Small mouth bass – Shenandoah – 07/02/2005

  • October 29, 2013 at 6:30 pm #796

    Friday, July 01, 2005

    By Richard Formato

    The spawn.

    Blame is always on the spawn.

    Clearly, something else is going on — especially up the Shenandoah
    Valley where they have a real, serious problem.

    The “Shen” is toast.

    Right now there are no smallmouth bass and thousands of dead
    smallmouth bass with unexplained lesions on their mouths.

    The fishing guides — the guys who know every ledge, every corner,
    and the time of day of every hatch — also know in their heart that
    it’s gone.

    Brian Trow, a Harrisonburg guide described a situation you normally
    see in Alaska after the salmon have died.

    Like a scene from “The Birds,” there were flocks of ospreys feeding
    on smallmouth carrion.

    You do not need to be a guide or Virginia Game and Inland Fisheries
    biologist to know that the Shenandoah River is a patient in critical

    As Trow recently commented, “It doesn’t take long when you are used
    to releasing 80 fish a day to maybe picking off one or two.”

    In a recent “fish-shocking”, where the game department gives the
    water a short, low voltage burst of energy to stun up fish, the
    numbers of smallies was pathetic, and only the suckers and sunfish
    seemed to be disease-free.

    Unless it is Bhopal or the Exxon Valdez, most environmental disasters
    are low key, page 6 sort of stuff.

    The smallmouth bass, suckers and brown trout that died in Virginia
    this spring because of chemical spills don’t get the respect or
    attention because people aren’t directly affected — or so they

    The crime was most likely caused by farm chemical runoff, and the
    farmer has more clout than the smallmouth bass that swim through his

    The Shenandoah River is the upper valley’s answer to the James and
    the New River, and there is a mini-economy of fly-fisherman and
    guides who base their living on what they do on that river every

    This situation has been part of major cover-up because no one wants
    to admit any culpability, which will never correct the problem,
    especially if the source isn’t discovered.

    When will people ever make the connection that dead fish drink the
    same water we do, and that a chemical spill that kills the fish in
    the Shenandoah cannot be good for any of us?

    We are all connected, no matter if we guide, or spin fish, or just
    like canoeing down a slow green river under a canopy of oaks and
    sycamores on a gorgeous July afternoon.

    In my mind, smallmouth fishing is off other places too.

    Although I heard some people are catching good numbers on the New
    River, I am not one of them.

    The area that I like near Fries, right at the New River State Park
    has always been of the most reliable smallmouth fisheries in this
    area. Wide, wadable, with some interesting ledges, it always holds
    tons of small mouth bass. Some years, the area fish may be smaller
    but they are always there.

    Three years ago, I lost three foam disc poppers in a row as these
    brutes sucked them under and took off, all hooked up, jumping and
    rolling and eventually breaking me off.

    This is usually 8-weight, 1X territory.

    Not any more.

    The only fish I have caught in the last three weeks were minnows and

    I am not so sure it is “just the spawn” down here anymore.

    I had an e-mail from a reader from South Carolina this week,
    complaining about being blasted and ticketed by a Virginia game
    warden for taking an oversized bass without a fishing license in his

    Unbelievably, he admitted and in his letter to laving a stringer
    of “legal” sized bass “in protest” to die in the sun.

    To protest what? Not knowing the state’s fishing laws?

    Thinking back, I know what the warden was so upset about. He was
    upset because one of the few big fish we are seeing this season was
    taken by an out-of-state angler who acted indignant about our
    relatively new bass fishing regulations.

    The game wardens know what’s happening, they are worried and,
    thankfully, very protective about their fish, their livelihood, and
    the land they love so much.

    We all need to think like the wardens and pay attention to the slot
    limits, buy our licenses and make every contribution possible so that
    we can help these awesome game fish come back to the size and
    quantity that made these rivers famous in the fly-fishing angling,
    and kayaking world.

    Our smallmouth bass is Virginia’s version of the salt water snook,
    which is one of the biggest tourist draws in Florida, and protected
    by a similar slot law.

    For those of you anglers who are catching smallies on the New River
    this year, I applaud you, because I am waiting, still fishing, still
    looking, and still hoping that we can start taking some pictures of
    big bass instead of writing about the dead ones we have killed
    through our own negligence.

    Tight Lines,

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