Tuesday, October 20, 2009

An Extinct Trout Stream

With Fall upon us, my fishing season is nearing its end as the temperature continues to drop. On a recent fishing trip in October, I felt the chill of the water on my hands and the brisk air in my lungs. I was reminded of a much earlier fly fishing outing I took in late March. It was the first nice sunny day of the impending Spring. I was desperate to be out on the water after not having touched my fly rod in months.

I traveled to a local stream where I had success in the past. It is a well-known river that is heavily fished and each year the state stocks the stream with trout in the Spring and the Fall. Wading waist deep in the water, with the air temperature in the fifties and in the shade of the trees from the shore, I was freezing. But my desire to fish overcame my frigid bones, and I began to cast my fly across the water.

A half-hour later, I had not seen a single rise on a pool that had in the past been filled with trout. I walked ashore, and hiked up to a bridge overlooking the pool, to discover that the stream was empty. Thinking perhaps that maybe the trout had migrated elsewhere, I travelled up and down the river, to other pools, and did not see a single fish anywhere.

I had arrived at this stream too early in the season, before it had been stocked. Then I realized what that meant: out of the hundreds of trout from last year that had been put in the stream, not a single one had survived over the hot summer. I was looking at an extinct trout stream, a river could not support fish year round. The water was pure and cold, the insects were plentiful; it was good trout habitat. I had not heard of a spill or disease in the area.

I assumed one of two possibilities; the water level simply got too low in the summer to support trout or the river was over fished. I suspect it was the latter. There are simply too many people who know about this stream and keep the fish that they catch. This river was not a renewable resource; each year it died and could only be reborn with a full stocking of new trout.

In the Bible, the Garden of Eden was a paradise, a place where God took care of Adam and Eve and provided for their every need. Yet, Adam and Eve had a responsibility to care for the garden as well. The Bible says that Adam was placed in the Garden of Eden to till and to tend it. Adam could eat from the trees of the garden to satisfy his basic needs.

Yet, Adam was also required to tend to the land, to care for it, and ensure that it remained healthy and fertile. The Hebrew word that means, “to tend,” shamor, also means, “to protect.” Adam, and all of the generations that follow him, are obligated to protect the earth. We can harvest the field and fish the streams, but we also must ensure that the plants and the trout will live on.
In the months since that March fishing trip, I have fished dozens of times on many rivers, streams and lakes but I have not returned to that first river. I just cannot see myself participating in emptying the trout from a stream. My first fishing trip in March motivated me to search for other rivers in my area, streams where the fish live year round. I even managed to find places where the trout spawn and reproduce each season.

A brown trout, caught and released in a year-round trout stream

I now fish streams where the trout live all year long, because when I catch a fish and release him, I know that he will not face an immanent end in a few months. Rather my fish could swim on for years and years, growing large and fat on the insects of a healthy and ever-flowing river.


Gingerman said...

Stewardship, like so many ideas, means different things to different people. All of the trout streams in my area, near Washington DC, are like the one you described: the state puts fish in; the fishermen dredge them out by every means possible, and the rest die.

There is a picture perfect stream near my house. If you wanted to picture the ideal trout stream this could be it. It is sterile. I looked for bugs under rocks or minnows in the pools. Nothing.

Here is where the stewardship issue comes up. There are many people who walk along this pretty stream not knowing that it is dead. They just see the surface. The park is surrounded by well kept lawns and homes. The home owners hire lawn care companies to fertilize their lawns, and all this runs off into the stream, killing everything there. It flows into the Anacostia River, one of the 10 most endangered ecosystems in the country, and then into the Chesapeake Bay.

In my life time the Bay has gone from abundance to sterility. All caused by fertilizer run off from 5 states.

The folks who care so much for their lawn and neighborhood appearance know that they are fullfilling their stewardship in making a pretty world.

But it is a pretty world without substance. We worry about form, and forget the ground for which we should be caring. Are our lawns pretty? Are our rituals perfect? Are our New Moons observed? What will we be called to account for?

MO Trout Hunter said...

There are a number of little wild trout creeks in my area, and they're almost entirely catch and release by regulation and by the preference of the fishermen. A few years back, the smallest creeks were all struggling due to drought conditions and loss of habitat. I visited a few during that time and had to hike past hundreds of yards of trickling water to find the occasional little pool that could support a few fish. My fear was that the trout populations in those creeks would fade away.

Over the last 2 years, we've had nearly 9 feet of rain, and the habitat is suddenly back to normal. In fact, the wild trout populations are thriving again. It's amazing to me that, sometimes, all we have to do is keep our hands off nature, and things will work as they were designed.