Monthly Archives: November 2020

Two Tournaments in November

Two weeks ago 20 members of the Potato Creek Bassmasters fished our November tournament at Lanier.  We landed 50 14-inch keeper bass weighing about 99 pounds in eight hours of casting. There were five five-fish limits and two people didn’t catch a keeper.

    Sam Smith won with five bass weighing 11.80 pounds, Drew Narramore came in second with five weighing 11.19 pounds, Raymond English placed third with five at 9.89 pounds and Niles Murray was fourth with five at 9.47 pounds.  Kwong Yu had big fish with a 3.51 pounder.

    Last Sunday 11 members of the Spalding County Sportsman club fished our November tournament at West Point.  We landed 37 keepers weighing about 49 pounds in eight hours of fishing.  All but four were spotted bass.  There were three five-bass limits and no one zeroed.

    Kwong Yu won with five weighing 9.27 pounds and his 2.52 pound bass was big fish. My five at 8.28 pounds was second, Niles Murray placed third with five weighing 6.17 pounds and Russell Prevatt had three at 4.46 pounds for fourth. 

I Am Thankful for the Outdoors

Although 2020 has been a crazy year, I have much to be thankful for, even this year.  Thanksgiving brings back many great memories and makes me realize what a good life I have had for 70 years.

    Most of all I am thankful for a wonderful wife that has put up with me for 49 years.  Only one time in all those years has she complained about my hundreds of fishing and hunting trips as well as other things.

    One year at Thanksgiving my mama planned Thanksgiving dinner at our place at the lake.   Every year I headed to Clarks Hill Wednesday afternoon with my boat as soon as school was out for the holidays.  Most years I got up and fished a couple of hours
Thursday morning, then went into town for a big meal at lunch with my family.

    That year mama had dinner at the lake so I could fish more hours.  I went out early that morning with the warning “be in early enough for dinner” from mama. I told her I would come in early enough to get cleaned up for the extended family that was joining us.

    I will never forget weighing the 7.1-pound bass that hit a Shadrapap on my DeLiar scales, then looking at my watch and noting it was 12:01 PM.  I thought it was wonderful mama had planned dinner, not lunch, or I would have not caught it.

    When I went in at 5:00 to get cleaned up for dinner, mama and Linda were not happy.  Maybe it was a Freudian slip that made me forget mama always said dinner for noon day meals and supper for nighttime meals.   Everyone that had come for dinner had already left and I missed seeing my brother and his family, several uncles and aunts and some cousins.

    The only thing colder than the cold stares I got that afternoon from mama and Linda was the cold turkey sandwich I had for Thanksgiving “dinner.”

    I am thankful for growing up in a family with parents that were tough on me but loving.  Discipline was strict, but I was given a lot of freedom when all my chores were done.  I could go out early in the morning hunting or fishing with my friends and the only rules were get my farm work done first and to be in to eat supper with my family.

    I am thankful I leaned to love the outdoors, respecting nature and its awesome power and beauty.  I am thankful I never learned to love killing, but understood it is part of nature.  Every animal I have shot, from squirrels to deer, made me respect death and the fact those animals died so I could eat them.

    I am thankful that I grew up in a free country that did not restrict my right to own guns, hunt and fish.  Unfortunately, that is changing, and I do not know how much longer it will last. 

    I am thankful I grew up on a farm and learned the value of hard work and the rewards from it.  I have had a comfortable life, mainly due to Linda and me working hard, often at two jobs each, and enjoying the rewards of being frugal, saving and planning for the future.  That allowed me to do what I wanted, have a bass boat all my life and go fishing when I wanted to go, without spending on frivolous things just to impress others.

    I am thankful for learning to be good leader from my daddy and Laymon Hattaway.  Daddy was my principal in elementary school, and I taught school with Mr. Hattaway as my principal for seven years.  My career as a teacher, central office administrator and principal was strongly influenced by those two men, and I would not have been as successful without their influence.

    I am thankful Jim Berry gave me the opportunity to fill a lifetime dream of being a writer.  Berry’s Sporting Goods sponsoring my first articles in the Griffin Daily News in 1987 gave me a start on a fun, fulfilling second career.

    I am thankful Linda got a second job as a cruise travel writer, allowing me to see things this country boy never imagined seeing. From squatting on the ice in Antarctica with penguins waddling by close enough to touch to catching salmon on a fly rod in Alaska on my 60th birthday, her love of travel has made me go places I will never forget.

    I am very thankful for the advances in medicine that seems to have cured my cancer.  Daddy died from chemotherapy treatments from his cancer in 2000.  It destroyed his kidneys, causing him to need dialysis which he hated. 

    Although the seven months of chemotherapy and radiation I took two years ago had some rough times, I never missed a fishing trip, going at least five times a month the whole time.  I think my drive to go fishing helped me through it, giving me something to look forward to during the rough times.

    Most of all I am glad to still be alive after all these years, with the hope of more to come.  I hope to make even mor memories in the time I have left.  

