Tracking native brook trout expansion in Virginia's Beaver Creek

By Seth Coffman

TU has been working since 2010 to restore Beaver Creek to its former glory. In fact, it was here in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley that TU implemented the first habitat improvement project of the then new Shenandoah Headwaters Home Rivers Initiative. 

Fast forward six years and TU has completed more than a dozen restoration projects in the Shenandoah Valley and five more on Beaver Creek since that inaugural project in 2010. The watershed, TU, the local community and anglers are reaping the benefits, with native brook trout starting to show up in Beaver Creek in decent numbers.

The restoration of Beaver Creek has been a collaborative effort between TU staff and the local Massanutten chapter, exemplifying One TU.  It was local chapter member Jerry Black that put TU staff in contact with the farmer where that first project was completed. 

The reappearance of adult brook trout was first reported to Shenandoah Headwaters HRI staff by local anglers and TU members, and it has been the local chapter working with TU staff to move into a new phase of monitoring and restoration on Beaver Creek. 

Electrofish sampling of Beaver Creek in 2015 turned up adult and young of year brook trout, leading us to ask the question, “Are native brook trout once again spawning in Beaver Creek after decades of absence?” 

To get to that answer we have to look at all the possible sources of fish in the system. 

Ottobine Elementary School sits just across the street from Beaver Creek. The Massanutten Chapter supports a TIC program there where the brook trout raised by the students are released into Beaver Creek, so the possibility existed that these young of year sized fish could be TIC fish.

In May 2016, TU staff and two volunteers marked (clipped the adipose fin) the TIC fish that were to be released into Beaver Creek, so that during subsequent sampling we could differentiate between wild young of year fish and TIC fish of similar size. 

Either way we know adult brook trout have started using Beaver Creek again at different times of the year. 

This new phase of monitoring will incorporate aspects of angler science and TU staff monitoring to continue evaluating the impact of our restoration efforts on water temperature, stream substrate, habitat quality, and brook trout survival and spawning. 

Electrofish sampling is scheduled for this summer, when we will hopefully collect some young of year fish without an adipose clip indicating natural reproduction of brook trout in Beaver Creek.

Seth Coffman is the Shenandoah Headwaters Home Rivers Initiative manager for Trout Unlimited.


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