Tuesday, May 20, 2014

2014 Spring Branch Creek Fishing Survey Conducted by Iowa DNR and HFFA Volunteers

      Iowa DNR staff and Hawkeye Fly Fishing Association members teamed up on Saturday, April 26, 2014, to conduct a fish survey on Iowa’s Spring Branch Creek, located in Delaware County.  A hog of an Iowa brown trout, 21.5" in length, was netted, its length and weight recorded, & it was then released.  Many browns, rainbows, brook trout, and other fish species were collected along ~.33 miles of stream via electrofishing, the required data was recorded, & the fish were safely released.
   Brian Comiskey,  HFFA Conservation Director, helped coordinate the work day with Iowa DNR staff Dan Kirby, Natural Resources Biologist, Mark Winn, Natural Resources Technician, and HFFA members.  Mr. Comiskey believes that the benefits are twofold when the DNR and HFFA work together.  He reported that, “More and more the DNR has relied on the HFFA and organizations like the HFFA to supplement labor shortages due to shortfalls in the annual (i.e. state) budgets.  The second benefit of working with the Iowa DNR is that of good exposure for HFFA and its members.”  

   Tools used for the day’s fish survey included a backpack electrofisher, nets, buckets, measuring board, scale, and a PIT tag reader.   On July 3, 2013, one hundred brown trout in this particular stream were implanted with PIT (Passive Integrated Transponder) tags in the abdominal cavity.  The small, long-lasting tags allow fish to be individually identified.  During this year’s April survey, 27 of the 107 brown trout captured contained the previously-implanted PIT tags.  Mr. Kirby reported, “This is a high rate of return for fish left at large in an open stream system for an extended period of time.”

   During this year’s survey, 7 species of fish were collected (brown trout = 107; creek chub = 26; white sucker = 13; brook trout = 4; sculpin sp. = 3; rainbow trout = 1; brook stickleback = 1).  Mr. Kirby indicated this was a fairly low number of species for an Iowa stream.  However, he added that this was not surprising for an Iowa coldwater stream because brown trout are excellent predators & the stream for this region contains a moderately high density of brown trout.

   While no rare species were collected, Mr. Kirby noted that sculpins in Iowa are found only in quality coldwater streams within the Paleozoic Plateau.  In general, the stream’s 324 brown trout/mile calculated by DNR staff from the 2014 survey, is comparable to other surveys recorded yearly since 2010.  It was learned that natural reproduction of brown and brook trout was sparse during the 2013-2014 winter but Mr. Kirby reported this was not alarming because, “…natural populations will have fluctuations in population and recruitment of young fish.”  Data from past surveys indicated up to 165 young-of-year brown trout/mile.  During this year’s survey, just 2 young-of-year brook trout and 0 young-of-year brown trout were collected.

   Approximately 16 HFFA members, representing the 4 branches of the club, and DNR staff Dan Kirby and Mark Winn, participated in the workday.  Following the survey, workers were invited to a cook-out, which was provided in traditional fashion by the Mullins family and their ‘chuck wagon’, with food donated by the HFFA.  An HFFA board member meeting followed but a few lucky members elected to 'survey' another section of the stream – this time with fly rods in hand.

    I asked Mr. Kirby if he would provide readers with current, general information about
Spring Branch Creek.  The information provided in his response is a perfect example of why it is important that the community, whether it be organizations, businesses or individuals, work with the DNR to help protect and maintain our natural resources.  By participating in work days, through education about the benefits of good land use practices, by donating money or volunteering time, or simply by picking up trash & not littering, we can all make a difference & continue to enjoy the natural resources we are so lucky to have.

   This is Mr. Kirby’s response in its entirety:   “The coldwater segment of Spring Branch (from the upper springs to the Maquoketa River) is about 3 miles long and about 1.4 miles of that length is in public ownership or in a permanent public angling access easement.  Spring Branch is recognized within Iowa Code as an Outstanding Iowa Water and it certainly deserves that status.  The springs that supply cold water to Spring Branch are among the highest quality spring sources in Iowa.  These quality waters have long been recognized—a trout hatchery has been located near Spring Branch since the 1880’s.  Temperatures within Spring Branch will typically fall between 40 degrees and 65 degrees Fahrenheit on a year round basis, with temperatures outside that range occurring in stream segments far isolated from the primary spring sources during extremely cold or hot days.
   We discontinued stocking brown trout into Spring Branch during 2008 and the population seems to be maintaining good trout density and size structure in the absence of stocking.  We currently stock about 200 advanced fingerling (8-inch) rainbow trout and 200 advanced fingerling brook trout into Spring Branch.  The lower end of Spring Branch (Baileys Ford Park) receives a stocking of about 12,000 catchable (10 – 12 inch long) rainbow trout and 3,000 catchable brook trout during a year.