Tactics and Techniques to Target Smallmouth Through the Changing Seasons

The author with a trophy smallmouth bass from the James River in downtown Richmond. Fall is one of the best times of the year to target big smallmouth bass across the state.

By Alex McCrickard, Virginia DGIF Aquatic Education Coordinator
from The Fishing Wire

There might not be a finer season to explore our freshwater fisheries across Virginia than in fall.  Maples, tulip poplars, oaks, and sycamores turn red, orange, yellow, and brown as air temperatures cool to a comfortable range in the 60s and 70s.  The cool crisp air during this time of the year is a welcome change to anglers who have fished throughout the hot humid Virginia summer.  The changing of the seasons creates excellent conditions for anglers targeting smallmouth bass across the state.Smallmouth Bass in Virginia

Smallmouth bass, frequently referred to as smallies or bronzebacks, are a freshwater member of the sunfish family: Centrarchidae.  Their green and brown sides are often marked with vertical black bars.  Some of these fish have war paint like markings extending horizontally and diagonally behind their eyes and across their gill plates.  Smallmouth bass are native to the Great Lakes system and the Mississippi River Basin including the Tennessee and Big Sandy River Drainages of Southwest Virginia. 

However, these game fish have been introduced all across the Piedmont of Virginia and are truly a worthy opponent on rod and reel.  Because of the smallmouth’s widespread range in Virginia, they are readily available to anglers fishing west of the coastal plains above the fall lines of our major river systems.  This allows anglers who reside in cities and large metropolitan areas to fish local as smallmouth opportunities are plentiful. 

The James River in Lynchburg and RichmondRappahannock River in Fredericksburg, Rivanna River in Charlottesville, Maury River near Lexington, and the New River in Blacksburg are fine examples of local opportunities.

The mainstem and larger tributaries of these rivers are full of smallmouth. Anglers in Northern Virginia can focus efforts on the Upper Potomac River as well as the Shenandoah mainstemNorth Fork, and South Fork.  The North Fork of the Holston River and the Clinch River provide excellent smallmouth opportunities in Southwest Virginia.  Floating these larger rivers in a canoe or raft can be a great way to cover water, just remember to wear your life jacket. 

You can also wade fish these rivers and their tributaries in lower water conditions.Changing River ConditionsRivers and streams across Virginia are typically in low flow conditions on average years as summer moves to early fall.  As the days get shorter and air temperatures drop, water temperatures are soon to follow.  As water temperatures cool from the upper 80s down to the mid 70s and eventually upper 60s, smallmouth will become very active. 

While the smallmouth’s metabolism might be highest in warmer water temperatures, these conditions can sometimes make the fish a bit sluggish, especially on bright sunny days in the heat of the summer.  Therefore, the cooling trends that occur in early to mid-fall can oftentimes put smallmouth on the feed.  Also, as water temperatures drop, dissolved oxygen will increase. 

During the hottest summer months, smallmouth often congregate at the heads of riffles in broken water where dissolved oxygen levels are highest.  It’s the fall cooling of water temperatures that in turn can spread more smallmouth out evenly throughout various habitats from riffles and pocket water to long runs, pools, and flats.  Smallmouth can also disperse when large rain events occur throughout fall and river levels rise from typical low late summer and early fall flows.

As mid-fall progresses into late fall, water temperatures will drop even further.  As water temperatures drop into the mid to low 50s, smallmouth will stage in transitionary water between their summer habitat and deep overwintering holes.  In Virginia, this oftentimes happens from late October through the middle of November.  Look for smallmouth to be on the edges of drop-offs as well as congregating around river points and bends. 

During this transitionary time smallmouth can also be found in the middle sections and tailouts of deep riffles holding around structure like log jams and big boulders.Early Fall – Techniques and ApproachTopwater lures and flies will continue to produce good numbers of smallmouth bass throughout the entire month of September and well into the month of October. 

Anglers should take advantage of this last opportunity to fish on the surface before winter kicks in.  Popular topwater lures that anglers enjoy to fish in the summer will also prove to be productive in early to mid-Autumn.  Make sure to keep buzzbaits, Whopper Ploppers, Zara Spooks, Heddon Tiny Torpedos, and the Rebel Pop-R in your box of topwater lures.September and October are great months to fish topwater lures and flies for Virginia smallmouth bass. Photo by Meghan Marchetti/DGIF.

For fly fishing, make sure to keep your flybox stocked with your favorite poppers.  I always carry Boogle Bugs, Double Barrel poppers, and Walt’s Bass Popper in a variety of sizes and colors in early fall.  It’s best to experiment with your retrieve to figure out if the fish are looking for fast or slow action.  Your retrieve and approach can also depend on the type of water you are fishing and the action of your fly or lure.  Sometimes in choppy riffles a faster retrieve can allow the lure or fly to move more water where as a slower pop and pause retrieve can be very productive in flat water stretches.

Late Fall – Techniques and Approach
As water temperatures continue to drop in late October through November, a subsurface approach is best.  It’s still possible to catch bass on topwater lures and flies but you will find more fish feeding subsurface with water temperatures in the 50s.  Smallmouth will actively ambush smaller forage fish during this time of the year as they attempt to put on weight for the upcoming winter season.  This makes mid to late fall one of the best times of the year to target large smallmouth in our rivers and streams across Virginia. 

