Middle River Dispatches is a gumbo of posts about fly-fishing, conservation, politics and days afield.

Smith Creek watershed honored

On a recent, beautiful June afternoon local farmers, federal, state and local officials, conservation organizations and area residents gathered for an announcement by the United States Department of Agriculture naming the 67,000-acre Smith Creek watershed as Virginia’s Chesapeake Showcase Watershed.

The announcement was made on Gary and Ellen Lohr’s Valley Pike Farm overlooking the Valley in Broadway as part of the implementation of the Obama administration’s “Strategy for Protecting and Restoring the Chesapeake Bay Watershed” released last May.

Ann Mills, USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment, made the announcement.

“Making these announcements from a local farm is more than a symbolic gesture,” Mills said. “Nearly 75 percent of the land in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed is in private farms and forests. The showcase watersheds strengthen USDA’s commitment to funding priority conservation practices in places that will do the most good for water quality in the Bay and its tributaries.”

In May 2009, President Obama signed The Chesapeake Bay Protection and Restoration Executive Order declaring the Chesapeake Bay a national treasure and requiring a coordinated strategy for restoration and protection.

The executive order directed federal agencies to “define environmental goals for the Chesapeake Bay and describe milestones for making progress toward attainment of these goals.” The strategy focuses on achieving four essential priorities for a healthy Chesapeake ecosystem — restore clean water, recover habitat, sustain fish and wildlife and conserve land and increase public access.

One of the goals in the strategy that caught my attention and led to my attending the announcement on the Lohr’s farm was to, “Sustain healthy populations of fish and wildlife, which contribute to a resilient ecosystem and vibrant economy”.

One of the outcomes for that goal was “restoring naturally reproducing brook trout populations in headwater streams … by 2025.” Because of my involvement with the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture I was thrilled to see brook trout recovery efforts as a key outcome for Cheasapeake Bay Watershed efforts.

Eighteen months ago I wrote about the efforts of the EBTJV and the National Fish Habitat Action Plan, noted the work at Smith Creek and what it means to the Valley. At the time I wrote “Working cooperatively with ten diverse partners, the project is helping restore riparian habitat at the headwaters of Smith Creek. This project connects to Mountain Run in the George Washington National Forest as well, providing additional spawning habitat for those Brook Trout.”

Smith Creek also gained national attention in 2007 as one the first of the NFHAP “10 Waters to Watch”.

Now Smith Creek will be getting additional attention and funding and can serve as a model for other efforts across the state and country. Of course having Smith Creek as a Showcase Watershed adds additional incentive for implementing the National Fish Habitat Action Plan.

The NFHAP can build upon the successes of Smith Creek and the two other Showcase Watersheds, the 23,000-acre Upper Chester River Watershed in Maryland and the 34,000-acre Conewago Creek Watershed in Pennsylvania and leverage those models into additional aquatic habitat conservation across the country.

Now is the time for Federal agencies with responsibility managing aquatic habitat to increase their efforts to implement the National Fish Habitat Action Plan. Coordination among those agencies will promote stewardship and improve the health of our Nation’s aquatic habitat.

Perhaps it is time for an Executive Order to implement the NFHAP.

If the administration leads the way then maybe Congress will get the message and pass the National Fish Habitat Conservation Act.

It should come as no surprise and serve as a point of pride that conservation efforts here in the Valley get national recognition. There is a long and treasured tradition of stewardship and respect for the land and the natural resource bounty it provides.

That tradition and the connection to the land were never more evident than on the Lohr’s farm last week.

You can read more of my columns at the News Virginian.com.

Conservation equals recreational opportunity and that equals economic activity

Last month three important events for fisherman took place in Washington.

The first was the White House Conference on America’s Great Outdoors, second was the 2010 Recreational Saltwater Fishing Summit hosted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and third was the Jim Range National Casting Call sponsored by the American Fly Fishing Trade Association.

Nancy Sutley, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Ken Salazar, secretary of the Interior, Tom Vilsack, secretary of Agriculture and Lisa Jackson, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency hosted the White House Conference on America’s Great Outdoors at the Department of Interior.

The conference was held so the invited participants, who came from a very diverse group of public and private landowners and users could discuss the challenges facing land conservation in America. They were also given the chance to offer their thoughts on the most critical conservation challenges and offer suggestions for addressing those challenges.

The conference served as the launch for the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative. The administration plans to hold a series of large and small listening sessions around the country.

The highlight of the conference was the speech by President Obama. The president made the point that I have repeatedly made in this column, conservation creates recreational opportunity and recreational opportunity drives economic activity.

