Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Fish kill update

Hundreds of dead fish reported in Potomac River
High temperatures likely cause of dead catfish this month

by Cody Calamaio | Staff Writer

Hundreds of fish carcasses found in the Potomac River since June 13 might have been a macabre sight, but researchers say the mortalities are not the result of toxic water conditions; it is likely the high temperatures.

The several hundred Channel Catfish found dead between the Harpers Ferry, W.Va., area of the Shenandoah River and Great Falls on the Potomac River likely succumbed to a bacterial disease brought on by a rapid increase in water temperature, low oxygen levels and natural environmental stresses at end of their spawning season, said Chris Luckett, natural resources planner with the Maryland Department of the Environment.

"These sorts of things do happen. It doesn't mean the end is near." Luckett said. "But it is big enough to be worth looking into."

The Potomac River saw water temperatures rise rapidly from 70 degrees to higher than 80 degrees last week, said John Mullican, large river specialist with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Fish can usually survive temperatures in the 80s later in the summer after their spawning season ends.

While other water bodies in the state see more than 70 fish kills per year, incidents are rare in the non-tidal Potomac watershed, encompassing rivers and tributaries upstream of Great Falls, Luckett said.

More than 50 percent of fish kills statewide occur when the water gets warmer between May and July, he said.

Since 2000 there have been 1,265 fish kills reported in Maryland, 15 of which were in Montgomery County, according to the Maryland Department of the Environment. The largest fish kill in the non-tidal Potomac watershed was 11,072 mortalities in a tributary of Catoctin Creek caused by a manure spill in 2008.

Although water temperature and stress likely are the cause of the recent fish kill, researchers also are looking into other factors.

Living catfish examined Thursday near Harpers Ferry showed some erosion on their gills, but few had significant lesions, said Vicki Blazer, fish pathologist with the U.S. Geological Survey.

"What does seam to be occurring is that many of the gills were eroded and didn't look good," Blazer said. "That suggests there something going on in the water that is affecting the gills."

Blazer examined living fish from the river using electrofishing methods to temporarily stun the fish and bring them to the surface. Blazer has been examining fish in the Potomac for years and is leading a study on intersex smallmouth bass.

"In general it is just poor water quality that's causing a lot of these problems," said Ed Merrifield, president of Potomac Riverkeeper Inc., an environmental organization which aims to stop water pollution. "If you don't care abut anything else you can care about your drinking water and the cost it takes to remove algae from the water."

The Potomac River has seen an increase in algae blooms during the past few years, Merrifield said. Excess nutrients from things such as fertilizer lead to the blooms which cause fish mortalities by sucking oxygen out of the water. Decaying algae smells bad and is difficult and costly to remove from drinking water, he said.

"For those who don't spend time on the water, the smell is terrible. It shows that we're damaging our valuable resource," Merrifield said. "We need to make some changes if we don't expect to see these things in the future."

The recent fish kill is relatively small, and appears to have abated as of Thursday, Mullican said. He said less than 500 fish died since the kill began in mid-June, based off his observations and numbers reported by kayakers and other river visitors.

There have been 64 reported fish kills in the non-tidal Potomac or its tributaries since 2000, many of which have numbered in the thousands, according to the Maryland Department of the Environment.

"Just like people, fish occasionally get sick," Mullican said.

The best way for researchers to determine the cause of a fish kill is to get to the area immediately, Luckett said. After 24 hours, it is harder to reconstruct what happened as the fish begin to decompose.

Fish kills can be reported to the Maryland Department of the Environment using its 24-hour hotline, 877-224-7229.

If people find dead fish in the river, they shouldn't touch them, Mullican said. He said people should take note of what type of fish they found, how many there were, and what part of the rive they were in, and call the hotline as soon as possible.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Help Stop the Spread of Unwanted Species in the Deep Creek Watershed

1. Report sightings to Friends of Deep Creek Lake: or call 301-873-1519.

2. Reduce nutrient runoff on your property. Report other pollution entering tributaries and the lake.

3. Check your boat to be sure you are not bringing in or distributing any unwanted species in the lake.

Here are a list of species to look out for.


