Augusta Canal trout project draws intrigue

  • Follow Rob Pavey

Last week’s report on a local science teacher’s study of the Augusta Canal as trout habitat generated plenty of excitement – and some good questions, too.

Video: Augusta Outdoors
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Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School educator Carl Hammond-Beyer and his students found the canal to have plenty of trout-friendly foods, abundant oxygen and a favorable pH level – with temperature suitability being good for most of the year.

“We’re right on the edge of survivability,” he said, while sharing his data with the CSRA Fly Fishers group. “Only in mid-July to August does it get close to being too hot.”

Several people have asked me how trout could survive in the canal now, after an experiment to stock them in 1997 was deemed a failure.

Part of the answer is that the Savannah River’s water quality has changed since then, thanks to $70 million in new turbines at Thurmond Dam that include vents to double or triple dissolved oxygen levels.

The other part of the answer involves the number of fish stocked – and the size of those waters.

The 1997 experiment placed 10,000 trout in the Savannah River and 3,500 more trout in the 7-mile canal. That is not enough fish to support a fishery.

South Carolina’s Department of Natural Resources has an exceptional trout fishery in the Saluda River near Columbia, where about 35,000 fish per year are stocked.

That area is eight miles long – just slightly more water than the Augusta Canal – and has proven successful both for trophy and take-home fishing.

Hammond-Beyer’s next experiment will involve placing a few trout in the canal within a cage or enclosure to observe their behavior and study mortality.

It will be an interesting project to watch, and could create wonderful recreational benefits close to home at some point in the future.

PERRY HOUCK: It’s almost impossible to talk about trout, or fishing, in this town without thinking of Perry Houck, a founder of the CSRA Fly Fishers group who passed away Feb. 28 at the age of 87.

As a lifelong angler and outdoorsman, Houck enjoyed sharing the wonders of fishing with others – especially kids – even more than landing the big ones himself.

He was also a co-owner of Augusta Sporting Goods, a family hunting and fishing store that opened in June 1925, occupied the same storefront on Eighth Street for 78 years and three months and – sadly – closed its doors in 2003.

Perry told me many times of bustling holiday crowds that converged downtown between Thanksgiving and Christmas in the 1950s and 1960s – long before malls, catalogs and the Internet changed our world. Telling those stories always made him smile.

Houck was also involved in the past efforts to bring trout and trout fishing to the area, including the 1997 test stocking. During the same meeting at which Hammond-Beyer shared his research, the CSRA Fly Fishers remembered Perry and agreed to make a donation in his name to the family’s chosen charity, American Alzheimer’s Association.

Rest in peace, old friend.

FORT GORDON HUNTING: A program that allows civilians to apply for a limited number of Fort Gordon hunting and fishing licenses will operate differently this year.

Although the application period – May 1 to May 15 – will remain the same, the applications and random drawings will no longer be handled through the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division’s office in Thomson.

Applicants must now apply via Georgia DNR’s online quota hunt system at www.georgiawildlife.com/
hunting/quota.

For more details, contact the Fort Gordon Natural Resources Branch at (706) 791-2397 or via e-mail to gordon.naturalresources@us.army.mil.

EAGLE ABUNDANCE: Bald eagles have suffered along Thurmond Lake because of a fatal neurological disorder, but their numbers are growing steadily in other parts of Georgia.

This year, biologists counted 166 occupied nesting territories, 124 successful nests and 185 young fledged.

Those totals topped last year’s 163 nesting territories and 121 successful nests, while dropping slightly from 199 eaglets fledged.

In 2011, there were 144 territories, 113 nests and 178 eaglets.

REDFISH GAMEFISH: Even after a bill was passed to protect Georgia’s red drum, or “redfish,” from commercial harvest by making it an official “game fish,” there are still efforts under way to convince Gov. Nathan Deal to veto the measure.

My colleague Walter Jones in Atlanta reports the governor received a letter from Savannah boat captain Robert Morrisey, who contends reducing the daily limit from five to three would be a better solution.

The Coastal Conservation Association pushed hard for the gamefish designation, saying the impact of sportfishing tourism is greater than the few hundred pounds of fish sold commercially each year.

“The economic impact of House Bill 36 is going to be felt for quite some time,” said Jeff Young, the association’s government-relations chairman, who believes the bill will soon become law.

Deal has until May 7 to sign it or veto, before it becomes law automatically.

COOKIN FOR WINNERS: If you made it to March’s annual Cookin for Kids fund-raiser for Child Enrichment and the Child Advocacy Center, you likely had a chance to taste some of the foods served up for a great cause.

Although everyone who cooked, judged, attended or otherwise helped was a winner, the biggest winners were the youngsters who benefit year-round from the groups and their services.

But just so you know, here are the first place-awards, as provided by executive director Dan Hillman:

Best of show, Gold Mech; big game and small game and fish (three categories), Notorious P.I.G.; and barbecue, Smokin Pig.


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