“We’re launching this strategy because it’s the right thing to do — because, as TR [Theodore Roosevelt] said, we must not mar the work of the ages. But we’re also doing it because it’s the right thing to do for our economy. It’s how we’re going to spur job creation in the tourism industry and the recreation industry. It’s how we’ll create jobs preserving and maintaining our forests, our rivers, our great outdoors”, Obama said.

From there I went to the two-day 2010 Recreational Saltwater Fishing Summit hosted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The summit fulfilled another of a series of commitments made by NOAA Administrator, Dr. Jane Lubchenco to the saltwater angling community back in July of this year.

More than 100 recreational anglers spent two days in facilitated discussions looking for possible courses of action to solve the myriad of vexing challenges facing the saltwater recreational fishing community.

“Whether for life’s pleasure or life’s work, we can all agree on one thing, recreational fishing is good for the Nation’s soul and good for the Nation’s economy,” said Lubchenco. “The excellent turnout at this summit tells me that you want to be heard. And I am here to tell you that NOAA is not only listening, but we are also ready to roll up our sleeves and get to work with you.”

Having worked directly with the folks at NOAA, I take Dr. Lubchenco’s words at face value. She has kept her commitments and I expect she and her team will continue to.

One event that actually involved fishing for shad on the Potomac River was the Jim Range National Casting Call. The event, hosted by the American Fly Fishing Trade Association celebrated its 10th anniversary this year.

The event highlights the success of collaborative fish habitat conservation and showcases the growing number of successes coming from the National Fish Habitat Action Plan. The NFHAP works through public-private partnerships like the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture, to protect, restore and enhance fish habitat and fisheries around the country.

A timely reminder how important our land and water is was brought home by the British Petroleum oil spill fiasco in the Gulf of Mexico. We put our outdoor economy at risk all too often and without sufficient thought of the consequences. We need to do better.

As a general rule, I would much rather be in the Valley fishing our mountain streams then going to Washington. Fortunately these three events were worth the trip. The message that conservation equals recreational opportunity and that equals economic activity has taken hold. It’s about time.

You can read more of my columns at the News Virginian.com.

Exploring the simplicity of tenkara fly-fishing

New and interesting places to fish are not really hard to find. New and interesting ways to fish, especially fly-fish, on the other hand are somewhat hard to find.

A while back I read an article in Fly Rod and Reel magazine about Patagonia founder and CEO Yvon Chouinard. Chouinard was named angler of the year by the magazine and talked about his efforts to simplify his sports and life.

He mentioned that he had been given a tenkara rod. His description of the rod and the style of fishing intrigued me. That description and the notion of simplifying fly-fishing stuck with me. I was on the lookout for a tenkara rod and the “how to” of tenkara fishing.

Tenkara, a traditional Japanese method of fly-fishing, reduces fly-fishing to three basic elements, a rod, a line and a fly. It has been used for centuries in Japan’s high mountain streams to fish for Yamame trout.

The idea that such a rod and style of fishing might be applied to our own native brook trout in the mountain streams here in the Valley fascinated me.

One of Chouinard’s close friends is my good friend Craig Mathews, owner of Blue Ribbon Flies in West Yellowstone, Mont. I called Craig and asked if he had seen Chouinard fish with the tenkara rod.

“Oh yeah, we have been fishing O’Dell crick with them, it’s a blast,” said Mathews.

Tenkara rods range from 11 to 13 feet, weigh as little as two and a half ounces and collapse down to 20 inches. The line is very light and supple, doesn’t hold water and designed to balance with tenkara rods. These light lines, resembling furled leaders, make for very delicate and precise presentations with incredible drag free drifts.

I bought a rod made by Tenkara USA from Mathews. It is their Iwana model in the 5:5 action. Action in fly-fishing parlance means how stiff or flexible the rod is and how fast or slow the rod returns to the unflexed position. In the case of the rod I purchased, the 5:5 mean it is very flexible and slow.

Tenkara rods have evolved from bamboo to modern day graphite composites. These new rods are light and strong like today’s conventional fly-rods. Tenkara USA’s rods are telescopic, with all pieces fitting inside the handle, making then easy to transport, set up and take down. The tenkara fly-line is attached to the tip of the rod with a girth hitch.

Many people upon seeing a tenkara rod think it is just a fancy cane pole and you are just “dapping” the fly. Not true at all. All the casts you would make with a conventional fly-rod are used with a tenkara rod.

I have yet to try it in the mountains but did have a chance to try it out on Mossy Creek with my wife recently. We adjusted our normal casting techniques to the slower action of the tenkara rod. Very quickly we were making precise overhead casts and getting far longer drifts with a dry fly than we would normally get.

