West Virginia Division of Natural Resources biologists recently removed more than 30 pieces of wood and tree debris at the old railroad trestle on Big Spring Fork at the Slaty Fork section of the Elk River Catch and Release Area.
On October 18, employees of DNR’s Aquatic Habitat Program removed the debris, which had created a potentially harmful logjam preventing water from flowing under the bridge. Flooding in recent years caused many trees and woody material to pile up and damage the surface of the bridge, which is used by anglers for downstream fishing opportunities.
Recent low flow allowed biologists to get into the stream with heavy equipment to release the debris downstream. They hope the release will create additional fish habitat for native and wild trout. As with any stream habitat project, releasing debris can pose a risk to downstream structures. This was taken into consideration, but the next bridge with a center pier is more than 11 miles downstream. Impact to other infrastructure as a result of this activity is considered negligible.
Biologists marked the wood with paint as they were removed from the jam. As they move downstream of the bridge, biologists hope to track the pieces and chart their progress downstream, studying how they get integrated into existing woody material jams and alter existing fish habitat. As pieces scatter, biologists will walk stream reaches with cameras and GPS devices or use a drone to document observations of painted and tagged wood. Each piece will have unique tags, so further progress can be measured periodically.
The blockage also made it hazardous to cross the bridge to go fishing downstream. The flooding of June 2016 destroyed the walkway and handrail on the upstream side of the bridge. Part of the same crew cut through bolts to free a substantial chunk of the railing and re-opened a clear path across the bridge for anglers.
Anglers are encouraged to take photos of the wood pieces marked with bright yellow paint stripes and send them to their friendly local DNR fish biologist. Hopefully, they can even get a selfie with a nice trout and some large woody material as a backdrop!
This access to the Slaty Fork Section of the Elk River Catch and Release Area is off U.S. Route 219, near the community of Slaty Fork. The parking area is at the back of the Beckwith Sawmill at the confluence of Old Field and Big Spring Forks at the beginning of the Elk River. It is home to wild brown and rainbow trout, and the occasional native brook trout. Angling regulations require all fish caught in this area to be immediately released. Fishing in this area can only be done with artificial lures and flies. The catch and release regulations also apply to the Props Run and Big Run tributaries.