November 22, 2022
By Lynn Burkhead, OSG Senior Digital Editor
It’s the week of Thanksgiving Day here in America, and for most in the country’s fly fishing world, it’s a time of turkey and dressing, travel to be with family and loved ones, some afternoon football on the TV or out back, and with a little good fortune, maybe a good fish or two in 2022 remembered over an evening slice of pie.
With that, here’s the latest look at Fly Fisherman News Briefs for the week of November 21, 2022
Striper Stock Assessment Shows Promise
In 2001, Peter Kaminsky wrote a wonderful account of fly fishing for striped bass running along the New England coastline during the autumn months, a volume entitled, The Moon Pulled Up an Acre of Bass.
A wonderful book that displayed both Kaminsky’s immense talents in the kitchen and behind a keyboard—not to mention his abilities with a fly rod in his hand—the tale told the yearly saga for one of creation’s most vivid migrations in the wild. It also brought mental imagery of crashing waves, rocky and sandy coastlines, building fall breezes, crying gulls, and the melody of a fly reel drag singing in protest as a linesider pulled like mad to dislodge a saltwater hook and get back to the massive schools of stripers pushing baitfish down the beach.
But that was then, and this is now, a time when striped bass stocks along the Eastern Seaboard have taken a downturn due to a variety of things ranging from overfishing to poor age class recruitment to climate change and more. And the numbers of huge striped bass like the 69-pound fish landed four decades ago this month by Thomas Russell at Sandy Hook, New Jersey have also seen a precipitous downturn through the years with few such giants being seen anymore.
All of that’s a reason for some doom and gloom, right? Well, maybe not if the draft Striped Bass Stock Assessment released a few days ago is any indication. Released in late October and heard by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission in early November (Link: ), the report has some reason for hope as anglers look long term.
While the report contains a wealth of information and data points, the American Saltwater Guide Association had its policy team break the report down, and in general, it looks like a thumbs up proposition.
"The ASGA team spent the last few days taking a hard look at the document," said the ASGA breakdown. "To set the stage, striped bass are not a data poor species. We know a great deal about striped bass. Furthermore, the stock assessment team at the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) is top notch. We were surprised by the numbers, but in a good way. That doesn't happen very often."
The ASGA's take on the report is that "Striped bass are no longer experiencing overfishing. That means that the fishing mortality rate (F), is at an acceptable rate and below both the threshold and target reference points. We were killing less fish in 2021."
What's more, even though some data points—like female biomass (SSB) remains below what’s hoped for and needed—the overfishing downward trends should help East Coast striped bass stocks see an upward trend in the years ahead, particularly in front of a vital date for rebuilding stock numbers in 2029.
“According to the stock assessment, striped bass have a 78.65% chance of being above the target by 2029 if the catch mortality rate does not decrease,” said ASGA.
Meaning that while there are concerns, there’s also something worth celebrating as a watchful eye is kept on the nation’s Eastern Seaboard linesider treasure.
“In other words, y’all did one hell of a job advocating for striped bass,” said ASGA. “Seriously, we aren’t prone to throwing around ‘atta’ boys with reckless abandon. The striped bass community rallied around saving this iconic fish. You all did your homework, never gave up, and moved the needle at the ASMFC, and learned an awful lot in the process. Digital high fives to ever single one of you.”
Because maybe, just maybe, one day the moon will pull up an acre of autumn bass yet again.
Artistic Paddle Relief for Hurricane Ian
If things might be looking up a bit in the northeastern U.S. as fall starts to give way to winter, the story isn’t as rosy down south along the southwestern coastline of Florida.
Most Fly Fisherman readers will remember that Hurricane Ian, a Category Four tempest that struck near Captiva Island on Sept. 28, 2022 with a 12-plus storm surge and sustained winds of 150 mph, caused catastrophic damage in such spots as Sanibel Island, Fort Meyers, Naples, and more.
To aid in the ongoing recovery of the fisheries and the local residents themselves, renowned Oregon paddle maker Sawyer Paddles and Oars has teamed up with Captains for Clean Water, along with support from Ed Anderson and Ty Hallock, to provide some artistic hurricane relief.
Donations to the Sawyer Station website link will find participants automatically in the drawing to win a pair of Saltwater Artisan SquareTop Oars in the winner’s choice of design, blade profile, and size (8'6" to 10').
Warming Rivers Threatening Atlantic Salmon in Newfoundland
Concern over the health of fish stocks due to warming rivers and declining water levels is nothing new across much of the American West where things like drought, hot summer weather, forest fires, and Hoot Owl Restrictions have become ongoing topics during recent summer seasons.
But it’s a bit of a new thing in the Canadian Maritimes where warming river water and limited water is threatening the region’s famed Atlantic salmon, even on renowned waters like the Gander River in portions of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Those conditions led Fisheries and Oceans Canada to impose restrictions on waters in the region this past summer, including banning fishing after 10 a.m. each day.
“Some years, you’d almost want a Ski-Doo suit on underneath your waders, because the water is that cold,” said Dwight Coish, a fisheries biologist, to writer Greg Mercer in a news story by The Goble and Mail. “But this year, it’s almost the same as a bathtub.”
