Fly-Fishing: Conservation efforts focus on popular trout waters in region

Fly-Fishing: Conservation efforts focus on popular trout waters in region

Daily Gazette, Schenectady
Thursday, May 15, 2008

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Down in the Catskills, the Hendrickson hatch is almost over. Up in the Adirondacks, it’s just getting under way. But it’s trout season all over New York, and if the good fishing hasn’t started yet on your

favorite creek, it will any day now.

Big-name rivers that are popular with Capital Region anglers are getting some attention on the conservation front, too. Just over the state line in Vermont, another segment of the Battenkill River is scheduled for restoration to its natural state this summer, while the fate of the branches of the Delaware River hangs (again) on a vote by representatives of the four states through which it flows.

The Delaware River Basin Commission is expected to decide July 16 whether to sweeten the new rules governing releases of cold water into the rivers from New York City’s drinking water supply reservoirs. That cold water, of course, is what makes the East and West branches of the Delaware such extraordinary habitat for trout.

The commission agreed last September to a sensible new concept: The amount of water stored in the reservoirs determines how much can be released to the trout rivers below. The trouble is, the commissioners have shortchanged the rivers with miserly releases in April and May — import­ant months for both trout and the aquatic insects they eat, as the president of the New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania state councils of Trout Unlimited said in an essay in the Philadelphia Inquirer this week.

“Turning the Delaware River on and off like a kitchen faucet is completely avoidable and should be prevented,” wrote Ron Urban of New York, Rick Axt of New Jersey and Ken Undercoffer of Pennsylvania. “To deprive the river of water during a time when aquatic life is naturally at its most abundant is short-sighted and negligent.”

Trout Unlimited and other organizations have urged the DRBC to let more water out of the reservoirs in the spring, assuming there’s enough water stored behind the dams. I hope the commissioners are listening. Trout fishing is a huge part of the tourist economy of the Catskills, and it’s a sport treasured by many people in New York and beyond. It would be a shame to miss a chance to make a great fishery even better.

There are no such worries on the Vermont side of the Battenkill. There’s a small dam that impounds a little pond in Manchester, but it doesn’t have much impact on the river. The upper Battenkill is a place where brown trout thrive without stocking in a river that stays cool without releases from massive reservoirs.

But the Battenkill’s habitat has been degraded over the decades. More than 40 percent of the river had been artificially straightened by the early 20th century, according to a report last year prepared for the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation.

Channelizing trout streams increases the likelihood of damaging floods, and it also wipes out the cool nooks and crannies where trout live. Fortunately for local anglers, public agencies and conservation groups, mainly the Battenkill Watershed Alliance and TU, with generous financial support from the Orvis Co., have worked hard to restore the river to its natural state, one segment at a time.

Two phases of what’s called the Twin Rivers Farm project have been completed, with 38 boulders and 45 root wads placed strategically in the river and trees planted along its banks. Vermont’s scientists expect this habitat restoration to increase the number of trout in the area by as much as 50 percent.

This summer, another phase is planned

just downstream of the first two. The stretch of the river in question runs along Route 313, just across the state line and before the Arlington Covered Bridge.


Cynthia Browning, the executive director of the Battenkill Watershed Alliance, will be in town to talk about the river and the alliance’s ongoing efforts at the Clearwater chapter of T.U.’s monthly meeting at 7:30 p.m. Monday at the Best Western Sovereign Hotel, Western Avenue, Albany. The public is invited. Mike Walchko will give a fly-tying demonstration at 6:30 p.m.

Browning, by the way, is also a member of the Vermont House of Representatives. It’s good to know the river has friends in high places.

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