Use baitfish imitations and target the transitionary water that smallmouth occupy during this time frame. A variety of subsurface crankbaits, soft plastic swimbaits and flukes, spinnerbaits, and jerkbaits will prove productive.  The Rebel Crawfish, a crayfish crankbait, should also be in your selection of subsurface lures as smallmouth will prowl pools and flats for crayfish in the fall.

When fishing some of these subsurface lures, especially soft plastic swimbaits and flukes, its important to apply action to the lure on occasion by quickly jerking your rod to the side and then pausing briefly during your retrieve.  This will give your lure an erratic motion and imitate a stressed and injured baitfish which is exactly what the smallmouth are looking for.  When fishing soft plastics with a jig head, you can adjust the size of your jig head based upon the depth and current that you are focusing on.  Anglers can also fish a variety of different colored jig and pigs for targeting late fall smallmouth that are holding lower in the water column closer to the bottom of the river.Subsurface lures work well when targeting fall smallmouth. Photo by Meghan Marchetti/DGIF.

Late October through November is an excellent time to fish large streamers for big smallmouth bass.  When fly fishing in mid to late fall, consider fishing with a sinktip or a 250 grain full sinking line in the deeper riffles and pools on our larger rivers.  Sometimes it pays off huge when you can get your fly down to the fish during this time of the year, especially in the latter part of the season as winter approaches.

I have had great success in the fall fishing Bob Clouser’s Clouser Minnow, Lefty Kreh’s Deceiver, as well as the combination of the two patterns: the Half & Half. Large articulated streamers that were originally developed for trout fishing in western states likes Montana, Colorado, and Wyoming will also be productive on fall smallmouth.

Kelly Galloup’s articulated streamer patterns from Montana work well and most of these flies have large profiles as some of them are tied with wool or spun deer hair heads.  Charlie Craven’s patterns from Colorado are also quite productive on our Virginia smallmouth.  The profile of these large articulated streamers attracts fall smallmouth and these patterns swim really well through the water as they are articulated.  The multi-sectioned Gamechanger tied by Blane Chocklett also works quite well this time of the year. 

You should also carry large beadhead or conehead Woolly Buggers.  I like fishing this classic pattern in sizes 2-4 in black, dark brown, and olive. Chuck Kraft’s Clawdad and Harry Murray’s Hellgrammite are also productive patterns to fish lower in the water column this time of year.Fishing large streamers is a great technique for targeting big smallmouth bass. Consider fishing a sinktip or full sinking line in mid to late fall on our larger Virginia rivers, especially in higher flows. Photo by Meghan Marchetti/DGIF.

Autumn can truly be one of the most pleasant times of the year to target smallmouth across the Commonwealth.  Anglers will enjoy cooler temperatures and wearing waders when fishing these rivers during this time of the year.  As the season progresses from October into November, it’s important to bring a dry bag with a towel and an extra change of clothes for safety precautions due to cooler water and air temperatures.  Make time to get out this fall and take advantage of the prime fishing conditions for smallmouth across the state.

Costa Helps Vets with their Freedom Series

By Frank Sargeant, Editor
from The Fishing WireLong known for high-quality, on-water eyewear, Costa® Sunglasses recently released the Freedom Series, highlighting the brand’s partnership with Freedom Fighter Outdoors (FFO). If you’ve been needing an excuse to splurge on some admittedly fairly pricey Costa’s, their assistance to FFO might be just what’s necessary.
The Freedom Series glasses feature many of the most popular Costa frame styles in patriotic-inspired colors, and support Freedom Fighters Outdoors’ initiative to help get veterans out on the water and participating in recreational outdoor activities.

Costa offers the series in both glass lenses—which are more scratch-resistant and also somewhat clearer than polycarbonate–and the poly lenses, which are lighter and also more shatter-resistant. I personally have always liked glass lenses for the clarity, plus glasses used in a center console tend to get the heck scratched out of them bouncing around on the dash if they have plastic lenses. Costa says their glass lenses are 20% thinner and 22% lighter than average polarized lenses, so it’s pretty much a no-brainer.  The models with glass lenses are somewhat heavier than some other brands just because Costa builds their stuff to last, but they’re not so heavy that you notice the weight on your nose or ears. The hinges, for example, are not only stout stainless steel, but they’re inset inside the durable composite frame. This not only protects them from salt spray and the resulting corrosion but adds reinforcement at the point where most glasses eventually fail. 

The blue mirror lenses are among the best choice for bright sunlight and flats or offshore fishing—minimal color distortion, good fish spotting and the polarization and mirroring greatly cuts glare. If you’re strictly a flats angler, you might like the amber lenses better because they tend to make vegetation and fish “pop” in the shallows, but the blue mirror gives things a light gray cast that seems natural after you wear it a few minutes.

