Monday, November 7, 2011

Habitat Decimation in Delaware and Raritan Canal

I've been shifting back to Litton's Fishing Lines for my New Jersey posts, but at least for this canal story, I want to follow through on my promise to "be back."

I'm not sure I'll fish the canal again until next summer after today's boredom with it. The best I can account for being skunked after nearly an hour of fishing, 65 degree weather besides--at least I caught a pickerel last week in a half hour's fishing, and had that excitement I wrote about the previous week--is that so much brush in the water seems to have been cleared out that habitat is reduced and fish populations are down. 

For the past couple years I've been fishing the canal near Weston and Manville, summer and fall. I catch a single fish here and there, putting in no more than an hour at a time, pickerel and largemouths. But I'm drawn to the judgment that since the dredging in 1986, I believe it was, fish never returned to their previous levels of presence. I remember fishing the canal a number of times in the early 90's and feeling this is true. Either submerged brush never has accumulated back to what it was, or a State Park maintenance crew takes brush out--and decimates the environment in the process. I know for a fact a beautiful deadfall--a whole tree in the water--was removed last year just downstream from the bridge as Weston Canal Road turns towards Manville. I also observe that overhanging trees are occasionally cut at the bank, reducing habitat. It all seems to be done just to keep the canal somewhat "clean," to homogenize, simplify its appearance for those who walk the towpath.

I like a wild appearance. But most like things dull.

My fishing log is loaded with facts from 1975 until now. We caught quite a few fish--sometimes six within an hour--during the 70's and early 80's. Most were small but 16 inch pickerel were common, as were 10 and 11 inch largemouths. Sandbars at the Quaker Bridge Road bridge attracted shiners schooling in the shallows to avoid pickerel, which rushed out of depths to slash through these baitfish and take a meal. The dredging did away with them. But mostly the brush was great habitat in fall and winter for gamefish. We caught pickerel consistently through January and February when no ice locked everything under. A simple crappie jig did the job, just dancing it through and around brush.

If I had State Park oversight I'd put habitat in, not take it out.

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