What struck us both was how easy it would be for someone just starting out or wanting to learn fly-fishing. Tenkara makes teaching the basics very easy, getting you on the water and fishing sooner. It allows the teacher and student to focus more on fishing.

Tenkara USA’s Web site, has a wealth of information. There you can find information on the origins and history of tenkara, video’s and diagrams of casting techniques.

Perhaps the notion of a simpler life with a focus on skill rather than gear sounds good to you. Check out tenkara, you just may find you like the simple life.

You can read more of my columns at the News Virginian.com.

Taking care of our marine resources

“We have reached the time in the life of the planet and humanities demands upon it when every fisherman will have to be a river keeper, a steward of marine shallows and a watchman on the high seas.” Those words from author and fly fisherman Thomas McGuane are captured in the trailer for the new ESPN2 Outdoors series “Pirates of the Flats”.

The series, scheduled to start Dec. 27, follows the exploits of seven world-class anglers as they chase bonefish in the Bahamas. The trailer is on YouTube.

The show features some entertaining fishing buddies, including Lefty Kreh, Tom Brokaw, Michael Keaton, Tom McGuane and Yvon Chouinard. What makes this series significant is the conservation message that is a key element of each show.

“We are all in this together,” Brokaw said.

Working as a consultant for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership on their Marine Fisheries Initiative, I see the series as an excellent way to show how connected recreational fisherman are to the resource.

There are also some very interesting behind the scenes looks at the series.

Go online to the Tin Shed section of Patagonia’s Web site, Patagonia.com, and click on the fly box on the bench to the left. It will take you to images shot on location by noted photographer Val Atkinson and Patagonia’s Bill Klyn. Klyn offers an excellent behind the scenes narrative as well.

Atkinson, the on-site photographer for the series, has his own terrific slide show as well at Valatkinson.com.

Of course, the best part of any fishing trip is the time spent with friends. Doesn’t matter the weather or how good the fishing is, if you are horsing around with your pals it is always a good time.

To see how much fun these guys had, go to Garden and Gun magazine for a great video of bloopers and outtakes. You can find it online at Gardenandgun.com. They also published a great article “The Bonefish Boys” by Monte Burke with photos by Atkinson and Klyn.

As you dig into this entertaining and informative look at marine recreational fishing and conservation you meet Dr. Aaron Adams. Adams runs the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust. They “support research to help understand, nurture, and enhance healthy bonefish, tarpon, and permit populations.”

What impresses me about Adams is his view of the recreational angler’s responsibility to the resource.

On his blog Adams writes, “A key to marine and fish conservation that seems to be missed by many is that a true conservationist is as adamant about responsibility as he/she is about rights. Unfortunately, such a balanced approach has never been common, and is becoming increasingly rare.”

Adams continues, “Lately I’ve been hearing a lot about fishermen’s rights, and not so much about fishermen’s responsibilities. For example, in my area I’m seeing more and more bad behavior – boats running way too close to anglers poling on flats boats, boats running so shallow they dig scars in seagrass beds – while at the same time clamors of ‘I can go where I want’ are increasing. We can be our own worst enemies at times.”

These days anglers can’t afford to get a bad reputation. Too many people are working hard to be sure the resource is around for folks to have a place to fish.

Adams, Brokaw and McGuane are all correct. It is time for all of us to take our responsibility for the resource seriously.

Merry Christmas and happy Holidays. Wishing you many happy days afield in the year to come.

You can read more of my columns at the News Virginian.com.

Safety in the field

Safety is like sex, we talk a lot about it but sometimes it is more talk than action. Or as my good friend Mamie Parker used to say, “when all is said and done, more is said than done.”

Safety preparations for any outdoor adventure are really pretty simple. If you take a little time getting the appropriate gear together you will be able to deal with many, if not most, of the outdoor challenges you might face when things take a turn for the worse.

Many people think “oh it won’t happen to me.” Well as former search and rescue volunteer I can tell you, it happens more often than you think. I was the training team leader for wilderness safety and survival for my search and rescue group. Over the years I learned some basics that may come in handy for you as well.

Plan, brief, execute, debrief is a military mantra that makes sense in outdoor recreation as well. In fact most of us do it without really thinking about it. We plan the trip, talk it over with whoever goes along, tell them what the plan is, come back and tell our friends what a great time we had.

We also can use that opportunity to inject some safety points and lessons learned into the planning, briefing and debriefing cycle. Things like what to do if we get separated or hurt, how the radio’s work, where the spare batteries are, how much water you need.