Virile Crayfish:

A red-shelled crayfish. Much larger and more aggressive than native species. They will reduce diversity and abundance of native aquatic plants, insect larvae, mussels, snails, frogs, turtles, and native crayfish. They will become the dominant crayfish.
If seen: Remove and destroy (or steam and eat).

Eurasian Watermilfoil:

This plant has slender stems and feathery leaves. It forms a dense canopy that shades out native aquatic plants, reduces fish habitat, and reduces recreational use. Reproducing by fragmentation, it is easily spread by boats, trailers, or bait buckets.

If seen: Pull whole plant with roots from lake bottom. Bag and destroy.


This plant has oval floating leaves. Growth is caused by high nutrient levels and runoff from pastures, lawns, and septic systems. Massive beds support algal blooms, stunt beneficial submerged aquatic vegetation, create dead zones, nasty odor and causes fish kills.

If seen: Pull or rake plants before blooming in mid to late July. Remove dead plants from beaches in late summer.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

fishkill reporting

State asks for timely reporting after Potomac River fish kill | View Clip 06/22/2010 Baltimore Sun - Online

As temperatures soar, state officials are asking the public to report fish kills as quickly as possible to help pinpoint the source of the problem.

Just last week, anglers and kayakers on the Potomac River reported seeing dead fish floating on the Potomac River near Great Falls.

A Fairfax County, Va., park worker sounded an Internet alarm on June 19, saying that over the past several weeks, he had noticed many dead floating fish, primarily channel and bullhead catfish, but also some smallmouth bass in the 12-inch to 17-inch range.

At about the same time, kayakers notified the Maryland Department of Natural Resources about the kill.

Warmer temperatures can stress fish or promote conditions that lead to massive kills. Last year at this time, anglers reported 600 dead bass along with 247 catfish and other species over a six-mile stretch of the river in Charles County.

DNR biologist John Mullican said staff from the Maryland Department of the Environment checked the river from Great Falls to Point of Rocks and saw a few carcasses in the lower sections. The fish, mostly channel catfish and carp, had died several days earlier, which made it impossible for biologists to determine the cause of death, Mullican said.

Mullican said the best chance of getting to the root of the problem is for experts to observe the behavior of fish and collect samples while the kill is in progress.

The quickest way to reach the experts is to first call the MDE Fish Kill Hotline at 877-224-7229, and then contact the DNR Inland Fisheries office at 301-898-5443. The MDE has personnel on call at all times to respond to hotline reports.


Monday, June 21, 2010

A conversation with Capt. Chris Chavis

Capt. Chris Chavis owns Finstalker charters. He has been guiding fly and light tackle anglers for more than 15 years in the waters in and around Charleston, South Carolina.

Over the years, I have had the pleasure of fishing with him while staying down at Kiawah Island and we recently caught up on this wonderful fishery.

Chris, tell me about the fishing opportunities in the Charleston area. Walk us through the seasons in the Lowcountry.

Fall and winter in the Lowcountry can be an exciting and very productive time of year for both fly and conventional anglers.

As the water begins to cool it triggers most fish into the feeding mode. It’s time to fatten up for the long winter. Typically starting in the mid to late October, anglers can expect hot action on Redfish and Sea Trout, with the occasional flounder.

How do you fish it?

Conventional anglers can approach these fish with both live and artificial baits. Floating shrimp, mullet, or mud minnows around oyster bars with Equalizer floats produce many strikes.

Artificial baits used for these redfish and sea trout include a number of both hard and soft plastics. I use Zara Spook Jr's, 1/4 oz. grub heads with a variety of colors of Gulp Shrimp and Gulp jerk shads fished on flutter hooks mostly, but have caught these fish on bass baits such as Buzz Baits and Spinner Baits.

What about on the fly?

Fly anglers can choose a variety of patterns to target these fish. Clousers, decievers, shrimp, and crab patterns are the typical flies, but I have caught these fish on a combination of other flies including bonefish patterns.

Air temperatures vary from day to day in the fall and winter, so dress in layers.

What about chasing big fish?

Targeting big fish in the fall is best done in the surf with conventional tackle, once the fall cooling starts this begins the offshore movement of the larger Redfish topping 50 pounds.

