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Gone Fishing, Hopefully: Locals lead effort to restore area’s brook trout population

Originally published in the Burke Connections Newspaper, July 28th Issue
by Justin Fanizzi

Burke resident Duane Murphy longs for a time when a fisherman could walk to the nearest creek or stream, drop a lure and wait to catch one of the myriad trout swimming beneath the surface. With the help of Trout Unlimited of Northern Virginia, he may finally have his wish.

Murphy, a member of the Friends of Accotink Creek and 2010 recipient of Braddock District Citizen of the Year, has teamed up with Fairfax resident Kirk Smith to help restore the county’s creeks and streams to a level that is habitable for trout. While the project is still in its early stages, Murphy and others cannot help but be excited for its prospects.

“We’re so excited about the prospects of raising the level of the streams to support trout,” Murphy said. “It would increase the quality of life for so many local residents.”

According to Murphy, the push to bring trout back into the area originated with Fairfax resident Kirk Smith, a science teacher at James Madison High School in Vienna and a Ph.D. candidate at George Mason University. Smith was brainstorming a project for his doctorate dissertation earlier this year, and being an avid fisherman, came up with the idea to restore the area’s brook trout population. Smith knew that areas such as Difficult Run in Fairfax had, as recently as 20 years ago, brook trout populations ample enough to fish without restrictions, so he knew the project was possible.

“I grew up fishing for brook trout in Fairfax County,” Smith said. “I knew they could live here.” Smith defined his proposal and reached out to Trout Unlimited, of which Murphy is the treasurer, for help on the project. The goal, Smith told Murphy, was to restore the population by identifying the streams or creeks that had, or could realistically have, ideal conditions for brook trout to flourish. Smith said that the best way to do this was to test local waters for temperature and acidity, but that he would not be able to perform all of the required tests himself to locate the “perfect” stream for his project.

So, while Smith began work at Nichol’s Run in Great Falls, Murphy enlisted the help of fellow Friends of Accotink Creek members to lend a hand in the southern part of the county. According to Murphy, he and his team helped by going out into the field and performing several tests on area streams to see if the temperature and chemical makeup of the water is suitable for trout. They measured the temperature of many local streams, including portions of the Lower Occoquan, Mason Neck, Gunston Cove and other tributaries, making sure that the temperature of the water was cold enough, as brook trout only thrive in colder water. In addition, Murphy and others tested the pH levels of the water to ensure that silt and other forms of runoff had not contaminated the water beyond repair.

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