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After the Flood

Daily Gazette article
Thursday, September 29, 2011

Already show signs of recovery from storms

By Morgan Lyle

Fly-Fishing: Trout streams should return to normal

Photo of
Author Mike Valla of Ballston Spa fishes the upper Schoharie Creek in the Catskills ON Sept. 18. _(Valerie Valla)

Trout stream custodians, both official and volunteer, continue to assess the impact of Tropical Storms Irene and Lee on area waterways.

No doubt, there was grave damage to trout, insects and habitat on some streams, especially small, high-gradient tributaries. But there have also been encouraging reports.

“Overall conditions remain pretty much as they were prior to the flood, and we were unanimous in our conclusion that it is extremely unlikely that the recovering trout population experienced any setback as a result of the flood,” said Ken Cox, the Vermont Fish & Wildlife biologist who has overseen efforts restore the wild trout population on the Battenkill in Vermont over the past decade.

Most of that work has involved adding boulders, root wads and other natural features back to the Battenkill so trout have places to hide and grow fat ,safe from pred­ators. By and large, these structures stayed put, despite the epic flows, Cox said.

He noted that the severe weather had occurred well before the time when brown and brook trout normally spawn.

“If there is anything good to be said for the timing of Irene with respect to trout populations, it is that it occurred before the spawning season and the river substrate is loose and not overburdened with sediments. So, the prognosis for spawning and egg incubation success looks good pending ‘normal’ winter and spring river conditions,” Cox reported.

Downstream in New York, similar habitat restoration projects also held during the flood, reports Battenkill Watershed Alliance Executive Director Cynthia Browning. She and Carl Schwartz from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service looked the Washington County stretch of the river over last week.

“Mr. Schwartz found that the Battenkill had flooded out into the floodplain and then returned to its channel without significant erosion or excess sedimentation,” Browning said. “He said that there might be an initial decline in the insect pop­ulation, but that would be followed by a rebound as the newly cleaned gravel bed is re-colonized.”

“This good news for the fish habitat should not be seen as minimizing the damage to crops, houses, and infrastructure from the flooding,” Browning added.

Of course, trout streams were ground zero for the tropical storms, and it would be silly to think there would be no impact at all. Mike Valla of Ballston Spa, author of “Tying Catskill Style Dry Flies,” was poking around the upper Schoharie Creek two weeks ago and found that while the stream had already resumed running shallow and clear, it seemed barren of the aquatic insects upon which trout depend.

“Of course, who knows what things were like, bugs-wise, prior to the flood,” said Valla, who has been hanging around Catskills trout streams since his boyhood days as a houseguest of legendary fly-tiers Walt and Winnie Dette. “But it is very peculiar that the upper Schoharie headwaters seemed empty of macro invertebrates. Weird. I turned over many rocks yesterday. Nothing.”

It seems that all our trout streams will eventually recover from the great floods of 2011, but some will take longer than others.

Morgan Lyle’s commentary appears regularly in The Daily Gazette. Reach him at morganlyle@gmail.com.