A very useful feature on all Costa glasses is that they provide exact measurements of all their glasses on their website, so you know in advance how they’re going to fit if you buy them via the internet. For example, the Reefton version we checked out has an overall width of 129.2 mm and a bridge width, that is across the nose, of 15 mm.

The lenses are 63.5 mm wide, 42.3 mm tall, the ear pieces 112 mm long. They’re designed for those with large heads. They also make other models that are smaller, better fits for young anglers or for most women.  I like that the ear pieces are curved to grip the contours of the head, but have relatively little drop behind the ears. To me, this design stays on well and is easier to take on and off than those with a pronounced drop in the ear pieces. (I always put CablZ eye glass retainers on my sunglasses before wearing them the first time—saves losing them overboard, plus I always know where they are when they’re not on my head.)

The ear pieces, like the nose piece, are made of a “sticky” composite that helps the glasses stay in place, even when you’re sweaty.

The Freedom Series includes 16 frame styles across the brand’s lifestyle categories. The line ranges in price from $179 to $279, depending on frame and lens combination—pricey, but the company is known for standing behind their stuff.  (I also like that Costa does their bit for fish and fisheries habitat through programs that include producing a collection of frames made from recycled fishing nets as part of its Kick Plastic initiative, as well as partnerships with conservation groups and the shark research organization OCEARCH.) 

For more information on the new frames and the full line of Costa sunglasses, visit

Fishing and Hunting In the Rain

 “Rainy days and Mondays always get me down.”  Although I like the song, I have to disagree with the Carpenters on rainy days.  I love hunting and fishing on rainy days.

    Hunting squirrels during a hard rain was tough, they tended to stay in hollows and nests. But during a light rain or after a hard one, with wet leaves on the ground, I could slip quietly through the woods and get close enough for a shot without spooking them.

    Deer hunting was similar.  Although I usually stayed in my tree stand, I could still hunt, slowly moving parallel to deer trails and along ridge lines, watching for any movement.  Although the deer usually spotted my movement before I spotted theirs, I did slip up on a few.

    One day while hunting near Griffin I was easing along during a hard rain.  I spotted something that looked out of place down the hill.  I studied it and it did not move.  I though it might be another hunter sitting on a stump in a rain suit, so I did not raise my rifle to get a close look thought my scope.

    I decided to slip back the way I came, hoping the other hunter did not see me.  But, of course, as soon as I took a step, the “hunter” flipped up its white tail and ran off.  Although I did not get to shoot that deer, I still think I made the right decision for safety.

    Since I usually stayed in my tree stand, I made a frame over my head with limbs and carried a big black garbage bag with me.  If it rained, I could put the garbage bag over the frame in a few seconds and have a nice cover to keep the rain off.

    Now several companies make camouflage umbrellas with ways to attach them to the tree to do the same thing.

    Fishing in the rain seems to be better than sunny days too. Since bass do not have eyelids and their pupils cannot contract to limit light, they do not like bright sunlight. They tend to feed in shallower water on rainy days and they cannot see my lure and tell it is fake as easily, so they are easier to catch.

    I have been fishing on some miserable days in heavy rain. Often I pour a cup of coffee and am never able to finish it, the rain keeps my cup full.  All too often rain is so hard it makes my automatic bilge pumps run constantly.

    In a November tournament a few years ago at Lake Lanier it rained like that.  I found out my waterproof boots were not, and even my best heavy rain suit, Cabela’s GuideWear, let some water in, mostly down my sleeves. 

That is one of the few tournaments I have come back to the ramp early.  I caught my fifth fish with about an hour left to fish and decided I would go with what I had. That sounded better than staying out in the rain and being miserable for another hour trying to catch a bass that would cull one I had in the livewell like I usually would.

Luckily, I won so it was a good decision.

Although I have caught some of my biggest bass on rainy, cold days I do have my limits.  One Christmas at Clarks Hill the wind was howling and sleet was falling.  I found some shelter behind an island and caught an eight-pound largemouth. After landing it I decided I had enough and went in to show it off.

Another day there I put my boat in on an extremely cold, windy day. It was not raining and I was dressed for the cold, but as I idled out of the cove with the ramp and hit the wind and waves, drops splashing from the front of the boat froze in the air before hitting my jacket and fell off as ice. I turned around and went in!

Some days are just too bad for even me to fish.

Habitat Connectivity Helps Trout Take Care of Themselves

Trout Unlimited’s Poose Creek Project in Colorado served as an opportunity to test, validate and perhaps even contribute toward a framework of knowledge around fish passage and habitat connectivity.Colorado River cutthroat trout like this one didn’t take long to use a fishway on Poose Creek in Colorado.

Brian Hodge/Trout Unlimited
By Brian Hodge, Trout Unlimited
from The Fishing Wire

In our work at Trout Unlimited, we often rely on scientific theory to plan and implement conservation projects. In some instances, we also test hypotheses by monitoring projects and comparing predictions with outcomes, and in doing so contribute towards the broader body of scientific theory.

For TU and our local agency partners, the Poose Creek Project in Colorado served as an opportunity to test, validate and perhaps even contribute toward a framework of knowledge around fish passage and habitat connectivity.

