The sound of truck traffic began to blend with the wind rustling through the leaves of the trees, the rushing water tumbling over the boulders, and the chorus of crickets in the meadow. Bumble bees and honeybees stop at each flower along their erratic paths as the mist burns off the river and dew dissipates from the funnel weaving spider webs. I make my way to the stream as the morning is transitioning to day. A hawk cries out well above me and I crane my neck to try to spot the raptor. A long, wide riffle narrows to a steep, driving run in front of me. Across the stream and upstream a hundred yards a tributary trickled into the river.
While exploring the stream the night before my son had noted the water of the tributary was cooler than the main flow of the river. Below the tributary the stream temperature was 62 degrees. Above the tributary the water temperature was 65 degrees. I knew my fishing had to be early in the morning. I also knew that if fish were only stacked in the colder water, then I should not pressure those fish too much.
Using a double nymph rig under an indicator, I was able to get good drifts through the clear water. Fishing using a tightlining set up would have likely produced better drifts, but with lower water conditions, I wanted to keep my distance from the best water.
After several drifts, the indicator pauses. With a quick hookset, I feel the pull of a strong fish. The fish darts upstream and then leaps several feet through the air. It’s a large rainbow trout. A stocked hold over from a previous stocking. I fight the fish efficiently and bring it to the net. It looks healthy and strong. Flipping rocks the previous evening, many caddis fly cases and small mayflies occupied the bottom of each stone. The stream looked low under drought conditions, but the macroinvertebrate community was abundant.
Over the next hour, I hooked several more rainbows, landing some and losing others. One fish bore a scar, which appeared to be from a heron. The remainders all looked healthy and were hunkered down near the colder water of the tributary. I moved around to other areas of the stream that appeared to be great habitat, and temperatures were still below 65 degrees, but they didn’t produce fish. The air temperature stayed below 80 for the day and I stopped fishing before 8:30 am. But I couldn’t help feeling like I pressured fish who were struggling.
Many streams do not support wild populations of trout due to water quality, habitat, or other conditions that limit natural reproduction of the species. In these systems, fish that are stocked can live the remainder of their lifespans if they can adjust to the available food sources and the water quality is suitable. Often stream temperature is the limiting factor. I’ve written about being mindful of stream temperatures previously, and I wanted to follow my own advice.
It appeared that even in a beautiful setting, with bald eagles overhead and mayflies hatching each morning, some species are struggling to thrive. Some could argue that maybe those species aren’t meant for the habitat that doesn’t provide them all they need. There is some truth to that, but that perspective slowly allows loss of habitat, loss of species, and loss of life. Study, management, and restoration are not passive. They are active and they strive to make things better, to heal the injuries, to protect against the long-term insults and aggravations, and to restore functions.
Our climate is changing. There are more floods, wildfires, droughts, and storms. Sea level is rising, and higher temperatures are impacting habitats. Without more vision for long-term improvements, many more may become holdovers.
In our lives, we likely have those near us who are huddled in the cold water. They struggle in settings where it appears they should thrive. How can we help them heal, protect them, and restore them to their full selves?