September Newsletter

On The Fly South September 2022

Droughts, heat waves, flooding – seems like there’s something effecting the fishing all over the place. Hopefully, in your neck of the woods, there’s still enough water – but not too much – to get in some fly casting. Meanwhile, here’s a preview of what’s coming later this month in the September edition of On The Fly South.

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Jim Casada on Hazel Creek in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Photo courtesy of Jim Casada.

In our upcoming coverage, our favorite angling writer from “back of beyond,” Jim Casada regales us with tales of Hazel Creek in North Carolina’s Smoky Mountains. We also head south for peacock bass on the fly at the southeastern end of the Florida peninsula.

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For fans of waving the long rod over saltwater, we head back up to North Carolina for a look at some surprising kayak and wade angling for redfish and seatrout just inside of Oregon Inlet on the Outer Banks.

There’s more coverage of the fly-tying world, lodge reveiws and our End of the Line column. Also, expect to see some new names and faces popping up in that edition.

As always, reading On The Fly South is FREE, but subscribing helps keep us going and bringing you news and stories about fly fishing in our region. You can sign up on our landing page, and you get just two emails per month from us, letting you know when we publish new material.

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Around the South:

Virginia Studies Brook and Brown Trout Interaction

Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources

Photos by Jimmy Jacobs

About the time tulip poplars, oaks, maples, and hickories are burnished the color of an ending season, brown trout and brook trout from Georgia to Maryland turn their attention to a new beginning:  procreation.  The colorful flanks of these trout mirror the spectra of leaves that carpet the floor of the Appalachian Mountains. Brown trout sport a warm honey beneath black peppercorn spots all covered in a chrome sheen. Worm-like markings lay over the dark olive backs of brook trout, flanked with shades of yellow specks punctuated by drops of ox blood, each fish dotted in its own constellation.

Brook trout are native to streams that vein over Appalachia; brown trout are a European import, well established for decades. With shortening shadows and cooler temperatures, both species lay their eggs in gravelly redds where oxygen-rich water bathes through them the winter-long as they incubate.  Brown trout may have a competitive edge over the native brook trout, particularly at lower elevations where warmer water favors brown trout. Other interactions between the two species are not well understood.

To learn more about how brook trout fare over a long span of time in the presence of brown trout, biologists John Odenkirk and Mike Isel with the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (VDWR) examined a large amount of data—nearly 25 years’ worth of information—on brook and brown trout in the Rapidan and Conway rivers of northern Virginia. Sport Fish Restoration dollars—federal excise taxes paid by fishing tackle manufacturers—funded their work. Odenkirk and Isel published their findings in the scientific Journal of the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, March 2022 issue.

The two streams offered a natural laboratory for easy comparison of fish data over the large span of time. Both streams flow through the Rapidan Wildlife Management Area, managed by the VDWR via Pittman-Robertson funds—excise taxes paid by archery, ammunition, and firearms manufacturers.  The Rapidan harbors brook trout while both species occur in the Conway River. Brown trout were introduced in the Conway River in the 1970s, and have advanced throughout much of the stream.

The two scientists examined brook and brown trout data collected by the VDWR dating to the 1970s. They looked at total trout weight by water surface area over time, as well as a measure of fitness called relative weight in brook trout in the Conway River that might be negatively influenced by brown trout.

The scientists found no discernable trends in brook trout total trout weight by water surface area over time in either river. The relative weight of Conway River brook trout decreased only slightly over time. In essence, the brown trout seemed to have no bearing on the well-being of brook trout after co-occurring in the Conway River for 30 years. The scientists offer that the heathy, intact, forested Rapidan Wildlife Management Area that cover the watersheds of both rivers may favor brook trout. They suggest that state natural resources agencies should examine closely the need to eradicate brown trout from brook trout streams before embarking on such a costly endeavor. Moreover, Odenkirk and Isel conclude that in situations such as the Conway River, fishery managers might consider the potential brown trout possess for additional angling opportunities.  This work is yet another example of how state fish and wildlife agencies use manufacturer excise taxes on fishing tackle to maximize angling opportunities.