When TU and its partners sampled the headwaters of Poose Creek in 2012-2013, native Colorado River cutthroat trout were almost completely absent from the reach above the one road-stream crossing but relatively abundant in the reach below the crossing.
A 108-foot long, concrete culvert and apron were installed at Poose Creek in the 1960s. Brian Hodge photo.

Moreover, at long-term monitoring stations upstream and downstream of the culvert, cutthroat densities were 0 and approximately 437 fish per mile, respectively. This contrast confirmed a standing assumption that the box culvert under the road was, and had for decades been, a complete fish passage obstacle.

In 2014, TU and the U.S. Forest Service retrofitted the box culvert with a vertical slot fishway, also known as a fish ladder. Although we only designed the fishway to pass adult trout (which are better swimmers and jumpers than their juvenile counterparts), our ultimate goal was to facilitate repatriation by the native cutthroat above the culvert.The exiting culvert was retrofitted with a vertical slot fishway in 2014. Brian Hodge photo.

The fishway project was thus rooted in at least two testable hypotheses: one, that removal or mitigation of the passage obstacle would actually result in fish passage; and two, that the incursion of adult spawners into vacant habitats would result in recolonization by the species (in other words, a few fish would ultimately lead to a lot of fish). Meanwhile, we had much to learn about the effectiveness of fishways for restoring passage to inland (nonanadromous) fish.Slotted baffles in the 150-foot long fishway allow fish to swim up the ladder. Brian Hodge photo.

In 2015 and 2016, we teamed up with Colorado Parks and Wildlife to evaluate the first hypothesis — that the fishway would effectively restore fish passage. We captured cutthroat in the mile of stream below the culvert and injected them with passive integrated transponders, or PIT tags. We then used a series of antennas within and around the fishway to monitor the number of approaches to, attempts at, and successful trips through, the fishway.

The result?

Cutthroat trout began using the Poose Creek fishway within a year of its construction. In fact, the fishway was completed in fall of 2014 and the inaugural trips through the structure coincided with the spring spawning season of 2015. Approximately 4 percent of all PIT-tagged trout approached the fishway, and 100 percent of the fish that approached it succeeded in entering and passing the new structure.

These findings, available here, satisfied our first goal of restoring passage. Nevertheless, questions still remained about the ultimate effect of restoring connectivity.One of four stationary antennas installed in and around the fishway. Brian Hodge/Trout Unlimited

In fall of 2020, approximately one and a half to two cutthroat trout generations after the fishway was installed, we tested the second hypothesis— that restoring fish passage would lead to recolonization of upstream habitats. Specifically, we used backpack electrofishing units to survey a half-mile segment of stream immediately above the culvert, and to repeat a multiple-pass population estimate at the long-term monitoring site (located approximately 0.6 miles upstream of the culvert).

In 2012, the segment of the stream was vacant of cutthroat trout. In 2020, the same segment hosted at least 589 cutthroats. Similarly, the same long-term monitoring station that contained cutthroat at a density of 0 fish per mile in 2012 contained cutthroat at a density of approximately 2,752 fish per mile in 2020 (817 fish per mile excluding the 2020 year-class).

Just as importantly, the presence of multiple age classes, and of young-of-year fish in particular, confirmed that Colorado River cutthroat trout were spawning in and recruiting to the headwaters of Poose Creek.

Of course, we can’t rigorously measure the percentage increase in cutthroat abundance above the fishway because the native salmonid was absent from the long-term monitoring site in 2012. Yet, even without the numbers, we might all recognize the indicator of success.Colorado River cutthroat trout make their way to spawning grounds. Brian Hodge/Trout Unlimited

In the end, our findings at Poose Creek offered support of theory:If we do our part to remove migration obstacles from rivers and streams, the fish will take care of the rest. The benefits could be immeasurable.

Brian Hodge is the Northwest Colorado Director for Trout Unlimited’s Western Water and Habitat program.

Flint River Bass Club November Lanier Tournament

Last Sunday the Flint River Bass Club fished our November tournament at Lake Lanier.  Eight of us cast for eight hours to land 13 14-inch keeper spots weighing about 20 pounds.  There were no limits and three people zeroed.

Chuck Croft won with four weighing 7.57 pounds and had big fish with a 3.38-pound spot.  Don Gober placed second with two at 4.61 pounds, my two weighing 2.90 pounds was third and Dan Phillips had one weighing 2.71 pounds for fourth.

The wind made it tough to fish like I wanted, but I tried a variety of types of places, lures and methods.  The two I caught hit a jig and pig in about 15 feet of water, one on rocks and one in a brush pile.  I was frustrated all day watching fish follow my bait on my Garmin Panoptix but not hit it.

Tournaments like this make me feel like I do not know what I am doing. There was a high school tournament the same time we fished, and
I was told it took 17 pounds to win it and 16 pounds to place second.  It seems high school kids are much better fishermen than I am!

