As I watched the kids enjoying the fishing and related events at the third annual Huck Finn Day at Stony Run Park on Oct. 30, I said to myself, "Well, Trout Unlimited has done it again."
Trout Unlimited is a national organization of over 150,000 members with the mission "To conserve, protect and restore North America's coldwater fisheries and their watersheds."
Conservation is TU's main work. It was in this spirit TU invited me and half-dozen other journalists to tour Pennsylvania sites where fracking (hydraulic fracturing) for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale is in operation.
What we learned in Pennsylvania applies to most fracking sites for gas and oil nationally. The TU presenters took a neutral stance but were concerned with the impact on area trout streams. Likewise, TU member Nick Weber served on the Governor's Fracking Advisory Commission that met for almost three years to draft recommendations regarding fracking in Maryland.
But TU has another major emphasis, promoting trout fishing with special emphasis on introducing trout fishing to youth, women anglers and veterans.
Both activities can be seen dramatically in action in the 800-member Maryland TU Chapter #167, known as MDTU. Working with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, MDTU played a major role in developing the Gunpowder River into the top 100 trout stream it is today. But they are also active in lesser known waters including Little Gunpowder Falls Jones Falls and Long Green Run.
Some of their youth programs include Trout in the Classroom, where trout are raised from eggs to fingerlings in schools then released to local streams as the students also study stream ecology. City Catch, begun in 1970, gives dozens of city youngsters a mentored day of fishing in MDTU-stocked Dead Run in Leakin Park. Huck Finn Day held in Stony Run Park is the latest youth program.
MDTU volunteers procured and stocked 400 trout in a roughly half-mile stretch of the urban gem of a park and provided all equipment. MDTU also set up a canopy, and offered lessons and demonstrations in fly casting, Tenkara presentation and fly tying and held a raffle for tackle prizes.
Everything was free.
Despite the perfect weather, turnout was surprisingly light, about two dozen boys and girls and almost as many parents and grandparents. MDTU president, Norma Haynes, proudly noted females were in the majority for the first time at this event.
Each participant was set up with rigged light spinning tackle and PowerBait to try for the trout. Since Stony Run is only about 12 feet wide with a canopy of trees along both banks created when the stream was restored about eight years ago, most casts were simple flips and pokes, and sometimes a child just dropped the baited hook into the water.
There was a lot more fishing than catching this day, but the kids enjoyed themselves. The trout were spooky, so participants kept trying different baits and places. Trout-holding pools were obvious and fish were usually visible. Probably the most successful bait was red PowerBait, but beadhead nymphs and even a piece of mango from a lunch snack drew strikes. (Raisins didn't work.)
The young anglers tried two basic methods to elicit strikes. The first was to put the bait near the trout then let it lie there for the trout to find or let it drift naturally through a pool along bottom. The second was to put the bait or fly right in front of the trout and try to goad the fish into striking by bobbing the bait or fly. The latter method seemed to draw more strikes, but the strikes and rejections were so lightning quick the anglers usually couldn't set the hook in time.
In mid-afternoon, Tom Gamper, who organized the event went to assist the young fishermen. He took them to a long pool where he had stocked 40 rainbow trout two days before. Again success was sparse. That's because trout were sparse and spooky. We searched the pool, under overhanging rocks and floating leaves and could only see three trout.
Tom concluded someone had netted out most of the trout the night before. It was a disappointing development. The idea was the fish were for the kids this day; they were allowed to take two trout each. After that Stony Run was open to any licensed fishermen. The trout would have survived in the stream until late next spring when waters became too warm and could have provided fishing opportunities for anyone, especially children and the elderly.
"I guess someone is having a big fish fry," Tom said sadly.
We can only hope this piracy doesn't reoccur and spoil future MDTU programs for children and other fishermen.
For more information on MDTU and their many programs and activities, see maryland.tu.org.
Heroes on the Water
Heroes on the Water is a volunteer-run non-profit organization whose purpose is "To help warriors relax, rehabilitate and reintegrate through kayak fishing and the outdoors." See heroesonthewater.org/rhc_source/maryland-chapter for more information.
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