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

by Deanna Lee Birkholm

The Ladyfisher

July 27th, 1998

Quality Water

What is 'quality water'? In some states it is known as "Blue Ribbon," Montana uses that one - and rightly so, since they have so much fine fly fishing water that it puts many states to absolute shame.

And Montana, like many other states which had fine fishing water, almost lost there's. When JC and I first moved to Montana in the early 1970's, the daily possession limit was 10 fish a day. Eventually that too changed, and some streams are catch and release, while others have more reasonable limits.

Start of 'Holy Water'

All stocking of Montana rivers and streams stopped. So the fishery is totally relaint on natural production. De-watering of streams has substantially decreased

Those who have lived in regions where the fishermen follow the stocking tank trucks know the results on the native fish - if there are any left. As well as the quality of the fisheries.

Besides intelligent regulations for sustaining the fishery, there are other things that go into producing quality water.

Establishing seasons in one of those things. Many states have now opened trout fishing to be year round. And if there are no spawning fish to be disturbed, and all fish are "put-and-take" I suppose there is an arguement for that.

Note Stream Banks

I personally disagree with the practice. Even if the trout aren't spawning, other fish are. It also sends the wrong message. That man is so important, and his need to fish whenever and however he chooses, that states MUST provide a open season to do that.

Prominent Signage Helps!

Horse pucky! Maybe we should be teaching anglers who ought to know better how to respect nature, not turn it into a disney experience.

Some states have mandated shore-line protection zones. It can vary, but usually not less than 30 feet from the waters edge, a green belt must be retained. There will be exceptions to that, from pre-existing buildings. Over the years, as building are replaced they will have to abide by the green belts as well. But in the long view, the "feeling" of wilderness where the green belts are in effect is remarkable.

Green Belt Left, Lawn Right

Providing adequate places for launching or landing personal watercraft devices or canoes is an important part of protecting fragile rivers and stream banks. These 'landings' really do a dual job for multi-purpose use. The streambanks are protected in a manner also giving access.

Keystone Landing By the way, on the particular water shown in these photos, there is also a committee that reviews any newly downed trees into the river, and makes the decision as to whether they may be removed or stay as "woody debris" for fish habitate. Just a small part of the story.

Tastefully Constructed

Here many miles downstream at the end of the famous catch and release water, the "Holy Water" is a canoe livery. Another noteable thing that can be done to protect the stream is to severly restrict cement and rock docks and bank bulkheading. The photo at the right an example of how tastefully the restrictions can be a canoe livery on Michigan's Au Sable river, just at the end of the "Holy Water."

Some 30 years ago the "Holy Water" did not exist. This river was in big trouble. Fully mature brook trout reproducing at six inches. Canoes out of control. Banks demolished, major polution from failed septic systems. More recently, a series of fires threatened the whole watershed.

Concerned anglers, along with some major input from Trout Unlimited, lobbied the state legislature first for reverse size limits, (catch and keep the small fish, release the larger ones,) flies only water, and then for total catch and release on the section of the Au Sable now known as the Holy Water. In time, other rivers had at least sections of fly only water.

For the most part it has worked very well. There are still canoes on the river, most however during times that are not of real concern to the fly angler. I personally would prefer if where were no recreational canoes on the mainsteam of the Au Sable at all. But then, how can I possibly justify floating along in a traditional Au Sable John Boat, fishing my evening away.

So there has to be some kind of middle ground. And a 'keeper' of the river. There have been a couple 'keepers' of the river over the years. None of them paid of course, a couple that I knew are in their graves.

While JC and I were somewhat involved in the recent Trout Bums "do" in Grayling which raised substantial funds for restoration of the Au Sable and Manistee rivers, there is another organization who is also watching the river very carefully. It is the Anglers of the Au Sable.

The President of this group is Rusty Gates, also know in that group as the "Inspirator of the Anglers." Rusty lives on the river, and is ever vigilant, persevering, resolute, alert, and practical.

Rusty Gates

Rusty and his brother Jim have the Gates Lodge on the river. They make their living from the river - just as their father did before. They have a vested interest in the Au Sable.

Entrance to Gates Lodge

But it is more than that.

There is in all those who are Anglers of the Au Sable the pure, unabashed love for the river. For quality water. For the places where fine trout are found.

Quality water perhaps is a state of mind. It can be as real as the people who are willing to work and fight to get or maintain the waters.

The Au Sable is not the only so-called 'quality water' in this country. It does happen to be a success story of major importance. One others can use to pattern the restoration of their waters. One to point a finger at and say, "See, they did it!"

It may be a very small thing for me to say Thank You! Thanks to all who fought the fight, and for those still in the trenches fighting the battles as they rear their ugly heads. Thanks for hard work, the physical work, the phone calls, letters - for doing the everyday slogging stuff it takes to be keepers of the river. And keepers of the faith.

~Deanna Birkholm

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