Checklists are a good way to keep track of all the things you want to have. They are simple to put together and can be amended as you learn what is really needed and not needed.

Here is a good start based on the so called ten essentials — map and compass, sun protection, rain gear, warm layer, flashlight, batteries, first-aid and meds, dry matches, tinder, knife, food, water and emergency shelter.

You can find a detailed checklist on REI’s Web site.

These items can easily fit in a small backpack and can make an unexpected wilderness adventure more tolerable.

One of the most important things to do is to let someone know where you are going and when you expect to be back. If you change your plan let them know. If I am meeting someone I tell them where I will leave a note so they can find me.

When it comes to clothing dressing in layers is the way to go. One of the tricks is to dress cool. That is not a fashion statement mind you, it means dress for what you will feel like ten or fifteen minutes from now. Carry the extra layer for sure, but put it on when you stop or cool off.

For example if you are hiking a mile or so into a tree stand or fishing hole, under dress by a layer. You are likely to work up a sweat on the way in and wet clammy clothes are not only uncomfortable they draw heat away from your body.

One of the best confidence builders I know is the ability to find your way around in the woods. When was the last time you practiced with a map and compass?

GPS units are great but when they can’t get a fix or the batteries run out, you better be able to use a map and compass. Understanding how to use a map and compass to help you find your way in the field is an essential skill and some regular practice can never hurt.

So as you venture out to hunt and fish this fall take some time to think about your own safety in the field.

You can read more of my columns at the News Virginian.com.

Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation’s 20th Anniversary

Last week I was back in Washington and had the chance to join in celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation. There were two events, a lunch and then the annual banquet and auction that night. In 1997 and 1998 I served as the president of the foundation and it was a special treat to help mark this important milestone.

The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation was started in 1989. The foundation created a link between the sportsmen’s community and the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus. The Caucus had been started earlier that year by a small group of liked-minded legislators who wanted to protect and promote the outdoor traditions of hunting, trapping and fishing in the U.S. Congress.

“This year’s banquet is sort of the culmination of a year-long celebration of our 20th Anniversary,” said CSF President Jeff Crane. “We were able to recognize and thank everyone who has contributed to the 20-year success of the organization including current and former Caucus members and all those who have contributed to our cause.”

The lunch was a small gathering of past members of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus and Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation. Many of the past board members and the five of us who had run the foundation all were there. It was a great chance for all of us to swap hunting, fishing and legislative stories.

The two original co-chairs of the caucus, Congressmen Dick Schulze and Lindsay Thomas both made it back for the lunch and banquet. Schulze has served on the foundation’s board of directors and Thomas currently sits of the board.

“This was a very special event and I am honored to have been invited back to witness the tremendous growth of this caucus and foundation since we founded it in 1989,” said Schultze.

“It was wonderful to be able to visit with and recognize publicly my founding Caucus leadership colleagues,” said Thomas.

Today there are 200 members of the U.S. House of Representatives and 52 Senators in the caucus, making it one of the largest in Congress. Twenty-one of the original caucus members are still in Congress.

The Valley’s own representative Bob Goodlatte is a member and has been since he was elected to Congress. There are five additional members from the Virginia congressional delegation — unfortunately neither of our senators is a member of the caucus.

I enjoyed my time at the foundation and have been especially excited to see them take the success of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus model and expand on it in the states.

In 2004, the foundation replicated its model of raising awareness of sportsmen’s issues by creating the National Assembly of Sportsmen’s Caucuses. There are 38 states with bi-partisan caucuses, including Virginia.

The Virginia Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus was formed in 2004. It is currently co-chaired by the Valley’s own Senator Emmet Hanger and gubernatorial candidate Senator R. Creigh Deeds.

According to the Caucus’ Web site, “The caucus has been very successful since its inception, working towards the passage of the ‘No Net Loss’ legislation in 2007 and the creation Virginia’s Migratory Waterfowl Conservation Stamp (Duck Stamp) program in 2005.”

The latest development in expanding the caucus model has been the formation of a bipartisan caucus of governors. The Governors Sportsmen’s Caucus was launched at the National Governor’s Association Annual Meeting in this summer. The goal is to increase communication and information exchange between states to promote and protect hunting and fishing.

America’s nearly 40 million hunters and anglers contribute more than $70 billion annually to the U.S. economy. The economic contribution that hunting and fishing makes in Virginia is significant. Sportsmen contribute over a billion dollars and account for more than 20,000 jobs each year.

Having a voice in our nation’s capital is great, having one in the state capitol is even better.

You can read more of my columns at the News Virginian.com.