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Saltwater Anglers Have Dodged A Hurricane Bullet – So Far!

By Allison Finch, 

Accuweather

Smitty’s One Stop at High Rock on Grand Bahama Island after Hurricane Dorian in 2017. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs

For the first time in 25 years, August has come and gone without a named tropical storm in the Atlantic Ocean Basin. Since the satellite era began in 1960, there have now been only three years — 1961, 1997 and 2022 — that there were no named systems during August.

According to AccuWeather forecasters, atmospheric conditions were too hostile to support tropical development across the basin during August. The emergence of Tropical Storm Danielle on Thursday, the first day of September, brought an end of a 60-day tropical storm drought, which started in early July after Tropical Storm Colin fizzled out.

The tropics were much more active this time last year. In 2021, there were 10 named storms before the end of August. Five of those storms all formed in the month of August.

The historic run of no named storms will likely come to an end this week, AccuWeather meteorologists say. According to forecasters, there are a few tropical trouble spots that could develop in the Atlantic in the coming days.

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Time To Speak Up On Georgia Redfish Rules

Georgia Coastal Resources Division

Photo by Jimmy Jacobs

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is seeking public comment on a proposed regulatory change to reduce the daily recreational harvest limit for red drum (Sciaenops ocellatus) and establish a vessel limit.

DNR’s Coastal Resources Division (CRD) on Tuesday recommended the Georgia Board of Natural Resources establish a three-fish daily limit per person and a maximum limit of nine red drum per vessel. Additionally, charter guides and mates would be prohibited from harvesting red drum while leading for-hire guided trips. At this time, CRD is not proposing any change to the existing slot size limit.

Under the proposed new regulations, for example, a vessel with three or more licensed anglers would be able to keep a maximum of nine red drum. If the vessel is a guided for-hire trip with two customers and one charter captain, the two paying customers could harvest a total of six red drum and the charter captain could not harvest any red drum.

The proposed change to red drum fishing regulations comes after CRD conducted a satisfaction survey in 2022, as well as two town hall meetings in June 2022, to assess angler and guide perceptions of the red drum fishery.

The majority of anglers and guides participating in both the satisfaction and town hall surveys supported creating a vessel limit for red drum. For trips with red drum harvest, private boat and guide trips have an average of three or fewer anglers per vessel. It is estimated that implementation of a nine-fish vessel limit and three-fish daily harvest limit could reduce red drum harvest by at least 11 percent. However, most angler trips would not be significantly impacted by this change.

Fishing regulations are often changed based on results of a regional stock assessment. However, additional reasons for change include supporting other management options such as increased abundance, concerns with increasing effort, and constituent request. For red drum, the satisfaction survey and town halls indicate the majority of anglers and guides support regulatory changes for red drum.

In the last 10 years, the estimate of angler trips in Georgia state waters has increased 40 percent. This increase is statistically significant, and likely to continue. Reducing the daily limit and establishing a vessel limit would help decrease large individual catches when immature red drum are vulnerable to fishing mortality and reduce the risk of localized overfishing.

CRD presented its proposed new red drum regulations to the Board of Natural Resources on Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2022. CRD will host two public hearings for citizens to provide input. These hearings will be held:

  • 6 p.m. Sept. 21, 2022, at Georgia Southern University’s Armstrong Center in Savannah at 13040 Abercorn St., Savannah, GA 31419.
  • 6 p.m. Sept. 22, 2022, at the College of Coastal Georgia’s Campus Center in Brunswick. The Brunswick meeting will include a virtual option for citizens who cannot attend in person at One College Drive, Brunswick, GA 31520. 

The period for the public to provide written comment begins today (Aug. 24, 2022) and ends Oct. 6, 2022. The public can visit www.CoastalGaDNR.org/RedDrumPublicHearings to submit comments online or find instructions to mail written comments. CRD will present its final proposed regulation change and public comment summary to the Board of Natural Resources during its Oct. 25, 2022, meeting in Ft. McAllister State Park at 3894 Fort McAllister Rd, Richmond Hill, GA 31324. If approved, the amended regulation will become effective on Jan. 1, 2023.

