When fishing catch and release or delayed harvest water, most of us are quick to conlude that Poachers have been at work when we get skunked. After all, that's a lot easier on the ego.... "Dang poachers - must have been using bait or hand grenades and cleaned 'em all out." I've said this, you've probably said it as well. Turns our that neither bait nor hand grenades are the most effective fish catchers, and humans don't even enter the equation.
I ran across this article on fish predation from the USDA. Who's the most effective poacher?
There's even a formula to determine the rate of "poaching":
Average number of birds seen per hour
Bird feeding rate (fish taken per hour)
Hours birds are present per day
Days birds are present per year
Fish consumed per year
Given that birds are on the job far longer than we are on a stream, this is a real issue. According to the article, the key predators here in the Northeast include:
Great Blue Heron (2.2 trout per hour)
- Black Crowned Heron (1.2 trout per hour)
- Green Backed Heron (3 trout per hour)
- Common Grackle (3 trout per hour)
- Mallard (4 fish per hour)
- Belted Kingfisher (2 fish per hour)
- Osprey (2 fish per hour)
Add in the land based predators - bears, otters, etc and the fish kill is huge!
Add in the drought and the situation is even worse.
The drought has caused plenty of skinny water around the northeast. The reduced water level limits the ability of fish to hide from predators as a result of limited cover or reduced water depth. Cover that used to be available from the water lapping up to trees or rising to overhanging banks may now be high and dry. Deep, dark pools protected fish from the birds that have a limited reach below the surface - many of those are much shallower now.
If you think back to your last trip to the stream, you probably observed long, long stretches of very shallow water. You may have discovered that your "go to" pools are now "long gone" as the water flattened out.
So, what's the bottom line on this? Nothing we can do about it. We can't get rid of the birds. We just have to live with it and hope that spring brings plenty of rain to get the flows back to where they need to be so the fish have the protection they need. We also need an extra heavy stocking program to replenish the resource - hopefully - many of the newly released fish can survive beyond the first summer and help with the regrowth of the sport.
But the worst thing is that we probably will not be as lucky next year as there will be fewer fish to catch. For those of us, like myself, who depend on luck more so than skill, this is a real issue.