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Linesider Lamentations: Bad News Continues for East Coast Striped Bass

Plus a fly shop for sale, a huge barracuda, issues for a proposed dam, and more in this edition of Fly Fisherman News Briefs for February 9, 2024.

Linesider Lamentations: Bad News Continues for East Coast Striped Bass

The "Young of the Year" results recently published for the Hudson River can only be characterized as "...a complete failure across the board" by the American Saltwater Guides Association. (Kim Miller Media/Shutterstock.com photo)

If you need a gift idea for your significant other this Valentine’s Day, have we got one for you. The all-new fourth-generation Helios rod from Orvis just dropped and if it’s anything like its predecessors, you’ll want to take note.

And there’s plenty more fly fishing news this week.

"Complete Failure" of Hudson River Striper Spawn

Countless tributes have been written, filmed, and reminisced about for the Atlantic striped bass and its annual pilgrimage along the East Coast, including a piece in the pages of Fly Fisherman magazine last year about prospects for catching the linesider on the fly along the Jersey shore.

Unfortunately, the news isn't good these days and there's even more of a dark cloud with the American Saltwater Guides Association (ASGA) recently noting that in the "Young of the Year" results recently published for the Hudson River following the 2023 spawning season, that the spawn can be characterized as "...a complete failure across the board."

What's worse, ASGA notes that last year's spawn failure for Hudson River striped bass is one of the worst, if not the worst, overall spawns in decades for the estuaries that help support the Atlantic coastal stock of linesiders.

The Hudson River striped bass segment of the population is an important East Coast breeding ground for stripers around New York City and Long Island. And because of that, this news hits particularly hard after what the ASGA terms as a fantastic spawn in the pandemic year of 2020, excellent spawns in 2011 and 2015, and average spawns in 2017 and 2018.

But there's also been plenty of below-average spawns (20 of those by my count) in other years dating back to 1983 according to the data and various graphs that display it. For what it's worth, total "Young of the Year" spawns falling below the critical 25th percentile mark for Hudson River striped bass have occurred a dozen times before, including 1985, 86, 91, 2000, 04, 05, 06, 12, 13, 16, 19 and 23. 

Each time one of those spawn failures has occurred, the East Coast stripers have been resilient enough to bounce back by responding to favorable conditions, better regulations, or both.

But ASGA, while noting that it isn't crying wolf for "clickbait traffic,” nor ignoring that there are numerous variables in play with all of this data, warns that the striper's resilience might one day fail to help the species recover the way it has in the past. The organization—in an election year, no less—also notes that it thinks it knows who is to blame.




"The current status of the fishery has everything to do with people refusing to accept that we are in trouble," said the ASGA news release. "We are in trouble because the ASMFC Atlantic Striped Bass Management Board has kicked the can down the road for over a decade. Some states spend more time figuring out how to give carve-outs for special interests rather than doing anything to ensure a sustainable future for the fishery. We are in trouble because of the people whose business models rely on the relentless harvest of striped bass and the non-stop policy pressure they exert on weak-willed bureaucrats."

In addition to not mincing words about this particular spawn-class failure, the ASGA also gives a stark warning about what's ahead for the linesider if changes aren't made by those in charge.

"If managers continue to make bad decisions, we will run out of options. In 2027, the wheels will come off the bus. If managers do the right thing, maybe just maybe, we will have a chance."

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Duluth Fly Shop for Sale

The Great Lakes Fly Shop logo with a for sale logo over the top.
Fly shop owner John Fehnel is hoping to sell Duluth, Minnesota's Great Lakes Fly Shop by the end of March.

Staying with the Valentine’s Day theme, I’ve got a suggestion for my lovely wife as Feb. 14th approaches–a fly shop. 

Seriously honey, since it’s been something of a long-standing dream of mine to own a fly shop, I wouldn’t even need a card to go with it!

That dream can become somebody’s reality soon since fly shop owner John Fehnel is hoping to sell the Great Lakes Fly Shop by the end of March. According to John Myers of the Duluth News Tribune, the brick-and-mortar store location in the Minnesota city's Lakeside neighborhood has an asking price of $99,000, and that gives the prospective buyer Fehnel's customer list, his suppliers list, his inventory, and the shop’s name. 

Since the building that the Lake Superior region fly shop is housed in is actually rented, that's not a part of the package deal. And since the landlord needs to know within a few weeks whether the shop space will be rented once again, Fehnel says that if his shop isn't sold by the end of next month, he'll sell what he can in terms of merchandise, turn the lights off for the final time, put the “Gone Fishing!” sign out for good, and move on.

Opened by Fehnel in 2000 as the Lester River Fly Shop, the former U.S. Coast Guard member changed the shop's name in 2005. And while he enjoys his livelihood, he also says that he doesn't have the energy at age 64 that he once had, and that it’s time to move on and turn the reigns over to someone else. Plus, his daughter and grandson are in the Duluth area, and he wants more time with them.

Being advertised on Facebook Marketplace, Fehnel's ad for the shop—which serves fly anglers looking for smallmouth bass, trout, lake-run salmon, and more—has produced a number of interested parties on the social media app as well as a few phone calls. But so far, it’s only tire-kicking according to the shop owner. 

“It’s not for someone looking to make a million dollars,” Fehnel told Myers in the newspaper story. “But if someone loves fly fishing—I mean, is really dedicated to fly fishing—then it can be a very good business. It’s been good for me."

Huge Christmas 'Cuda on the Fly

There was a big saltwater splash in the fly fishing social media world just before Christmas when fly angler Tuva Bjerketvedt posted an Instagram photo of a monster barracuda caught on the fly at an undisclosed location in the South Pacific region. "Today I caught a barracuda that made us look up the world record on the fly," she noted in the Dec. 15, 2023 IG post. "This beast was not my intention to catch and I spotted it while I was searching the edge of a sand flat for GT."

