The Deerfield River Watershed Trout Unlimited Chapter (DRWTU) recently completed a scientific and volunteer-based survey that found spawning brown trout in the main stem of the upper Deerfield River. The study proved that there could indeed be wild brown trout in the river.
Maybe the best cold-water fishery in the state, the river is being taken for granted by some. But, others are doing what they can to ensure a healthy river habitat that supports both the Deerfield River ecosystem and the multiple tourism-based businesses that rely on this splendid (and frustrating) river.
Even if you haven’t read the first two posts of this series, you may have been one of those anglers with a strong hunch that there are wild trout in the Deerfield. You were not alone.
DRWTU members initiated a study to find proof that trout are indeed spawning in the Deerfield’s main stem. Mostly brown, and some rainbow, trout eggs–at over 100 redds–were found in a five-mile section below the Fife Brook Dam.
However, questions remain whether the now infamous and constant flow changes (hydro-peaking caused by Brookfield Power’s hydro-electric operations at Fife Brook Dam and Bear Swamp pumping station) are having adverse effects on spawning and trout fry development.
The spawning study results prompted the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to order Brookfield Power to determine minimum flows necessary to cover adequately the trout redds during winter, so that eggs do not end up exposed and frozen. The spawning study revealed that the current, mandated minimum flow levels last winter left many redds and eggs stranded.
Unfortunately, that is where FERC decided to stop, for now. While they, so far, have not requested further studies to help determine how many fry survive after hatching, DRWTU is trying to fill that gap. They have announced and will commence with another, more expansive trout spawning study this fall. This study, they hope, will help answer more questions about wild trout in the Deerfield and require Brookfield Power to do more to protect the trout redds and spawning fry.
The same type of hydro-peaking currently conducted at Fife Brook has notably caused detrimental impacts to other rivers throughout the country, and their own aquatic life (read about that in part 2). Additional studies that may show the same effects on the Deerfield have not only been requested by DRWTU, but, also, by Massachusetts Fish & Wildlife and the United States Fish & Wildlife Service (letter here).
While FERC’s acceptance of DRWTU’s trout spawning study resulted in at least one new study, there are other small victories to celebrate, as well. A new project from MA F&W, led by our own Adam Kautza, the agency’s Coldwater Fisheries Biologist and frequent blog contributor, is already underway.
To better understand the brown trout population in the upper Deerfield, 1,000 newly stocked brown trout had their adipose fins clipped for future identification. This will help determine which brown trout were stocked, and which were born in the river. If you catch any brown trout in the upper Deerfield below Fife Brook, please fill out this survey on brown trout population hyperlinked here, so biologists can more accurately assess the health of the wild brown trout population.
Unfortunately, it will take several years for the adult-sized, pre-study stocked fish with adipose fins to die off. That means it will be a couple of years before wild and stocked fish will be easily distinguishable via adipose fins. But the state will still need all the data it can get! Information is crucial to the success of this project, so please help and make filling out this survey a part of your Deerfield River fishing experience.
Wild trout do exist in the Deerfield watershed. Because of volunteers and contributions by Deerfield River fishing guides, local fly shops, state and federal scientists, and local businesses we now have proof. We also have made a positive and real change for the benefit of the watershed and fishery.
There is still much to be done though (details below). As Brookfield Power continues to seek its License Agreement from FERC, it is up to ALL of us to make sure we continue to step up and protect the river we love.
First and foremost, we need to keep fishing responsibly, practice catch and release when appropriate, report poaching and scofflaws to the MA Environmental Police, and spread your love of the Deerfield River!
Tell your friends about what is happening: more volunteer opportunities for a second, and more expansive trout study will be announced soon. DRWTU will be back on the river, weather and water-levels permitting, in late October through early December, finding and marking trout redds throughout the 17-mile main stem controlled by Fife Brook Dam and some of the tributaries in this stretch as well. This is a big step up in scope for DRWTU, so please mark your calendars.
If you are interested in signing up to volunteer now to get your name on a list you can email Mike Vito, VP of the DRWTU chapter, at mikevito2002
@yahoo.com. Mike will get back to you with more details as the study plans come to fruition.
This study will be led by Erin Rogers, a Trout Unlimited fisheries biologist, who works in this region and is already extremely familiar with the Deerfield Watershed. Joining the ranks this year will be staff from the U.S. Geological Survey at the Silvio O. Conte Anadromous Fish Research Center. They will be providing expertise with visual aids during spawning, flow measurements and egg and fry development.
There’s a lot happening with this study, and there will be a lot to learn. You’re guaranteed a hands-on fisheries education. And again, make sure to fill out the Brown Trout Survey if you’re lucky enough to catch & release a brown when you make a trip to the upper Deerfield. Again, here is a link.
You can also help DRWTU take some measure of the economic impact that fly fishers already bring to the region when they come to fish the Deerfield. DRWTU would like to know how much folks spend on a trip to the Deerfield: gas, guides, overnight stays and food. We spend a lot all told when we add it all together and those dollars will get the attention of elected officials.
An online survey to help gauge the amount of money coming into the region, due to fly fishing, is also now available. Here’s a link to that survey and the more detail and accuracy you can provide will help out that much more.
You can also write a letter to FERC and tell those officials if you ever had a bad experience on the Deerfield due to an unannounced water release. We all look at WaterLine and check the flow schedule at Fife Brook before heading up to that stretch of the river to fish. How many times have you been burned? You drive a few hours to take advantage of a scheduled noon release, only to find the water is already starting to come up at 9 am.
This type of unreliability is irresponsible, unsafe and can keep anglers from coming to the river. With 21st century technology, there’s really no excuse for it. The FERC re-licensing process is a PUBLIC process. FERC wants to hear from you. Give dates and times this happened to you if you can. This information is important. You can address and mail your letter to:
Honorable Kimberly D. Bose
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
888 First Street, NE
Washington, DC 20426
Re: Bear Swamp Pumped Storage Project No. 2669
The project number listed above is extremely important, so please include this ENTIRE address as it is written above.
There are lots of opportunities to help establish a solid wild trout fishery on the upper Deerfield River. If you can volunteer, great. If you can fill out these important surveys, that’s great, too. What’s important to remember is that the Deerfield River is a public resource. Its cold, flowing waters belong to all of us.
As anglers, it’s up to all of us to not just protect the river, but to help it realize its true potential as one of the most valuable cold-water fisheries in New England.