   As is the case for all Iowa streams and rivers, water quality is central to the quality of Spring Branch Creek and the fishery in Spring Branch.  Watershed quality and land-use will ultimately determine fishery quality in Spring Branch now and in the future.”

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Drifting Through a Stream Survey with a Large Iowa Brown Trout

   The yearly annual fish survey of Iowa's Spring Branch Creek, located in Delaware County, was completed on April 26, 2014, during a workday held by members of both the Iowa DNR and the Hawkeye Fly Fishing Association.  The following photographs and information track a single brown trout through the survey process.  (Please see this link:  http://strip-n-twitch.blogspot.com/2014/05/members-of-iowa-dnrand-hawkeye-fly.html for a 2nd post containing information about the workday, findings from the survey, and for more photographs.)

Mark Winn, Natural Resources Technician with the Iowa DNR, right, uses a backpack electroshocker to seek out and briefly stun fish inhabiting a .33 mile section of Spring Branch Creek prior to netting them.  The fish are passed to the net of Martin Acerbo, HFFA member, left, who then transfers the fish to a water-filled bucket carried by Larry Niday, HFFA president.

 A large, stunned brown trout is carefully netted by Mr. Winn.  The fish had been holding unseen beneath a limestone shelf camouflaging a bank hide.  This is a prime example of how electrofishing techniques can increase fish capture rates during a stream survey, allowing data collection that is more reflective of the fishery.

Mr. Acerbo carefully removes the large brown trout from the net and transfers it to a bucket of stream water.

Already reviving, the brown trout begins to work its way to the bottom of the bucket.

The large brown trout submerges surprisingly well into the bottom of the bucket with other collected fish.  Next, the shore crew will transfer the fish to a larger tub of water.  Data for each trout will be recorded.  Population totals each of brown, brook and rainbow trout, & non-game fish, such as suckers, creek chubs, sculpin, and brook stickleback will also be recorded.

Dan Kirby, Iowa DNR Natural Resources Biologist, right, measures the length of the large brown trout.  Kate Lodge, an HFFA member, prepares to use a PIT tag reader to scan the abdomen of the fish.  All brown trout collected during this survey were scanned for a PIT (Passive Integrated Transponder) tag.  During the July 2013 stream survey, 100 brown trout were implanted in the abdomen with a PIT tag.  Each tag individually identifies a fish and allows for the opportunity of year-to-year data comparisons.

The individual weight of the large brown trout and of each brown, brook, and rainbow trout is recorded in kilograms.  The large brown trout was one of 27 browns found to contain a PIT tag.  One hundred seven brown trout were collected during this year's survey. 

Due to the use of PIT tags, it was established that the large brown trout grew 1.1 inches and weighed 1.8 pounds more than when it was surveyed 10 months ago.  For a fish of this size, this is considered to be a good rate of growth.  This Iowa Driftless brown, estimated at 5 years & likely older, measured 21.5 inches and weighed 4.2 pounds during this year's survey.

The brown trout is safely released back to the stream.

Why conduct fish surveys?
   “Much wildlife can be easily observed (e.g., songbirds, whitetail deer, waterfowl), but fish present challenges because they are out of sight under the water surface—this is the principal reason we use specialized fishing gear and surveys to gather information used for fishery management.

   We conduct surveys for a variety of objectives.  The primary reason that we do surveys is to track the abundance, size structure, and health of populations of game species such as brown trout and smallmouth bass.  Fish surveys are also commonly used to assess the environmental heath of streams and rivers.  In some cases, fishery surveys are used for specific research such as to assess the impact of a management action.” ~ Dan Kirby, Natural Resources Biologist, Iowa DNR

Please see this link:  http://strip-n-twitch.blogspot.com/2014/05/members-of-iowa-dnrand-hawkeye-fly.html for a 2nd post containing information about the workday, findings from the survey, and for more photographs.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Life, Fly Fishing, Hellgrammites and the Pursuit of Ice Cream

   The number and frequency of blog posts are subject to this author's distractibility and amount of time spent fishing, tying flies or doing other things fly fishing-related.  Work and food also play their roles but are requirements to living & not to be mistaken with the aforementioned noteworthy distractions that give greater meaning & perspective to life.

