The Boquet River
Years ago there was a TV commercial about hamburgers with an old woman asking the question: “Where’s the beef”? After numerous attempts at finding some trout on the Boquet River, many anglers are now asking the question: “Where’s the fish?” I met three different guys out fly fishing this past week, and they all have the same gripe: no fish, not even a rise. All of them found some choice spots with pools, runs and riffles, but no rising fish. These guys were seasoned veterans, not rookies!
If I don’t catch fish, I figure it’s just another bad day. We all have them. Today was one of them. I caught every branch and leaf that was in and around the stream. Even if there was only one lone branch in the stream, with a small twig sticking out of the water, I caught it today. I even caught my dog. I was tying on a new section of tippet when my dog walked by and got caught in the line. He pulled the rod out of my grasp. What a day. He was lucky! That dog was almost shark bait!
I was holding a WWII era, vintage bamboo rod. It is a classic and I wanted to try my luck with it after 60 years of storage. I was trying to break it in, not break it in half. Bamboo rods are part of history and I had to have one just to try the laid back, slow motion of bamboo. It’s a grandpa thing!
Two of the guys I talked with said they were going out of state to fish again. They had just returned from Massachusetts, fishing and said it was great. They were from the Schroon Lake area and love the Adirondacks but are very frustrated with the stream fishing in this area. They were catching some beautiful fish in Massachusetts according to their stories. The guys were going back, a 4 to 5 hour drive they didn’t look forward to, but said it was worth it for the great fishing.
The third fly fisherman from this area is so disgusted he said he was moving to Tennessee, leaving New York for good. This guy is a New York hunting and fishing guide. He said that between the lack of ruffed grouse habitat, the poor stream fishing, and now Gov. Cuomo’s SAFE ACT, he has had it. You can’t make a living being a guide if there is nothing to guide to.
He asked me where I was fishing on the Boquet. I told him and he said he hasn’t caught a fish in that area in six years. This is the second time I have talked to someone about this one beautiful section. The same answer: no fish!
Another thing we all noticed, the lack of fishermen along the stream. Maybe it’s because they are smarter than I am. If there’s no fish, then there’s no reason to fish. I guess when I leave home to go fish, I’ll just say I’m going water whipping instead! The truth hurts sometimes!
No fishermen means, no local economic inputs. Isn’t that what tourism is supposed to be about, supporting local economies? Hunters and fishermen contribute millions to support habitat and fisheries management. License fees in this state, plus the taxes we pay on guns, ammunition and fishing equipment amount to millions. Local restaurants, gas stations, and motels all benefit from hunters and fishermen who travel in search of an adventure.
As a retired conservationist and I mean a real conservationist — one who believes in the wise use of natural resources, including wildlife and forest management — I am disturbed at the lack of natural resource management in this area. Any trout biology book or wildlife management text will be filled with page after page about how to improve a fishery or wildlife habitat by cutting trees and allowing sun to reach the earth to provide energy to young plants. Streams need young shoots of willow and dogwoods growing along the banks to help solidify the stream banks and provide vegetation that will bend over with ice flows.
Having shade trees is important for first order streams that support brook trout, but second order streams can have up to 50 percent grassy banks. Grassy areas that are managed and mowed every other year, supply grasshoppers and other terrestrial bugs to the water to feed fish during the summer months.
Channel width and shape (geo-morphology), channel bottom materials (cobble and stone versus sand), stream temperature and stream vegetation are all pieces of the stream ecology puzzle and all need to be in place for a quality fishery. Wetlands that are managed and have drainage access to streams supply some needed nutrients. The sun allows periphyton, algae and diatoms to grow on the cobble rock in the stream bed. Algae and diatoms feed invertebrates. Periphytons have been called the pastures of the stream. They supply food for the macrophytes; the grazing invertebrates that in turn feed the fish.
Mayfly nymphs, stoneflies and caddis all feed off the diatoms and other algae. In some cases they feed off each other. The fish feed off the invertebrates, nymphs, flies, worms and other bio-diversity of the stream bottom. Nutrients are as important as stream habitat structures.
We need to look at all the factors and accept the fact that we need to do something about improving the streams and floodplains for the benefit of the communities along the streams. Private landowners need to do the work on their land and government needs to deal with transportation infrastructures.
Roads, culverts and narrow bridges all effect stream flows, block fish passage or cause ice jamming. Wetlands and floodplains are the emergency overflow valves that collect water during storm events. When these areas are severed from the rest of the watershed by a road, the flood waters are forced downstream, increasing velocity and volume to cause damage to someone else. Over width streams lose the ability to carry sediment. They become shallow and allow anchor ice to buildup creating ice jams. There is a reason why the term FLOOD plain is used.
Using geo-morphology engineering along with and stream restoration practices, we can correct the depth, width and flow of the stream to eliminate most of the sediment and ice jamming problems. Bridges and culverts need to be designed to allow greater flows and not restrict fish and invertebrate passage. Once many of the stream flow factors are done, many of the fisheries problems will be solved. Geomorphic engineering practices along with riparian vegetation management will improve the stream for the communities and the inhabitants of the stream. We can never stop the flooding, but we can help reduce many of the manmade contributions that accentuate the flooding problems.
One group of dedicated trout enthusiasts is the Trout Unlimited folks. They are serious in their approach to stream management. They try to look at all the pieces of the stream morphology puzzle and then assist with the field work to improve the stream. The Rivermede project in Keene valley is one example of the excellent work they do. The East Branch of the Ausable River restoration project sets the baseline for future projects. If you are interested in trout, trout fishing, habitat restoration and floodplains like I am, this group is for you.
I need to break in that bamboo rod on a beautiful trout. I hope it will be a New York fish, but Pennsylvania and Massachusetts are both prime for fly fishing right now!
By the way, there is a serious movement to boycott buying hunting licenses this coming season as a way to let the governor know how upset hunters are with the SAFE ACT. When it comes to politics, money talks! There could be a lot of non – resident hunting and fishing licenses being bought by New Yorkers this coming hunting season!
Rich Redman is a retired District Conservationist for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and an avid outdoorsman. His column will appear regularly. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.