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My Impressions of Smith River Sampling 19-21 Aug 14

Started by Al, August 23, 2014, 05:56:01 AM

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Many of you know the VDGIF conducted a sampling of the Smith River Trout Fishery 19-21 Aug 14.  I, along with several other members of SRTU was there for some or all of the site samples. Here is my initial impression.

First of all kudos to George Palmer, the recently assigned fishery biologist, responsible for the Smith River who pulled together the most comprehensive sampling I have witnessed to date. He orchestrated the gathering of 25-30 VDGIF fishery biologists from around the region for a massive sampling of 8-9 sites in the old trout managed water. He also arrange for a sampling raft which floated for two days through the new waters from the Martinsville Dam to the Mitchell River Bridge. There was also a special crew with appropriate equipment to relocate brown trout from several of the overpopulated areas to locations below the Martinsville Dam. Tip of the hat to ya George - job well done!

Before I post a few photos let me give my overall assessment of the findings - I was physically present at all the sites with the exception of the raft going downstream of the MV Dam. The 4-5 inch fish we were used to seeing have grown.  I saw fewer fish then in years past but the fish I did see were 1 1/2 to 3 inches bigger than in years past. I also saw several fish which went well above the protected slot limit of 10 inches and quite a few which exceeded 15-16.  The folks who sampled below Martinsville said there are fewer fish but the ones they did roll up were nice ones - many exceeded 16 and one exceeded 20.

The crew heading downstream to the start point with the typical Smith River fog on a summer morning

Sampling barge with holding tank, generator and inverter which changes AC to DC - cables connect to handheld wands which send current throughout water as the crew with nets march shoulder to shoulder upstream to a measured ending point. Fish are momentarily stunned and are scooped up by netters. Yes, it tickles if you dip you hands or elbows in the water - one man of each barge holds a cut off switch which he hits if someone slips and falls in - yep, it happens, just ask me about it :o

The young fellows strap on a harness and pull the barge upstream. No easy feat when the water is shallow. Key is for everyone to stay abreast of each other. If one side has a lot of fish the other must slow down so the electrical field helps pen them in.

Think of it as herding cattle, you keep driving them forward. In this case the fish get bunched up in a pool or against a rock or log jam and then you have to be nimble with the net. Here we have a deep pool with a boulder in the background. Over a hundred fish came out of this one hole.

Each fish is weighed and measured.

This is a nice one.

At three of the sites we collected so many fish most were marked by clipping the top tail fin before moving them with a special stocking truck to various locations below the MV Dam. The thinking is that the trout are already acclimated  to the Smith and know how to fend for themselves. Now we will see if they grow once they are turned loose in an area with better forage.

We did this once or twice before with a couple coolers full of fish but this is the first time a special truck was brought for that purpose. Good thinking on someone's part.

A small percentage of the fish from each site paid the supreme sacrifice for the good of the fishery when they were selected for ageing which requires removal of their equivalent of our ear bones. These will be placed under a microscope and read much like we read the rings on a tree. Purists who practice catch and release may shed a tear when watching this but I was told by a very respected biologist "fall in love with the fishery, not the individual fish".

This looks like lots of confusion but it actually ran like a well oiled machine.

The young guys manhandle the barges back to the trucks and ready things for movement to the next sampling site. Not a whole lot of direction required - everyone seemed to have a job and knew when and how to do it. Once again I am reminded of why I don't mind paying for my hunting and fishing license.

Smith River Sampling is over for this year but the data must now be entered into computers and compared to previous years. We should have a preliminary report at our end of year meeting on December 4th when Smith River biologist George Palmer and regional supervisory biologist Scott Smith will be our guests.


Thanks Al, and all of the others that participated.  'c;

100 fish from one hole. Whoa.
That's a lot of fish giving the Smith angler the collective middle finger.


Good to see George doing well. He's a good guy. Used to work with him at VDGIF. Smart guy


Yea that fucking George.  Hes something else.  George.
My real name is Chad Farthouse.

benben reincarnated

Those boys in that boat have those fish dialed in.  Where was the fish fry?


On one of the other places I post someone asked why I thought the numbers of fish might be fewer than in years past - here is my unscientific response:

Reduced number could be for variety of reasons:

1) New slot limit encourages harvest of smaller fish so as to free up limited food for those that reach 10 inches.

2) Year group class or recruitment may have been down during the past two years because we had a lot of rain which meant more generation and excessive generation during spawning time is not good - it wipes out the reeds, or spawning areas.

3) Fishery could still be in state of decline - I do not think this is the case but until something is done with the way things are run at Philpott Dam we are just placing a band-aid here and there in our efforts to reclaim what was once a 1st class trout fishery.

Having said all of the above I do want to report comments I received from several of the senior bioligists participating in the sampling. I asked "how does the numbers and size of fish on the Smith compare with other streams you guys help manage?"  Everyone of them said the Smith is way above average when it comes to numbers and size. What amazes them is the fact it is all due to natural reproduction. We have a treasure and just don't realize it.


