I'm going to tell you a sad, unfortunate story. But one that also brought some people together and gave birth to a community...
This past season of 2018 I came to fish and love the lake pictured below. The lake was dammed a century ago and is part of a very active park. In 2011 a beautiful raised Trailway was built to connect the entire circumference of the lake. Local residents can walk, run, ride and relax all around the 160 acre fishery and watch an amazing array of lake wildlife, flora and fauna. Kayak anglers were frequent visitors. Well, used to be anyway.
It's the kind of lake where you can catch fish like this;
The wonderful part of this lake is a very accessible and easily walked bank. A great place to bring kids fishing for panfish and bass. There is also an annual bring a kid fishing day.
But one chilly November day I loaded up the truck with rods, reels and backpack and headed off to my favorite lake for a morning of relaxed fishing.
Imagine how my heart sank when I found this;
The lake, never more than a max of 5 feet deep had been drained down below 2 feet, shallower than that by the end. There were already dead fish laying on bare stone patches. I walked INTO the lake a hundred feet without touching water. I was stunned and grief stricken.
Nobody seemed to know what had happened to this once thriving fishery home to turtles the size of milk crates, big beautiful bass, bluegill and crappie. But some of us demanded answers.
We immediately took to the Town Board pages and to one of the local Politicians asking, demanding answers. The reason for the draining is less at issue as the timing and detrimental effect on the lake. Concrete was being laid to be able to put in a boat ramp for the local FD to practice with on the lake. This is the construction;
Frequent attempts to get answers from the DEC were fruitless and the local spokesman gave pat answers such as the DEC assures us there will be no impact to the environment.
But two crucial issues combined to create what may be the dismantling of a beautiful fishery.
The first was the timing. Originally scheduled for the spring it was postponed to mid November. Several days after the initial draining we had our first freeze. Temperatures dropped drastically, into the twenties freezing parts of the lake. With such low water levels and fish trapped in small pockets this was a recipe for disaster.
But this was not the worst of it. For reasons we do not know the grates covering the massive drain pipe were removed and not put back in place;
A significant amount of fish flowed through the pipe and into the creek below. A creek that normally is barely habitable by anything but fry.
The initial devastation was truly shocking. Ralph, a local resident and fishing legend spoke to me about coming down to the creek into which the drain pipe pours and seeing dead bass stuck in the hurricane fencing lining the creek bed. "Four pounders, " He said, "just lying there stuck in the wire, dead."
So many multi species fish had been sucked through that vortex of draining water that the creek, usually shallow and bare swelled with water and fish. Fish literally trapped and swimming through, over and under each other. Bass, Carp, Crappie, Perch, Bluegill all fighting for space in a couple hundred square feet of water.
Easy pickings. As easy as shooting fish in a barrel.
Let's go back just a bit. When this all hit a handful of us started getting loud on social media. We all knew each other from passing on the bank or the water, social media and fishing apps we shared. But now our voices were raised together for a cause and a lake we all cared about deeply.
This started a conversation and a small army of anglers shot into action.
Several of us simply started walking the lake bed cleaning up all the scraps, lures, bike parts, boots and everything else you would expect to find at the bottom of a high traffic, pressured lake like this one. Rich, a local angler and a damn fine Tournament fisherman walked the lake circumference several times in a single day picking up all kinds of junk.
Others jumped in and did what they could as well. Hopeful work. Hopeful that with the pressure on local Government the ramp work would be expedited and the lake filled again before too much damage was done.
But let's get back to the creek where some real drama was taking place. Let's be real here for a minute; You have a small area overfilled with fish most anglers are going to want to drop a hook!
...And some of us who had made our voices heard by local government and jumped in for the cleanup did just that. Waders on, this small army of anglers went fishing in this small creek teeming with life racing against the clock to get as many fish back up to the Lake before it was too late.
Every day the guys would wade into the cold water, catch what they could and hold their catches in 5 gallon buckets, then carry them up and over the dam releasing them back into the Lake proper....
This is Ralph, as hardcore as they come and someone every fisherman should just hang out with at least once. This old timer has stories... Here here he is filling his third bucket of the day to trudge up and over the dam to get these fish released back into their home water.
Here is the other very real danger to what these anglers intent on saving the fishery are facing. Unscrupulous fishermen bent on simply exploiting the situation and pulling scores of fish out with rod, reel and big nets!
You can see the suffocating Crappie next to the giant holding net that one of these guys quickly threw to the side when we approached. Ralph spent a good deal of time giving them tips and advice they didn't need in a bid to harass them and make them understand people are watching. But nobody can keep watch all the time. So it's a race to keep the fish out of the nets and get them back into big water.
But this unfolding disaster brought us together and a community began to form. I finally met some of the anglers I only knew from social media, reconnected with an old friend who is now getting back into fishing and we started coming together as a group.
Rich, who I mentioned earlier and the Kayak angler I would frequently meet while fishing has started The Hudson Valley Kayak Fishing Club and secured a full Tournament series on all our local lakes for 2019. But more importantly has brought a whole bunch of us together.
We have a chance now to speak with one voice about the conservation, preservation and responsibilities we all have to our natural resources that we all love and cherish. It truly is an exciting time to be an angler in the Lower Hudson Valley.
The story is far from over. None of us know how severe or far reaching the effects of this poorly managed project will be. That will be a story for after the thaw.
But I want to send out a very special THANK YOU to Rich, Andrew, Randy and Ralph for all they have been doing to save what they can and preserve a vital fishery for the community.
Take this as a precautionary tale. Our resources are precious and limited...
See you on the water!
Don't forget, comment below about the blog for a chance to receive a BPS Crankbait or a pack of Smartbait Bayou bugs!