For those involved with the effort that led to the adoption of the Water Releases Legislation, Part 671 of the Environmental Conservation Law (ECL), none of us knew, back in 1976, the dilemma that …
For those involved with the effort that led to the adoption of the Water Releases Legislation, Part 671 of the Environmental Conservation Law (ECL), none of us knew, back in 1976, the dilemma that the release of large volumes of cold water would create for the West Branch of the Delaware River. As the word got out and the trout fishing improved, the use of guide boats increased. Over the years, more and more licensed guides began to use the West Branch as a source of income.
Today, as readers can see from the photo, there are wade fishermen and guide boats in close proximity to one another. I don’t know how many guides and their boats are using the West Branch, but it is not a small number. For example, a friend checked the boat launch sites on August 6 and found nine boat trailers. That was mid-week in August when the fishing is a bit slow. Imagine the pressure during peak season—say, during the Hendrickson hatch?
From an ethical standpoint, fly fishing for trout has always been viewed as a quiet, peaceful and contemplative sport: a way to get away from the day-to-day rigors of the stress associated with work and life in general. Fly fishers would look forward to a few hours on the water, fly rod in hand, to lose themselves in the magic of a river. It provided a time for anglers to be completely absorbed with fishing, freeing his or her mind from other perhaps more pressing issues.
Sadly, these days, fly fishing has become a competitive sport, where catching trout has gone from a peaceful pastime to a succeed-at-all-cost game. It has degenerated to the degree that the ethics and decorum ingrained and practiced by anglers for many, many years, has devolved to the point where fly fishers will wade right into a pool occupied by another and begin casting, sometimes to the same rising trout! The guides, their clients and boats are sometimes worse. On the West Branch, it is not uncommon for guides to park or maneuver their boats where ever they find trout rising. If that means putting clients close to wade fishermen, so be it.
This issue has become so problematic in some areas that states like Montana have regulated the use of guide boats to every other day on certain rivers. On some of those rivers, that not only includes guide boats but guided walking trips, too. The rivers under restriction are the West Fork of the Bitterroot, Beaver Head and Big Hole. The Madison has been closed to all guide boat fishing for some time, but anglers are allowed to use boats to reach fishing locations. I understand that the use of boats for that purpose is now under review and could change fairly soon; in the future, it may be that no boats will be allowed on the Madison for fishing, period!
The problem on the West Branch is compounded because it is the only river in the Catskills’s, other than the main stem Delaware River, that maintains a high enough flow to permit the use of guide boats. All the other rivers, including the other tailwaters, do not provide sufficient flow for guide boats to navigate shallow, riffle areas. The problem is further compounded because the West Branch supports a superb population of very sizable wild rainbow and brown trout along with excellent fly hatches. In addition, in May of 2109, Cinema Libre released “Land of Little Rivers,” a film produced to show both the West Branch as a fabulous trout fishery and, at the same time, emphasize some of the problems facing the river. Unfortunately, the film probably caused an increase in fishing and boating pressure on the West Branch. For those interested, the film is streaming on Amazon.
So, what’s the solution? Frankly, I’m not sure there is one. I’ve been in contact with the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) only to learn that New York State currently has no law or regulations that govern the use of guide boats on its waterways. Even if the DEC did have an appropriate law, one has to wonder whether it would have the courage like Montana to implement and enforce it?
In the meantime, the guide boats ply the river, the wade anglers get frustrated and, sometimes, tempers flair. In other words, the trout get hammered every day and the beat goes on.
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