Quote from: troutfanatic on August 24, 2014, 07:20:59 AM
I don't know the history of the river, but when were browns introduced into it? Was it a deliberate stocking or was it spillage from other waters?
That said, why can't they introduce a food source? Some form of minnow, chub or shiner? I suspect there would be consequences with certain spiecies that may eat trout eggs. I did notice in my two times fishing it this summer that there were very few hatches so it seems baitfish become the next likely choice for food.

There have been several recent studies about the problems related to the Smith River Fishery. Here is link to several VA Tech Studies which I helped out with. http://search.vt.edu/search/pages.html;jsessionid=6F0DD52E071C7ED9C4C4DD08CB8AE53B.mt-prod-4?cx=012042020361247179657%3awmrvw9b99ug&cof=FORID%3a11&ie=UTF-8&sa=Search&q=Smith+River+&as_sitesearch=vt.edu 

In layman's language:

1) The cold water discharges which start out at 44 degrees have killed out or reduced the  forage fish and insect life found in normal tout streams. (Up near the dam they think it is winter all the time)

2) Original turbines from 1950's are still in use and are either full on or full off - this creates "fire hose" force surge of water going downstream during generation. Most of riverbed has been washed away one grain of sand at a time. Riverbed in some areas is 6 ft lower than it was in 1950.

3) Constant on or off cycle of generation has the fish confused. During summer, especially on weekend when there is no generation the fish in the lower river may become stressed due to +70 degree temp and very little current and next moment it drops to 44 degrees and they have to hold on for dear life in order to remain in place. Biologists say if they duplicated these conditions in the hatchery they would kill all the fish - they are amazed that the brown trout which were stocked soon after the dam was in place have survived. The rainbows are not so hardy and have to be replced by regular stocking. There has not been a stocking of browns for at least 20 years - maybe more.

4) There has been talk of introducing forage fish in the upper river but it would be cost prohibitive, plus no one knows of a species that could adapt to the constant changes in temp and flow of water. Until there is a change at the dam little can be done with the upper river.

Mudwall Gatewood 3.0

Quote from: Al on August 24, 2014, 05:36:56 AM
We have a treasure and just don't realize it.

It is a treasure.  What incessantly amazes me is how an introduced exotic 8-9" long with a brain the size of a pea, now wilder than a buck, living in a non-natural system, can habitually fool, trick, and outwit the supremely supplied and erudite predator, the fly angler.  Let me anthropomorphize – those brown fishes of the Smith are finicky geniuses, virtuosos of besting the wading souls.  They top the SOHO and western browns, and the Appalachian brookies by ample IQ points.

Many thanks to all you folks that continue to carry the responsibility of guarding the resource.
"Enjoy every sandwich."  Warren Zevon


When you hear or say the word "introduce", you should stop at that point. It has never ended well.


"They top the SOHO and western browns, and the Appalachian brookies by ample IQ points."  You left off the fact that they are the neatest looking browns anywhere around.  There is a guy who is a member of this forum who grew up in Bassett who was around or his father was when the river was first stocked. He was told it was stocked with the original strain of browns that was first brought from Germany.  I think it was called the Von Braun strain or something like that.   There is a book called "The trout of North America" that goes into the history of the browns that were first brought over.   Scott told me there are no records that he could find of what the originally strain was that was stocked in the Smith, or what strain Virginia was stocking in the 50's or 60's.  He told me there were unsubstantiated reports of them breeding in the late 1950's and documented reports in the 1960's.



The plant you are referring to is Kudzu and it is Satan himself in plant form.

Pheasants are cool and I have shot them over my Springer,  But I am not sure about them biologically as I have not researched them.

They do taste really good and are easy as shit to hit once you've grouse hunted your whole life.

Mudwall Gatewood 3.0

WMT is correct; introductions rarely work out and most often end in disaster.  BUT, if we are going to play God, then tailwaters are perhaps the safest place to play. 

If memory serves I think there was an introduction of macrophytes and related crustaceans (sow/cress bugs and scuds) to the White/Red River system in its infancy.  Also, I think there was a similar attempt made by VDGIF on the budding Jackson tailwater.
I may be mistaken, but in the case of the Smith under the status quo, it is what it is.  Until something changes (flow regime, influence of tribs, etc.) the assemblage of macroinvertebrates will remain rather fixed.  Now if there is some change to say, Town Creek (like an increase in eutrophication), then the reaches below may change.  I've heard local anecdotal tales of wonderful Smith hatches years ago when nutrient enrichment input to the system was such that most of the river was considered "more productive".    I think there is now an ecological term for that magical eutrophication threshold where productivity is maximized without detrimental consequences.  WMT may be familiar with the term; I've forgotten most aquatic ecology/pollution biology I ever knew.  Side note: with age, certain information is misplaced and replaced with new, more pertinent concerns like which baby wipes are the strongest and flushable.

Years ago, there was a Virginia angler covert plan to transport the SOHO macrophyte (Fontinalis sp.) full of scuds and sowbugs in coolers to the Smith and release.  This did not happen (very illegal).  It was nothing more than an intoxicated angler dream, and likely would not have worked anyway.   
"Enjoy every sandwich."  Warren Zevon

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