Fly-fishing: Flexible Flow Management Plan not perfect, but trout are thriving

There’s a new report out on trout fishing on the Delaware River. Its conclusion is not a big surpris

There’s a new report out on trout fishing on the Delaware River. Its conclusion is not a big surprise, but it includes a lot of interesting information.

The Department of Environmental Conservation evaluated the FFMP — the Flexible Flow Management Plan, the rules which govern how much water is let out of dams into the east and west branches of the Delaware and Neversink rivers.

The FFMP has been controversial among Delaware fishery advocates, especially when it allows New York City to hoard water in its reservoirs while the ecosystems of the rivers below bake in early spring or late summer heat waves. The DEC report acknowledged that the rules aren’t as “flexible” as their name suggests and recommended improvements, though it notes that New York City and the surrounding states have also been responsive on a number of occasions when weather imperiled the rivers.

The DEC also notes the rules don’t provide enough water to keep the Delaware below the confluence of its branches cool enough to be great trout water — but then again, neither did the old rules before the FFMP came into effect in October 2007. Only the large “rivermaster releases” needed to meet minimum flow requirements downriver bring enough cool reservoir water down into the main stem — and they don’t always happen.

Still, “despite its inability to maintain suitable summer water temperatures in the upper Delaware River, FFMP was very successful in maintaining suitable summer water temperatures in the West Branch, upper East Branch and Neversink River tailwaters,” the report said. “Average daily summer water temperatures rarely exceeded 70 [degrees] and were mostly in the mid-to-upper 60 [range] or lower.”

A few items of interest from the report:

• While we think of the Delaware tailwaters as havens for wild trout, the East Branch below Pepacton Reservoir gets a substantial number of hatchery fish every year — 1,500 1-year-olds and 800 2-year-olds.

Even so, nearly 70 percent of trout caught were wild, according to a DEC angler diary program from 2002 through 2007. More than half were longer than 12 inches, and 27 percent were 15 or longer.

• The West Branch, on the other hand, was last stocked in 1994, although some stockies in tributary Oquaga Creek probably sneak into the river. The West Branch was flogged by anglers for 63,972 hours in 1999. The upper four miles received twice as much fishing pressure as the lower 12.

Two-thirds of West Branch trout were 12 inches plus, and 37 percent were 15 or longer. The fishing is overwhelmingly catch-and-release: the “creel rate” was three hundredths of a trout per hour.

• Where the two branches of the Delaware meet, the East Branch side of the river was found to be as much as 25 degrees warmer than the West Branch side. The West Branch is almost entirely cold water released from Cannonsville Reservoir. The East Branch gets a smaller average release from Pepacton, and halfway to the main stem, it’s joined by the undammed Beaverkill, which often warms into the upper 70-degree range in the summer.

• Sixty-one percent of the trout caught in the main stem of the Delaware were rainbows during the 2002-2007 angler diary program. An average of 64 percent were longer than 12 inches, and fish larger than 18 inches — that’s 18, not 15 — made up almost 20 percent of the catch.

Because the water is warmer, the DEC estimates only five to 10 pounds of trout per acre, compared with 41 pounds per acre up in the cold West Branch. But there are all kinds of other fish, including smallmouth bass, walleye, shad and occasionally striped bass.

• The FFMP may be ineffective at keeping the main steam cool, but it succeeds on the West Branch. Consider the number of days when the average daily water temperature at Hale Eddy was above 60 degrees: three in 2008, three in 2009 and none in 2010.

However, things vary from year to year. At Stilesville, at the very top of the West Branch, there were only two days in all of 2008 where the average daily water temper­ature was over 50 degrees. But in 2009, there were 69 such days, and in 2010, there were 28.

In the coming months, we can expect pressure on the powers that be to fine-tune flow regulations. It’s always been complicated — competing demands for water, unpred­ictability of weather, multiple governments and constituencies. But the bottom line is, we have about 70 miles of blue-ribbon trout water within a few hours’ drive.

Morgan Lyle’s commentary appears regularly in The Daily Gazette. Reach him at [email protected]

Categories: Sports

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