Time to give the Battenkill a break

Posted
As I write this, the Battenkill is flowing at a paltry 151 cubic feet per second against a norm of 242 CFS. The record low for this date is 110 CFS, dating back to 1949. We are in the midst of a crisis on the Battenkill and it is time to give the river a break.

Added to the low flow challenges are elevated water temperatures that are exceeding 70 degrees during the warmest parts of the day. For people looking to beat the heat that may not seem so bad, but for the trout, this means survival is their only concern. By fishing and floating the river we are putting unnecessary and dangerous stress on a trout population that is literally gasping for oxygen.

Most anglers are aware of the dangers of low flow and high water temperatures and refrain from angling during periods such as this. It is a perfect time to explore still waters that offer sport for bass, pike, carp and numerous other game fish. There is even a movement within the angling community to educate anglers to avoid fishing when water temperatures exceed 70 degrees (www.70degreepledge.org).

Unfortunately, floaters are not generally aware of these dangers. Education is the best way to address situations such as we are in right now. The sad fact is that floating the river at this time will quite literally kill fish.

Why are low flows and warm temperatures a problem? Trout are a cold-water species stressed by warm water because that water is unable to carry a sufficient amount of oxygen for the fish to survive without stress. During such periods, wild trout in particular will seek out cold-water refuges in the form of springs, deep holes, tributary mouths and by entering tributaries themselves.

During periods of sufficient flow, this is not a major problem. Trout can find their critical cold water refuges without too much interference from drifters. At the present time, unfortunately, trout and people are intersecting during the most stressful times of day for trout.

Forward-looking states such as Montana protect their resources by diligently monitoring water flows and temperatures and if flows become too low and / or water temperatures become too great then rivers are shut down until conditions improve, not just for license paying anglers but also pleasure seeking floaters.

What needs to happen? Until river flows increase to at least 240 CFS and daytime water temperatures stabilize at 70 degrees or below, then anglers should not be fishing and floaters should refrain from being on the river. There are many opportunities for anglers to find sport elsewhere and there are plenty of places for those looking to cool off from the heat to find recreation in a different setting.

Both Vermont and New York resource managers have to come to terms with the overuse of the river - we have reached a tipping point where not only anglers but also other river users must adhere to rules that are beneficial to the natural resources of the river. Anglers have long been comfortable with making sacrifices for the betterment of their sport. So too floaters must learn that entry into the Battenkill has to be restricted to those times when environmental conditions do not create a hazard for the fishery.

River users must act responsibly during this critical time and stay off the river until conditions improve. This is an unfortunate circumstance but if we truly love the Battenkill then now is the time to show restraint.

Doug Lyons is a frequent Journal contributor on outdoor topics.

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