October 29, 2013 at 6:30 pm #796MikeKeymaster
Friday, July 01, 2005
By Richard Formato
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
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.
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