Spring always reminds me of fishing. To most, fishing conjures up images of hooks, tackle boxes, slimy worms and, of course, cooking and eating the fish you catch. To me, fishing is about understanding river movement, insect hatches, seasonal changes, wind patterns and what it is like to be a fish.
One of my favorite fishing memories was catching a beautiful American shad on the Russian River in California. Knowing that there are healthy fish in our streams keeps my mind at ease even if I cannot get out to wet my line.
So how does this relate to Del Ray or Alexandria? A few years back, I had the privilege of finding out what fish reside in Cameron Run—the stream runs along Alexandria’s southern border that empties into the Potomac River near the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. With the help of Fairfax County biologists, the Alexandria Environmental Policy Commission conducted an inventory of fish on lower Cameron Run. In a rather quick morning session, we positively identified 23 species, including rainbow trout (stocked upstream), largemouth bass, channel catfish, goldfish (apparently some “flush” burials survive) and, most interesting to me, American gizzard shad.
It turns out that each spring in March to April, there is a run of several species of shad in Cameron Run. So far, this seems like a nice story. Unfortunately, the fate of these and all shad species on Cameron Run is not so nice.
The shad make their way up Cameron Run, past perilous predators and run right into a cement wall. To help prevent flooding along the Eisenhower valley, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers build several check dams. The last dam, about a half-mile upstream from the Potomac River, is by far the highest at about 5 feet high. While shad are amazing jumpers in their drive to spawn, a 5-foot dam with boulders proves impassible. Thus, around this time of year dead shad start showing up on the rocks in front of the dam. For this reason, seagulls are typically a good indicator of whether the shad are running. As of mid-March this year, the shad had not arrived.
So what can be done to help these shad spawn? When advocating for removal of this dam about a decade ago, I was told that the dam cannot be removed due to the flooding concerns. Another proposed solution would involve building a small stepped spillway (or fish ladder) at the current spillway location. Unfortunately, the cost of such a ladder approached a quarter of a million dollars a decade ago.
I realize that in these days of frugal government budgets and budget scrutiny this seems like a pipe dream. But just maybe there are other fishers out there whose minds would be at ease knowing that these shad can survive.