State of Our Fish Update from Jeff Kelble

Thursday, May 26, 2011 - 2:55pm

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.