Missouri Trout Hunter

Blog for sharing thoughts, beliefs and opinions on issues affecting the world of trout fishing in the Ozarks.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Proposal for Changes in Management Practices for the Meramec Trout Waters

My apologies to all for such a long layoff from blogging activity. Most of you know I own Ozark Taxidermy in Rolla. Well, this past winter included a number of complications to my family's life (i.e. deaths, weddings, ice storms, illness, etc.), putting me 10 weeks behind on taxidermy work right off the bat. I must also admit that I didn't do a great job at estimating how long it would take me to complete incoming mounts, so I'm even FURTHER behind on work than I was at the outset. This, of course, has taken away from the Trout Hunter side of the business. I'm slowly but surely gaining ground though, so Trout Hunters take heart. You won't be neglected indefinitely!

This entry will be a simple one, however it is quite wordy. Some time ago I posted an article discussing the complaints that I have routinely heard from many of you concerning the fishing at Maramec Spring Park and the Meramec River Red Ribbon Area. With a plan of submitting a proposal for changes to the MDC, I roughly outlined the complaints and asked for feedback from you. A number of you responded on the blog, and even more of you sent me emails -- bashful, I suppose. So, I have developed a proposal for management changes to both fisheries based on what I've heard from you, and based on what I've seen during my time fishing the park and guiding clients on the river. Please look over this proposal and forward your comments by clicking the COMMENTS link. Once I've developed the final proposal after reviewing your comments to this initial draft, it will be posted in petition form to allow you to sign your name. The proposal petition will then be forwarded to the Conservation Commission for review and response.



Proposals for management and/or regulation changes for the Maramec/Meramec Trout Fisheries

Problem #1:
The rock dam at the lowest boundary of Maramec Spring Park adversely affects fisherman success and satisfaction. Maramec Spring Park fishermen note that they catch almost no brown trout, while Meramec River fishermen note that rainbow trout populations are much lower in certain sections of the river than what can be found in other Red and Blue Ribbon waters around the state. As a comparison, the Current River starts in Montauk State Park, which receives daily stocking of rainbow trout. The park waters flow into the Blue Ribbon Area which receives seasonal stockings of brown trout. The Blue Ribbon Area then flows into the White Ribbon Area which is stocked with rainbow trout every 3-4 weeks. This management practice allows for free migration of both rainbow and brown trout between all three trout management areas, and it insures that fishermen who frequent any of the three trout management areas will have good opportunities at catching both rainbow trout and brown trout, including a large number of trophy-sized fish protected from harvest in the Blue Ribbon Area. The Meramec River and Maramec Spring Park do not enjoy this benefit. The rainbow trout found in the Meramec River Red Ribbon Area are all escapees from the park. In order for these fish to escape, the park waters need to flood, washing trout over the rock dam at the bottom of the park. At best, this happens only a few times each year, usually in the springtime.

Proposed solutions to problem #1:
(1) Enact a White Ribbon Trout Area at the lower reaches of the Meramec River near the Scott's Ford access. For example, MDC could provide six monthly stockings (i.e. March through May and October through December) of 500 rainbow trout using the Maramec Spring Park hatchery stock. This will encourage improved rainbow trout populations throughout the length of the trout management area, rather than the current situation where lower reaches are often devoid of trout during certain times of the year. It would also discourage poaching in the Red Ribbon area. This proposal would likely work best in conjunction with proposal #2, below.

(2) Stock brown trout within the park boundaries. When the hatchery trucks from Shepherd of the Hills Hatchery come to the area to stock the Red Ribbon Area each spring, a portion of the brown trout they would normally stock in the River could be added to the Maramec Spring hatchery stock. The number of brown trout added to the park stock should be approximately the same number as the rainbows removed for stocking in the proposed white ribbon section at Scott's Ford.

(3) Another option would be to remove the rock dam from the bottom of Maramec Spring Park to allow for the free migration of rainbow and brown trout into and out of the park.



Problem #2
The series of rock dams within the park boundaries concentrates the fish and therefore concentrates the fishermen. The addition of 1/2-ton boulders in certain sections of the park has helped with offering additional habitat and spreads the fish population out somewhat. Even so, there are still just ten or so primary fishing spots. This frustrates visiting fishermen, as they generally must choose to fish in a crowd or fish in sections of the spring branch with very few fish.