 
 
 
 
 
View this post on Instagram
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Tuva Bjerketvedt (@turtuva)

Intended target or not as she fished in the southern hemisphere's epic saltwater flats country, it wasn't long before a big black brush fly was on its way to the giant 'cuda.

"I had to at least try, and I somehow managed to land it without steel wire," she added. "Maybe an early Christmas miracle."

Indeed, as anyone who has ever tangled with the ‘cuda’s sharp dental work can attest to.

For the record—pun intended—both the overall fly rod world record and the women’s fly rod world record for the great barracuda species in the International Game Fish Association’s 2023 IGFA World Record Game Fishes record book is a 60-pound monster 'cuda landed at Cosmoledo Atoll, Seychelles on Dec. 3, 2005 by fly angler Jodie L. Johnson. Incidentally, the all-tackle IGFA world record for the great barracuda is a behemoth weighing 87 lbs., 3 oz., a 'cuda landed on Christmas Island, Kiribati on Sept. 23, 2012, by Christian Loranger.

Atlantic Salmon Caught in London

It's been a long, long time since an angler has caught an Atlantic salmon across the pond in London.

But according to the Sun tabloid news site (and later confirmed by the angler), that appears to have happened recently—for one of the few times in the past couple of hundred years—thanks to a recent catch by fly angler Hector Rodriguez.

With the pictures to prove it, the 34-year-old Rodriguez reportedly caught the thin, rare Atlantic salmon specimen weighing some 3 lbs. as he fished on the River Wandle, a tributary that feeds into the River Thames in southwest London.

A fly angler smiling and holding an Atlantic salmon.
Hector Rodriguez reportedly caught an Atlantic salmon weighing some 3 pounds as he fished on the River Wandle, a tributary that feeds into the River Thames in southwest London. (Photo courtesy of Hector Rodriguez)

Atlantic salmon are rare anywhere since numbers have declined precipitously—the Sun says that the species is endangered in the UK, was all but wiped out there by factory pollution in the 1700s, has sunk by some 50% nationwide since 2006, and has declined globally by some 23%—but there might be some hope that this rare event marks a new beginning of salmon returning to the river.

How did Rodriguez, a construction worker, respond to his historic fly rod catch?

"I was gobsmacked," he told The Sun.

FWP Hires Additional Staff for Jefferson Basin Monitoring

Over the past few months, we've endeavored to tell you about the steep declines in trout numbers in famed Montana Rivers like the Big Hole, the Beaverhead, and the Ruby rivers to name a few.

We also told you last fall about mandatory fishery closures that were begun on several of those Jefferson Basin fisheries in an effort that was spearheaded by the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission in its efforts to try and help protect spawning brown trout, curtail angling pressure, and hopefully begin to address these steep trout declines.

As one of the biggest stories in the fly fishing world last year continues on into the New Year, there's more to come as FWP, in a partnership with Montana State University, is bringing aboard new staff and MSU students for studies and work throughout 2024 designed to learn more about and to stem these trout declines in both rainbows and browns. Hopefully, more key concerns will be figured out for these world-famous trout streams and what to do about them.

This action includes the hiring of a new fisheries technician based in Dillon, and the use of three PhD students and support staff, who will soon begin studies on recreational use of these trout streams, adult trout mortality in these waters, and what juvenile trout recruitment looks like in these key waters.

"We’re looking forward to beginning this important field season this spring,” said Mike Duncan, FWP’s fisheries program manager in southwestern Montana, in an agency news release. “We’re grateful for the partnerships that will make these studies possible as we work toward solutions to the issues we’re seeing for fish in the Jefferson Basin.”

To learn more about the agency's management work and response to the steep trout declines in the Jefferson Basin, visit the agency's website.

Problems with Wyoming Dam Proposal?

In an era when it seems like more dams are being taken down than built, it looks like one project to construct the West Fork Dam in Wyoming’s Medicine Bow National Forest might be in trouble before it's even begun.

That news comes from a featured story posted on Jan. 25, 2024 by WyoFile.com, which says that a critical assessment by a U.S. Forest Service specialist in 2022 casts doubt on the controversial proposal.

That comment—which reportedly came from an internal Medicine Bow Ranger Distric e-mail discussion that quotes forest environmental policy analyst Matt Schweich—says “…[t]he Forest is concerned that the State’s current preferred concept does not align well with Forest Service policy and the Forest plan, that it may not be in the public interest, and is likely to be highly controversial with the public.”

A Google Earth rendering of a proposed reservoir and dam in the Wyoming mountains.
The U.S. Forest Service is concerned that a proposed dam in the Yampa River drainage "...does not align well with Forest Service policy and the Forest plan, that it may not be in the public interest, and is likely to be highly controversial with the public.”

The comment concerning the 264-foot high proposed dam was a part of a 2022 brief reportedly intended for U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack according to the news story. The brief came about as Medicine Bow staff prepared a briefing paper on the Cowboy State's plans to construct the dam and the 130-acre reservoir above it in Carbon County.

Said to aid late season irrigation needs for fewer than 100 irrigators, some 96% of comments on the $80 million dollar plan apparently opposed the project according to WyoFile. A variety of concerns are in play for this hot topic, which largely came to light after WyoFile filed and was granted a Freedom of Information Act request.

There’s undoubtedly more to come on this story since WyoFile says that a Medicine Bow spokesman noted that Schweich’s opinion does not reflect the "official position of the agency," and that such a position will only be revealed through the Environmental Impact Statement.

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