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

The Philosophy of Brook Trout

If you have even a passing interest in brook trout then you will want to pick up a copy of Downstream by David L. O’Hara and Matthew T. Dickerson.

If we could explain why grown men are so fascinated with brook trout, or why we spend so much of our time waist-deep in their waters, soaked to the bone, shivering, and delighting in every encounter with a specked trout, we wouldn’t need to write stories. This book is the best answer we can give.”

So begins this excellent book that explores the nexus between brook trout, fly fishing and some of the more interesting locations these very special fish call home.

The authors switch off with narratives that reflect both their personalities and points of view. The joy in the book comes in how they share their experience of fishing for brookies and the insights they give to the importance of the habitat the brook trout occupy.

The only complaint I would lodge is that they did not include Virginia in their travels. It would have been wonderful to see my home waters through their eyes.

The authors explore not only the impacts wrought upon the brook trout’s habitat, they also share their experience as fisherman; the teaching, manners, politics and connections to home. Dickerson is quite adept and entertaining at sharing the conundrums many fly fisherman face.

At the beginning of the conclusion, O’Hara quotes Kathleen Dean Moore from Pine Island Paradox.

I believe that the most loving thing you can say to a person is “Look.” And the most loving stance is not a close embrace, but two people standing side by side, looking out together on the world. When people learn to look, they begin to see, really see. When they begin to see, they begin to care. And caring is the portal to the into the moral world.”

Then, in my favorite part of the book he delves into the question of why he fishes. No doubt the answer to why is going to be different for everyone; but he does a fine job of putting on paper something that I and many others can relate to, to know the world we live in and our own lives better.

Downstream delivers an excellent “look” that Moore describes and the reader will come away with a sense of having stood side by side with the authors as they share their sense of caring for these special fish and the places they live.

Clear the Air, Save a Brook Trout

“This is good news and real evidence for the value of our national investment in improving air quality,” said Rick Webb, a U.Va. environmental scientist and coordinator of the VTSSS. “At the same time, there is more to be done, and many Virginia brook trout streams may never fully recover.”

what clean air can do...

That quote comes from an article I wrote for Orvis News. Webb was referring to some encouraging news in Virginia showing that water quality has clearly improved since 2000 and how the Clean Air Act’s investment in air quality improvement was working. He noted sulfur dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants dropped by 64 percent between 1990 and 2009.

Yesterday the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency took another step toward cleaner air and if history repeats itself, as it is likely to do, then some of the “more is to be done,” that Webb refers to may actually get done.

The U.S. EPA issued the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards. These court ordered standards will reduce emissions of mercury and toxic air pollution like arsenic, acid gas, nickel, selenium, and cyanide by relying on widely available pollution controls already in use at more than half of the nation’s coal-fired power plants.

Since 1959, TU volunteers and staff have worked to protect and restore trout watersheds throughout the nation, and we’ve come to realize that fish-trout in particular-are barometers for both air and water quality,” said Steve Moyer, TU’s vice president of government affairs. “Along the Eastern Seaboard, we’ve had to react to pollutants in the air that eventually find their way into the water. For instance, eastern brook trout in some Appalachian mountain watersheds are particularly susceptible to pollution that alters the natural chemical balance in their native streams. In order to keep some populations from winking out altogether, we’ve had to resort to unusual tactics to keep these fish alive, including adding lime to some streams to restore the water’s chemical equilibrium.”

Of course not only brook trout will benefit. Dirty air means dirty water. Fish and organisms that depend on clean water suffer. Mercury builds up in fish to a point where it is no longer safe to eat them. Birds and mammals that eat fish and insects can all be exposed to high levels of mercury. They wind up behaving abnormally and have less breeding success.

When I worked for the Izaak Walton League, air pollution was a key focus area. The IWLA has been working for 10 years to try and get these standards in place.

We applaud EPA for taking this step to protect public health and the environment,” says Nancy Lange, Director of the Izaak Walton League’s Energy Program. “This standard is long overdue, and the American people have been paying the price with their health. More than half our nation’s coal-fired power plants have already upgraded their facilities to scrub mercury out of their emissions. It’s time for the rest to follow suit.”

According to the EPA, power plants are the largest remaining source of several toxic air pollutants and are responsible for half of the mercury and over 75 percent of the acid gas emissions in the United States.

“By cutting emissions that are linked to developmental disorders and respiratory illnesses like asthma, these standards represent a major victory for clean air and public health– and especially for the health of our children. With these standards that were two decades in the making, EPA is rounding out a year of incredible progress on clean air in America with another action that will benefit the American people for years to come,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards will protect millions of families and children from harmful and costly air pollution and provide the American people with health benefits that far outweigh the costs of compliance.”

Clean air and water should be something we can count on in this country. EPA has put in place a responsible, workable and politically courageous plan to improve the quality of our air and water. Administrator Lisa Jackson and her team deserve to be congratulated.


Counting coup


It is not always the best time for fishing, at least in the mountain streams here in Virginia. The water levels can be iffy and more importantly the brook trout are going about their biological imperative. Don’t want to upset that apple cart!

So with time on my hands I like to go scout out some of my favorite streams or pick a new blue line to investigate.

When I am fishing I tend to get a little tunnel vision. I am looking through the water so hard that I sometimes forget to look around and enjoy the view. I probably know my location on many streams by what the bottom of the stream looks like rather than what the banks or surroundings look like.

For me fall is a great time for hiking and sight (site?) seeing. I still look at the water but I really have a chance to see what is surrounding all that water. A chance to see where I am fishing not just what I am fishing.

Of course I tote my tenkara rod and a few flies. And while I am not looking to fish, if the brookies happen to be rising then I just might decide to float a dry their way. But in the fall I like to just count coup on them.

How to count coup

During the year some of my flies will get the hooks broken at the bend. I keep the Adams’, BWOs or  Wulffs  and use them in the fall. I am not trying to catch the fish, just trying to get them to take the fly.

Counting coup.

Kind fun and let’s them get back to the more important business of reproduction.

almost like a neon beer sign

Shin Deep

My copy of Shin Deep by pal Chris Hunt arrived this week. Haven’t read very far but not surprisingly there is already a turn of phrase about brook trout that deserves quoting:

In the last few moments of the day’s light, I was able to glimpse the brilliance that makes brook trout, no matter their size, so wonderfully rewarding to the fly fisherman. Its deep colors seemed to provide a beacon of light in the near darkness of the evening, almost like a neon beer sign in a dank, dark, but wonderfully familiar tavern. You can’t help but stare at it.

Yup, brook trout water does have that familiar tavern feel, is it any wonder we care so much for these fish?

R2 bellies up to the bar

Recapping the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture Annual Partnership Meeting

Orvis News Conservation Blog

My friend Phil Monahan shot me an email asking if I would write a recap of The Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture Annual Partnership Meeting for the OrvisNews Conservation blog. It was a great opportunity to help tell the EBTJV story so naturally I jumped at the chance.
[Read more…]

Tenkara success

The end to a beautiful fall day on the Dry River.

finest kind cap'n...