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North Fork issue


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A friend of mine who lives on the trout section of the North Fork just sent me a letter that he wrote that he wishes everybody who is interested in the North Fork trout fishery to consider.  I will not post the letter itself, but will somewhat paraphrase it with my own thoughts added.

The North Fork is almost unique in the Midwest and the Ozarks, as it is the largest trout stream with wild, naturally reproducing rainbow trout.  Keep in mind that the last time the North Fork was stocked with rainbows was in 1964, although MDC still stocks brown trout--brown trout have not proven to be able to reproduce anywhere in the Ozarks.  But the rainbows have adapted to streams like the North Fork and a few others.  The others, however, are much smaller.  The North Fork is the only large, floatable stream with a completely self-sustaining rainbow trout fishery.

But the North Fork took a huge hit in 2017, with by far the largest and most destructive flood on record.  The flood basically wiped out most of the trouts' food supply, scoured the river channel, and worst in my opinion, scoured the brush and trees along the banks.  That tree cover kept the river shaded, and kept it cool enough for trout down to Dawt Mill.  I fished the river early in the summer after the flood, and at that time, even before the heat of the summer, the water was warm enough in the last 10 miles or so above Dawt to stress the trout.  I have no idea how hot the water got by August.

There was also another thing that happened in 2017--the Dawt Mill dam was removed.  My friend, and plenty of others, quickly realized that with the removal of the dam, large predatory fish from Norfork Lake now had unimpeded access to the trout section of the river.  They began seeing large numbers of striped bass, hybrids, walleye, and gar in that section of the river.  Since the top of the dam had been about 3 or 4 feet in elevation below the highest flood control pool of Norfork, there had been times in the past when, for short periods, these predators could make it over the dam, but it was a minor and uncommon thing until the dam was removed.

At first, the trout anglers on the North Fork like my friend were concerned that the predators were going to decimate the population of both young and adult trout; they were afraid that big stripers would eat a lot of trout.  Now, they are more concerned that the influx of predators is doing more harm in eating lots and lots of crawdads and other food the trout also eat.

MDC also recognizes that there is a problem.  The trout fishery has yet to recover from 2017--catch rates are still way down.  But the proposed solution suggested by the biologist in charge of the North Fork, Nathan Recktenwald, is to supplement the trout population with the stocking of hatchery trout.  My friend and many others are very opposed to this, since it is very likely that the hatchery trout will really screw up the genetics of the wild trout that have adapted to the river.  

They think there is a better solution.  They want the Dawt Mill dam rebuilt.  The owner of the property is not opposed; in fact, he thinks it's a great idea and would be more of a restoration of the historical site.  Apparently, it could be done without running afoul of the Corps of Engineers.  They are not sure how many permits it would take to do so, but would like MDC to support the idea.  The property owner does not have the money to do it--it would probably cost around $500,000.  But my friend thinks that the money could be raised, and perhaps that MDC would kick in part of the funds.

Now, as to what my thoughts are...first, I'm not sure that the competition for the forage base from those other predators is as significant as my friend does.  I suspect it is having some impact, as is direct predation of trout by stripers and walleye especially.  But I still think that the biggest problem may still be the river being warmer in the summer; it will take a while for the tree cover to grow back.  The warmer water would also be more hospitable to predator fish, allowing them to thrive at the expense of trout.  One thing I would be adamantly opposed to is stocking hatchery trout.  Why change what makes the North Fork unique?

But as for rebuilding the dam, that's a tough question.  It is generally better to remove dams that are barriers to fish migration, not rebuild them.  Is this a big exception?  I don't know.  I certainly have no problem with the idea of rebuilding the dam as an historic structure, and no problem with donations funding it.  But I think MDC really needs to seriously study just what impact the predators are having, compared to the changes to riverside vegetation, both on the trout population itself and the forage base.  If it shows that the trout population is worse off without the dam, then yeah, I'd have no problem with MDC helping fund the rebuild.