Restoration Brings Salmon, Anglers Back to California’s Clear Creek

A male Chinook salmon, with red coloration, strikes another male Chinook on Clear Creek in Redding, California, during spawning season in October. Credit: Brandon Honig/USFWS By Brandon Honig, USF&W

Clear Creek has been transformed multiple times in the past two centuries, but the transformation of the past few decades was designed to last. Ravaged first by gold-seekers and then by gravel-miners, the Sacramento River tributary is today a haven for fish and people alike.“You get to see big male salmon chasing each other away from females and see females digging redds, or nests. It’s exciting,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Charlie Chamberlain. “It’s something a lot of people would not expect to see in California except on National Geographic.”Local fishermen search for steelhead in Clear Creek, where restoration has created diverse conditions and habitats for fish. Credit: Brandon Honig/USFWS

Thirty years ago, it wasn’t something you’d see in Clear Creek either. There was little water flowing, and Saeltzer Dam closed off more than 11 miles of potential habitat for sensitive species like Central Valley steelhead and spring-run Chinook salmon.

The Bureau of Land Management, however, acquired most of the Lower Clear Creek channel bottom in a series of deals in the 1990s. At the time, the creek was mainly known as an out-of-the-way place for illegal trash dumping and suspicious activity.

“Some smart people at BLM understood Clear Creek’s potential for restoration, and they got a good deal on it because it was an industrial wasteland,” said biologist Derek Rupert, who oversaw the final phase of the project for the Bureau of Reclamation. “They made some good choices, so now the public owns the majority of this land.”

Planning a partnership
In 1992, Congress passed a massive fish and wildlife restoration program for California, the Central Valley Project Improvement Act. Among other measures, it singled out Clear Creek for an overhaul to be funded jointly with the state.

The planning process involved a large group of landowners, stakeholders, consultants and agency experts, which delivered a multi-pronged approach. The plan would reconfigure part of the creek channel, raise the water level, open up areas for fish habitat and increase the stream’s complexity and food production. 

“My hat’s really off to those people who were involved in the late 1990s,” said Tricia Bratcher, a habitat restoration coordinator for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, who joined the Clear Creek Technical Team in 2001. “They really put in some good thought on what restoration should look like, how it would function and the goals associated with all of that.”

Before the work began, she said, Clear Creek looked “trashed.” There were pits and piles of dredger tailings everywhere, and the water was shallow and warm, with virtually no riparian vegetation. Reports of people lurking there also kept locals away.

To clear the way for the restoration program, the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office teamed with the state and BLM rangers to tighten security and clean up Clear Creek. As the restoration work progressed, residents saw trails, restrooms and parking lots installed.

“Now when we go out there, there are families utilizing the area, swimming with kids, fishing, mountain biking, hiking with dogs,” Chamberlain said. “That greenway vision BLM had is being realized.”

A food-based explosion
Restoration began by increasing water flows through Reclamation’s Whiskeytown Dam, then removing the privately-owned Saeltzer Dam. Those steps brought fish to Clear Creek in the thousands, but the stream was nothing like its former self.Workers plug a ditch dug by gravel-miners last century and redirect its water into a new channel on Clear Creek’s original path. Credit: Brandon Honig/USFWS

“Miners basically dug a ditch here along the valley and diverted the creek into it so they would have room for gravel extraction,” Chamberlain said of one part of the restoration area. “They took a creek that used to have this dynamism to it and serve a lot of ecological functions, then dumped it into a little chute where it had very little ecological function and no dynamism.

”Creeks are naturally complex. They change speed and direction, pull in branches and move sediment. That action creates gravel bars, riffles and side channels, which foster plant and insect growth.

The channel the gravel-miners dug, on the other hand, was like a swiftly moving canal that only eroded downward. It didn’t change over time, and it didn’t create much habitat.

The restoration plan called for filling in the miners’ ditch and restoring the creek’s original path. It also required lowering the floodplain to create longer-lasting habitats and nourishment for rearing fish.

“If you change the shape of the creek so it spreads out and trickles into the floodplain or side channels, you get extra-slow areas where you’ve wet new surfaces, and those floodplains generate a lot of fish food and grow vegetation,” Chamberlain said. “You get a food-based explosion.”

Workers have placed downed trees and more than 180,000 tons of gravel in Clear Creek since the 1990s to help create habitat. Salmon spawning habitat was the original focus, but the work has created diverse conditions that benefit fish in multiple life stages. The latest phase focused on juvenile salmon, but will also provide homes for beavers, song sparrows and pond turtles.

“For juvenile fish, woody debris provides refuges from predators and spots to hold and wait for food to float, swim or fly by,” said Matt Brown, who managed the Fish and Wildlife Service’s program on Clear Creek from 1995-2017. “There will also be areas for adult fish to hang out and rest before they spawn and other areas with good spawning habitat.”

A long-term commitment
The 2.2-mile Lower Clear Creek Floodway Rehabilitation Project took more than two decades to complete. Along the way, the multi-agency Technical Team overcame challenge after challenge, culminating in completion of the final stage in October.

