Resolving to fish more often in 2019

Now that the Christmas buying season is over, all the businesses that had relentlessly filled my email inbox with an unending array of bargains and specials for my shopping pleasure have now shifted to sending heaps of new offers to help me start the new year.

One of those, sent by a company I’ve bought some fly-tying material from, encouraged me start the year by resolving to fish more in 2019. I’ve never been much for New Year’s resolutions, mostly because the few I’ve adopted always seem to dissolve unfulfilled after a couple of weeks. Of course, I almost always make a personal vow each winter pledging to fish more in the coming year than I did in the past one. That sentiment is certainly true going into 2019.

I can’t ever recall spending so few days on the water as was the case throughout 2018. That dreary situation was not due to any lack of effort or desire on my part. Last year, I probably bought more new tackle, lures and other gear (including a new fishing kayak) than I have in a long time, so I was more than willing and ready to go fishing.

But unprecedented amounts of rainfall thoroughly washed out (literally) most fishing opportunities from late spring right through the fall. And that discouraging trend continues. On Dec. 22, the Juniata River peaked at 14 nearly feet on the Mapleton USGS stream gage, which is incredibly high considering the average flow for this time of year should be around 3.5 to 4 feet. A friend and I had tentatively planned to fish for trout somewhere last Friday, but with most streams already running bank full, the heavy rains Thursday night quashed any hope of that.

I know I share every dedicated angler’s earnest desire that 2019 will bring more normal rainfall patterns and water conditions. Many fishermen I’ve talked to have expressed some concern regarding how the continual high flows and frequent floods might have affected the fisheries in the rivers and streams of our region. That will be difficult to gauge before flows return to something approaching “normal,” but the fish themselves are remarkably resilient and well adapted to such environmental extremes.

While adult fish seem more than capable of dealing with high water and floods, those conditions tend to be detrimental to spawning success and young of the year. Given that significant high-water events occurred in late spring during the spawning period for smallmouth bass as well as during the fall spawning time for wild trout, it is likely that the overall spawning success for those species could have been adversely affected. If that is the case, below average numbers for the 2018 year-class might be a factor in the fishing a few years down the road.

The most significant effects anglers are likely to notice from all the flooding of 2018 will be changes to the waterways they fish, which are the habitat the fish depend on for survival. Water is one of the most irresistible forces of nature with unbridled power to move and shape the terrain over, around and through it flows. The Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls are just two awesome examples of what water can do given the time and opportunity. On a smaller scale, water constantly reshapes and manipulates the streams and rivers we fish. Sometimes, these transformations occur subtly, almost imperceptibly, over many years. On other occasions, they are dramatic and immediate.

On one of the few trips I made to a favorite little freestone streams, I found two small logjams were gone. Both of these structures had produced numerous nice trout for many years, and I always enjoyed the special fishing challenge they presented.

Just as nature had created them years earlier, however, they were just as easily whisked away by ice and high water last winter. Although the forces of nature reworked some favored fishing spots, they also shaped some new ones. That will undoubtedly be true again this season, and I await the challenge of exploring them.

In some situations, high water and flood conditions can scour the stream bottom resulting in adverse effects to the ecosystem. When the forces of the current are sufficient to move around the gravel and rocks of the stream bottom, new channels are often created, In that process, however, many of the tiny inhabitants of the stream bottom are uprooted or destroyed.

Countless species of nymphs, larvae, crayfish and other invertebrates are vital links in the food chain of every waterway, from the tiniest brook to the largest river. When something weakens or devastates such a link, it can have a profound effect on all the other links in the chain. Determining to what extent are local streams and rivers and the many creatures that inhabit them were affected by the high waters and floods of 2018 will be difficult to gauge in the near term. Just being able to get back on those waters to fish regularly again will be a blessing.