“It’s a sign,” said Chubby Damron, showing off a photo of a brookie he caught 5 minutes earlier on Virginia’s Garth Run. Chubby, president of TU’s Thomas Jefferson Chapter, had snuck away from our stream survey crew to “sample” a restored section of Garth Run further upstream.
A tributary of Virginia’s famed Rapidan River, Garth Run was decimated by an epic flood in 1995 that extirpated its native brook trout population. “Epic” is no understatement — the storm dropped a staggering 21 inches of rain over a 16-hour period. Major landslides ensued. Roads and bridges washed out. Trapped residents had to be evacuated by helicopter.
Thirteen years later, biologists from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) tested Garth Run’s suitability for reintroduction of brook trout. They transplanted brook trout from the nearby Conway River into three sections of Garth, tagged some of them, and returned in subsequent years to see how many survived and reproduced. They also took some basic habitat measurements.
They found that brook trout survived and reproduced in two of the three sections, and that temperatures and stream substrate were generally favorable to brook trout throughout the study area. But they found no brook trout in the middle section, where pool habitat — critical refugia for trout in the heat of summer — was significantly lacking. This section of stream was completely blown out during the 1995 storm. Its original meandering channel had been abandoned, and in its place a new straight-line channel was established. The new channel was close to a gravel road, with little vegetation between.
Thanks to the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture, VDGIF restored a sizable chunk of that middle section in 2011 by reconnecting it to its former channel and installing several log and rock structures to deepen it, provide cover for brook trout, and minimize bank erosion. It appears to be working. Chubby’s recent success certainly suggests it has, and recent VDGIF electrofishing surveys have found adult brook trout in the restored section.
Now, with help from a TU Embrace a Stream grant, the remainder of Garth’s restoration commenced last week. More rock and log structures were installed on the downstream half of the middle section. In the fall, TJTU will plant a wide swath of streamside land with native trees and shrubs. They’ll also help VDGIF electrofish the stream and monitor the performance of the new structures.
Prior to 1995, Garth Run was stocked with rainbow trout and received heavy fishing pressure. Brook trout had a precarious existence. Now, after a long hiatus and thanks to the efforts of a great group of partners, brookies are back in Garth. This time they’re not sharing it with their non-native relatives (VDGIF now manages Garth as a wild catch-and-release fishery). Let’s hope it stays that way.
Kevin Anderson is Trout Unlimited’s Chesapeake Bay Land Protection Coordinator and is based in TU’s national office in Arlington, Va.