Outdoor Writers Association of America
Northwest Outdoor Writers Association
This Week's View

by Deanna Lee Birkholm

April 27th, 1998

Waters of Life

When you see a cascading stream, roaring river or lazy creek, do you wonder where it comes from? If it has fish in it? Or if you are fishing, has it occurred to you why one stream is more productive than another? TV pieces on pollution, and illegal timber harvest are common. How can those things affect the streams?

All flowing water falls under two general designations, freestone and spring. Freestone waters receive most of their flow from snow melt, or run off from rain. Spring creeks, (called limestoners in the eastern United States and some parts of Europe) derive their flow from springs. Sometimes there are several small springs involved. Other springs are free flowing up out of the ground - and produce very large flows.

Freestone waters fluctuate in the amount of water they hold, as well as the chemical content of the water. Some streams dry up during summer. Others are discolored and devoid of plant life. The run off may contain large amounts of fertilizer, (bad stuff for streams,) or other contaminates.

The AuSable River in upper Michigan is a famous spring-fed river. Water draining through cedar swamps produces tea-colored, clear water, rich in the minerals which plant life, and insects need. The result is lots of trout. In fact, this river is designated Blue Ribbon trout water. Flowing to Lake Huron, the river also provides excellent canoeing. Michigan has protected the river from degradation from pollution, preserving the resource for recreational users.

Rivers like the AuSable are the exception. Many freestone rivers have been damaged to the point plant life and the insects cannot survive. Without resident insects the trout cannot survive. Murky water cuts down the amount of sunshine reaching the plants. Photosynthesis is critical for the plant to exist. Even slight discoloration can substantially lower a plants ability to thrive. No plants, no bugs, no fish.

Spring creeks are not rare. Just few in number. Those which have been preserved and maintained are treasures. Even with a clean, constant water supply, banks must be safeguarded. Livestock contamination prevented. Water flows managed to produce the best spawning conditions. If the temperature of the water is wrong, (too warm) the plants and fish won't survive. Ideal water temperature is fifty-four degrees F. If the degree of alkalinity is too low the water is acidic and won't support life.

This all should give you an idea of how the combined characteristics of clarity, flow and alkalinity make a spring creek that has all the right stuff a much sought after habitat for trout. Those same characteristics produce insects that hatch year round. Resident fish who thrive. And happy fly fishers.

All of our waters, streams, rivers, ponds and lakes are important...and not just to us as anglers. Without clean, fresh water our world crashes. As the founders of Trout Unlimited said nearly thirty years ago, "If fish can't live it in, you can't drink it." ~ LadyFisher

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