Fall on the James is here. The days are getting cooler and the changing leaves provide a perfect backdrop for hikes and paddles. Some of the most impressive things, however, are happening below the water’s surface.
Atlantic sturgeon, ancient fish as old as dinosaurs, are making their spawning run. These “living fossils” spend their lives at sea, only returning to the James to spawn once they reach maturity. During a few, exciting weeks, sturgeon can be seen swimming up to the falls of the James as far as Richmond’s Mayo Bridge. This fall, river goers have reported seeing these enormous fish leap, or breach, out of the water. A breach may only last a second, but each one is a sign that the sturgeon population is making a comeback, and that the river’s health is improving. Onlookers can enjoy this spectacle, but must remember to never attempt catching these endangered fish.
Travel up river from Richmond to the creeks and streams that feed the upper James and you’ll find some of the best fly fishing in the commonwealth. Fishermen flock to these waters to catch brook trout and smallmouth bass. These lively fish populations once again point to signs of improvement in the river’s health.
The James River Association is celebrating healthy fisheries at our Annual Meeting and Oyster Roast on Oct. 25 at Richmond’s Main Street Station. Guests are invited to join us for an evening highlighting the book “America’s Favorite Flies.” The publication is a collaborative effort of 245 fly-fishers who have provided essays, artwork, favorite flies and more, all to benefit our work protecting rivers, streams, and fish populations. Contributors include President Jimmy Carter, Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard, fly fishing icon Joan Wulff, and the James River Association’s Bill Street.
At the event, John Bryan and Rob Carter, co-authors of “America’s Favorite Flies,” will be signing their book, and fly casting instructors will teach attendees how to cast a rod. Special guest John N. Maclean, author, journalist, and son of Norman Maclean, author of “A River Runs through It,” is the keynote speaker. Proceeds from this event will help further the James River Association’s mission to protect and restore the James.
Over the 40 years that the James River Association has been acting as the voice for the river and working to restore its health, we have seen the James transform from one of the nation’s most polluted rivers to one of its most improved. The 2017 State of the James Report rated the James at a B-, which is a 10-point increase over the last 10 years. Virginians can see these improvements in the wildlife such as bald eagles and Atlantic sturgeon that have returned to the region, as well as the outdoor enthusiasts that flock to the river’s waters and banks. Last year, the Richmond region saw 2.9 million visitors at its riverside parks. Outside magazine even named Richmond “America’s Best River Town,” a designation we wholeheartedly agree with.
The James River Association is hard at work every day making sure the river’s health continues to progress. We’re working to restore and protect the James while connecting communities to it so they can realize the benefits a healthy James has to offer. Trees are being planted to enhance water quality, children are being educated on the importance of conservation, new riverfront parks and public access projects are being planned in communities up and downstream, and policies in favor of the river are being advocated for at the federal, state, and local level.
The James offers endless opportunities for outdoor adventure, education, and appreciation. Join the James River Association in protecting and caring for it by jumping in and helping out. Become a member, attend our annual meeting, or volunteer for a planting event. Visit jamesriverassociation.org to learn more about the work we’re doing to protect the James today and for future generations.
This feature is one in a series about the Richmond Region’s nonprofit organizations and their contributions to our communities.
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