(NECN: Jack Thurston, Moretown, Vt.) - Fishermen Patrick Dougherty and Uriah Banus were looking for the perfect place to cast their lines in Moretown Vt. Monday. They said they had luck in the Mad River in past years, but not on this trip.
"I think everyone understands something's not right," Banus said.
The pair wondered if their bad luck had anything to do with Tropical Storm Irene last August. The storm turned rivers and streams into monsters, moving rocks and boulders in their destructive paths. Nearly eight months later, there are still questions about how Irene impacted the environment, including fish.
"Fish are very resilient," explained Shawn Good, a fisheries biologist with the Vt. Fish & Wildlife Department.
Good said rapids may have moved stone into pools where trout would have hung out for years, but he pointed out rivers constantly morph, and the fish literally go with the flow. "Habitat tends to get rearranged during a flood, but not lost all together," Good explained.
Vermont has a sizable recreational fishing industry. Good said one estimate put total direct spending on fishing in Vermont at $65-million. He said the state sells about 86,000 fishing licenses to Vermonters each year, and 40,000 to non-residents. The state is now completing work on stocking nearly 250,000 trout into its waterways, Good noted.
For a wider look at the storm's impact on rivers, Google just released new satellite images of Vermont taken after the flooding. "Before" and "after" views from many communities show large silt deposits left behind along affected rivers. Scientists may use the Google Earth views to study how water flowed, so they can learn more about the overall impacts to rivers and how to prepare for future floods. "And we hope it will be helpful here in Vermont," said Matt Dunne, the head of community affairs for Google.
Vermont is still investigating whether work that was meant to help actually may have harmed the rivers. Several construction projects required crews to rumble through water to rebuild closed roads. It was necessary work, but was there a side effect? "There's nothing that's irreparable," said Vt. Natural Resources Secretary Deb Markowitz. "The question is, is it ten years, twenty years, or five years?"
Markowitz said only 80 of Vermont's 7,000 miles of rivers and streams were badly damaged in Irene seriously enough to impact trout habitats. Estimates are those stretches will naturally recover in a few years. "It will heal itself, but it may take some time," Markowitz noted.
For Vermont's Natural Resources Agency, one lesson of Irene was the protection of flood plains. "The more we can protect our flood plains so a river can meander and have room to have its annual flood and these extraordinary flood events, we'll protect infrastructure, we'll protect habitat of the streams, and we'll be doing well for future floods," Markowitz said.
The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department told NECN many anglers statewide were thrilled with conditions on opening weekend, calling Vermont's waters some of the best in the East, even after Irene. As Dougherty and Banus waited for their first nibble, the friends joked that a bad day on the water is still better than a good day at work. "There are plenty of months left," Dougherty chuckled.
Vermont's trout season runs through the end of October. The catch-and-release season for bass is open now, as well, and the catch-and-keep season begins in June.