Seasonal Fishing Stories Reflect a Changing Environment

April 12, 2023
Recreational fishing is being changed by environmental impacts from climate change, pollution and more. Photo: Idaho Department of Fish and Game via Twitter.

TipSheet: Seasonal Fishing Stories Reflect a Changing Environment

By Joseph A. Davis

Fishing season may not be what it used to be. Drought, flood, warming, pollution, pressure and politics are all changing one of the most enjoyable ways to connect with the environment.

There are many places in the United States where the various fishing seasons are beginning to open. We are talking about recreational fishing — which is mostly regulated by the states.

Environmental journalists may want to get out on the streams, lakes and bays themselves — if only to talk to fishers.

But we are sad to report you should not eat everything you catch. Some fish from polluted waters are not safe to eat, especially when you eat them often, and especially for vulnerable populations.

You can find out about state fish consumption advisories on these lists from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Park Service.


Taking the temperature

Among all the gizmos a fly fisher carries in their vest, you will often find a thermometer. That’s because if they are fishing for trout or salmon, water temperature matters.

These are anadromous fish, meaning they usually migrate upstream to spawn. They prefer colder water — and they will move to colder water when a stream or lake is too warm. That may mean a deep pool on the stream or deeper waters in the middle of a lake. Streams from melting high-altitude snow are often the friendliest habitat.


In this age of global warming, however,

some streams are getting warmer and

less hospitable for the species you want.


In this age of global warming, however, some streams are getting warmer and less hospitable for the species you want. For instance, when streams go low with drought they will be warmer, as they will also be in hot weather.

Also, what fish you find or catch will also depend on what you are looking for. Maybe you prefer smallmouth bass — which on a good day offer challenging hunts and exciting fights. Smallmouth, while not as picky as trout, still prefer cooler and cleaner waters.


Portal into local ecosystems

At its best, fishing is a chance to get to know your local ecosystems. What, when and where are the fish eating? This question is key to many fisheries.

Fly fishers know what insects are hatching in the moment. And when the fish are eating nymphs or flies. How many species of fish can you spot or identify in your chosen bodies of water? How does warming, flood or drought change all this?

Don’t forget that other critters become apparent at streams and lakes. There are many salamanders, hellbenders, newts, mudpuppies, madtoms, frogs, tadpoles, mussels and crayfish. There are mayflies, stoneflies, damselflies and caddisflies.

Ask what warm-blooded creatures (other than you) are living on your water body. Kingfishers? Muskrats? Otters? Eagles? Osprey? Beaver? Where are the heron and egrets, and what are they eating? You can learn from them.


Story ideas

  • What are the pollution sources for favored fishing streams and lakes? What laws and rules protect them?
  • How is the stream, lake or estuarine habitat changing in response to climate heating and extreme weather?
  • Is there a trend in measured flow in streams of interest to fishers? What is the cause of any change?
  • Is fishing pressure changing your local water bodies? How will you know?
  • Which fish in your lake or stream are native? Which are introduced? How are the species getting along?
  • Go to a local fish hatchery and talk to the folks who run it. Are the species they stock, for instance, native or introduced?


Reporting resources

  • U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service: This Interior Department unit manages the Wildlife Refuge System, protects endangered species and tries to manage invasive species. Most importantly, it manages federal fish hatcheries. Find those near you with this map.
  • Izaak Walton League: A national conservation and recreation group that owns land where people can fish. It’s Midwest-focused but has chapters all over.
  • Trout Unlimited: A fishing group big on conservation that has a large network of local chapters.
  • Salmon Unlimited: A salmon-focused group and strong conservation advocate with many local chapters.
  • State fishery agencies: Here’s a directory to find yours.
  • Local resources: Is there a fishing club near you? Here’s one list to help find out. Or go to a local marina operator where people can put in their boat and talk to fishers there.

[Editor’s Note: For more on the topic, see our Toolboxes on consumption advisories and on trout streams and climate change, as well as a TipSheet on advisories and another on endangered rivers. Plus, track EJToday headlines and other info on fish and fisheries.]


SIDEBAR: Going to #SEJ2023 in Boise? What To Know If You Have Time To Fish

Don’t take our word for it. Idaho calls itself a fly-fishing paradise. This is mostly true. So if you have time for a side trip, we have some suggestions.

First off, you can save time and frustration by hiring a guide (if only for a half-day, if cost is an issue). Most tackle shops will hook you up, but the shrewd thing is to book ahead. In many places, the season is year-round. Look at the regulations and get a license.

We are only going to tell you about the most famous fly fishing streams (we are keeping the secret unknown treasures to ourselves).

Here’s a full list of recommended fishing waters from the Idaho state fishing planner.


Joseph A. Davis is a freelance writer/editor in Washington, D.C. who has been writing about the environment since 1976. He writes SEJournal Online's TipSheet, Reporter's Toolbox and Issue Backgrounder, and curates SEJ's weekday news headlines service EJToday and @EJTodayNews. Davis also directs SEJ's Freedom of Information Project and writes the WatchDog opinion column.

* From the weekly news magazine SEJournal Online, Vol. 8, No. 15. Content from each new issue of SEJournal Online is available to the public via the SEJournal Online main page. Subscribe to the e-newsletter here. And see past issues of the SEJournal archived here.

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