   I am currently working on posts about fish surveys and the recent team effort between Iowa DNR staff and members of the Hawkeye Fly Fishing Association to survey fish species in a coldwater stream.  Since I have now used my new Bug Bond LCR torch, I will be adding a review of the torch to a current post about LCR (light cured resin) lights.  I will offer comparisons to the Loon light.  I have also received an Aquapac 28L Toccoa Daysack (waterproof) that I will review when I have had greater opportunity to use it.

   Hellgrammites are still on my mind.  Recently, it was suggested to me to tie up a few of these critters for use at a nearly-local quarry (where I go for hours to torture myself) containing finicky, tight-lipped smallmouth bass.  Having cruised the internet looking for pictures of hellgrammites and fly recipes, I proceeded to tie my own version.  It was decent but not good enough for my taste.  If I were a bass I wasn't sure I'd eat it.  After a couple more tips and a brief perusal of more tying recipes, I improved upon my original version and it looks larvalicious!  If I were a smallie and one of those hellgrammites was stripped-n-twitched in front of me, I'd soon be sporting a pierced lip.  So, I'm debating posting another fly tying recipe.

   First, I need to ensure my recipe is far enough removed from anyone else's recipe.  Only then can I call it my own.  Heck, the first gosh-awful concoction I tied -when I wasn't even good with winding a thread base on a hook- was the only 'fly' that I can claim to be a 100-proof original.  And if we are comparing flies and whiskey (and we are), then from the get-go, I'd already been influenced enough by others to claim only 50% as  being completely original.  So, we walk a fine line when we post fly recipes claiming them to be of our own creations.  Besides, I've only landed one, squirt-sized smallie with my improved hellgrammite pattern.  I was at that danged quarry where smallies frequently become the fish of 5,000 casts.  No proven track record of hellgrammite fly success has yet to be established.  I can just see anglers flocking to my hellgrammite recipe post to learn how to tie a hellgrammite that hooks onehelluvasmallsmallie after onehelluvalongtime! 

   Now here I sit and once again note that I've been distracted away from writing the fish survey post due to other thoughts about fly fishing.  Does anyone else smell the strong scent of irony?  So I sit and think, how did 1 quick paragraph turn into 5+ paragraphs?  What am I doing sitting here on a Friday NIGHT?  Is this giving me or anyone else greater meaning or perspective in life?

  Doubt it.

  But the reality is if I go out and listen to a friend's band with a bum knee, drink a couple of beers and try to dance (and I've already danced with a cast on my foot, so I would dance with a bum knee), I may not be in good enough shape to wade streams and climb their banks next weekend during our gal's annual fly fishing trip.  I would likely not be in top form at tomorrow's fly fishing clinic while teaching newbie anglers one of the most fun & frustrating parts of fly fishing.  I could even miss out on luring another innocent into the art and addiction that is fly fishing.  

   In the end, I guess the distraction wasn't so bad, and my perspective on life is intact.  The fish survey article can be completed after the casting clinic.  Now I think I'll go eat some ice cream.   

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

2014 Annual Fly Casting Clinic to be Held on May 10 in Bettendorf

   Once again, the day proceeding Mother's Day will find seasoned and fresh fly anglers honing and learning casting skills at the Middle Park Lagoon, 2098 Parkway Dr., Bettendorf, Iowa.  The annual K&K Casting Clinic, held May 10, 2014, is sponsored by K&K Hardware (1818 Grant St., Bettendorf, 563-359-4474) & will take place from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.  Dan Johnston, a St. Croix Rod rep from Cedar Rapids, will be the primary instructor.  Local anglers will also be on hand to help with casting instruction.

   K&K classically provides a free lunch for participants and John, another clinic volunteer, usually makes breakfast on the grill.  A donation for the latter is usually asked & well worth it.  A sign up sheet is at K&Ks sporting goods counter.  St. Croix rods will be provided by Dan and HFFA (Hawkeye Fly Fishing) staff will likely provide spare rods to those who don't have their own.  Hope to see you there!