State of Our Fish Update from Jeff Kelble

Thursday, May 26, 2011 - 3:55pm

Fish NestShenandoah Riverkeeper Jeff Kelbe, who first made a name for himself throughout the region as an accomplished angler and fishing guide, recently sent a "State-of-our-Fish" update out to fellow anglers and friends throughout the watershed. Specifics are deleted to protect the fish, during this spawn season.  Threats to these smallmouth nests still exist, including weather, anglers and pollution, but the letter shows why your on-going support allows us to do the work we know and love best and that it is making a difference in the health of the Shenandoah.

Dear Fisherman,

I floated the lower mid South Fork Shenandoah yesterday in about six hours in my raft.  I wasn't fishing but did fish some to handle some fish. I believe we lost the primary spawn this year, that's the bad news.

We had a window of suitable level, clarity and temperature during xxxxxxxx, EXACTLY the time that the smallmouth have their primary spawn on this stretch of river (subsequently they defend their nests until xxxxxxxx depending on the year).  Then you'll remember we got a several foot rise on xxxxxxxx which If I am right about the window, was wiped out.

Most years I find 35-40 smallmouth nests on this float during the spawn.  This time I counted exactly 68. So it looks like they're trying to take advantage of a second suitable period now that temps and levels are perfect.  This also means there are a LOT of mature males.  Most of the nests I observed only had a moderate number of eggs or had no eggs yet, telling me we were right at the beginning of this round of spawning.  I'm guessing that a week and a half ago the water got just about right and the majority of eggs were laid, only to be wiped out by the rise.  So if things stay stable for another ten days they could possibly pull out a decent reproduction given the high number of mature fish that are tending cleaned out nests, but I think our chances for a banner year have passed.  I did not see one single fry in the river from the period two weeks ago and no fry had hatched in the nests yet.

I caught about 25 fish, literally only fishing five spots behind ledges with current flowing over them adjacent to the spawning areas.  Fish were 13-19.5" but I did not catch a single fish which looked like it had a belly full of ripe roe, but quite a few had very red vents which means they had either already laid a round of eggs or were about to lay, but the majority of eggs were used....further confirming that we may have lost a round of eggs a couple weeks ago.

There were no lesions whatsoever and there were NO dead fish that I saw.  This is the great news.  Plus there are as many or more mature fish in this section of river than I've seen since 2002.

Learn more about Jeff in a recent profile that appeared in the Bay Journal.

Fish on the South Fork

Good news about the health of the fish and signs of a second spawn! The timing of all the rain has been tough on the fish.

I know that catching fish wasn't the focus, but anglers in your readership want to know what was working for you on your float.



Hey Jeff,
Sorry to leave out the good details.

That day I used a 3/8 oz hand tied spider jig with brown body and brown round rubber legs. I used a zoom medium plastic chunk in olive with blue sparkle.

I like a jig and pig because I can maneuver it in enough ways that it covers most of the fish moods/reactions.

But the day I wrote about, they were pretty much eating all of the retrieves. For the first time this year, half the fish I caught at the jig as it was falling - indicative of a very aggressive bite. Shoot, fast reeling following several errant casts brought strikes on the surface as the lure skid along the surface. Right day right place.

Thanks for asking, feel free to email me any time if you think I can offer any advice.

Fish on the South Fork

Thanks for the input. I'll give it a try. I've mostly been a top water fisherman, I think because I grew up fly fishing out West and thrive on the action, so its good to branch out and try other techniques.

Keep up the good work keeping the river healthy!


thanks for share us this info

thanks for share us this info .
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What else we can do to clean

What else we can do to clean the waters?