Proposed solution to problem #2
An unrealistic option is to revert the spring branch to a normal flow. This would entail removing the rock dams and the concrete walkways in order to allow a natural river to re-emerge, with riffles transitioning into pools, and then runs, and then back into riffles. This would likely be prohibitively expensive, and there is every liklihood, of course, that the James Foundation would not allow it. However, the idea has merit. By removing the artificial channelization and restructuring the rock dam materials to narrow the river's flow in certain areas, a hydrologist should be able to tailor the spring branch's flow to mimic a more wild trout stream with fish spread throughout the length of the park's waters. Even though this entire proposal will certainly not be enacted, any action in this direction would help the situation. A few boulders here and there have not changed the fishery in any substantial fashion, but we do see that there are pockets of fish now associated with those boulders. Continuing in this fashion to narrow the channel into notable riffles, for example, would continue to yield positive results. Likewise, altering the rock dam construction to incorporate chutes would allow for better trout migration between river sections would also help solve this problem.



Problem #3
It is difficult for bait fishermen, lure fishermen and fly fishermen to fish the same waters without conflict. Socially, park fishermen are generally gracious to one another. However, the fact that these three styles of fishing are not compatible leads to a higher than normal amount of crossed lines, increased frustration, and decreased fisherman satisfaction.

Proposed solutions for problem #3
(1) Institute zone fishing similar to the other three trout parks. Admittedly, this would be difficult due to the issue addressed in Problem #2, above. With such a limited number of fishing spots, you would likely receive more complaints from fishermen who are no longer allowed to use their preferred fishing method at the one primary spot they like to fish.

(2) Institute a catch and release fly fishing area from the spring pool dam to the bridge. This area is home to a large population of trout stocked by the MDC for harvesting purposes, but these fish have migrated out of the fishing area and are now protected. The water in this area is the best looking fly fishing water available in the park, and most of it is only accessible by wading. This would eliminate potential conflict between the needs of the fishermen and the needs of pedestrians viewing the hatchery and spring pool. If this area were opened to catch and release fly fishing, a majority of fly fishermen would spend at least some of their time there, easing the pressure on the rest of the spring branch and decreasing conflict with bait and lure fishermen. This would also make it possible to set aside the rest of the park for a bait fishing zone and a lure fishing zone. To be clear, the spring pool area would continue to be off limits to fishing, since it would not be safe for fishermen to be casting from the sidewalk among pedestrians.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Tom Ream (tsream@artsci.wustl.edu said...

Dear Walt,

Thank you very much for taking the time to organize an effort to make beneficial changes to the Meramec trout fisheries. I hope some good can come out of everyone’s effort. I am anxious to get MDC feedback.
I would like to provide my thoughts on your changes and propose some suggestions in management practices for the Meramec River Red Ribbon Trout Area and Maramec Spring Park. I agree that appropriate changes to Maramec Spring Park and the red ribbon area are needed. My only regret is that I do not have more research at hand to fully support my arguments. Some of this may be because there are not many studies done by MDC to utilize, or these studies generally are not made available to the public. Therefore…

I am very interested in having accessibility to any and all research that the fisheries biologists accumulate.
I find very few links to studies on fish survival, management practices, etc. on the MDC website. Is there a website/forum where this data can be publicly accessible and analyzed? If not, is this a portion of the MDC website that could be enhanced? I understand their desire to keep data from ongoing studies “private”, but it would be interesting to follow electroshock surveys, temperature readings at certain sites from year to year, for example. We would all be better informed with such data to make justified, reasonable and acceptable changes to the management practices.

If not already—Prohibit gigging in trophy trout waters (or any special management areas).
While most trout probably have high-tailed it to the nearest hiding spot when a gigger comes close, more than a few have probably been taken by this method, either by accident or on purpose. There is plenty of water on the Meramec that sustains healthy populations of suckers (I’ve heard they make up half the fish biomass in the river upper reaches.)