“I’m proud of the work that came before me and the perseverance they showed,” said Chamberlain, who has worked on the project since 2015. “People aren’t always resilient enough to insist that, ‘there’s a great opportunity here,’ even when the naysayers can’t see it. A vision was implemented here, and it’s working.”A Chinook salmon swims in Clear Creek during spawning season in October. Restoration work that began in the 1990s has turned Clear Creek into a salmon-producing hotspot. Credit: Brandon Honig/USFWS

In addition to the Service, Reclamation and the state, the project received significant contributions from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries, the National Park Service, California Department of Water Resources, the Yurok Tribe and a variety of local organizations including the Western Shasta Resource Conservation District.

The experience often felt like a marriage, Bratcher said.

“Sometimes it drives you crazy, but you love the place, so you work through the problems and will be stronger for it,” she said. “We’ve had some really good people, some really knowledgeable people, who have continued to stick it out and really love Clear Creek.”Also like a marriage, she said, the commitment to Clear Creek should be eternal.“I’d hate for people to say, ‘We’re done on Clear Creek,’” Bratcher said. “Any time you implement a change, it disrupts the patterns and you have a responsibility. You are beholden to watch over it and be a steward.”Creighton Smith of Redding tries to pull a steelhead out of Clear Creek in October. Wild steelhead must be released unharmed when caught in California. Credit: Brandon Honig/USFWS

Record Lake Champlain Lake Trout a Testament to Successful Sea Lamprey Control

The jumbo trout had no sea lamprey scarring despite a long life in a lake once heavily infested–lamprey control efforts have clearly been effective.By John Hall, Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department
from The Fishing Wire

The Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department recently certified a record fish entry for a 19.36-pound lake trout caught in Lake Champlain in August. Department officials say this demonstrates the positive impact long-term sea lamprey control efforts are having on the lake’s quality fishing opportunities.

Angler Jeffery Sanford, of South Burlington was fishing alone the day he jigged up the 36.5-inch lake trout from over 100-feet of water.

“I just got my first boat this year, and it was my first time out alone,” recounted Sanford. “It hit on my first cast of the day. Once I netted it and got it in the boat I was astounded at its size and lack of any lamprey scars or wounds.”

Sanford said he wanted to release the lake trout alive but was unable to revive the fish, so he brought it in to be weighed officially as part of Lake Champlain International’s Basin Derby, and he also entered it into the Fish and Wildlife Department’s record fish program. The fish currently sits in first place for the derby’s lake trout category.

According to department fisheries biologist Shawn Good, who oversees the Vermont State Record Fish Program, Sanford’s catch is a reason for celebration.

“Jeff’s fish is the largest lake trout from Lake Champlain entered in the Record Fish Program since the department started keeping fish records in 1969,” said Good.

“There have been much larger lake trout caught in other Vermont waters, but this Champlain fish is a big deal.”

According to Good, it is a direct result of good lake trout habitat in Lake Champlain and ongoing sea lamprey control efforts.

In Lake Champlain, nuisance sea lamprey prey on lake trout, landlocked Atlantic salmon, brown trout, steelhead, walleye, lake sturgeon, and other fish species. High attack rates and sea lamprey wounds can result in lower growth, smaller size, shortened life expectancy, and decreased fishing opportunities.

To counter this, the Lake Champlain Fish and Wildlife Management Cooperative, comprised of the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, initiated an experimental sea lamprey control program in 1990. A long-term control program that began in 2002 continues today.

Sanford’s observation of no sea lamprey wounds on his record catch is significant, says Good.

“We’re seeing lower overall wounding rates on many of these fish, and the fact that anglers are catching older, larger lake trout, salmon, and other fish species is proof that continued long-term sea lamprey control is working, and resulting in improved fishing opportunities on Champlain.”

Elizabeth Ehlers, Tournament Director of the LCI Fishing Derbies, says the annual Father’s Day Derby and year-long Basin Derby have seen bigger and bigger fish in recent years.

“There’s been an upward trend in size for many of the species entered in our derbies. Over the past 10 years, we have seen several record-breaking fish in cold, cool and warm water species divisions.”

“While our anglers are incredibly dedicated and skilled, these catches are not just by chance or luck. The Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department has worked tirelessly to protect and restore the Lake Champlain fishery. Their management efforts – including lamprey treatment, control of invasive species, and fish stocking – have benefited all who enjoy this resource.

The impact of their efforts extends far beyond the angling community, as Lake Champlain anglers contribute over $200 million dollars annually to local economies.”

Jeff Sanford says he’s grateful for the fishery that continues to improve on Lake Champlain.

“It was an amazing fish and quite the battle. I’m extremely excited for next season! We have such an incredible fishery here.”

Sanford says he credits the openness of other anglers in the lake’s fishing community with helping him catch the lake trout and becoming a better angler.

“I just learned how to jig for lake trout this year from friends like Will Nolan, Ryan Carpentier and Jamie Shiekone. They provided the mentorship and tutelage I needed to learn a new technique. Everyone’s so open and friendly, and willing to help you learn something new.”

Good says that is heartening to hear.