There are certainly other examples of the removal of mill dams being both good and bad, or a combination of both.  On my home river, Big River, the gradual deterioration of several mill dams on the lower half of the river has had several impacts.  The biggest was that these dams had been a significant barrier to spotted bass invasion of the upper river, and once they were torn up in floods over the last few decades, the spots had access to the river above them, and are now having a huge impact on smallmouth populations all the way up to Leadwood.  At the same time, however, walleye also can now access the upper half of the river.  Having grown up on the river and fished it for 60 years, I'd never seen a walleye anywhere above Morse Mill, the highest mill dam, until it got pretty much destroyed; I've since caught walleye all the way up to Bonne Terre.

So I don't have a definitive stance on this.  It needs some more study, in my opinion.  But I really mean that it NEEDS more study, serious study, not just ignoring the possible problem or putting the bandaid of stocking hatchery trout on it.

 

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So.....does this make it OK to shoot kayaks?     Just kidding of course (trying to head off someone losing it over this comment made in jest).

You just haven't had them prepared right.....😂  @BilletHeadprobably has a recipe.😁

I'm good with stocking it White Ribbon style, or just allowing it to return to a smallmouth and sucker fishery like it is supposed to be.   It's going to be 30-50 years before the "shade" returns, and

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41 minutes ago, Al Agnew said:

They began seeing large numbers of striped bass, hybrids, walleye, and gar in that section of the river. 

Gee, I wonder where THOSE FISH came from? 🙄

 

41 minutes ago, Al Agnew said:

But I really mean that it NEEDS more study, serious study,

Oh...Well now..... You'll definitely make some friends with that comment.   There's nothing that the MDC loves more than "studying things".    Maybe if they had STUDIED Stripers and Hybrids more before dumping them in Norfork......   we wouldn't have this problem right now.  Would we?   

So.... Missouri has to pay to keep the Arkansas Stripers out.   Lovely! 🤔 Maybe the AGFC will step up and donate to the cause. Ya reckon? 😂

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I'm good with stocking it White Ribbon style, or just allowing it to return to a smallmouth and sucker fishery like it is supposed to be.   It's going to be 30-50 years before the "shade" returns, and who's to say that yet another big flood can't happen within that time frame? 

The Missouri Ozarks is not "Wild Trout country".  Love it for what it truly is, and quit trying to transform it into something else.   

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Stockers will change the genetics of the wild trout? 
Seriously? 
 

Pedator fish? Is there not a population of smallmouth and largemouth there already? 

Tell your buddy there is no overnight fix. He most likely won’t see it again in his life time the way it was. Show him how to tie smallmouth flies. It’s the only quick fix.
 

 

Chief Grey Bear

Living is dangerous to your health

Owner Ozark Fishing Expeditions

Co-Owner, Chief Executive Product Development Team Jerm Werm

Executive Pro Staff Team Agnew

Executive Pro Staff Paul Dallas Productions

Executive Pro Staff Team Heddon, River Division

Chief Primary Consultant Missouri Smallmouth Alliance

Executive Vice President Ronnie Moore Outdoors

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Mother earth is going to take back what is rightfully hers.  Let it be what it is.  Floods happen, why waste all the money and time to recreate something that is unnatural in the first place, only to be possibly destroyed by another flood.

 

-- Jim

If people concentrated on the really important things in life, there'd be a shortage of fishing poles. -- Doug Larson

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2 minutes ago, moguy1973 said:

Mother earth is going to take back what is rightfully hers.  Let it be what it is.  Floods happen, why waste all the money and time to recreate something that is unnatural in the first place, only to be possibly destroyed by another flood.

 

Good point

"Honor is a man's gift to himself" Rob Roy McGregor

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Someone said a long time ago, that they are only disasters because people chose to live there. Sure let's build a major city below sea level on the coast. It will be fine!!! lol

Luck is where preparation meets opportunity...... Or you could just flip a coin???B)

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