Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Taggers Volunteer to Help U.S. Vets

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

by Susanna Musick, Virginia Sea Grant Marine Recreation Specialist and co-coordinator of the VA Game Fish Tagging Program

Watching Dave Conklin cast is poetry in motion. In one smooth movement, his arm circles up and out to the side, zipping the line through the air. The line stretches out over several feet of water before floating down only inches from the surface. Then, it seems like a mysterious invisible hand pulls the fly at the end of the line an extra yard at the last second, bringing it onto the foamy water, where the trout are waiting. Dave's graceful casting is an achievement, one that he enjoys sharing with other veterans in Project Healing Waters.



Vet John Paramore fishes while Project healing Waters guide Jim Sloan looks on. Credit: Virginia Sea Grant
Project Healing Waters is a cooperative volunteer program that engages disabled veterans in physical and emotional rehabilitation through fly-fishing.

This winter, the Fly Fishers of Virginia and Dominion Power have teamed up to bring some of the U.S.'s wounded warriors to the Chesapeake Energy Center's Hot Ditch for three Project Healing Waters events. And the Virginia Game Fish Tagging Program, a partnership between Virginia Sea Grant's Marine Extension Program at Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) and Virginia Marine Resources Commission, was happy to support the events by helping veterans tag and release their catch. "I really enjoyed working with the guides and veterans. It was a rewarding experience," said Donnie Smith, one of the taggers who volunteered at the event.

Despite the winter temperatures, more than 80 fish were tagged and released during the three excursions. Catches like this are possible this time of year because water in the Hot Ditch stays warm through the winter, encouraging some fish to linger in the winter instead of migrating out of the Chesapeake Bay to chase warmer waters.

Having access to fish year-round has been beneficial to the Tagging Program as well. Through partnership with Dominion Power, the program's volunteer anglers can fish, tag, and release all year long, helping to collect data about habitat use and migration patterns of speckled trout, red drum, and other species that overwinter in the Hot Ditch. Dan Genest from Dominion Power sees the benefits of the program that go beyond recreation. "I think it is good for the guides and the warriors to see tagging" he says. "I hope it gives them a deeper appreciation for the need not just to be an angler but to also protect the resource."

Fish tagging

Fish tagging

Volunteer fish tagger Donnie Smith (right) helps bill Green measure the length of a red drum before tagging and releasing the fish. Credit: Virginia Sea Grant
From 1995 to June 2011, 354 speckled trout were tagged in the Elizabeth River, and most were tagged in the Hot Ditch. Reports from anglers recapturing these fish show that more than 93 percent of speckled trout recaptured in the Elizabeth River were originally tagged there, showing strong habitat preferences for the area.

In addition to providing a fishing hole for year-round data collection, the Hot Ditch's catch-and-release policy could have positive implications for recreationally important fishes. Tagging data and citation reports from the Virginia Salt Water Fishing Tournament have shown red drum and speckled trout in the Hot Ditch to be the right size to suggest maturity. This makes the Hot Ditch an important overwintering haven for adult fish that can spawn future generations.

And, thanks to Dominion and the guides and veterans from Project Healing Waters, more than 80 additional fish were tagged. Efforts such as these make it possible for Virginia Sea Grant's Marine Extension Program, Virginia Marine Resource Commission, and VIMS to gather the data to learn about and properly manage some of our state's favorite game fish.



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