Chamber of Commerce weather, right? Maybe…but in Florida, not Newfoundland. In response, some of the world’s most cherished stocks of Atlantic salmon have tumbled from big numbers to only much smaller populations and biologists scramble to find answers to help the species in decline. That includes river closures, something that would have seemed unthinkable not too many years ago.
“I totally agree with it,” said Coish in the story by Greg Mercer. “If the water gets that hot, you’ve got to close it down. Our summers are getting faster, and they’re way hotter. We’ve got to do something to help the salmon.”
Read more here.
Spinning Up a Snack
We’ve all seen the breathtaking photos taken by wildlife photographers like Pat Ford, underwater images from the ocean that show a whirling mass of baitfish, an apex billfish predator, and the stunning light of the sun overhead illuminating it all.
Stunning imagery for sure, and as it turns out, that spinning mass of protein is also a natural mechanism where pelagic fish create opportunity in what seems to be a vast and featureless sea of not very much. In other words, as a new story from NOAA Fisheries points out, it’s a perfect storm and perhaps, the fish utilizing it are actually helping to create it as they interact with unseen eddies spinning through the open ocean.
After studying longline fisheries in the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii, a team of marine scientists has discovered that while those eddies are unseen by the human eye, what is going on there is far more important than anyone might think at first glance, pun intended.
In fact, where these blue water collisions happen, what’s going on there (clockwise eddies versus counterclockwise ones), when these collisions happen (nighttime versus daytime), and assorted other factors may all be coming into play. And the information being learned in this vast watery desert delights scientists and educates fishermen trying to figure out patterns on the deep ocean blue.
“The more we study the ocean, the more we find physical features large and small that can have profound impacts on marine life, including the species important to humans and key players in the ecosystem,” said Dr. Donald Kobayashi, of the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, in the NOAA story. “Eddies are a medium scale feature that can be easily overlooked because they are challenging to identify on the water or in the data fields, and so very ephemeral in time and space. But, as this study demonstrates, eddies are incredibly important to marine life.!”
Especially to a group of billfish, determined to spin up a storm of high protein snacks in an oceanic waterscape that looks to have little else going for it. As it turns out, how little do we know.
Read more here.
ESA Reviews Show Promise for Salmon, Steelhead Recoveries
How about some good news, something for anglers to be thankful for this Thanksgiving?
And that might be—in a world of doom-and-gloom news cycle headlines for Pacific Northwest salmon and steelhead stocks in recent years—that in at least one instance, the sun is shining.
That’s because of the coho salmon in coastal Oregon, which is a bright spot in the ongoing salmon recovery wars waged out in the Pac NW for years. And while there remains plenty of concern for habitat and fish in such spots as the vaunted Columbia River and Ozette Lake, that’s at least a bit of good news in a troubled region.
“Oregon Coast coho weathered some challenging years well and are still ahead of where they were 10-years ago,” said fisheries biologist Lance Kruzic, in a NOAA Fisheries release. “The robust fishing opportunities of the last few years demonstrates how much these fish can contribute to the coastal economy and quality of life. We are on the right track to reach recovery, but there is more work to do to get there.”
Some of that work involves less fish. As in less hatchery fish, and more wild fish, which will ultimately help the fishery. The NOAA fisheries piece notes that with hatchery programs being phased out, more than 95 percent of most populations are now comprised of wild fish, and that improves natural productivity and resilience against climate change and other risks.
The NOAA report also noted that while challenges remain for the needs of wild coho along the Oregon coastline, “The resilience of those naturally spawning fish demonstrates that recovery is within reach for the species…”
And that’s something to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, and with a little luck down the road, in the years to come too. Who knows, maybe next year when we’re all enjoying Thanksgiving again, there will be even more to be grateful for as a fly fisher.
Click here for the full story.
Snake River Dam Oil Leak
Oil from a turbine on the Little Goose Dam leached into the Snake River over the course of 90 days, allowing hundreds of gallons to leak into the river, according to the Army Corps of Engineers. Because of the unusual way the oil leaked, it was not discovered by the dam’s monitoring system. Between 300 and 600 gallons of oil are believed to have leaked this past summer and early fall.
“For decades, the hydroelectric dams on both the Columbia and the Snake rivers have repeatedly released oil into the river systems without any consequences and without a concrete plan and actions to catch the oil releases much earlier than what's playing out right now on the Snake,” Lauren Goldberg, executive director with Columbia Riverkeeper, said in a KUOW news story.
Add this to the litany of reasons to remove the four lower Snake River dams.
Click here for the full story.
Forest Service Providing $40 Million to TU for Watershed Improvements
On November 16, the USDA Forest Service announced that it will be provide up to $40 million from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill to Trout Unlimited for habitat improvement and clean-up projects on national forest land over the next five years.
The National Watershed and Aquatic Restoration Initiative will include abondone mine clean up and fish-barrier removal, and will prioritize underserved communities and tribal lands.
“Our agreement with Trout Unlimited continues our joint success as stewards of national forests and grasslands,” said Forest Service Chief Randy Moore in a press release. “Our partnership is not just about cleaning a stream or increasing fish population. It’s life sustaining work that is as vital to aquatic species as it is to people and communities. When our natural resources are healthy, we are healthy as a nation and as individuals.”
Click here for the full story.
Lynn Burkhead is a Senior Digital Editor.