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Smith River Sample 6-30-20

Started by Al, July 03, 2020, 10:25:22 AM

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Al

As an active Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) volunteer and active member of Smith River Trout Unlimited (SRTU) I get involved in a lot of interesting projects. One that reoccurs on a yearly basis is sampling the health of the Smith River fishery.

This year's sampling has been hindered by water flow and clarity conditions beyond anyone's control. These abnormal conditions were caused by extreme weather that caused a mudslide which shut down generation capabilities of Philpott Dam. We caught a break this past Tuesday so quickly assembled a crew of biologists and volunteers to sample the river from about a quarter mile downstream of Philpott Dam to the North Bassett Canoe Ramp.
Things start off with a general plan and safety briefing by the lead biologist.
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The water temperatures create a fog bank early in the morning. Hard to believe people get paid to experience picturesque conditions such as this.
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A few spots along the river kept everyone on their toes. Not too bad in the rafts but a little tricky for the guys in kayaks and canoes.
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The recent rains and mudslides have put a lot of debris and "sweepers" in the river.
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The sampling raft is a two person operation. One on the oars to keep the raft, which is drifting with the current, out of the "sweepers" and following a path where fish are likely to be found. Water clarity was marginal so the person up front, ie "the dipper" had to be very fast with the net to capture fish momentarily stunned by the low voltage electricity emitted from the probes which hang over the front.
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The"fish work up crew" follow the shocking raft in canoes, kayaks or in the case of this particular sample, a second raft owned by a member of SRTU. I had a seat in the second raft which was nice but not as exciting as shooting the rapids in my usual fashion in a DWR provided kayak.
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Once the fish holding cooler on the "shocking raft" is full they pull over to a shallow spot where the "fish work up crew" assemble to begin the process of examining individual fish.  Lots of fish collected today so it did not take long to fill the cooler.
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The probes only cover about a 6 foot swath of the river. The low voltage does not do a good job of penetrating  the deep holes  and the current is pushing the raft right along so less than 10% of the fish are collected. None were examined for age or stomach contents today so all were released just a little downstream from where they were collected. If fish can think they were probably shaking their heads and saying "what the hell just happened?"
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Each fish is identified by species – brown, rainbow and brook trout, bass, various suckers, small forage fish, crayfish, etc. Our main focus was trout. The brown trout naturally spawn in the Smith River. The rainbow and brook trout are stocked. Kudos to the DWR hatchery system. They stocked some nice size rainbow and brook trout this year – lots of them still in the water waiting for some lucky angler.
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Each fish gets measured and weighed. Our biggest brown trout was just shy of 20 inches – lots of them in the 12-15 inch range. The stocked rainbows and brook trout were consistently running past 12-14 inches - some much bigger.
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All data is carefully recorded for later entry into a computer program which formulates  fish density and compares it to data collected in years past.
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All of this looks like fun and it definitely is for us volunteers.  It is also a job for the dedicated biologists from DWR many of whom have advanced degrees in fisheries and wildlife management.  We also found that it makes for a full day's work – we were all happy to see our "take out point" at the North Bassett Canoe Ramp.
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We won't know the overall health of the Smith River fishery or trends until all the data is in. There are 3-4 more sections of the river to sample. I've helped with these samplings for many years and in my view we collected more and bigger fish from this particular section than in the past couple years. So fishermen, if you can catch a break when the flows are safe to wade or if you have a raft, kayak or canoe I'd definitely recommend  you try the section from the base of the dam down to the North Bassett Canoe Ramp.

troutrus

Good to see that much diversity that high up. Don't remember that many rough fish  up there in years past.

troutrus

I notice the name change to DWR. Hope they don't need to increase license fees to pay for all them new hats, shirts, stationary,  vehicle logos, etc. 🤔

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