is following the lead of Pennsylvania with poor management due to budget constraints. They make it all about the meat fishermen and think that will increase license sales and attract youngsters to fishing. Instead if they promoted conservation they would see in the long run that fishing would add more value by sustaining the wild trout populations for future generations.

    • Jerry, we have one of the best DNRs around, and especially considering we are in the deep south and have some really great trout fishing opportunities, many of which are so because of the collaboration between DNR and groups like TU, I don’t think we have much to complain about. Also, given the fact that less then 10% of the trout stamps sold in Georgia are purchased by fly anglers, the DNR has to consider the demands/desires of the meat fisherman. What other organization would ignore or even alienate 90% of their customer base to satisfy the 10%?

      • David, with all respect, your logic is screwed up. This kind of thinking has wrecked our government at large. The government and the DNR as part of it are not a corporation. They have a moral responsibility that corporations do not. In this case the minority is simply right. The loss of wild fish hurts even those who don’t appreciate them. Their protection is a moral imperative. Right and wrong exist and it has nothing to do with license sales.

        Further, I know you have ties to the DNR and its worth stating for the casual reader that this comment was very likely solicited.

  3. Louis, thanks for writing this.
    It pains me to know this is exactly how our resource management conducts itself. Over the last year I have spoken to at least six conservation groups here in GA. During that time I’ve heard the ‘year round’ debate over and over and the only raised questions were surrounding the effect this would have on DH streams.
    That alone told me there’s no hope in reversing this whole deal. When conservation groups won’t stand against the blatant ignorance of wild trout populations then who will?
    The Toccia is my home river and Like so many other guides we all have a big heart for her right now. I’m sure you have spent your share on it as well do you understand. The fish in the Toccoa have been fighting to re-establish themselves as a dominant reproductive species for over 10 years. It was once a near blue ribbon fishery, as I’m sure Kent would agree. After the lake drawdown and the total fish kill, everything changed. Fly shops sold, guides left and fishing ceased below Blue Ridge dam. Now however, things are starting to look up. Large wild Browns are starting to show in-force. Baitfish are moving, hatches are looking healthier than ever. My point is simple. Why even think about allowing the general public to come in and potentially set back what the Toccoa has struggled to become?
    Why let this happen at all?
    I am a man of science and I understand the implications of human interaction/impact on thriving populations of a ‘resource’ species. What I don’t understand is how hard it is for a professional in a field, such as resource management, could look at said species and not consider it ‘non-renewable.’
    Because that’s what it is, non-renewable. Once a big wild fish is gone, it’s gone forever. Along with its genetics.
    Do the right thing GADNR, keep the genetics in the water and at least impose a ‘slot-limit’ or reduce the bag-limit to the national average of 5 per day.

  4. That’s a real bummer Louis. Seems its the West meeting the East in terms of fishery management. I’ll shoot them a note.

  5. Thank you Louis for spreading the word about this terrible plan by the GA DNR to eliminate trout seasons on selected rivers in North GA. I have wrote them as of this posting.

    When I was guiding, I worked very hard to stress the importance to of improving our trout habitat and protecting our wild trout populations in the State with the GA DNR. Not once did I ever feel like any of the representatives truly cared about improving or protecting either. I really hope all of the readers spread the word and realize how IMPORTANT it is to speak up loudly now.

    We will never see our trout waters be the best they can be if we continue to keep a management stance that production is more important than protection and nurturing of wild trout populations.

    We can’t sit by while the GA DNR says special regulations and open and closed trout seasons do not matter. The fact is, with boots on the ground, volunteers working together, and the right politicians elected that understand the importance of our warm and cold water fisheries, we could turn things around in the coming years. That is unless we wait too long to do so and all is lost.

    I’d also like to shed light on the fact that the GA DNR also failed in protecting the smallmouth bass populations in Lake Blue Ridge, which are now being decimated by illegally stocked spotted bass and blue back herring.

    Keep it Reel,

    Kent Klewein

  6. I am amazed some fool would say “What’s the point? Those fish only live four or five years.” Why kind of idiots are running the show down there?

