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.”

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