Consider stocking rainbows in the Meramec Red Ribbon Trout Area.
I would like to see more rainbows in the red ribbon area. Small, incremental stockings or one large stocking may supplement the existing populations of fish, and perhaps raise the average number of trout/mile. (Current River seems to avg. 300-600 trout/mile since 1990 (MDC data)—don’t know about Meramec.)
Try fall stockings of browns and/or rainbows based on data collected by Dave Mayers, MDC fisheries biologist, who suggests water and temperature levels may be more stable this time of year to allow trout to become established.
I think supplementing the red ribbon area is more appealing than creating a new white ribbon area (which would overlap the black bass special management area). In addition, would water temperatures get too high in summer below Scott’s Ford to a point where the fish would be too stressed?

Stock brown trout in Maramec Spring Park.
I would like to see this. Bennett and Roaring River have similar programs where fish are stocked at least once in the year. This has promise since it would provide more diverse fishing opportunities for anglers.
As you mentioned, this could be done most efficiently by stocking the park in the spring, when the river is stocked. Costs should be minimal.

Erect more lunker structures and place more boulders in shallower areas of the park to encourage new fish structure/holes.
I am in favor of this—the new rocks in the stream up near the bridge are wonderful. There are several other places in the park that could use them. The two streams converging near the top of the park before the long, slow section of deep water is a good place for a few boulders, for example. If this becomes a reality we can always discuss more specific locations and priorities.

There are a couple spots in the park that may lend themselves nicely to the establishment of lunker structures. The ones I am referring to are similar to those installed within the last couple years at Montauk’s catch and release area. These would provide extra cover, shade and perhaps depth to areas that need it, while being conducive to the growth of large fish. The one downside to this, besides cost, is that in certain areas (such as between rock dams), these structures may lure in too many trout in the summer and it will make fishing harder. Therefore, it may be easier to focus on implementing these structures in the shallower, upstream portions of the park.

I am not in favor the dechannelizing the stream as you put it. I think that is too big of a project and too much money has been invested in making the park as it is.

I’m not sure how the water levels might change if any of the rocks from the waterfalls in the park are removed. They do provide pools and faster sections above and below—removing a section of them may not be much better. (But I’m no hydrologist!) If experts agree that removing part of the rock dams at waterfalls will not significantly alter the course of the water flow but still allow migration, I would be in favor.

Establish zones within the park.
I am not in favor of traditional zoning like Bennett Springs. There is not enough water to make everyone happy.
I am in favor of creating a fly-fishing only area in the upstream section of the park. Particularly, this would include the faster water sections where the new boulders have been placed and upstream from there, give or take a bit. Hopefully this will not upset bait fishermen—though they tend to be least concentrated in this part of the park. I am in favor of opening the section under the bridge and upstream of the bridge. However, I would favor prohibiting angling in any part of the spring pools open or any areas above ground level (that is, no fishing in waterfalls).

Thanks,

Tom Ream

7:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tom,

All good ideas. Thanks for the comments.

To clarify, the proposed white ribbon section would not be downstream from Scott's Ford. Instead, the white ribbon section would be cut from the bottom of the red ribbon section and would extend upstream from the Scott's Ford bridge for, lets say, a mile or so. Even so, there have been plenty of big rainbows caught downstream from Scott's Ford -- even in the heat of the summer.

Regarding electro-shock surveys, MDC doesn't generly publish this information, but they also don't keep it secret -- you just need to track down the correct biologist with access to the numbers you want. The most recent numbers I have are from 2001 and represent 354 brown trout per mile, but only 68 rainbow trout per mile. The study also reported that 15% of the brown trout were larger than 15", but only 5% of the rainbows were larger than 15". These numbers are obviously no longer accurate. The new red ribbon regulations have certainly helped the fishery a great deal, and rainbow trout now account for about 90% of the trout caught in the river. Also, the average-sized fish we've been catching over the last 2 years has been in the 14-inch catagory with about 10% of the fish going 18" or better. Even so, the dam at the bottom of the park does put the Meramec at a disadvantage to other rivers by suppressing the rainbow trout migratory behaviors.

Thanks again.

8:58 AM  
Blogger TC Jennings said...

I totaly agree with your proposal. Maramac has the best trout of any trout park but there is no denying that montauk is a better park due to its free flowing water and free roaming trout. The trout at Maramac are like deer in high fenced game ranches, there is only so far and so many places they can go unless there is a hole in the fence or in this instance a flood.

2:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good analogy!

8:22 PM  

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