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Missouri Fly Fishing Class

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The Missouri Department of Conservation is offering an Introduction to Fly Fishing Gear & Casting on September 17 at the Shepherd of the Hills Conservation Center , 483 Hatchery Road in Branson. The event is open to anyone aged 12 or older, but you must register in advance.

The class will take place outside, so it is suggested you dress appropriately. Also bring sunglasses and a hat. There will be some loaner rods available, but if you have one please bring it along.

The class begins at 10 a.m. and runs through noon. Abryon Putnam is the instructor. For more details, visit the MDC website.

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Chesapeake Bay Menhaden & Striped Bass

Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership

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At the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission meeting on August 3, the stock assessment for Atlantic menhaden showed that the stock is not overfished, nor is overfishing occurring. Omega Protein, the foreign-owned company that operates all menhaden reduction fishing vessels in the Atlantic, pointed to the assessment as evidence that their practices aren’t harming fisheries. Their basic message to angling groups that are pushing to move reduction fishing out of the Chesapeake Bay? Back off.

But the effects of the localized harvest of more than 112 million pounds of menhaden annually from the Bay are not included in this latest stock assessment. “Overfished” is a coastwide designation given for the status of the fishery from Maine to Florida—it does not make distinctions for unique places like the Chesapeake Bay.

It is true that the implementation of ecological reference points into the ASMFC’s menhaden management model in 2020 was a crucial step for this forage fish that serves as the base of the marine food web. But the latest stock assessment update was a single-species assessment, not an ecological reference points assessment. This means that the information used does not include the current impacts of overfishing other forage fish, like Atlantic herring, which would likely alter the impacts of the menhaden fishery on predators like striped bass and bluefish.

The ERP assessment from 2020 used multiple predator and prey species to model the ecosystem, including bluefish, weakfish, spiny dogfish, and Atlantic herring. But for the assessment release this month, these species “were assumed to be fished at 2017 levels,” according to the ASMFC, meaning that the ecosystem-level data is five years behind.

Meanwhile, there are no scientific data specific to the Bay that assess the impacts of the reduction fishery on predator species like striped bass, red drum, and osprey. It should not be up to the ASMFC or the public to prove that the menhaden reduction fishery is causing harm to the Bay. It should be up to Omega Protein to prove to the public that this resource is being equitably harvested, leaving enough forage in the water to maintain the ecosystem and the regional economies that depend on it.

According to the scientists who created the ERP model, it is based on the tradeoff between menhaden harvest and striped bass biomass. And this type of tradeoff relationship is central to any forage fish management system. Moving menhaden reduction fishing out of the Chesapeake Bay would make more menhaden available to juvenile and adult striped bass within the Bay—the primary nursery ground for 70 to 90 percent of the Atlantic coastwide population—and would increase stock biomass to sustainable levels.

The 2018 striped bass stock assessment showed that the stock was overfished and overfishing was occurring. While the TRCP and our partners supported an 18-percent striped bass harvest reduction in 2020, it is expected that this October’s updated stock assessment will still show that striped bass are overfished.

We know that 30 percent of the striped bass diet is composed of menhaden and the Bay accounts for 70 to 90 percent of the Atlantic striped bass stockWhy is it that we still allow the menhaden reduction fishery to harvest hundreds of millions of menhaden that serve as critical forage for our nation’s most iconic saltwater gamefish?

Every other East Coast state except Virginia has seen the value of leaving more menhaden in the water to support coastal ecosystems. All but Virginia have acted in favor of their coastal economies and tourism by abolishing the practice of menhaden reduction fishing in state waters.

Our coalition of concerned anglers, manufacturers, local businesses, and conservationists is dedicated to commonsense fisheries management, which considers the needs of the ecosystem as well as ALL the user groups that enjoy and utilize it. If you, too, want to see the Chesapeake Bay return to the fishery it once was, join us by signing this petition to move menhaden reduction fishing out of the Bay, so that predators like striped bass can begin to rebuild.

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