Dedicated fly fishermen have grown accustomed to having excellent trout water at their disposal, with fishing restricted to artificial lures and little or no killing of trout allowed. But a backlash to these special regulations is growing.
In Virginia, the "fish-for-fun" area in Russell County on Big Cedar Creek has been posted and fish-stocking operations for this summer were quashed.
Pennsylvania, which has led the East in establishing "fish-for-fun" waters, has declared a moratorium on establishing new restricted areas until the staff can determine long-range goals in fishery management.
Make no mistake about it, "trophy-only" waters are a controversial topic.
Many bait fishermen feel the rules give unwarranted privileges to fly fishermen. They believe all streams should be governed by the same regulations - no restrictions on bait or lures and large creel limits.
It may be more democratic that way, but when you're dealing with a natural resource that can be depleted, democracy isn't necessarily the best answer. If quality public trout fishing is to continue, the fish-for-fun concept must come out of its current scrutiny with renewed vigor. It's becoming increasingly obvious that prime trout fishing in the East is synonymous with specially regulated waters.
Stocked trout are simply too gullible to survive the heavy fishing pressure Eastern streams receive today, and wild trout cannot keep pace with the heavy toll taken when anglers are allowed to take five or six fish a day.
Though many anglers are coming to realize this and the ethic of releasing trout is spreading to waters without special regulations, laws are needed to fully protect th fisheries. This, ultimately, is the purpose of no-kill regulations: to protect the trout, yet allow sport fishermen to enjoy catching them.
Fortunately, all mid-Atlantic states have at least a few trout streams with special regulations. It doesn't take a trained bologist to see the difference between the fishing quality of these waters and other streams where creeling trout is allowed.
Many an angler has spent a joyful summer day plucking brooks, browns, and rainbows from the flies - only Big Hunting Creek, north of Frederick - slipping the fly gently out of the trout's mouth and sliding him back into the stream unharmed. On a comparable stream without special regulations, the better part of the day will be spent simply looking for a precious few trout to cast to, instead of fishing.
Quality fishing also is found on the nearby Patuxent River, where only artificial lures with single hook are permitted and one trout a day over 15 inches may be creeled. Deer Creek offers identical artificials - only rules, and the Savage River in Garrett County is flies - only water.
With the loss of Big Cedar Creek, Virginia is down to one stream on which no trout at all may be killed. That it the Rapidan River, where native brook trout thrive under special regulations, growing to 12 and 13 inches. It is not at all uncommon to catch 30 or 40 trout a day on this protected mountain stream.
After a concerted effort from local fly fishermen, the Smith River near Martinsville, Va., came under special regulations last summer. Only artificial lures with single barbless hooks are permitted on a three-mile stretch of this river below Towne Creek and a daily limit of one fish over 12 inches is in effect. The Smithranks as one of the finest trout streams in the Southeast, with reproducing populations of rainbows and browns.
West Virginia has a number of specially regulated waters, including Edwards Run in Hampshire County, where fishing with flies only is permitted and no fish may be creeled. On Shaver's FOrk barbless artificial lures are permitted, but only one fish over 18 inches may be taken each day.
While Pennsylvania has put in abeyance establishment of any new protected waters, the state boasts dozens of "fish-for-fun" and fly-only areas.
The fish-for-fun streams, which allow one trout over 20 inches to becreeled a day, are clearly the superior waters. Within one-day trip range lie five of the best in the state: Antietam Creek near Waynesboro. Falling Springs Run at Chambersburg, Big Springs near Newville, the Yellow Breeches at Boiling Springs, and the storied Letort Spring Run at Carlisle.Fishing is open year-round on these waters and dedicated anglers find an abundance of heavy-shouldered trout to cast their flies to.
No one is suggesting that all or even most trout waters should be governed by special regulations. But if quality trout fishing is to be maintained on a public basis, it's clear that some specially restricted streams are needed. Whether the fish-for-fun concept thrives will depend largely on the comments of license-holding anglers.