    “Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains. You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow. They smelled of moss in your hand. Polished and muscular and torsional. On their backs were vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery.”
    ~ Cormac McCarthy, The Road

  7. Thank you for addressing this Louis. The subject of a year-round trout season has a been a difficult one to wrap my head around. The logic and reasoning of the GADNR has baffled me. As a man of science the numbers may add up in terms of population recovery versus the current seasonal regulation. However, backed by science or not, I agree wholeheartedly with you that the ‘reasoning’ simply isn’t there. More importantly, what is the mission behind this? What does the GADNR hope to attain by such a frivolous move?
    I’m sure Kent and many other long time guides would agree with your thoughts on the negative impact a year round trout season would have on our native population. For example, the Toccoa tailwater has made strides in the last few years in terms of a reproductive population of wild brown trout. This being in light of the lake draw-down over a decade ago which caused a 95% fish kill below Blue Ridge dam. Now would it not seem logical to allow such a resource to recover to its former glory? Furthermore, the GADNR biologists have stated that despite a significant rebound of aquatic insect species in the tailwater, trout populations won’t be affected by the season change. From an ecological perspective, it is implied that a significant increase in vital food sources would increase the population of primary and secondary consumers.
    Kent is right, we can’t just stand by and allow these decisions to be made without a logical and reasonable effort by the fishing community and leaders of the fly industry here in GA.

  8. Dropped a note.

    Might be a good idea to list the name and identification number of the bill/law so others can protest it specifically.

  9. Message sent to the DNR. I my experience with the Coastal Resources Division of the DNR, many of their people are in agreement with a true conservation ethic, they get it. However, the pressure from higher ups, and the Georgia legislature often seems to overule good science and common sense.Thanks for the post Louis.

  10. I attended one of the public meetings where DNR presented their research and came away feeling very comfortable with the change. Their studies showed that nothing changed when streams were open to year-round fishing and weather factors like floods had a much bigger effect on trout populations. Did you attend one of these meetings? If so, are you aware of any research out there that disputes what they said?

    I also found it interesting that Georgia was the last state among its neighbors to go to a year-round season. South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, and the Smokies already allow year-round fishing on their wild trout streams. I’m happy that I’ll now be able to go fishing on our favorite blue-line streams from November through March.

  11. Always appreciate the awareness you bring to G and G Louis, thanks for keeping us updated and involved.
    Not only do guides and shops and folks who are involved in the industry rely on healthy and stable wild fish populations for paying the bills, the circle of life is dependent on it as well. Officials need to open their eyes to the importance of wild fish for not just us anglers, but for the natural world as well. They are a KEYSTONE species! Take wild fish out of the picture and eventually the whole ecosystem will collapse, Eagles and Hawks, bears and other predetors will struggle, plant life will struggle, EVERYTHING is connected.
    Of course we would like the privilege of catching and releasing wild fish, but more importantly, we would like to PRESERVE the places that wild fish live in for our children and theirs.
    Hope they get wise soon….
    We all stand together on this one

  12. I understand some concern on certain tribes. But for the most part streams that are closed all winter don’t get fished hard in summer so probably won’t in winter so I would like to see a year round session. On the other hand I do wish they would have more restrictions on streams like more catch release, Delayed harvest and so on. It would be nice if Georgia would follow N.C fish management. They have year round streams and have one of the best fisheries in Southern Appalachia.

  13. Hi Louis,
    I’m in England, and have many times enjoyed fly fishing your small streams and spring creeks, not tourist traps, often I had to make half a days hiking to reach.

    Our problems with UK authorities are minor compared to what I read and hear about in the US, where organisations who you’d quite rightfully expect to preserve your natural environment are often shown to be in cahoots with commercial interests, – people like you must often feel like a David facing Goliath – so remember that a small and very carefully aimed campaign with an angry rolling support can often inflict a defeat on them.

    Raising the alarm and mobilising opposition to irrational initiatives of DNR bureaucrats that flies in the face of environmental science and common sense is a massively important role, I hope you get massive support from not just fishermen, but everyone who values and understand that dollars and ticket sales have no place in maintaining the fragile ecological balance of the life of natural species in your streams and rivers.

    Their proposed course of action isn’t ‘management’ its environmental vandalism – maybe a well publicised delivery to an Official or DNR Department of a grotesque or comic award can embarrass and shame them into a ‘review’ or change of mind. Good Luck.

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