“To maintain and grow participation in the sport we all love, it takes a village. I’ve always encouraged avid anglers to take newcomers out and show them the ropes. It can be challenging for a new angler to learn techniques that will help them be successful. I hope more anglers step up and become mentors to friends, family, even strangers.”

This fall, the Lake Champlain Fish and Wildlife Management Cooperative is conducting sea lamprey control treatments on four Vermont rivers containing spawning populations of sea lamprey. The Winooski River was treated on October 2, the LaPlatte River will be treated on October 14 or 15, and control treatments will take place on the Lamoille and Missisquoi rivers within the next month.

To learn more about Lake Champlain’s sea lamprey control program, visit:

Join Ducks, Unlimited for Conservation

When I bought my dream property, 75 acres of woods with two small ponds and a tiny field in east Spalding County, I wanted to manage it for wildlife and timber.  The Georgia Forestry Commission worked with me to set up a conservation plan that I have tried to follow.

    On the two small ponds I erected wood duck nest and put floating goose nests in the water.  I loved watching a pair of geese use the nest, protect it from other geese and lay their eggs.  It was a pretty sight to see the geese with their young paddling around until the young ones could leave.

    Going to the ponds early in the morning or late in the afternoon I could hear the whistle of wood ducks as they flew in or out.  One spring I saw a hen with about a dozen ducklings following her around on a pond and one fall a small flock of hooded mergansers took up residence and they were very pretty, too.  Although I have never fired a shot at a duck, I enjoy them on my ponds and try to give them a good place to live and nest.

    Conserving my land and water is multiplied millions of times all over North America by Ducks, Unlimited.  This conservation group works tirelessly to conserve wetlands and increase wildlife and bird habitat.  And many individual members, like me, work to do a small part in addition to the big projects the organization does.

    The Ducks, Unlimited motto “Filling the skies with waterfowl today, tomorrow and forever” has been its purpose since its founding in 1937. Started by a small group of hunters, Ducks, Unlimited has grown to about 650,000 members in the US, 120,000 in Canada and 5000 in Mexico. 

    As of January 1, 2020, Ducks, Unlimited has conserved more than six million acres in the US, more than six million acres in Canada and two million in Mexico. Total acreage in North America is almost 15 million acres. 

    In addition, there is about 175 million acres that have been conserved through legislation and agreements that Ducks, Unlimited has had an influence on being enacted through working with governments and individuals.  That is a tremendous amount of land to be brought under conservation to protect the future of waterfowl and wildlife.

    Much of the efforts of Ducks, Unlimited is in Canada and the northern Midwest where they either buy land and protect it or work with state wildlife departments and individuals to conserve wetlands where ducks nest and raise their young.

    But Ducks, Unlimited works in every state in the
US, including here in Georgia.  And the projects do not just help ducks. Every kind of wildlife and birds use the land and are able to increase their numbers.

    Here in our state, more than 27,000 acres have been conserved.  Georgia is important because we are part of the Atlantic Flyway and waterfowl that nest in the prairies, Great Lakes and eastern Canada winter here.

    Our coastal marshes and wetlands are important habitat for diving ducks like lesser scaup and paddle ducks like green wing teal and wigeon.  Inland, wetlands and beaver ponds on major rivers host thousands of mallards and wood ducks.  Lakes host ring-neck ducks, canvasbacks and wood ducks. Private ponds and wetlands like mine help those species, too.

    From the Rhett’s Island Unit on the Altamaha Wildlife Management Area on the coast to the Blanton
Creek Wildlife Management Area near us, projects all over our state offer hunting, public recreation like birding and hiking, water quality improvement and natural habitat improvement.

    Most of the work in Georgia consists of water control structures, like small dams to increase the amount of water in an area to dikes with pumps where fields can be drained, planted with food crops then flooded when they are mature to provide food for waterfowl.

    Many of the projects done by Ducks, Unlimited are in conjunction with state agencies like the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and private companies like Georgia Power. Ducks, Unlimited members volunteer to do manual labor to help with these projects, too.

    Many organizations spent a high percentage of the money they raise for “administration,” with only a small amount going to the efforts for which it was raised. Ducks, Unlimited dedicates 82 percent of their raised money to projects and only four percent to administration.  About 14 percent goes to fundraising.

    Membership fees and donations, and donations from businesses, are a big part of their income, but much of the money comes from local events.  Banquets held all over Georgia offer a good meal, good fellowship and a chance to bid on items offered for auction.  These events are a lot of fun and provide a large part of Ducks, Unlimited income.

    Locally, the Pike County Chapter event was honored with President’s Roll of Honor award for the amount of money raised.  You can go to to see the many events scheduled around Georgia during November and early December. Many more will be held next year.  For a fun night out, plan to attend one.

    Help this great organization by joining – right now you get a nice sweatshirt type fleece jacket just for paying membership dues. And if you have land, manage it for waterfowl and wildlife.  Help out Ducks, Unlimited, the Georgia Department of Wildlife, businesses and other individuals by doing your part for the future of our natural environment.