Surf anglers can fish a combination of baits in the surf such as live and cut mullet, cracked blue crab, and menhaden on fishfinder rigs equipped with 3-4 oz. pyramid sinker and a 6/0 octopus circle hook.

Now tell about the spring and summer?

Spring can be a little tough in the beginning, as the schools of baitfish begin to make their presence. After the long winter, these fish begin to change their feeding habits and will feed heavily under the full moon, creating tough times during the daylight hours around those days.

You can expect to target these fish more with live bait presentations and less of the artificials. As summer gets closer, the fishing only gets better, although the year round Redfish, Sea Trout, and Flounder fishery is still going on, most anglers look forward to the arrival of the migrating species such as Tarpon, Spanish Mackerel, Ladyfish, Cobia, King Mackerel, Jacks, Sharks, and the return of those giant Redfish as they come back inshore from the winter spawn.

All of these migrating species can be taken on live, cut, or artificial baits.

Anglers can expect warm conditions; temperatures typically reach 80 degrees in the spring and can approach 100 degrees in the summer, so dress appropriately. Afternoon rainstorms can also be expected, so plan your trip early to avoid the heat and possibility of getting wet.

During the dog days of summer, Tarpon are a regularly targeted in the inlets and around the beaches. Fishing conventional methods with live or dead bait can produce some big fish topping the 100 pound mark.

What about off-shore?

Depending on your choice of bottom fishing or trolling:

For the angler choosing to bottom fish he can expect to target Snapper, Grouper, Sea Bass, Triggerfish, and Sheepshead; and can expect this year round. Certain seasonal restrictions apply to Groupers and Snappers.

For the angler choosing to troll, he can expect Dolphin (mahi-mahi), Tuna, Wahoo, and a combination of Billfish including Blue Marlin, White Marlin, and Sailfish. This fishery is typically hot from April Through the end of October.

What is your favorite time of year to fly fish?

My favorite time to fish the Charleston is usually the fall and winter, the water typically clears and the fish school up on the flats, allowing you to have shots on schools of redfish up to 200+ fish. Also the sea trout fishing during the fall is outstanding, some days produce from 50-100 fish.

If you are just getting into salt water fly fishing, or transitioning for freshwater to saltwater, how do recommend an angler approach this?

When an angler decides to transition into saltwater fly fishing, I recommend practicing his/her cast with heavier rods than normal, preferably a 9 weight. This will allow them to get used to the heavier and stiffer action of rods usually encountered in the salt environment.

After acquiring the heavier rod, get a few lessons on double hauling, a necessity in saltwater fly fishing. The double haul will increase line speed which will increase distance of each cast.

Once the double haul is mastered, practice on accuracy of each cast. Try laying a child’s swim ring 50, 60, and 70 feet away and practice laying the cast close to the ring. If you have a target to shoot for, you will be surprised at how fast your accuracy will increase.

I know you are very good at working with anglers when they are on your boat, what advice do you try to give them about being prepared on the water?

Preparation for your trip on the water should include several things. The most important thing I have on myself on all trips is a good pair of polarized sun glasses, if you can't see your target in the water; you are wasting your time

A few other things you want to make sure you have are sunscreen, hat, and clothing to match the time of year. It’s better to have too much and not need it than not enough when you do, and plenty of water to drink.

What are some of the mistakes you most often see?

Some mistakes often made by anglers begin with tailing loops on their presentation. This can be corrected by generating more line speed.

Another issue is line-management. Most people lose touch with their line on their final cast. Rather than just letting the fly line go on your final cast, you should allow the line to slide through a hole made by touching your thumb to your index finger, this allows you to quickly begin your strip, and puts you in touch with your fly quicker.

Line control is also a factor, once you are stripping your fly back in, make sure your line is not wrapped around your leg, a cleat, or some other obstruction. Controlling your line will make that next cast flawless and not come up short when you see that tailing redfish.

Chris, thanks again for taking the time to talk with us and we’ll look forward to seeing you on the water. Chris can be reached at or at 843-509-9772.

river time

Spent most of the weekend in or along the river. The Potomac is in pretty good shape. Worked with my TH rod above Fletcher and landed several cats on a Clouser. Also gave a couple of single handed lessons.

Find some time and get out there.